A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘E. O. Wilson’

A Peripatetic Theory of Knowledge (redux)

In Adventure, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life on August 29, 2012 at 6:00 am

North of the “Pine Curtain”.

As noted previously, I’m into the woods. (What is the draw to pine and moving water?–that is a contemplation for another time.) Out and gone, as it were. So, I leave here thoughts from eleven months ago. I present, A Peripatetic Theory of Knowledge:

There is a quote in the new Alpinist magazine (#56) that caught my eye. Mountaineer Joe Fitschen comments, “Wittgenstein talked about getting to know a region, whether on the ground or in the mind, by just wandering around, eschewing maps and other guides, coming at the territory from different angles until you feel at home. I call it the peripatetic theory of knowledge.” I like this notion. I’ve considered the value of walking around, sauntering as it used to be called, elsewhere. (You can find my essay on the topic, Metaphor: On Walking, at The Nervous Breakdown.) It, walking around, is a balm for the soul, good for what ails you.

But Fitschen’s observation is more than that. I’ve spent a great deal of time in my head over the years, though largely with the guides (books) Wittgenstein recommends eschewing. Now at this place in life, I am beginning to question the value of all that quiet time, all that contemplation. If you’ve been following this blog the past year or two you might have noticed a shift from–with a nod to Guy Davenport–”The Geography of the Imagination,” to “The Geography Under My Feet, My Sleeping Bag, My Canoe.” Fitchen, citing Wittgenstein, gives weight to replacing the cerebral with the physical. I’m reminded of another mountain climber, Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest (1963). “I don’t reflect much,” said Whittaker. “I just do it.” (Nike, by the way, rolled out their “Just Do It” campaign in 1988.) A life of action versus a life of the mind, interior monologue, exterior dialogue–a classic lineup.

I’ve never been one to sit around. There is enough ADD in my temperament to keep me in motion. That has always been the case, but it seems to be picking up momentum and along with it the need to practice the peripatetic theory of knowledge. I think a sense of place has a great deal to do with it. Maine, if one is inclined, invites one to get lost, literally and figuratively. It is a place that will draw on the physical, if one is naturally inclined in that direction. The more I explore this place, the more I am dismayed over my abysmal knowledge of my surroundings. For instance, I plucked a small twig from a tree this morning. There are five or six alternating simple leaves attached. But I cannot identify the tree from this sample, despite my library of guide books. It is a glaring omission in my accumulated knowledge, this simple business of not knowing my surroundings. To quote E.O. Wilson, “The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things by their right names.” I can talk with a modicum of intelligence, say, about the life and thought of Nietzsche but I cannot tell you anything about a tree at the dog park. This is deeply troubling to me and I am setting out to rectify it.

The eagle and the hawk.

In Curiosity, Nature, Philosophy, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers on July 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

A battle worthy of the Red Baron.

I observed a battle overhead yesterday. It was worthy of the Red Baron. A red-tail hawk was attempting to shoo a bald eagle from a patch of sky it deemed proprietary. The eagle wasn’t terribly phased, even as it was being attacked by the largest of the hawks.

From above the hawk watched the eagle. The eagle watched the ground. This would go on a minute or two, then the hawk would draw its wings slightly and drop on the eagle, who, waiting until the last moment, would flip sideways and defend itself with its talons. I watched through my field glasses for five minutes or more. Finally, the two drifted over the tree horizon, still tangling. I can only assume they continued the aerial ballet beyond my view. Who was established as top of the food chain for that specific parcel of blue sky is unknown–but I would put my money on the eagle.

The battle was entertaining and interesting and underscored something I have been thinking about recently. Specifically, I’ve been considering how a thinking person views the world. In my absurdly reductionist scheme of things, one looks at the world predominately in one of four ways:

  • As an artist, who interprets
  • As a journalist, who explains
  • As a scientist, who understands
  • As a philosopher, who questions

I am assuming one is a thinking person. There are throngs who never give consideration to this stuff, who simply exist. (I envy those lucky simple souls.) Too, I recognize the overlapping nature inherent in this scheme. The universe drops us a gift when it delivers a genius lifting heavy weight in multiple categories. (DaVinci comes to mind.)

Of the eagle and the hawk? How did this link come to be? I have lived in the world of interpretation (the artist), and participated as one of those wishing to explain (the journalist), and I have questioned (the philosopher)–but I have understood very little. Above me, on the wing, simple biology played out, but I understood very little of it.

A like-minded friend recently began reading E.O. Wilson‘s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth. He sent me this quote:

“Moreover, we look in vain to philosophy for the answer to the great riddle. Despite its noble purpose and history, pure philosophy long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence. The question itself is a reputation killer. It has become a Gorgon for philosophers, upon whose visage even the best thinkers fear to gaze. They have good reason for their aversion. Most of the history of philosophy consists of failed models of the mind.”
My needs grow simpler as I grow older. I require less interpretation, less explanation, tolerate fewer questions. Understanding is what I seek.
Thanks for reading.