Friday, January 19, 2007

French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau said in his book Emile, "put a young man in a woodshop, his hands will work to the benefit of his brain. He will become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman." Was he kidding? What in the heck could working with your hands have to do with philosophy?

There is the old story of the three philosophers who went for a walk on a starry night. As they walked along contemplating the majesty of the universe, they fell headlong into a drainage ditch. Whether or not they learned anything from the experience is not yet known.

If you were to read and understand the works of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson about the "embodied mind", you might realize that the thousands of years of philosophic thought that attempted to look beyond our physical reality was locked in a descriptive framework completely dependent on the observers' physical reality. Talk about a "catch 22!" In order to attempt to understand abstract reality(isn't that an odd concept?), we are deeply, fully, and totally dependent on the metaphors drawn from our physical existence.

The craftsman, immersed in intimate study of the physical nature of the material, of the tools reflecting the deep working knowledge passed on through generations, and of the dynamics of his or her own body and hands, as they give new shape and proportion to wood, is well positioned for thoughtful analysis of the fundamental principles of life.

We have this tragic notion in today's society that those who work with their hands are in some way lesser in significance or importance than those whose work is of the intellect alone. The three philosophers seem to be charting our course. The way things are going in our schools, government and society, we'd best pray that the ditch is shallow and dry, or at least that the water in it may be warm. Engage your intellect through the activities of your hands and heart if you would like your life to have deeper meaning.

The photo above is from my new book Basic Box Making

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