Hereandnow wrote: ↑
September 13th, 2018, 10:12 am
Like many, I have particular fondness for his Ode to Intimations of Immortality, for it makes us consider the importance of childhood.
Given this is a philosophy forum, I thought the following verses from stanza VIII of "The Ode" might be worth highlighting...
"Thou whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy soul's immensity;
Thou best philosopher
, who yet dost keep
They heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, readst the eternal deep,
Haunted forever by the eternal mind,--
Mighty Prophet ! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost..."
To me, what Wordsworth is saying is that when we use the term "philosopher", it is taken for granted that we are referring to an adult, and we tend to assume, moreover, that the best philosophers are those "wise elders" among us, those venerable old souls who have - after dedicating a lifetime to quiet contemplation and reflection - perhaps managed to acquire at least some
genuine insight into the true meaning of life. The great irony, however, is, as Wordsworth says in the lines I have quoted above, that the best philosophers are in fact children; it is they
, and not adults, who are are the ones that possess a genius for true insight. Children have the ability to see the truth clearly because their vision has not yet been tainted and corrupted by age. As we grow older we progressively lose the pristine clarity of vision that we had when we were young children, we become increasingly blinded and unable to see clearly that which is most real. As adults, we are "In darkness lost" and " toiling all our lives"
just to recapture hazy, fleeting glimpses of those ultimate truths which we could see so very vividly and effortlessly when we were infants.
When Wordsworth describes the child as "Thou best philosopher", he is, of course, speaking metaphorically, he does not mean that infants are actually philosophers in a literal sense- the very idea that they could be is - (it goes without saying) - utterly absurd. Having said this, I am going to argue that although they are not professional philosophers, children are, in fact, naive (though nonetheless strict) practitioners of a formal method of philosophical inquiry; namely, phenomenology. Infants and young children are I believe, master exponents of the phenomenological method as it was originally conceptualised by the founding father of the modern school/movement of philosophical phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, in his seminal work "Logical Investigations
" (1900-01). Let me explain...
Phenomenology is the the study of phenomena (singular, phenomenon), and the word "phenomenon" is derived from two Greek words: phainomenon
meaning "that which appears", and phainesthai
, which means to "shine forth
". So, in short, the term "phenomenon" refers to something that appears before us, and especially to something that "shines forth
" and catches our attention because we find it to be, for example, interesting , unusual, intriguing or otherwise "striking" or "outstanding" in some particular way.
So, to continue. The phenomenologists (people like Husserl) were interested in the "shining forth" of things, and they made the presumption that the things that manifested themselves to you as most meaningful were the the most real things. And I think we can make a strong case that this is actually how our brains are "wired up", because our brains are wired to react to things that have meaning BEFORE they construct the perceptions that we think of as objects. The reason for this is because the meaning of things is more real (in some sense) but more IMPORTANT than the view of things as objects. To give an example, when you approach a cliff, you don't see "a cliff"; what you "see" is a "falling off place". It isn't that it's an object "cliff" to which you attribute the the meaning of the "falling off place" perception to, it's the "falling off place perception" that comes first, and the abstraction of the objective "cliff" - if it ever happens at all - comes much later; much later conceptually, because even babies and Dachshund dogs can detect cliffs, and much later historically.
In "The Ode", Wordsworth, as you know, notes this phenomenon of the "shining forth" of reality and associates it with childhood. He recalls how as a child, every simple thing in the world appeared to be invested with an intense "dream-like vividness and splendour
"; how "The earth and every sight
" seemed "Apparelled in celestial light
. There are, I think, good reasons for Wordsworth having observed the sense of wonder children manifest in their perception of ordinary, day-to-day commonplace objects; in the simple, mundane things of the world that hold no special significance for adults. One is that your brain is not so much of an inhibitry structure when you are a child before it is fully developed, so their are neurological reasons for noting it; but their are also reasons that stem from the level of lived experience. You can tell when you are around children that they're open to the things of the world in a way that adults aren't. Children are literally wide-eyed with wonder, and adults like being around children for that reason. Wordthsworth celebrates the joy that adults experience just by being having children around them in the following lines from Stanzas III and IV of "the Ode"...
Thou Child of Joy,
Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou
happy Shepherd - boy !
Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call
Ye to each other make; I see
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
My heart is at your festival,
My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of you bliss, I feel - I feel it all...
