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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Brief Meditation on Words

Meaning is transcendent. Words are immanent. There is a transcendent Word. We speak words because we are made in the image of the Word, "that Word above all earthly powers"1 that was in the beginning with God, that was God, through Whom all things were made2. God said. He spoke, and it was.3 (I'm using the terms "transcendent" and "immanent" here in the technical philosophical sense.)

This is why words, when used as words, tend to function more like "clues" than like premises, even when structured like premises. The pattern they form points, not only to something beyond themselves, but ultimately beyond the material realm itself. I say "when used as words" because of the modern tendency to individualize, which manifests itself linguistically in the tendency to think of each word as a container of specific meaning. An individual word is not a clue to anything, in the LtK, sense, because it's not part of a pattern. A word out of context can have no certain meaning. Think you disagree? Bug. What does that word mean?

This is also why, when Western philosphy followed Kant down the Road to Nowhere (which, Ozzie Ozbourne tells us, leads to him - and in a sense he's right), we ended in linguistic deconstructionism. If the immanent can have no connection to the transcendent, then words are meaningless. Then they, like all else in the material realm, can be nothing more than tools for each individual to use for his own petty ends.

But if immanent words need not contain transcendent meaning, but need only form patterns that point to it, then we can retrace our steps back up from despair. Ultimately, in order to embrace words, we must embrace the Word.

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.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Concrete and Abstract Clues

In the book LtK, Dr. Meek gives three categories of clues (used in the technical sense she defines in the book): in your world, in your body, and in the directions. The distinction is helpful but, in my opinion, not very precise. All of the clues are in your world -- your body and the directions exist in your world. So, what we really have is a situation in which all clues come to us (at least initially) from our world, but we distinguish two categories of world-clues (we can just say "clues" since all clues are world-clues) which do not cover the whole field between them. We have:
  • in-my-body-clues
  • directions-from-authoritative-guides-clues
  • all the rest of the clues

I think another distinction can made within all the rest. Some clues are essentially concrete, or material; by that I mean that the sensory data itself acts as a clue. Others are essentially abstract; by that I mean that the sensory data tells us nothing in and of itself; rather, the meaning we assign to it as information is what acts as the clue.

Take, for example, Dr. Meek's illustration of the Magic Eye picture of the dolphins. The dots themselves act directly as clues, they themselves form the pattern. Or consider what we do while driving a car. Much of what we perceive visually of the road and surrounding traffic tells us immediately how to control the machine to accomplish our objective safely. We see the road curving, and we know that we must turn the steering wheel when we reach that curve if we wish to keep the car on the road. The visual data is the clue.

But consider Dr. Meek's copperhead example. In the book, it illustrates clues in the directions, because we have to be taught how to distinguish a copperhead from the forest floor, as well as from a non-poisonous snake. But, the directions having been received, the clues of the coloration and the hourglass shapes on the snake's back are clues from the world which must needs be integrated with the direction-clues. But even though they come from the world, they don't act directly as clues. Rather, the meanings we associate with the information we gain from the sensory data are what acts as clues. Maybe that's not very well said. I'm thinking of it as a chain or hierarchy of the flow of information: eye sees hourglass shapes --> brain recalls ideal hourglass shape, compares these instances of it, and correctly identifies them as real instances of the hourglass shape --> brain recalls that authoritative guide taught us to associate this shape on a copper-colored snake's back with the idea of a copperhead snake. It's what we associate with that shape in the abstract that lets us know we're seeing a copperhead.

Or consider once again the case of driving with respect to road signs (for reasons I'm completely unaware of, I've always gravitated toward making automobile-related illustrations). While visual images of the road itself work directly as clues, the official road signs must be interpreted. We learn to associate certain shapes and colors with certain kinds of instructions. Upright rectangle, white with black letters, small letters at top with large, two-digit number underneath: long before you're close enough to see the words "speed limit," you know that it's a speed limit sign, because that's what speed limit signs look like in the USA. After you've been driving for a short time, you pick up that number in your peripheral vision, glance at your dashboard, and know how much over the limit you're going. :-) The knowledge of your speed, and of what speed you ought to be limiting your vehicle to, is not gained directly from the visual data. It's inferred from meanings you have learned to associate with data of that kind. The image in your eyeball of a shape similar to 35 is not the clue. It must be combined with your understanding of what 35 m.p.h. means in terms of the velocity of your vehicle relative to the road, and with your understanding of the authority of the state to require you to restrict your speed. It's your abstract comprehension of the meaning of "35" in this context that, combined with clues in the directions for driving received from authoritative guides, acts as a clue to your knoweldge of how fast you ought to be going.

