Sunday, 20 January 2019

Wisdom at the Gate: An Expectatoration

Wisdom at the Gate: An Expectatoration


O my brothers, do you not see what you have done? Sweet Wisdom herself now skulks around the perimeter of the Castle of Learning, and you spurn her! In Section 1 I will give the plans of the Castle. In Section 2 I will develop an original account of Sweet Wisdom. In Section 3 I will argue, with the help of recent results, that you must whip your consciences raw in searching for the reason for this great calumny. In Section 4 I respond to some objections.

1. The Castle

O my brothers, good is the gate and bright is the mote! See the very dove that carried me beyond my education! All my discoveries are got up in finery! But now! what is this? The Clock! The Clock, really a Town Clock, and imported from the Town, is now the greatest adornment the Castle has to boast of. With it we apportion our blood, my brothers! With it we measure our very hearts!

(At this the people began to snigger, and one even decided to pour himself a bit of water into what used to be a wine cup. The Clock even gave a wink.)

O, very well, mock me Clock! Mock me people! But verily, I tell you the truth - what am I saying? - I put into your hands the very plan of the Castle! Do you not divine in this document the power to found whole new institutions of learning, such as will make our Yale, our Princeton and our Oxford look like some small community college in Canada? If you do not yet divine it, I ask only that you keep it at your breast and do not cast it down or even file it away. Do this as a favour to me, and in Section 3 you will be glad of it.

2. The Nature of Sweet Wisdom

Sometimes my very soul is as if drunk at regarding its countenance! But then, lo, I become restive - I become angry with myself and at what now appears to me as no more than base grovelling on my part, and argue with myself thus: 'But I know how to cut a great figure in the Town, do I not?! I know how to measure time and other things! Why must I be held in check by this devotion, conceived before I even knew the latest techniques?!'.

But such rebellions of the spirit never stick in a person - or if they do, it is only due to the accidental cutting off, by extraneous factors - extraneous factors, do you hear me? - of the life or mind of the poor subject. No, always (barring such extraneous factors) will the look of hope and devotion, now tinged with sheepishness, return to the pale cast of such a subject! Such is Sweet Wisdom’s magnetism!

And in this lies a clue to its nature: Sweet Wisdom (SW hereafter) does not pull importunately at your pen, does not raise spectres every day on your computer as you look for your little pins and needles. No! Verily, SW bides her time, almost glad at your dilly-dallying, with indulgence as for a child who tarries on the way to and from an errand!

Consider: if you had a tree of fruit, and apportioned from it a box of apples for your kinsfolk, and if on reaching Town Square found it empty, what would follow? Would the tree now be bare and worthless forever? Would you feel the need to search high and low all the while carrying your miserable, spoiling fruit-box, in case of encountering your good kin? Or would you merely laugh, put the box to one side should your kin return soon, and go about whatever Town business you may have, upon completion of which you might lope back happily to your orchard?

I need not await your answer, for such is the nature of SW.

3. Why You Must Whip Your Conscience Raw

As I - after a long sleep in which was invented modern warfare and much besides - approached the Castle of Learning, I began to hear a queer sound. Straining both ears, I thought ‘This is no merely human voice, nor animal - but a voice it is!’. No sooner did I think this than I determined its approximate source: it came from the perimeter, from the gate through which all must pass in order to gain entry. I quickened my steps.

What is it? What is this sound, which I seem to remember? And, brothers - I say this gladly but without taking pleasure in the fact itself that I relate - the voice was none other than that of SW (although in truth I was not to make up my mind about this until much later). Where though was she? As I approached the gate the noise increased, but as I passed through it, an even queerer thing happened: the voice began to fade again. Strange, I thought. I must have failed to look properly - failed to see the source of the sound on my approach to the gate. (It was by now growing dark, as the Clock was well aware.)

Is the meaning of my words understood? We have made Sweet Wisdom - I was going to abbreviate it but I now refuse to do that any more; if you have no time to read the whole of that hallowed name, cast away my discourse! I no longer care! Climb if you wish to the topmost point in Town Square, still I do not care! - brothers, we have made Sweet Wisdom invisible! But the ear is a jealous little beast, bashful at its queer shape, and loves to prove itself against the pretty, fickle eye. Thus did I hear the plaintive cry of Sweet Wisdom, blocked at the gate by the learned Guard, whose helmet now covered his ears.

Is this your fault, my brothers? I do not know the answer to that question, but you must whip your conscience raw in search of it! Hear me: you may have blood on your hands! You who believe that blood is no longer necessary, may nevertheless be encumbered with whole handfuls and earfuls and ...

4. Objections and Replies

Objection 1: If SW is invisible as you say, and yet our eyes are more acute, does that not mean that what appeared to be SW was really just some kind of artefact of our imperfect perceptual apparatus? An optical illusion, as it were?

Reply: I do not deny the power of these words, and I do not deny the now-greater acuity of your eyes. But the eyes are but portals - ports, input ports, I can speak your vile language too, see? - and their deliverances must be organized and interpreted, as you and I have known for a long time now. And here is my claim: just as the learned Guard, whose helmet now covered his ears, was unable to see Sweet Wisdom as she assailed the gate of the Castle she once resided in, so too is there a learned Guard in your very head who also cannot see her.

Is this an “infinite regress”? Does that Guard in your head, behind your acute eyes, have acute eyes too, and is his failure to perceive Sweet Wisdom to be attributed to the failure of a Guard in his head?

No! There is no regress! The eyes of the learned Guard inside your head were gouged out, in terrible bouts you yourself volunteered for, year after year in your youth.

Objection 2: OK, but in that case who gouged out eyes of the learned Guard inside our head? You say we volunteered for “bouts”, but who did it?

Reply: Why do you waste my time like this - I hear the Town Clock now, and it has stopped winking! - when you already know the answer to your importunate question? I do not know who gouged out the Guard's green eyes, but I have my suspicions and I pursue them! You must whip your conscience raw in search of an answer to this question. Why should it be easy? Do you now think that everything you do is easy “in principle”? Do you think you have found a meta-machine that you can chug along in for the rest of your days? Well, perhaps you do think that - but were your inner learned Guard sighted you would not!

Objection 3: How is it to be determined that things are as you say? What if instead we do keep, as you say, chugging along in our meta-machine, and in this way come upon the Thief of the Eyes of the Inner Learned Guard - and find, to boot, those very Eyes in this Thief's possession?

Reply: Very well, chug along! Chug along! And for my part? Well... may I borrow your whip, in that case?