I think every parent has felt this "bliss" that Wordsworth is referring to; the bliss mothers and father experience merely by being close to their own children when they are young. I can clearly recall myself that although looking after my own son when he was still very young was hard work and took a tremendous amount of effort, and although he was, in many ways, a terrifying object to behold because he was so vulnerable, part of the way he paid me back was by re-opening my eyes. What I mean is that as we grow other our eyes become increasingly closed by experience, as we mature into adulthood we learn to shield out the things in the world that once "shone forth" with such heavenly brilliance in our childhood. When you have your own child, you can look through the child's eyes again have, as William Blake famously put it, "the doors (of your own) perception", "cleansed" and reopened, so that the celestial light of true r
reality can shine in again. I remember how when my own son was very young , it seemed to me as though he was one fire" in a sense, - and I think all parents with young children have felt this, - how it seems like their young children are "aflame" , like candles, or something that's burning brightly , and I think this is partly because we actually don't screen out fire; we actually see fire and that's why we can't not look at it when it's around.
HAN, you ask...
Hereandnow wrote: ↑
September 13th, 2018, 10:12 am
Is growing up a process that corrupts the spirit?
And you say of this process...
Hereandnow wrote: ↑
September 13th, 2018, 10:12 am
One must remember that the language we use to describe this process, that of psychology and the norms that make up our daily lives, are conceived in the minds of who are the collective afflicted already. That is, it is the adult world already "fallen" that looks to childhood and rates it according to it own values. We tend not to like this romantic extravagance at all when we know better that the world is getting to work on time and paying taxes. Another world is simply forgotten:
I think the question of whether adults are all irretrievably "fallen"; that is the question of whether or not experience, i.e; the process of growing up progressively "corrupts the spirit" in such a manner that by the time we are fully matured adults we are "afflicted" with an irreversible, indelible and permanent spiritual blindness is extremely important,
and never more so than today where the dominant worldview in the West is scientism. Our Western scientific worldview assumes
that what is most real is something that is dead, like a stone - dead, like dirt; that at its deepest level reality is something that is essentially like a lump of physical matter, that it is something "heartless" and "soulless", something objective and external; something "amoral" ; something that has no shred of inherent value or meaning or purpose in itself
The first point I would like to make is that I do not think Wordsworth views the process of growing up as something that is innately malign. He makers this clear in stanza VI of "The Ode"...
Earth fill her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And even with something of a Mother's mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely Nurse doth all she can
To make her Foster-child, her Inmate, Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.
Wordsworth was a Christian; he believed that when we are born we are "thrown" down into the world ( i.e. down onto the Earth) from the "imperial palace" of Heaven.Thus, man's real mother is Heaven, and so, as Wordsworth puts it (above) the Earthly world is merely his foster nurse. It seems that as his foster carer, the Earth believes that the best thing she can do for her new foster child to "do all she can
" to make him forget all about the exquisite dream-like splendour of Heaven and learn how to live in his new and far humbler home, the material world. In doing this, Wordsworth accepts that "The homely Nurse"
is demonstrating a sincerely caring maternal instinct ( "something of a Mother's mind"
) and that what she is trying to achieve is "no unworthy aim
". While we are young, our memories of Heaven are still quite fresh and so all of the things we see on Earth are still vividly bathed in the dream-like splendour and glory of Heaven's divine light. But our foster nurse knows that we will not be able to survive in the harsher material realm of the world if we continue to remain awe-struck and bedazzled by a sense of intense wonder ( however blissful it may be) in everything
that we see on Earth. She knows that sometimes one has to be "cruel to be kind" and this is why in the process of growing up the splendid brilliance of our childhood vision is progressively dimmed and the doors of our perception narrowed in order that we not be "blinded by seeing too much of Heaven's celestial light" and rendered vulnerable, paralysed like rabbits caught in the glare of an oncoming car's head-lights.
