Friday, August 16, 2013

Nescio quid...

The following is from Rudolph Arnheim's essay, A Plea for Visual Thinking:
"The passive ability to receive images of sensory things, said Descartes, would be useless if there did not exist in the mind a further and higher active faculty capable of shaping these images and of correcting the errors that derive from sensory experience. A century later, Leibniz spoke of two levels of clear cognition. Reasoning was cognition of the higher degree; it was distinct, that is, it could analyze things into their components. Sensory experience, on the other hand, was cognition of the lower order; it ask could be clear but was confused, in the original Latin sense of the term; that is, all elements fused and mingled together in an indivisible whole. Thus artists, who rely  on this inferior faculty, are good judges of works of art but when asked what is wrong with a particular piece that displeases them can only reply that it lacks 'nescio quid,' a certain 'I don't know what.'"
I am sorry to have to inform my readers that Descartes and Liebniz are full of nescio quid. In learning, it is not the checking of sensory experience against a set of contrived intellectual structures, "reasoning" that is required but that what we are told or have assumed and "reasoned" be checked against what we can actually experience for ourselves from real life...  From reality. So most of education is backward. And in response to Arnheim, I would say that visual thinking is not enough. Thinking must become tactile as well. It must take place in the hands as well as in the mind. While the eyes can gain their perceptions from far beyond arms length, those perceptions are made more real to the learner when the distance is cut to allow hands-on full engagement with the subject at hand.

The point having to do with nescio quid, is that just because a thing cannot be adequately explained in language does not make it any less real. We have no way of understanding "animal instinct" for example.  How does it arise? Is it encoded in DNA? Or do the patterns that drive the mating rituals of various animals arise from training of some kind? And just because we can't explain or understand using our capacity for languages, doesn't make animal behaviors any less real. But making a fool of ourselves over what we may say is never more than an arm's length away.

Today is a big day. I'll be working in the shop. In Little Rock the pre-hearing with attorneys will be held concerning AEP/SWEPCO's attempt to blast and bulldoze their way through the Ozarks. Our attorney will offer a motion for summary judgement and dismissal asking that the whole project be cut from the APSC docket due to the inept  and illegal manner in which the project and application have been handled. Wish us luck.

In Descartes' world, and the world of education that came as a result, what you see in your mind trumps what you see on the ground. In the perfect world of engineering on paper and planning from the vantage point of google earth in which you are looking at earthly reality from space, the AEP/SWEPCO powerline might seem like a good idea... good for profits, anyway. But when folks live in the path of powerlines, and know the value of their own homes, and have hands on experience in caring for the land, what you see from Google Earth is not a clear enough basis for damaging people's lives.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Self defeating :), just a post full of Nescio quid. Sometimes I defeat Descartes by hitting my finger with a hammer.