Ruminating on Michael Polanyi's epistemic model as developed and conveyed by Dr. Esther Lightcap Meek in the book Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People

Friday, June 10, 2005


Duck Schuler, writing in Credenda/Agenda magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3: Musica - Lectionary and the Church Calendar, uses the metaphor of a lens:
"I think Paul made it clear in Colossians 2:16-17 that, however we organize our lives, Christ must be at the center; that all things point to Him; that He is the substance, not the lectionary or calendar. We use these tools to see through them to Him.

"They act as lenses to bring our myopic and astigmatic vision into clearer focus. We are myopic and astigmatic because of our fallen nature. We need tools such as the Scripture and scriptural principles to act as our lenses. It is nearly impossible to not use some lens. We may either choose those that work or those that don't. But we look through them in order to see what we must see. The lens is not the substance of our study, Christ is.

"So we must choose our lenses carefully and with wisdom. Then we must use them properly." (em)

This confirms and clarifies the idea that the scriptures themselves are given to us, not as an end in themselves to be focused on in themselves, but as clues, in the LTK sense, to point us to God. We are never to place our trust in the means of grace, but only in the person and work of Christ whose grace flows to us through them. Only belief in the promises of God, fulfilled by Christ, will be accounted to us for righteousness. But the English syntax can be deceptive there. We stand not on the promises themselves, as bare statements, but on the Promiser Himself, our Rock, our Redeemer. We must rely in the LTK sense on the clues we are given, since they were given to us, and since they are all that we can directly perceive. But we do so not because there is something magical in the clues themselves. Ultimately, true faith relies on a person, on The Person, in whose image we are made. Ultimately, all roads lead to Rome. All clues point to Christ.

Flannery O'Connor Knew

In Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 73, Susan Srigley discusses the sacramental and incarnational fiction of Flannery O'Connor. Explaining O'Connor's use of vivid descriptions of sensory experiences to explore the realm beyond them, and get to "the mysterious underpinnings of reality," Srigley says, "To understand the spiritual, you have to begin with the physical, you have to begin with concrete experience to try [to] move towards that deeper mystery. Because that's the way we know." She also reads a lengthy quote from O'Connor's Mystery and Manners that I won't transcribe here, but it tends to corroborate the thesis of LTK in subtle but powerful ways that, true to her style, leave you with your head thundering and your knees a bit weak. I don't know whether Srigley has read LTK, but it would be possible to arrive at similar ideas strictly through the writings of O'Connor, especially the book Mystery and Manners, which is a collection of her writings about writing fiction as a Roman Catholic in the rural southern US.

This shows once again how great artists (in the broadest sense of those who deal in the artistic, including writers) seem almost intuitively to grasp the so-called Polanyin epistemic model. Perhaps it's because God gives them a special ability to see past the material clues around them. You can see that in their eyes, if you look closely. Their gaze always seems to be looking through things rather than at them. You can feel it emanating from them. A great artist walks into a room where you are and your spirit immediately drops its jaw and says, "Ah, the fire burns brightly in this one." They are people driven by the longing to deeply engage the sensory world with their bodies and minds, with the goal of evoking profound glimpses of the stuff that life is ultimately made of. They can almost see it, almost taste it, and they must communicate it to the rest of us or die.

I might almost go so far as to say that an unrelenting sense of true knowing is the key factor separating the men from the boys, so to speak, in the arts. It may be the most important thing we can teach those who are in training in the arts. Every university-level Fine Arts student should be required, in their freshman year if possible, to take a course on LTK. Just my opinion. :-) I can tell you, I sure wish I had been taught these principles when I was a college freshmen majoring in Church Music. How many of us graduated still laboring under the misconception that music is little more than a string of notes, or a painting little more than a collection of lines and colors? "Just a bunch of stuff that happened," quoth Homer Simpson, with uncharacteristic sagacity.