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

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Stephen Talbott of NetFuture Knows

In an early NetFuture newsletter, Steve Talbott spoke about the importance of embodied presence to social interaction. His beautiful description of how we know people and how we grasp meaning reminds me of LtK:

...a friend's face leads me on an inward journey toward his true self. How else can I know him, except through some sort of physical expression? But I must learn to look through this surface, and with its indispensable help discover the one who is expressing himself.

In other words, I transcend his external features if, accepting them, I make a revelation of them. Only when I grasp the inner life of a revelation does its outer husk drop away. I cannot ignore the ink on the page if I would read the words -- and yet, when I do read, it is no longer the ink I am aware of, but the thoughts and feelings expressed.


Of course, when we begin inward journeys towards true selves -- even our own selves! -- we often encounter things that are both surprising and yet vaguely expected. Or if not expected, at least they are seen to fit the pattern when seen in retrospect.

Knowing persons is a special category of knowledge, I think. While the act of knowing any part of the world follows the shape of seeing through particular surface phenomena to the being and meaning behind them, that shape is amplified many times in coming to know other persons. As Flannery O'Connor's stories often make shockingly plain, people tend to be a lot harder to read than do animals, events, or objects. However well you know someone, they continue to surprise you. You can't know a person well enough that you can no longer have a really startling Oh-I-see-it (or should it be, Oh-I-see-you?) moment.

In knowing God, that shape takes on God-sized dimensions, and seems ever just beyond the horizon of our vision. In knowing God, we have the most astonishing integrations, with happy surprises so momentous that fear and joy are mingled indistinguishably. After all, the entire cosmos is His face.

BTW, I think C.S. Lewis captured that sense of joy-fear very well in his portrayal of the responses of the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve to Alsan the Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. I do hope the upcoming movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe communicates that as well as the book does.