To continue, I think what Wordsworth is saying in Stanza VI of "The Ode" is that as you develop as a competent adult, which is precisely the direction towards which you should
develop, much of what you're doing in the process is actually closing in and narrowing. You are closing in and narrowing towards a particular goal and a particular way of being. (And) this is necessary; as you mature and grow in experience you must be developing towards a particular way of being because if you aren't you will not develop at all
, and you simply cannot stay a child forever - that goes sour of its own accord. In short it's the way of the world that human beings are all destined to to close the doors of our perception, to sharpen and narrow ourselves, to focus on very little so that at least they are able to do that. But, sadly, the price we pay for this is that in the process of growing up we progressively diminish the relationship we originally has with untrammelled reality, we increasingly replace what was a solid, concrete relationship with the shadows that are only complex enough to let us do what we have to do and no more. So, in some sense, while we become more competent with the benefit of experience,, we also become more blind. As to how it happens, well that's no secret - we know exactly how it happens and that is from the bottom up. We build our perceptual and action structures from the bottom up. For example, when you're an infant, you first learn to move your arm; next you learn to close your hand; then you learn to do practical things with those abilities, such as lifting a spoon to your mouth, (which is something you need to do to feed yourself). After this you learn to move a plate, and then you learn how to set the table; thus you are now acquiring social skills because you can set the table for yourself and also
for other people. After you can do this you go on to learn how to make a meal for yourself, which demands an even more complex sequencing of motor activities and perceptual abilities - it's a very focussed activity. In short, aS you continue to grow up and develop, the things you chain together become more and more complex, but also more and more SPECIFIC
; for instance, as an adult, you have to care for your family ( which means there's all sorts of other things that you're not doing); you also have to find good job, which almost everyone when they're young experiences as the contemplation of an unpleasant limitation. That is, when you're young, you think "Woe is me !", it looks like I'm going to have to settle for some particular role in life and there's nothing I can do about it, but I don't want to only be that role
! What young people tend not to understand is the fact that it's actually better to be "that particular role" than to be no role at all. Moreover, perhaps it might be the case that the only way to " break on through the other side
" ( apologies to Jim Morrison and "The Doors") is to go through
the role and not around it, because it certainly seems like there's no avoiding the responsibility of narrowing and shaping and specialising. To continue. As a grown up adult, you need to be a good parent, because that's a sacrifice you must make for the next generation; you also need to be a good partner for precisely the same reason. Likewise you must strive be a good citizen; and young people are particularly skeptical of this demand because they see the old society as always being corrupt and archaic and blind; and to become a member of that can seem ,in part, to be be allowing yourself to adopt the same aged blindness. But this is precisely the thing that has also educated them - that has shaped every word that comes out of their mouths, so it's something that they should learn to be grateful for - even in its aged and archaic form ! In any case, it's a part of the NECESSITY of human responsibility that one endeavours to become a good citizen, and this means, in some sense, having to give up even more of what you COULD be ( at least to sustain what IS). There's a wonderful late 19th century ( i.e. "Victorian") English song that lampoons the narrowing, restrictive and limiting nature of good citizenship as follows...
"I am the very model of
a modern Major
vegetable, animal, and
I know the kings of
England, and I quote the
From Marathon to
Waterloo, in order
Here we have the "Good Citizen", a man who has all the knowledge his society regards as being desirable/worthy, a man who is proud to declare himself a high-ranking functionary of the State; and it was, we can be sure, not easy at all for him to have achieved all of this, but in the same way it's all very narrowing, limiting and confining - all so very "categorical". No artist would ever approve of this, and hence the author of the song satirises his society's conventional model of the exemplary "Good Citizen".
In "The Ode" Wortdsworth makes it very that in his view once we have grown to full maturity as adults we can never fully recapture the brilliance and divine, dream-like splendour of our childhood vision, it is - alas ! - gone forever; and the only compensation we receive lies in the fact that it is still possible for us to find some
comfort by recalling to mind the misty memories we have of our youthful bliss - some comfort in the hazy intimations these memories carry with them of what we one had, but have now irretrievably lost. As he says in stanza X...
"What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind... "
What "remains behind" are the faded memories we have of our childhood bliss; i.e; what Barbara Streisand referred to in her famous pop song as those: "misty, water-coloured memories of the way we were".
So, is Wordsworth right ? THAT is the question ! Well, according to one poet - the great, romantic visionary, William Blake (who was one of Wordsworth's contemporaries), no, he was not. In Blake's famous collection of poems: "Songs of Innocence and Experience" he divides man's life up into two phases in very much the same way that Wordsworth does in "The Ode". For Blake there is the phase of "Innocence" and the phases of "Experience"; during the phase of "Innocent" which he associates with childhood one is possessed of "Imagination", Blake, like Wordsworth was a Christian, and his conception of "Imagination" is extremely complex, but, in short, he views it is a faculty of mind that, when possessed, enables one to become a visionary, one who is capable of clearly perceiving the light of divine truth stand revealed before him/her in all its magnificent heavenly splendour and beautiful, graceous brilliance. Thus , for Blake children, because they are pure and "Innocent" are endowed with "Imagination" and thereby able to see the things of the world bathed in the same kind of exquisite "celestial light" that Wordsworth likewise believes characterises the vision of children. Blake's phases of "Experience" are also very much like the progressive stages of maturity that Wordsworth notes human beings going through as they grow from being infants/children to finally become fully - matured adults. For both Blake and Wordsworth, "Experience" ( "growing up"/aging) has the effect, namely, of diminishing the dream-like visionary splendour of youth - of steadily "closing the doors of perception" so that the light of heavenly truth is increasingly shut out and man is consequently reduced, more and more, to a state of blindness, so that by the time he reaches adulthood, he is only able to see, at best, the dark shadowy outlines of what actually exists before him in absolute, ultimate reality.
