Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist To Be a Rocket Scientist

In his chapter on the order of the mind, Schall begins with a couple of amusing anecdotes about Einstein.

On one occasion, the father of relativity had to be rescued on three successive days after repeatedly capsizing his dinghy off Long Island. As one of the rescuers remarked of Einstein, he simply lacked the common sense to control the dinghy. In short, whatever other gifts he might have possessed, he was a nautical moron.

Einstein also attempted to learn piano, but was apparently awful at it. Finally, in exasperation, his teacher exclaimed, Albert, can't you count?!

Schall's point is that there are different kinds of knowing that correspond to different orders of knowledge. This goes to what I said in yesterday's post, about each of these orders being analogous to a relatively autonomous plane that bisects O. Who knows how many of these planes there are? For there are planes within planes within planes, i.e., sub-subspecialties within subspecialties within specialties.

For example, I work with a psychiatrist who has forgotten as much medicine as I never learned. Although he attended medical school and I didn't, for him that particular order has been more or less eclipsed by his psychoanalytic training, which applies to a wholly different order (i.e., more to do with the software of the mind than the hardware of the brain).

But I am acquainted with another psychiatrist who knows nothing of the psychoanalytic order, and thinks it all reduces to the biochemical order. Talking to one or the other is like talking to people from different planets.

Schall affirms the truism that just because we are adept at understanding one order, it hardly means it will apply to another. Noam Chomsky comes to mind, in that he is apparently a genius linguist, but when he turns his attention to politics, he is crippled by paranoia, moral inversion, and a complete absence of perspective. But he's just one of countless intellectuals and artists who become morons when they step outside the narrow order which they have mastered.

Of course, a man has got to know his limitations. As I've mentioned before, we often think of narcissism applying mainly to one's appearance, but narcissism is a mind parasite that can glom onto just about anything in order to express itself -- money, power, intelligence, musical ability, really, anything about oneself that rises above the average.

Therefore, people who have been treated throughout their lives as "special" because of their intelligence can run the risk of their intelligence being hijacked by narcissism, if they happen to be especially vulnerable to the latter. Narcissism is only problematic when it becomes a pathological means of self-esteem regulation. You can see how this would apply to intelligence, because the intellectual narcissist will not say things because they are true, but because they make him look intelligent.

In recently reading a couple of new books about Schuon, I can see that he was precisely the opposite of this pattern. His need for truth was rooted entirely in the intrinsic rights of Truth and the obligation of man to know it, not in the petty need to make himself look special at the expense of Truth. It was a humble submission to Truth, not a vulgar use of Truth to elevate himself (as one generally sees in all the bogus gurus, swamis, and new age cult leaders).

If Schuon's soul were as filled with corruption as, say, Deepak Chopra's, it would have been as easy for a man of his genius to get rich writing vulgar new age books as to compose a grocery list. But that is impossible to do without doing violence to Truth. If one is not made humble in the face of Truth, then it's probably not Truth you've stumbled upon.

Anyway, what intrigues me is not just that some people know things that others don't, but that these different forms of knowledge apply to diverse, ontologically real orders. I will just speak to a couple of orders with which I am most familiar, the orders of religious metaphysics and of psychoanalysis. I mention these two in particular because in each case, it wasn't a matter of accumulating knowledge and piecing things together bit by bit until an order emerged.

Rather, in both cases, there were particularly vivid experiences of literally "entering" the order in a sudden and catastrophic way (as in catastrophe theory). In the past, I have posted about how this happened to me with psychology. My undergraduate major was in film, not psychology, so when I entered my masters program, I clearly had less explicit "knowledge" than my peers. And yet, I instantly -- and I mean instantly -- zipped ahead of them, for it was as if I were suddenly operating from "within" the order of psychology, whereas they were still outside of it, trying to get in.

I'm afraid this will sound grandiose or self-serving, but it certainly isn't meant to (for one thing, I have no delusions that expertise in one area carries over to all the others). I should hope that nearly every Raccoon will have had this experience in some order of knowledge, whether of computers, music, mathematics, painting, business, medicine, whatever.

And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being "inside" the order in question. A key point is that we do not invent this order, but discover and enter it. And this is only possible because the soul is not in the world, but rather, the reverse: the world is in the soul, so that its various orders may be located within us.

I'm pretty sure it's the same with theology. Oddly enough, I just seem to have a knack for it, although I should add that the knack has *coincidentally* improved with thousands and thousands of hours of practice.