I don't know quite how to label these differences. In fact, the distinction isn't parallel to the body-directions-remainder categories, because directions-clues are inherently abstract, while body-clues tend to be more concrete. Nevertheless, there are certainly non-directions-non-body abstract clues, and non-body concrete clues.

Here's how I came to think this stuff through. I subscribe to an electronic newsletter for webmasters that often contains very useful info, but was kind of hard to follow due to semantical irregularities. Everything about the look and "vibe" of the newsletter led me to tacitly assume that it was written by a very sharp teenager or very young man from either America or Great Britain. Some turns of phrase seemed definitely British, but the grammar seemed sloppy and chaotic in a way that suggested a product of the US public school system.

Even though the verbage was frequently confusing, I continued to read every issue because I was able to regularly glean savvy hints and tips. Then one day recently, the writer mentioned the name of his company in passing, and it had the word Singapore in it. Singapore! So that's it. He's an Asian using English as a second language.

Suddenly, I was able to follow him much better. The only thing that changed was that I expected him to sound like an Asian who hadn't quite mastered the English language, rather than picturing him as a poorly educated native English speaker. That was enough to dramatically increase my comprehension of what he writes.

Granted, the clue came from my world: from the writer, through the internet, to my computer screen, to my eyeball. But it served the role of clue, not at that point nor during that time, but afterward. It changed my expectations about what I read from him. It functions as a clue purely in the abstract. It's a clue in my expectations, which is, perhaps, a sub-category of non-directions abstract clues.

Anybody got any ideas for better labels?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

C.S. Lewis Knew, Way Back When

For my next installment in the developing "Artists Have Always Known" series (so far including J.R.R. Tolkien, Pete Townsend, Neil Peart, Gerry Rafferty, Art Blakey, Nashville studio musicians, the script writers for the movie Kate & Leopold, Flannery O'Connor, Steve Talbott, and George MacDonald): C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. It's clear from certain passages in these books that, on some level, Lewis understood many of the essential principles outlined in LtK. The books were published in 1943.

Adept Perception, Latent Meaning, and Indefinite Possibilities

In Out of the Silent Planet, the unlikely hero is a man named Dr. Elwin Ransom, a middle-aged Cambridge fellow who is a philologist--a specialist in the science of language. After being kidnapped and taken away to the planet Malacandria, he escapes from his captors, and finds himself wandering alone, terrified, and with no idea what to expect. Encountering a large, seal-like creature, he overhears it making sounds that his trained ear knows must be a kind of speech:
"In the fraction of a second which it took Ransom to decide that the creature was really talking, and while he still knew that he might be facing instant death, his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar.... ...what might not one discover from the speech of a non-human race? The very form of language itself, the principle behind all possible languages, might fall into his hands."

As a philologist, Ransom had become expert at distinguishing language from non-language. He was skilled at knowing the difference between the sub-lingual (but still meaningful) sounds of mere animals and the complex orderliness of a true language. His ears knew what to listen for. This illustrates Lewis' grasp of an epistemology based in part on a "skilled egagement" of the world, which "unlocks" that world for the knower. It also shows that Lewis had some sense of the reality of hidden, or latent, meaning. He knew that a trained philologist (you remember that one of his closest friends, J. R. R. Tolkien, became the most "famousest" philologist in the world) could recognize that a pattern of sound was a meaningful pattern long before he could explicitly recognize any of the meaning in it.

Even more pronounced in that passage is the idea of the opening of indefinite possibilities, what Dr. Meek calls "uspecifiable future prospects" and "expanding horizons," at the moment of profound integration. To Ransom, the possibilities seemed unlimited. As Lewis said in more than one of his stories, anything might be possible now. It would be impossible to predict what might be learned about language from a non-human, non-terrestrial language. But it was certain that profound insights were just beyond his horizon.

The Moment of Integration, and more on Indefinite Possibilities

Later in the same book, Ransom's knowledge of the Malacandrian language had become sufficient for him to converse on an everyday level. But its poetry and song remained over his head for a long time. One day, the subsidiaries finally began to converge for him. Lewis describes it in a way that seems almost as if he were quoting from LtK:
"To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within. For Ransom, this moment had now come in his understanding of Malacandrian song. Now first he saw that its rhythms were based on a different blood from ours, on a heart that beat more quickly, and a fiercer internal heat. Through his knowledge of the creatures and his love for them he began, ever to little, to hear it with their ears."

