About a week ago I wrote a weird little post about "unity and continuity in creation." Just as I said, that post was meant to be continued, and I think here's where I get to what I'm really thinking about.
I was listening to a talk given by Tony Jones called, "Smackdown--Plato versus Aristotle." That's almost nerdier than something a mathematician would come up with. I like it.
The reason he was talking about Plato and Aristotle is that these ancient Greeks disagreed fundamentally on what knowledge and thought really are. Jones argued that in our Western culture, we have inherited most of our vocabulary about thought from Plato.
I've noticed that I usually either consciously or subconsciously think that whenever I'm talking or thinking about big issues, my mind is ascending into some "thought land," some Platonic heaven where the Truth can be ascertained directly, if only we train our minds to see.
I think this is reinforced by the way we are taught in our culture from an early age. We go into a classroom to talk about those abstract truths we're required to learn. Then we leave the classroom to do what we actually want to do with our lives.
This pattern reinforces a Platonic separation between the "higher" and "lower" forms of knowledge, a distinction I think is false. I've never read the book Shop Class as Soulcraft, but I hear that it tries to combat this distinction, and for good reason.
I talked about in my previous post how we're completely created beings. Now I want to say that from this, we know that our thoughts and ideas are also completely created, and thus part of the continuum of creation.
What I really mean is this. If you separate knowledge into "higher" and "lower," then you get some people trying to reach for a higher plane of existence through their learning, while others just leave all that "fancy book-learning" to the weirdos in the academy.
In relation to what I do, mathematics, this is what I hear constantly: "How is this useful? How is this relevant to me? What can you do with that?" People want something they can hold in their hands, at least metaphorically (but often literally) speaking.
But in the academy, often knowledge for knowledge's sake is still a virtue. So you can see in the separation between different groups (almost different classes) of people how this Platonic theory of knowledge is played out.
What concerns me is that you can see this not just in an academic setting, but in the church, as well. Protestantism has actually prided itself on stressing orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy. This comes from a theological debate over justification by faith versus works, but I really wonder if what we're really doing is being Platonists.
Think about it: it's like those who have faith have some higher knowledge. We've sought the knowledge truly worth having, as opposed to something common people can "hold in their hands," so to speak.
Isn't that what lines like, "You just have to believe!" are really all about? You just have to believe because this kind of knowledge only comes to you when your mind escapes creation and enters the "spiritual" world. (Thus, things like scientific evidence will not help you.)
Whether it's the church obsessed with orthodoxy or the academy obsessed with, well, itself, what we get is this radical separation between different kinds of knowledge, and so people are given a black or white decision. Either seek the higher knowledge, or seek the lower knowledge.
This rather divisive choice is presented to people precisely because of our theory of knowledge, which coincides with Plato's desire to escape the world with his mind and find some purer truth.
But what happens when we say that actually all thought is part of the continuum of creation? I confess I don't fully know the answer, because generally speaking, our society doesn't think this way yet. I do have some ideas, but right now I think I'll just mention one.
It may sound cliche, but I think one thing we could use more of is togetherness. When we acknowledge that our minds are created things, and that therefore our thoughts all remain right here on earth no matter how sophisticated they are, we realize what is really going on when we talk about ideas that matter to us.
What we're really doing is what I talked about before: we're housekeeping. We're bringing some sort of order to God's created world. And because we're all part of that creation, we're all in this together. Ideas aren't meant to lift people's minds up out of the world, but rather to make the world better to live in.
I hear people say something like, "It's not about ideas, but about relationships." They say that because they're reacting to the old way of thinking about ideas. What we should be saying is that ideas are about relationships--our relationship to every created thing.
This is probably already being said by someone else much smarter and more famous than I am, but, it's nice to be able to say it the way I want to say it.