For it is not necessarily that one is born with a gift for knowing this or that order. Rather, it is probably fair to say that in most cases, the most important element is passion. Thus the prescription that in order to advance spiritually, one must love God with all one's strength -- mind, body, and soul. That's just another way of saying that one must pursue O in the same way that Michael Jordan pursued basketball or John Coltrane pursued music or Tiger Woods pursued skanks.

This other book I happen to be reading, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, makes this point quite forcefully. I'll get into some of the details in a later post, but one of the author's theses is that experience actually changes genetic expression -- that we are by no means genetically determined.

It is as if we have an abundance of genes just sitting around doing nothing until they are called upon, either of necessity by the environment or by choice with the will. Perhaps the expert makes it look easy not because he was born with the gift, but because he was born with so much passion for a particular subject or activity that his pursuit of it seems more like play than work.

In other words, it takes a whole lot of work for something to just come naturally. That goes against the romantic view of the genetic determinists who posit a kind of essential, inborn genius, but Shenk marshals some compelling evidence in favor of the thesis that genius is more perspiration than inspiration.

36 Comments:

Blogger f/zero said...

And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being "inside" the order in question.

The trouble is, much of our culture is aligned against such 'insider information', branding it illegal, unlicensed, or worse. Entire industries exist only to create colorful substitutes to keep us hypnotically occupied.

I think of Paul, zealous eradicator of truth but suddenly 'converted' in a flash. Once he was inside, the whole world changed because of his insight. Not bad for a simple tentmaker.

4/06/2010 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"I'm pretty sure it's the same with theology. Oddly enough, I just seem to have a knack for it, although I should add that the knack has *coincidentally* improved with thousands and thousands of hours of practice."

I basically did the same thing with the stock market/finance.

However, the only special power I got out of it was the ability to Not Lose Money. I still can't actually Make Money. So, I basically can use it as a savings account.

I was able to Sell Before the Crash. I still haven't figured out How to Buy, only How to Sell.

But that's because the entire finacial system is completely distorted at the moment.

4/06/2010 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

When can you say a scientist is a scientist? When he receives his diplomas? Or when it was he fell in love, way back when. Maybe the diploma says, he really was in love after all.

4/06/2010 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

And the world isn't necessarily kind, in the long run, to people like Mozart who seem to be born 'inside' a given sphere.

I have the utmost appreciation and respect for those folks, but I don't envy them.

4/06/2010 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

narcissism is a mind parasite that can glom onto just about anything in order to express itself -- money, power, intelligence, musical ability, really, anything about oneself that rises above the average.

"You're where you should be all the time, and when you're not, you're with some underworld spy, or the wife of a close friend."

4/06/2010 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Having spent my life in music I see how I entered it in my mid-teens...but also that just *happened* to coincide with a LOT of practice. I think this is also when I became a de facto Platonist. This "musical Platonism" largely insulated me (though, alas, not entirely) from the rampant pomo nonsense when I went to college.

Mushroom- The case has been made that even Mozart had to work at it and even he wasn't exempt from the 10 years/10,000 hour rule. His father had written the book on music education for children. Though Mozart seems to have been deficient in other areas e.g. interpersonal. Which only proves the point.

Having played music with a lot of musicians who had entered the music realm deeply I find it all too common for that grace to be hijacked by narcissism. Really I see it as either we think we are there to serve the music or that the music is there to serve us.

Often choosing the route of musical narcissism hardly limits one's opportunities for success. It may often even enhance it.

4/06/2010 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Re Mozart --

Shenk goes into considerable detail about how very unusual his childhood was, and how his father just so happened to be a gifted musical teacher far ahead of his time. Furthermore, although Mozart started composing as a child, it was all facile and derivative. The true genius didn't emerge until much later. But make no mistake: no one worked harder than Mozart in always attempting to go beyond what he already knew. Not everyone is willing to do this, but they instead enter a kind of comfort zone, free of the risk of failure.

4/06/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Funny, only recently did I run across a quote by Michelangelo, that went something like, no one has any idea of how hard I worked at this. And then I think of the Pieta and that he carved it when he was only 18 or there abouts.

4/06/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

RE comfort zone, Hemingway wrote something about how fame ruins a writer.

4/06/2010 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

Mushroom-You're so vain.

"Often choosing the route of musical narcissism hardly limits one's opportunities for success. It may often even enhance it."

Being successful usually has nothing to do with one's musical ability. That's why the worst musicians always get the gigs or become leaders or booking agents or famous.
In a past life, I would discuss what was "good" music. After years of thought on the subject, I decided that the only true test of whether music is good or bad is how much you are paid to play it.

