What’s real

We took our Stroll out into the empty, summery courtyard late yesterday afternoon, pondering our “Knowledge is power” chapter and wondering if it’s true that what can’t be measured and quantified is not quite real. I say no. I think that’s what Louis Jenkins says too, in today’s poem.

The speaker points out that we don’t really have
much of a grasp of things, not only the big things,
the important questions, but the small everyday
things. “How many steps up to your back yard?… 

With the right measurements we can build bridges and rockets and computers, cure diseases, etc. etc. But we must also acknowledge the limits of quantifiable engineering, and the depths of imprecise and subjective (hence non-quantifiable) but still very real experience. Such is the source of some of our best poetry, music, literature, and philosophy. More than that, the lack of an appreciation and aptitude for the non-quantifiable dimension of life would deprive us of some of our most winning human qualities: empathy, compassion, toleration, respect.

Some students balk at this, mostly I suspect because they’re frustrated by encounters with others’ subjectivity (as imperfectly represented in language) rather than fully attentive to their own. Words are slippery, compared to numbers. We love that about them, we humanists and innumerists (see, I think I just made up another slippery word), while engineers and mathematicians mistrust them. We should all mistrust them, but they’re a currency we must trade in if we want to scratch beyond the bare surface of inner life.

“The fons et origo of all reality is subjective,” said William James. Subjectivity is real. It’s “the deepest thing in our nature, a dumb region of the heart which is yet our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things.” Taking it seriously means admitting the Buzz Lightyear principle: reality goes to infinity and beyond. That’s the objective truth.

5:45/5:35, 65/89, 7:53

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