“… the great geniuses had something more than detached, cold objectivity. The also had the ability “to dwell inside of things” that was more art than science, more poetry than prose, more spirit than rational control of data.” Michael Polanyi, Hungarian-British polymath
Objective proof and measurement.
The Scientific Method
In our Western ways of thinking, not only are these two criteria considered essential for determining the truth of any given argument, they also somehow seem to rank high on our lists of most valued character qualities. And for good reason, because much of our cultural advancement has been birthed by means of objective proofs and measurements.
Yes. The scientific method produces high quality inventions and improvements.
But these days, I am thinking of the shortcomings of relying solely on data and facts and other “left-brain” kinds of understanding life. While “detached and cold objectivity” serves our physical needs, they lack resonance with the other side of us—the “right-brain” side of our brains that guides us into things like meaning and purpose and contentment.
The Mysterious Method
As Michael Polanyi (above) observes, life is often “more art than science, more poetry than prose, and more spirit than that the rational control of data.” And he suggests that we might be better off dwelling on the inside instead of merely observing it.
In my studies for the last handful of years I have ventured off into the world impressions and values and insightful sparks of intuition. My studies have led me to consider that few world movements have impacted our ways of thinking in the West more than that of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. We have lost beauty and mystery in return for logic and control.
“Living Into” Mystery
Mystery cannot be controlled. It can only be imagined and “lived into.” As a society (both religious and secular) we have lost the imaginative meanderings of the conceptual mind. The price to pay is heavy, especially in the domain of faith. The default has become a kind of transactional living rather than a transformational one, where we might focus on the magic of the intangible.
Oh, do I wrestle with this one! Almost all of my formal (and business) education has been about learning “stuff” with little emphasis of living (or experiencing) the beautiful mystery that lies underneath the stuff. How do you measure wonder and awe? You can’t. Yet both are very real… until you attempt to describe your feeling. Haven’t you found that while it may be easy to describe a beautiful thing or circumstance, it is almost impossible to adequately describe your how you “felt” about that beautiful thing? The adjectives that come to mind flee quickly because they are so shallow.
My New Favorite Word
“Ineffable!” It’s my newest most favorite word. It is the word used regularly by mystics and deep ponderers. Synonyms are “indescribable, inexpressible, indefinable, and unspeakable.” It’s why we have artists and poets—people attempting to describe the indescribable. People “dwelling on the inside looking out” struggling to help the rest of us come to grips with life beyond the borders of speech and data-driven cognition.
So… let’s loosen our seat belts and wallow in the shallows as we dabble toward the depths—looking at life as an insider, not a mechanical observer.
Logic Governs Us
Imagination Inspires Us
Photo courtesy of :AVTG at istockphoto