4/06/2010 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I am reading the biography of the great jazz guitarist Lenny Breau ("One Long Tune" by Ron Forbes-Roberts). Lenny Breau practiced incessantly and his unsurpassed technique and musicality shows the results. But despite that he was never really able to get it together musically or personally. This is not uncommon as well.

The Genius of Lenny Breau

It is a short clip. But the difference between the praise of his playing by the likes of George Benson, Pat Methany etc and Leonard Cohen's brief description of Lenny's personal life is very telling. The mind viruses often win.

4/06/2010 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Debass-

Thankfully a LOT of great musicians get the gigs. In fact probably now more than ever there are opportunities for all sorts of great musician's to find avenues to make their music heard (and make a living). We may very well live in a golden age of sorts. Regardless though, music, as you know, is a hard road even under the best of circumstances.

It just seems to me that it also is fertile ground for all sorts of of dysfunction. Alas, I haven't been exempt from that in my own life, to say the least. From your response I'm not sure if I might of implied otherwise.

4/06/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great example of this is Stephen King. Not to knock his earlier work in any way - but if you go back and read "Carrie" or "Salem's Lot" - they seem somehwat amateurish compared to his later stuff - The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption.

Writing was his passion, and the more he worked at it the better he became. I think he would be considered one of the greatest writers of his and a few other generations.

Not really interested in hearing his political views, tho. From comments he's made in the past, I have the feeling he leans a little left. Altho, he did pay for transpo for some troops to get home.

4/06/2010 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

In the past, I had occasion to work in the same research facility with appoximately 300 PHD chemists and/or engineers. While not all were lacking, a firly large percentage showed a definite dearth of social skills,and good or even common sense. One fellow in particular would turn to look at a cinder block wall as he passed people in the hallway rather than have to interact. It was that painful for him.
This experience brought home to me the realization that scientists are as flawed as any and that when claims are made, it behooves me to look further into the data to draw my own conclusions. A fine example being the Anthropogenic Global Warming Snow Job.

4/06/2010 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

This just in: Deepak Chopra takes credit for causing the Baja earthquake.

4/06/2010 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason T. said...

"And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being "inside" the order in question. A key point is that we do not invent this order, but discover and enter it."

I remember first discovering this while reading some of Joseph Chilton Pearce's work, either "The Bond of Power" or "Evolution's End." He speaks of fields of intelligence, and our seamless unity with them even while they vastly transcend us. As my passion lies in writing, particularly poetry, I naturally took to this concept and began consciously interacting with the 'poetic fields of intelligence,' crafting some works that far superseded anything I had previously written.

After experiencing the possibility of directly interacting with a field I became intrigued by the notion of extending myself into one that I didn't have passion for, so I began concentrating upon and opening to the field of mathematics, of which I have very little knowledge or skill. After a couple of days doing this I happened to be on a morning walk when it opened up to me. I saw a depth in the Idea of zero unlike anything I had ever known, and this was followed by an inner examination of numbers 1-10. Ultimately I came to see Infinity, numbers as points arising in space, the building blocks of geometry, etc., all from investigating the possibility of being plugged into an unknown order.

Which is where my passion is! My true passion is the discovery of the limits of humanity's potential for investigating intrinsic capabilities that arise from a single Idea. By taking a single notion and seeing it as an emanation of Divinity, what can be extrapolated? The ability to concentrate gained through silent meditation literally transforms the abilities and experience of Mind.

4/06/2010 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason T. said...

"And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being "inside" the order in question. A key point is that we do not invent this order, but discover and enter it."

I remember first discovering this while reading some of Joseph Chilton Pearce's work, either "The Bond of Power" or "Evolution's End." He speaks of fields of intelligence, and our seamless unity with them even while they vastly transcend us. As my passion lies in writing, particularly poetry, I naturally took to this concept and began consciously interacting with the 'poetic fields of intelligence,' crafting some works that far superseded anything I had previously written.

After experiencing the possibility of directly drawng upon while simultaneously feeding a field I became intrigued by the notion of extending myself into one that I didn't have passion for, so I began concentrating upon and opening to the field of mathematics, of which I have very little knowledge or skill. After a couple of days doing this I happened to be on a morning walk when it opened up to me. I saw a depth in the Idea of zero unlike anything I had ever known, and this was followed by an inner examination of numbers 1-10. Ultimately I came to see Infinity, numbers as points arising in space, the building blocks of geometry, etc., all from investigating the possibility of being plugged into an unknown order.

Which is where my passion is! My true passion is the discovery of the limits of humanity's potential for investigating intrinsic capabilities that arise from a single Idea. By taking a single notion and seeing it as an emanation of Divinity, what can be extrapolated? The ability to concentrate gained through silent meditation literally transforms the abilities and experience of Mind.

