Why don’t we use our empty heads to reflect on what we did? This is known to work well against the third dimension of foolishness. I am not sure what, if anything, works against the fourth, for I have only seen it hazily – if at all – like a mirage of some faraway thing that is rightly below my horizon.
Since it is April Fool’s day anyway, let me tell you my theory about the fourth dimension of foolishness. Don’t stake your soul on it, of course, for I am still largely a fool myself. As a hopefully less foolish man once said: “Try [or evaluate] everything, keep the good.”
The first dimension or level to overcome is ignorance. No matter how good your intentions, if you are ignorant there is not much you can do. Or worse yet, misinformed. You need to have knowledge of the truth to get started in the direction of wisdom, or anything worthwhile really. Â I suppose without true knowledge you may still hold some careers, such as teaching, in a society where teaching falsehood is highly respected. After all, sooner or later you WILL find out that some of what you have learned was just plain Not True. But overall, learning is better than apathy. Once we have learned something, we can start to test it.
The second dimension is stupidity. This is basically a lack of processing power in the brain. Â Even if knowledge is given to you, you cannot do much about it, because your brain is not able to hold more than very simple thoughts. It sucks to be stupid, but at least you were born like this, you had no choice. Well, you have the choice of spending a lot of time. If you are only moderately stupid, you can come far if you just keep going. You may have to read a book ten times where I only need to read it once, but in the end you will understand it deeply. You may not get the joke until everyone has gone home, but feel free to laugh anyway. Even if you cannot achieve much, it is still better than to achieve nothing.
Folly adds a new dimension, namely the moral dimension. The fool could have learned the truth and understood it, but preferred not to. Perhaps he did not like the truth, or perhaps he already thought he knew all he needed to know. To have the chance to be wise, and reject it, that must be more bitter than never having had the chance in the first place!
Now we have looked at three angles: Â The fact outside us, the mind or brain, and the soul or will. But I believe there is a fourth dimension, which is spiritual. We may call it “destiny”. Or rather a subset of destiny, a kind of capacity for wisdom. Or the lack thereof.
The Catholic philosopher and professor, James V Schall, mentioned in Another sort of Learning that very few are truly wise. I don’t remember but he may have quoted someone on that, however I think this is obvious once you have lived and observed for a while. Even teachers have teachers (to quote Schall again, I think): There are only a few in history who bring much truly new into the world, and I mean new things that stand the test of time in some meaningful way. Â The rest of us are more or less riding their coat tails, or at best trying to combine a couple different perspectives.
I could write about this in great detail, because the voice in my heart has a lot to say, but I am not worthy to be a teacher, so I will try to keep this at the level of a letter to a friend.
In Christianity, we take for granted that there is an enormous gap between Jesus Christ and the best and wisest of Christians who have ever lived. I tend to agree, though some think St Francis came closer than the rest of us. In any case, why is this difference? Is it Jesus holding some portion of his divine wisdom back, or is it our capacity to receive it that is lacking? Â (That’s a rhetorical question, of course.)
But religion is really too solemn a topic for a fool like me to say something with authority. Definitely so for a religion that I take seriously. At least in theory.
Even if you are not a Christian (your loss!), it is still very rare to see someone rise to the level of their master. Â How many Buddhists have become like the Buddha? How manyÂ Confucians have approached his level? The most remarkable succession I can think of is how Socrates was followed by Plato, and Plato by Aristotle. They were all remarkable for their era and even by today’s standards, yet they were also strikingly different in some ways, despite being teacher and student one after the other.
One would think that those who come after have an easier time, being able to “download” from their teacher not only the thought itself, but the way to think properly. Certainly even if we exclude those Great Teachers who made claim to divinity, or were assigned divinity by their followers, there must be many who were followed by great geniuses that had decades in which to absorb their teaching and then exceed it. But this rarely happens, if at all.
This is where I believe that the shortfall is not one of IQ as such, but of a deeper and more fundamental capacity, which I conveniently place in the spirit realm since I don’t know of all that many other invisible higher realms.
But I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices
In the tower of song.
-Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song.