Again, we clearly see Lewis' grasp of the principles of the moment integration into a meaningful pattern, and of its coincident profound sense of unstatable but certainly real possibilities. It's interesting to me that he attributes to love the motive for his struggle to know. It was through love, not merely through the collection of data, that he learned to know what they knew. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. It was through living in community with the Malacandrian creatures, not as a passive observer, that he learned their language and culture.

Seemingly Unrelated Pieces Forming a Pattern

In the second book of the trilogy, Perelandra, Ransom wrestles with, among other things, the issue of the interactivity of Divine Sovereignty, the free wills of God's creatues, and natural occurances. He comes to recognize that:
The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between fact and myth, was purely terrestrial. The pattern is so large that within the little frame of earthly experience there appear pieces of it between which we can see no connection, and other pieces between which we can. Hence we rightly, for our use, distinguish the accidental from the essential. But step outside that frame and the distinction drops down into the void, fluttering useless wings."

Here Lewis acknowledges the value of the Aristotelian distinction between the accidental and the substantial or essential. But he puts it to work in the context of the understanding that there is a pattern -- his own word -- an ultimate and all-embracing pattern, which transcends the ability of creatures to perceive it exhaustively. Through our "little frame" we can no more see the connection between all the pieces than we can look at both sides of a coin at once. Yet every coin really has two sides despite our inability to perceive them simultaneously, and the cosmos has a real pattern, despite our inability to grasp it all coherently.

Ascribing Importance, and Using the Pattern as a Touchstone

Finally, in the third book, That Hideous Strength, a woman named Jane has been having vivid dreams about alarming and disturbing events that turn out to be real events that have just happened, are happening, or are just about to happen. Her friend Dr. Dimble tells her to visit a Miss Ironwood about it. Miss Ironwood tells her that she (Jane) is a messenger, unwitting and unwilling though she may be, sent as a guide for the salvation of humanity from a great evil.
"...Then suddenly she [Jane] added, 'But how can you know all this? I mean--what realities are you talking about?'
'I think,' said Miss Ironwood, 'that you yourself have probably more reason to suspect the truth of your dreams than you have yet told me. If not, you soon will have. In the meantime, I will answer your question. We know your dreams to be partly true because they fit in with information we already possess. It was because he saw their importance that Dr. Dimble sent you to us.'"

Here Lewis, speaking in a specifically epistemological context ("how can you know...?"), demonstrates his working knowledge of two LtK principles. One is what Dr. Meek calls "meaningful hiddenness." Miss Ironwood says that Jane has reason to suspect the truth of her dreams. Jane doesn't yet know for certain that she is seeing real events. She has concocted possible (if admittedly far-fetched and incomplete) naturalistic explanations for the experiences. Also, some things in the dreams seem to demand a more analogical than literal interpretation. But Miss Ironwood knows that Jane's life circumstances must contain enough sufficient "clues" to point her to suspect the incredible truth.

But how does Miss Ironwood know? Herein is the second principle. She knows because it fits the pattern. She knows a lot of things that are hidden from Jane for the time being, and those things already point to a profound pattern. Jane's story fits into that pattern in a way that increases both its coherence and richness. This is what Dr. Meek calls "the telltale features of the real." Dr. Dimble, who was among the first people Jane confided in about the dreams, also had a grasp on the beginnings of the same pattern, and immediately "assigned significance" to her story. Most people, upon hearing Janes story of awful dreams that corresponded ominously to real events she could not have known of in such detail, would have sent her to a psychiatrist, who would no doubt have put her away or at least put her on medication. Only a very few people like Dr. Dimble and Miss Ironwood, who saw the world as a spiritual battleground, and who had knowledge of the imminence of certain events, would have understood that Jane was the embodiment of a key to averting global disaster.