4/06/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Yes, Debass, and I wonder these days how much of that song was about Mick and how much was about Carly Simon's projection.

My knowledge of Mozart is limited to listening to his music and watching Amadeus -- biopics are not always the best source of information.

4/06/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Well, jolly good for hard work & perspiration! but don't forget UF's 'effortlessness' as a key to the Magician/tightrope walker/[I'll add creative artist]

For me the transition from great arty 'psychedelic' music to [ugh!] showoffy 'progressive' chops-rock in the late '60s is telling...

BTW off topic per usual, this author
has a new one coming out, and if like the previous ones, might be dynamite!

4/06/2010 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Deepak causes earthquake. That's a switch. Usually he only makes us shudder.

4/06/2010 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

"McMeditation"

I like it - sounds about right...

4/06/2010 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

julie: "Over 50 Billion Mantras Sold!"

4/06/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

He's channeling The King in that photo.

4/06/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Bulletproof Monk said...

Christ is Risen!

Just to riff on the opening title, I've always been fond of the saying:

"Rocket Science is easy; it's Rocket Engineering that's hard."

4/06/2010 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"And if you have, you will be aware of that sensation of suddenly being 'inside' the order in question. A key point is that we do not invent this order, but discover and enter it."

I'm not sure I've experienced this, but I've witnessed it in my husband. He has an amazing ability to search for knowledge, study it intensely, and then apply it like an expert--and in areas he previously knew absolutely nothing about. He doesn't regard certain areas of knowledge as off-limits to him; it's purely a matter of where his interest/curiosity leads him. (Let's just say that they don't lead him to accounting or actuarial work, or anything like that. :) )

Not coincidentally, he's quite an intuitive person and can intuit the connects between fields, or planes, of expertise.

4/06/2010 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Now that I think of it, he always tests as the "inventor/visionary" personality type.

4/06/2010 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

ge said: For me the transition from great arty 'psychedelic' music to [ugh!] showoffy 'progressive' chops-rock in the late '60s is telling..

I once heard a theory that Jerry Garcia was abducted by a UFO and replaced by an alien double sometime in '69.

And I asked, "How would we know?"

4/06/2010 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Einstein was an excellent amateur musician (on violin and piano). I thought everybody knew that. He credited music with contributing to his insights in physics.

Noam Chomsky is not "apparently a genius"; he singlehandedly revolutionized the field, for better or worse (some say worse). I am a lot more in line with his politics than you, to say the least, but to my mind the same kind of flaw is found in both his linguistics and political writing; a sort of overly-dry formalism. But to call him a "moron" just reflects back on you.

These two are actually counterexamples to your thesis. In both cases, whatever genius inheres in these two thinkers leaks out into adjacent fields.

Bonus: Here's a video of Chomsky's famous televised interview with William Buckley in 1969, just for fun -- it is obvious that Chomsky knows what the hell he is talking about while Buckley just oozes smarm.

I'm pretty sure it's the same with theology. Oddly enough, I just seem to have a knack for it

How would you know? I'm sure your theology seems sound to you, but I would guess people you hate like Deepak Chopra feel just as self-assured about their version of theology. Which at minimum would mean that you can't trust people's self-evaluation of their intuitions about theology.

4/06/2010 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, it takes a whole lot of work for something to just come naturally. That goes against the romantic view of the genetic determinists who posit a kind of essential, inborn genius, but Shenk marshals some compelling evidence in favor of the thesis that genius is more perspiration than inspiration."

Sure got that right, and the truth of it is resisted by the leftie like a stake being driven towards their heart.

4/06/2010 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will purchase a copy of your book if you write some more about how Dennis Prager is just like Navy SEALs tomorrow.

4/06/2010 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger dwongmeichi said...

I can see why anonymous pisses you off and this time anonymous is not female!

4/07/2010 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

well the Dead are in their own Force Of Nature category! I never caught them live...the albums scattered round WORKINGMANS DEAD = my favest---i tend to love short studio recordings...Jerry's voice harmonies

indicates
more my taste these years

4/07/2010 04:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

You tell him, anonymous! I know for a fact that Einstein knew how to count!

4/07/2010 06:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Dwongmeichi,
I can see why anonymous pisses you off...

Meh - I wouldn't say he even achieves that much, most of the time. On the scale of irritation he's generally kind of like a recurring pimple in a non-prominent location.

4/07/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

I love your new photo, Julie!

4/07/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Susannah - I love yours, too :)

4/07/2010 01:39:00 PM  

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