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, April 14, 2006

More Lewisian Space Trilogian LtK

Somehow, I failed to notice, on my first read, that the phrase "longing to know" actually occurs in the book Perelandra. In the middle of chapter 2, Lewis describes listening to Ransom, who is about to be sent to Venus, excitedly talking about the prospect of finding out things we don't know about Venus, things precluded from terrestrial view by its thick atmosphere. In response, Lewis "felt a vicarious thrill of wonder and of longing to know."

There's a wonderful passage in chapter 3 of Perelandra about the fact that, "It takes a huge effort to put into words what lies at the border of, and perhaps beyond, articulation," (from the Forward to LtK), and how "words function less like premises and more like evocative clues." (chapter 10 of LtK). After Ransom returned from Perelandra, Lewis had been questioning him on his experience of traveling through space in the "coffin," "and had incautiously said, 'Of course I realize that it's all rather too vague for you to put into words,' when he took me up sharply, for such a patient man, by saying, 'On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language.'"

As an aside, there's something of the feel of this in Dicken's Hard Times, wherein he reveals the idolatry of Rationalism. While epistemological concerns as such aren't as explicit in Dickens' Hard Times as in Lewis' Space Trilogy, the inhumaneness, or inhumanity, of the Enlightenment view of knowledge is ever at the fore. Coketown's magnates attempt to treat all human interaction as merely factually as possible. Only hard facts are allowed to count as knowledge, and all else is strictly forbidden. If Dickens had written a treatise rather than a story about the problem, he might have described the Enlightenment view as "blue book epistemology." Today, we might call it "spreadsheet epistemology." By any name, it blackens our view of the sky, chokes our breath, and knocks us in the head until it kills us.

Clearly, reading LtK has changed the way I read everything else forever.


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