Notwithstanding the strong affinities I have just noted that exist between the views of Wordsworth and Blake on the matter at hand, there is, I must emphasise, one crucial - and IMO vitally important difference in their thinking. This is that Blake, unlike Wordsworth, does not regard "Innocence" and "Imagination" to be the sole monopoly of the child. Blake, that is, argues that it is possible for men and women of all ages - be they children or fully grown adults - to have "Imagination" at their command; that it is not impossible, in other words, for s/he who is experienced and mature to yet possess "Innocence" regardless. Thus, Blake places a tremendous importance on the need for men of all ages who have acquired "Experience" to strive in an effort to cultivate their "Imagination", whereas Wordsworth, on the other hand, is resigned to the sad fact that such striving would be futile, and it would only be by remaining a child for ever that man could ever hope to succeed in retaining, throughout his lifespan, a capacity to see the untrammelled light of divine truth "shine forth" before him, bathing, as it did, all of what he saw about him in the wonder and glory of its celestial brilliance.
So is Blake right ? The answer, I believe, is, "Yes, he is". To explain why I think this, let me begin by going back to the issue of the responsibility we have to make ourselves good citizens. It's true, I believe that we do indeed have this responsibility, but I don't think that being a good citizen is where our human responsibilities ends. It seems to me that there must be something above achieving status as a good citizen. Why ? Because sometimes being a good citizen is not so good; I mean, if you were a good citizen of Nazi Germany, or a good citizen of the Soviet Union, or Mao's China, then you were certainly narrowed in a particular way, but also in a very pathological way. Thus, it seems to me that even though adopting the viewpoint of the good citizen is necessary, there has to be something higher above it, and I think that's also the thing that can restore the true sense of entanglement with the deepest and most meaningful realities of life, and this is the issue of being a good person.
Being a good person is above being a good citizen, it's something else, it has to do with the development of individuality and I think we're neurologically wired for this. So, it seems to me that Wordsworth is right insofar as we're wired to lose what we has as children, that is to narrow and specialise as we grow up, BUT then once we're specialised to re-open. That is, once we've got the skills built into our body and then can handle reality because we're more adapted, more fluid and more flexible, then we can cab start to re-open the doors of perception again, and I think our nervous system is set up to help us do this provided we don't interfere with it and we notice. We notice that by paying attention to the things that manifest themselves to us as - that "shine forth" as interesting; the things that grab us, and where we're grabbed is where the obscuring map map we live in isn't obscuring the reality that's underneath it. It like there's a hole in the map and the light shines through that and that will pull you along. This is when our interest is seized by something, and it our nervous system that's doing this - WE don't do it, it's an unconscious force, you could even say that it's the world itself talking to you. This is actually what the phenomenologist like Husserl believed. It's a REAL phenomenon, it's not a secondary thing and we know this because none of us could live with it, we would all die, we would become abnormally and unhealthily cynical and skeptical, we would get nihilistic or begin to adopt wild belief systems if we did not have the attachment to some genuine, life-giving meaning in our own lives. And it's a hard thing to follow that, because it doesn't necessarily put you in perfect juxtaposition with society, precisely because it's not
society, it's not
being a good citizen, it's something else. It's also the thing that rebuilds how you would be a good citizen.
To conclude it is in the process of actively paying careful attention to the things in the world that "shine forth" for us, we are, I believe effectively using what Blake refers to as "Imagination". Because when we do this, what we are actually "seeing" is true reality
instead of our obscuring, superficial maps; we're actually gaining real access to the the real information that's in the world. And it's not pre-packaged information, because that can be false, it's the real information that's flowing out from the ground of being.
If we pay careful attention to it, it will help us move towards the goals that we've already established for ourselves as good citizens that are part of the inbuilt value structures that we've adopted, but, at the same time, it will do something else as well. It will lead us to transform
the nature of those goals. This is because as we actively pursue the things that "shine forth" and guide our interest and more and more information is revealed, then by absorbing this information ( which is learning essentially) we will be building ourselves into different people - stronger and more informed people, more intact people, people with more integrity and with more direction, and at the same time we will be differentiating/diversifying our maps so that we're actually living more and more in the real world. In sum, as we then approach our specific goals - even if they're culturally conditioned goals, the learning we do along the way will transforms us, and it also transforms the nature of our goals.
I can provide you will compelling, concrete evidence of how this all really does work if you are interested, but I'm afraid that would necessitate a separate post. This one is already far too long.