Monday, September 11, 2006

A Way of Knowing

Poetry (art, music) as a way of knowing. Of understanding the world, one's self, and one's place in the world. Poetry (art, music) as a way of expressing one's palce in the world, of responding to the world: of giving back to the world.

Two quotes from the masters give us a clue how to approach this:

We must be clear that, when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. —Niels Bohr

Truth cannot be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system. The words can only be used as a figure of speech. —the Buddha

So, we run up against the limits of language, again. Metaphor as a description of the world. Poetry and metaphor as a way of talking about what cannot be described. We get at the edges, if not at the center.

Poetry as a means of understanding? It's an idea that has been proposed before, of course. It gets to the difference between quantitative and qualitative understanding, which I think is also what Bohr is saying. (Schrodinger said some similar things, too.) This comment of the Buddha's also echoes similar comments from Rumi, about the ultimate uselessness of reductive, categorical analysis towards being able to understand anything like the meaning and purpose of life. Why are we alive? The random-evolution theory of scientific rationalism can tell us everything but "why," but this doesn't mean that spiritual answers can tell us anything but why. I think of the neurosugeon who is a person of deep faith, and sees the hand of God in the amazing beauty and complexity of the evolved human brain. I think of scientists (for example, Rupert Sheldrake) who are willing to explore those ideas about existence that most scientists would relegate to metaphysics, or dismiss out of hand—which seems a bit close-minded, for science is nothing if it doesn't keep an open mind and look to the evidence.

Perhaps this is about the poetic (qualitative) response to life. The need to understand why, but also the realization that there may be no answer but Mystery.

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