A Lewisian Bent

One other thing I found interesting while reading the Space Trilogy. The term used throughout the books to describe mankind's condition due to the Fall is the English word "bent." I say "English" because often it is used as if it were an English translation of a term in the Malacandrian language. The creatures of the two planets Ransom travels to are not fallen, and therefore have no corresponding terminology. But they do have some kind of awareness of the possibility of perversion, of turning aside from the will of "Maleldil" (God). They call it "bent." It's interesting that Dr. Meek settled on the same term in LtK. I'm not saying that she got her ideas from Lewis rather than from Polanyi, but it would fit the pattern that she was at least influenced by his writing. Which would mean that it's not so strange that a man writing in 1943 should seem to have nearly quoted from a book written 60 years later.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

George MacDonald Saw the Dolphins

The Chronicles of Narnia are all the rage right now, and for good reason. I read the seven books seven times each during my early and mid teens. This past year, I read them each again, and I must say that, children's stories though they seem to be, they were even more delightful to me at 43 years old than they had been when I was 15. Lewis' primary influence and inspiration for writing fairy stories was George MacDonald, who had lived in Scotland a generation prior.

MacDonald's book Phantastes works on the imagination in ways that only a LtK type epistimology can explain. It walks the reader through Faery Land as seen through the eyes of a Victorian-era young man. It's a most peculiar adventure. At times it hardly seems coherent. But it makes sense to your senses, if not always to your logical mind. As you read it, its immediate affect varies from charming to perplexing to aweing to almost embarrassing in a way. (Come to think of it, the Scriptures have much the same effect.) But when you put it down and go to do other things, the images haunt you in ways that make you realize that you've had a profound encounter with something important. It helps you see beyond the veil that modernity has draped over your eyes.

In the closing paragraph of the book, at the point after the primary character has left Faery Land, he describes lying beneath his favorite kind of tree, a beech, and having a brief vision of sorts of a wise old woman he met in his travels. He says:
"I opened my eyes, and, for a moment, almost believed that I saw her face, with its many wrinkles and its young eyes, looking at me from between two hoary branches of the beech overhead. But when I looked more keenly, I saw only twigs and leaves, and the infinite sky, in tiny spots, gazing through between."
Looking too keenly caused the vision to vanish. Is it not so often true that an attempt at highly precise observation causes us to miss the meaning of what we're looking at? When looking at the Magic Eye picture, you can see the dolphins only if you relax and look through it. If you examine it with the critical eye of scientific, modern man, all you'll see is a meaningless swirl of dots.

When we meditatively and appreciatively take in the beauty and wonder of the Creation of which we are part, we can hardly miss seeing the hand of our Creator, and rejoicing in His greatness and goodness. But if we see ourselves as above it, and Nature as something apart from us, to be pinned down and dissected, we'll see nothing but twigs and leaves.

The same thing happens all too often with Scripture in the hands of Evangelical interpreters, who are influenced more strongly than we know by Enlightenment assumptions. We get so caught up in the definition of individual Greek words, or in the exact wording of an isolated fragment of Scripture (a.k.a., a "verse"), or in trying to make the Bible into a How-to book for personal success, or in trying to find some 1-to-1 correspondence to current headlines, that we miss the story. The meaning is not in the words. It's in the story. It can't be pinned down too precisely, because it's living, and powerful, and sharper than whatever scapel you try to dissect it with. It dissects you. If you stare too closely at the minutiae, all you'll see is twigs and leaves. If you're lucky.

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You Real Bad

This past July 4th weekend, I turned my ankle in a little hole. It seemed lightly sprained, but no worse -- at first. Over next few days, the pain got worse and worse, and the joint became severely swollen, to the point that I could hardly drive, nevermind walk. The pain became excruciating, and lasted for months.

The sprain kept me from working as much as I otherwise would have, and that put me in such a financial bind that I avoiding going to the doctor. I was certain it wasn't broken, and several people assured me that sprains can take a surprisingly long time to heal. By late October, I was finally beginning to be able to walk slowly.

No sooner was I starting to get around again, when I stubbed the big toe on the other foot. I was making breakfast, and simply turned around too fast and slammed it into the corner of the stove. My whole foot swelled up, and I was back on crutches, enduring more searing pain.

When that failed to clear up in a couple of weeks, I finally broke down and saw a doctor. He was puzzled by it. The toe was not broken, but in some ways it acted like it was. He decided to send me for an MRI. The results of the test were clear: gout. Yes, simple gout. This was a podiatrist, mind you. And I had listed gout as among my previously known foot problems on my chart. He was so embarrassed about having to do an MRI just to diagnose a simple case of common gout, especially in a guy who had a know history of it, that he didn't even charge me for the MRI.

