“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
— Oscar Wilde
I’ve loved this quote since I first read it however many years ago. I used to have a plaque with this inscription hung on a wall. This quote came back to mind when I was reading more McGilchrist. I expect to post the summary of chapter nine of The Matter with Things by the end of the weekend. I’ve read it and am now extracting a summary. But I digress.
“Education is an admirable thing.” This is a testament to the left cerebral hemisphere, although it provides fodder for the right as well. Instruction is about categorisation and structure; language and rote; stuffing out brains with facts and trivia.
But “nothing worth knowing can be taught.” This is a right hemisphere conceit. It can’t be taught because it must be experienced.
One can’t teach allegory.
One can’t teach allusion.
One can’t teach metaphor.
One can teach simile.
One can teach poetry, but one can’t teach a poem.
One can teach art, but one can’t teach a work of art.
One can teach music, but one can’t teach the qualia of music. That’s a minor key. You’re supposed to feel sad there. That’s a major seventh chord, doesn’t that uplift you? And what about this raga?
What can’t be taught lay in the realm of intuition and feeling. Emotional response.
Whilst researching a chapter on the notion of blame among hominids, I was chasing down a rabbit hole and I ended up finding Schopenhauer’s oft-quoted,
And that’s where the trouble started. Memory is fallible. Although I feel deceived, I don’t feel bad because many people have misattributed this quote to Schopenhauer, but if the Wikipedia footnote is steering me right, this was actually Einstein’s misquote—the Einstein; Albert Einstein of E = MC2 fame.
According to the citation, Albert said this:
„Der Mensch kann wohl tun, was er will, aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will.”
— Albert Einstein, Mein Glaubensbekenntnis (August 1932)
It translates into the offending sentence.
‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.’
The full translated quote reads,
‘I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.’
What Schopenhauer actually said not only doesn’t resonate quite so well, it doesn’t even convey the same notion. His actual words were:
‘You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing.’
The CAUSA SUI is the best self-contradiction that has yet been conceived, it is a sort of logical violation and unnaturalness; but the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with this very folly. The desire for “freedom of will” in the superlative, metaphysical sense, such as still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated, the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society therefrom, involves nothing less than to be precisely this CAUSA SUI, and, with more than Munchausen daring, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the slough of nothingness. If anyone should find out in this manner the crass stupidity of the celebrated conception of “free will” and put it out of his head altogether, I beg of him to carry his “enlightenment” a step further, and also put out of his head the contrary of this monstrous conception of “free will”: I mean “non-free will,” which is tantamount to a misuse of cause and effect. One should not wrongly MATERIALISE “cause” and “effect,” as the natural philosophers do (and whoever like them naturalise in thinking at present), according to the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the cause press and push until it “effects” its end; one should use “cause” and “effect” only as pure CONCEPTIONS, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding,—NOT for explanation. In “being-in-itself” there is nothing of “casual- connection,” of “necessity,” or of “psychological non-freedom”; there the effect does NOT follow the cause, there “law” does not obtain. It is WE alone who have devised cause, sequence, reciprocity, relativity, constraint, number, law, freedom, motive, and purpose; and when we interpret and intermix this symbol-world, as “being-in-itself,” with things, we act once more as we have always acted—MYTHOLOGICALLY. The “non-free will” is mythology; in real life, it is only a question of STRONG and WEAK wills.—It is almost always a symptom of what is lacking in himself, when a thinker, in every “causal-connection” and “psychological necessity,” manifests something of compulsion, indigence, obsequiousness, oppression, and non-freedom; it is suspicious to have such feelings–the person betrays himself. And in general, if I have observed correctly, the “non-freedom of the will” is regarded as a problem from two entirely opposite standpoints, but always in a profoundly PERSONAL manner: some will not give up their “responsibility,” their belief in THEMSELVES, the personal right to THEIR merits, at any price (the vain races belong to this class); others on the contrary, do not wish to be answerable for anything, or blamed for anything, and owing to an inward self-contempt, seek to GET OUT OF THE BUSINESS, no matter how. The latter, when they write books, are in the habit at present of taking the side of criminals; a sort of socialistic sympathy is their favourite disguise. And as a matter of fact, the fatalism of the weak-willed embellishes itself surprisingly when it can pose as “la religion de la souffrance humaine“; that is ITS “good taste.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Just a quote and an image germane to that absurdity of causa sui.
“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”
— Carl Jung
My research into the insufficiency of language yields some nice results. Thank you Google.
To Gustav Schmaltz
30 May 1957
I understand your wish very well, but I must tell you at once that it does not fit in my with my situation. I am not getting on at 82 and feel not only the weight of my years and the tiredness this brings, but even more strongly, the need to live in harmony with the inner demands of my old age. Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words. I have got my marching orders and only look back when there is nothing else to do. The journey is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length. What you think of as a few days of spiritual communion would be unendurable for me with anyone, even my closest friends. The rest is silence! This realization comes clearer every day, as the need to communicate dwindles.
Naturally, I would be glad to see you for one afternoon for about two hours, preferably in Kusnacht, my door to the world. Around August 5 would suit me best, as I shall be home at then in any case. Meanwhile, with best greetings,
Clearly, the main theme here is solitute and slience, but I keyed in on the futility quote.
‘Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: Leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.’
—Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language
I am going to take liberal liberty with Foucault’s quote. This is another take on Heraclites’ ‘never the same man, never the same river’ quote. It can be taken as a commentary on identity and impermanence. Effectively, he is taking the position that the concept of identity is a silly question, so don’t bother asking about it. Then he defers to people who insist on it anyway.
To be fair, creating a sort of contiguous identity does simplify things and creates categorical conveniences.
Vendor: ‘Wasn’t it you who purchased that from me and promised to pay with future payments?‘
Zen: ‘There is no future. There is only now. And I am not the same person who purchased your car.‘
Perhaps this is where the saying, ‘Possession is 9/10 of the law‘, a nod to temporal presentism.
In any case, some systems are predicated on their being identity, so a person benefiting from that system will insist on the notion of identity.
Clearly, I’m rambling in a stream of consciousness, and it occurs to me that Blockchain offers a solution to identity, at least conceptually. In the case of Blockchain, one can always audit the contents of the past in the moment. And so it carries the past into the now.
If one were able to capture into an archive every possible historical interaction down to the smallest unit of space-time—neutral incident recording, indexing and retrieval challenges notwithstanding—, one could necessarily attribute the record with the person, so long as they are otherwise inseparable. (We’re all well-aware of the science fiction narrative where a person’s history or memory is disassociated, so there is that.)
Anyway, I’ve got other matters to tend to, but now this is a matter of historical record…
An Internet friend led me to this quote. I felt it was appropriate to share in reflection of 2020, not only for me but many people who were forced to go with the flow.
The quote reminded me of the mid-1990s, a time when I was steeped in the archetypal and depth psychology of Jung and Hillman. I also read a lot of works pertaining to the Holy Grail. I decided to composite the quote onto the cover image. I’m not asking for a holy grail. Let’s just hope 2021 fares better than 2020 by most accounts.
Just a brief post today. I had forgotten about this Steven Pinker quote I shared elsewhere a few years back.
The fact is that they do not care about the lack of specificity of language. Politicos revel in the fact that they can torture language into submission to meet their own objectives. This is the power of rhetoric.
As I have reviewed my posts over the past couple of years, it seems I repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat… I get a sudden urge to capture a notion, and it turns out that I had already written about it before. I’d just forgotten.
What I need to do is to formulate a cogent distilled version, but I can’t quite seem to get there. For now, I’ll just share this.