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Monday, May 8, 2017

THE WAY OF WISDOM



There are many ways of classifying people. Some employers use personality tests like the one I had to fill out as a medical doctor. Those of a, shall we say, more esoteric persuasion consult horoscopes and claim that the explanation for a person's temperament and tendencies lie entirely in the zodiac signs. 

There is another dividing line, and most people stand on one side or the other. As far as methods of gathering information are concerned, there is a distinct difference between those who use intuition as a way of understanding, and those who rely mainly on intelligence.

Intuition forms the main part of the artistic temperament, and also those who are of a mystic bent. These individuals are governed by gut instinct. They go by feelings. They see "signs" wherever they turn. They place much stock in initial impressions, and seem to know instantaneously on meeting a person whether they like him or her. It is no surprise that intuition is the main form of perceiving used by psychics, mind readers and clairvoyants, who all rely on information not readily available to the five senses. 

If ever you've found yourself conversing with someone who when you ask how he knows what he claims to knows merely says, "I just know," one thing you can be sure of is you're talking to an intuitive. One thing I can be sure of is you were talking about unverifiable things like the existence of God or the belief in an afterlife. And mysticism has been of profound importance historically. We owe many religions to their mystic founders, and some of the greatest artists and poets have penetrated into the unseen to bring it to life in their fantastic renderings. The mystic relies one "inarticulate experience gained in the moment of insight." Of course a mystical mind would not avail the artist who refuses to handle the paint brush, or the poet who has no knowledge of rhyme.

Intelligence characterizes the lover of debate, the disciple of data, the person of science. Pure intelligence, for which logic is another name, relies heavily on evidence of the senses, which is then cataloged, reflected upon and reasoned out. Theories are generated and proved. Without intelligence our sky scrapers would be confined to the artist's canvass. 

Of course, each mode of gathering information has its pluses and its minuses. The mystic often has a hard time convincing others of what he believes, since the data doesn't seem to be there - unless he's talking to another intuitive, who will "totally get him." My mother was of a mystical temperament herself. She was an astrologer, and also studied tarot and palmistry and divination by means of runes and other such things that science has a field day scoffing at. I remember during my medical training how the physicians liked to lambaste the practice of acupuncture, confining it the realm of charlatans. But like astrology and palmistry, acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years, and there are many people who swear by its benefits. Can something which has endured for so long be totally wrong? But like the misplaced needle, hunches and gut feelings can be subject to misinterpretation. 

I remember one day a favorite scarf of my mother's went missing. She asked whether I had seen it. I replied that I had not. She didn't have many visitors, but once a week a friend of a friend would come over and give her a massage. My mom was convinced that Hamutal had escaped with her prized piece of silk. Nothing I said could dispel this notion. I tried telling her that there was no way Hamutal could have even seen the scarf, since my mother herself had forgotten where she'd left it. She had no empirical evidence on which to base her suspicion, she just felt it - until the scarf finally turned up in the hall closet. "Who knows, maybe Hamutal put it there," I kidded. Seriously though, up till its discovery I remember thinking how lucky I was not to have a partiality for women's apparel, or I'd have gotten the blame! And after this incident, whenever something went missing I couldn't resist saying with a half-smile that maybe the masseuse got away with it. Unfortunately my mother didn't always appreciate my particular breed of humor.

Relying solely on the evidence of the senses has its drawbacks too. "Intellect can only deal with things in so far as they resemble what has been experienced in the past," to borrow from Bertrand Russell, who himself was adept at both modes of cerebration. Using pure intelligence to perceive the world and problem solve fails whenever we encounter something that is unique and novel, and so we are forced to view the present through the lens of the past. By doing so we ignore that despite whatever similarities something may share with events that came before, each moment is fresh and unprecedented.

These days intellect is generally regarded as being far superior than intuition. Crowded in noisy cities amidst the continuous onslaught of sensory input has drastically dulled the higher sense. People are almost divorced from their emotions, and certainly less trusting of their instincts. As we saw, a little skepticism is good, but solely relying on established truths prevents you from uncovering new ones. It is the marvels of science which govern the modern age. I often lamented this as a medical doctor. My superiors would order every test that stood a remote chance to come back positive in a particular patient. Defensive medicine at its finest. I'd bridle at what I perceived as the futility of such tests. When they asked me what evidence I could put forth in support of my claim, all I could say regarding the patient was, "Just look at the guy." As you can guess, the other doctors weren't seeing what I was seeing, and for what I saw I had no convincing proof. It used to be called the art of medicine, but now science is dominated by tests. Consequently health care is a trillion dollar industry and people are sicker than ever.

Intellect, like artistry, can be developed beyond the point where it is useful to the individual - just look at the suicides of tortured geniuses - or to society. For evidence of the latter I direct you to the television, itself an invention of arguable merit. Do a little channel surfing and behold all the advertisements for phones and cars and junk food and movies about outer space and other things which you just don't need and which if they don't kill you can quickly make you fat and distracted.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy modern conveniences. A hot shower feels nice, as does the privilege of having such an exotic array of delicious fruits and vegetables a mere 10 minutes away. We need science. The information gathered by the five senses is important, but the material realm is not all that exists. What we need more of is spiritual science. 

The thinker who does not rely on flashes of insight is doing himself a huge disservice by missing some major breakthroughs. Russell's "way of wisdom" is sudden, penetrating and overpowering. Once you have the revelation, science can work its wonders. We can use the scientific method, which slowly and fallibly studies appearances, to prove the feelings which seize us in moments of reflection. And also maybe find our missing scarf.

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