I took a a prescription medication for it for a few days, and the problem cleared up completely. No doubt, the reason my lightly sprained ankle had given me so much trouble for so long was also due to gout attacking the weak joint. The damaged soft tissues and the sharp crystals formed in them by the gout had fed each other and kept each other from healing.

Why didn't it occur to me early on that gout was involved? Why didn't my dad, who has suffered similar problems, think to attribute it to that? Why did my chiropractor not make the connection? Most of all, why didn't an experienced podiatrist diagnose it correctly right away?

We were all led astray, prevented from integrating the clues correctly, by a sort of false clue. The sprain and the stubbing incident pointed us in the wrong direction, effectively blinding us to everything else. I had never had a gout attack last nearly so long. Everyone else assumed, based on my testimony, that some kind of damage to the joint was the key culprit. In hindsight, it seems so obvious.

If the clue we consider most important calls our attention to look the wrong direction, it can make it incredibly difficult to integrate the remaining clues. And the result can be incredibly painful.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bedevere, the Witch, and Premature Convergence

In Monty Python's cult classic film, In Search of the Holy Grail, the peasants on Bedevere's land excitedly bring him a "witch," seeking permission to burn her at the stake. The scene is a wonderfully funny example of several kinds of missteps in the process of knowing.

What with the ridiculously long cone strapped over her nose, and the funnel on her head, she does vaguely resemble the witch stereotype. Aside from those, she's actually a rather pretty young woman. It soon comes out that the peasants dressed her up in the nose and hat. The only piece of actual evidence they offer to support their accusation is that she has a wart on her face. One man also attempts to introduce his personal testimony that she turned him into a newt, but as that seems to be news to the others, it can't count toward their "knowledge" of her occult involvement.

The bottom line is, they wanted so badly to find and burn a witch, that they integrated a whole story from one clue--one pitifully flimsy clue, at that. Sensing that the wart alone would not likely convince Bedevere, they created two more false "clues." Having done similar kinds of things myself, I'd like to be generous and guess that they probably didn't consciously intend to deceive, but to reveal. Although they had insufficient reason for their belief, they really believed that she was a witch (or at least wanted to believe badly enough). They dressed her up in hopes that with the help of the extra "clues," Bedevere would see what they saw.

This demonstrates the role that desire plays in knowing. The more badly we wish to believe something, the more careful we must be to make certain that we are relying on real clues, and that the clues in view point sufficiently well toward the picture we think we are seeing. It's important to true knowledge to walk circumspectly. We've all known people like the UFOlogists who made the poster seen behind Fox Mulder's desk in the X-Files: an apparent photo of a flying saucer with the big, bold words, "I WANT TO BELIEVE." It's good to want to believe, as long as your desire doesn't overcome your reason, making you so careless in your treatment of seeming clues that you rush towards an illegitimate or premature integration. The characatured archtypical witch may have warts on her face, but not all women with warts on their faces are witches.

The word "premature" makes me recognize that I hadn't yet thought about LtK integrations with a view toward maturity. In what sense do integrations need to mature? In that they happen, not instantly in the abstract, but in the embodied minds of people living in time. We start with a vague sense that something might be, continue to growing sense of realization, then to the stage of seeing but as through a glass darkly, and, in many cases, on to a full Oh-I-see-it experience.

Sometimes that whole process takes only a fraction of a second. It had darn well better take that little time to judge changes in the surrounding traffic while driving. I suspect that those near instantaneous acts of knowing almost always follow a well-worn path. That is, they are of a kind that we are expertly practiced at. For example, people who have been married for years can often sense what their partner is about to say, or would have said if they hadn't been interrupted, or might have said had they been present. That's because of how many times we've seen/heard/felt clues that form a pattern greatly similar to the current one.

Other times, it takes--how shall I put this--uhhhhh, lllonger. Maybe minutes. Maybe hours, days, years. There's a whole range of reasons I can think of for the term of integral maturity, so to speak. Some patterns are so complex that we must gather many clues from many places before integration can commence, or at least before it can be completed satisfactorilly. Take the meaning of your life, for example; most people aren't likely to arrive at that one until just before they die, or perhaps not even until afterward. Some patterns are of such a design that we must learn to integrate to simpler ones before we are able to get the bigger picture. Put negatively, lack of experience can prevent integration even in the presence of all needful clues. Another cause is false assumptions, that prevent us from seeing what is right before our eyes.


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.