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