Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
- Numbers 24:15-16
Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
- 2 Chronicles 1:8-12
“Ever since the philosopher Immanuel Kant published The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, many philosophers have claimed that it is impossible for us to know things as they actually are. This is because Kant showed that we can know how things are relative to we ourselves, given the kinds of minds we have; but we can never step outside of ourselves to achieve an absolute view of the world’s actual ‘things-in-themselves.’
“Bergson, however, does not agree with Kant. He says that there are two different kinds of knowledge: relative knowledge, which involves knowing something from our own unique particular perspective; and absolute knowledge, which is knowing things as they actually are. Bergson believes that these are reached by different methods, the ﬁrst through analysis or intellect, and the second through intuition. Kant’s mistake, Bergson believes, is that he does not recognize the full importance of our faculty of intuition, which allows us to grasp an object’s uniqueness through direct connection. Our intuition is linked to what Bergson called our élan vital, a life-force (vitalism) that interprets the flux of experience in terms of time rather than space.
“Suppose you want to get to know a city, he says. You could compile a record of it by taking photographs of every part, from every possible perspective, before reconstructing these images to give some idea of the city as a whole. But you would be grasping it at one remove, not as a living city. If, on the other hand, you were simply to stroll around the streets, paying attention in the right way, you might acquire knowledge of the city itself—a direct knowledge of the city as it actually is. This direct knowledge, for Bergson, is knowledge of the essence of the city.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and I had two things in common, but maybe for the same reason. We both relied on our intuition, and we both learned a new city in the same fashion. Although there are three cities that I have struggled in knowing the city from a navigation point of view. Karlsruhe, Germany and Washington, DC, USA are cities designed on the spoke and wheel design. In Karlsruhe (meaning Karl’s rest or Karl’s peace), Karl Wilhelm III had the city built with the tower of the palace as the city center, the hub of the wheel, and many streets being spokes of a wheel from that center and some streets being circular, the wheels. Being off by one spoke can put you in a drastically different part of town. In Washington, DC, the city was loosely based on the design of Karlsruhe, but with division of government between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, there is more than one hub in the “wheel.” The photo above was taken of the Karlsruhe Schloss tower from the hard wood forest north of the palace (schloss), less than a five-minute walk from where we lived.
The third city is Pittsburgh, PA. I have heard from locals that the streets were designed by the deer population. The Native Americans created trails by following the deer. The settlers widened the trails. The city fathers paved the widened trails. The streets, most of them, are fairly narrow and they are one of three types, 1) valley streets that follow the creeks or runs in the valleys, 2) ridgeline streets that follow the ridgeline along the crest or military crest of the hills, and 3) streets to connect the other two, sometimes nearly straight up. Thus, knowing the terrain is necessary for navigation or simply memorizing how to get from one point to another. We liked being adventurous, but sometimes it led to a dead end with no exit other than retracing our steps. But if you are not careful, you can drive in circles all day long.
But as for knowing the living Pittsburgh, you get to know which settlers settled in each part of the city. Other than Italians seem to be everywhere. You can roam through eastern European neighborhoods into western European neighborhoods into African neighborhoods and then stumble over an area that is largely Indian (as in India immigrants). I have met many Chinese, but I have not found any Chinatown in Pittsburgh, although the Strip District in downtown Pittsburgh (named for the making of steel strip, not women taking their clothes off – an area that is a must see if visiting) has the highest concentration of Chinese groceries. Our home, in an old mining town about 15 miles away from downtown Pittsburgh, is a block away from the Belgian Club, but only a few Christmas treats remain of that culture. It is said that, as the trains filled with immigrants from New York City arrived at the Grand Concourse on the South Side in Pittsburgh, those greeting the trains directed you to where others from your country lived. You were not given much of a choice. There has, of course, been some mixing and moving since then. Pittsburgh illustrates the philosophy of the USA as a garden salad instead of a melting pot. American, through and through, but with an immigrant flare, even over a hundred years removed from immigration. To illustrate, when my wife and I got a little adventurous a few months ago, we were in a part of town we rarely ever visited, for me over 20 years and maybe never for her. At one point, my wife said that she was totally lost, even though our cellphone was giving us directions. I told her not to worry. We were on Russian Hill and right over the crest of the hill we would see the downtown area beneath us, smooth sailing through the city center and over the Monongahela River to the South Side and home. Odd, I had not been on that street in over twenty years, but I remembered the community that had founded the area – a living city, indeed.
If you study the Myers-Briggs Temperament system, you will know that one factor is between Sensing and Intuitive people, the “S” versus the “N”. There is about 75% of the population that is Sensing and 25% that is Intuitive. Very much like Kant versus Bergson, the Sensing people develop their value systems based on their senses, what they can see, hear, touch, etc. The Intuitive people base their value systems on the possibility of what might be or might come to be. To illustrate, let’s say you are approaching a railroad crossing. You see the lights flashing. You hear a loud horn sounding and the sound is getting louder. The Sensing person stops because the rules say to stop when the lights are flashing, nothing more, or he speeds up to beat whatever is coming. The Intuitive person hears the horn getting louder and stops because he doesn’t want to be run over by the train – the train that the Sensing person has not seen, thus reserves judgment as to whether it is really a train or a child playing with a loud horn.
With my wife and I both being intuitive, I was talking to her about the difference while preparing for this discussion of Bergson. First, temperament is only a preference, a tendency. We all have some intuition. The temperament we have determines if we prefer using it or not. But let’s say that a behavior could be offensive to some people. An intuitive person anticipates the offense, usually by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes, and then decides whether or not to employ that behavior. Not always, but ideally. We all screw up. The sensing person will do what they think is right, according to know rules, and charges forward. Business may love the Sensing person’s bull-headed determination, but was it the right thing to do? If there is a rule, sensing people are usually great rule followers, especially if they are in charge of the rules. But if not, they might only quit doing the offense when they consistently get the same angry response. If you are trying to love your neighbor, eventually both sides of this temperament difference get the message and act properly. They just approach it differently.
Using our intuition could result in positive or negative results, for us and our neighbors. Bergson was heavily influenced by nature, creating his own religion, of sorts, based on worshipping Nature. C. S. Lewis documents Bergson’s Nature movement in his essay, The Grand Miracle, from either The Grand Miracle and Other Selected Essays or God in the Docks, a larger collection of essays. Lewis notes that the Nature religion formed by Bergson’s ideas took root, but Bergson himself repented and was a Christian when he died. My wife and I, and possibly Bergson, feel that in using our intuition and studying in deep thought, we see more of God, not less, and especially not the absence of God.
Kant, probably a profound sensing person, only felt that experience and senses produced true knowledge, through careful analysis. But Bergson could see that intuition can come to conclusions before we “learn by our mistakes.” Thus, another path toward knowledge.
God knows our hearts, and the Holy Spirit can guide us. For the Christian, it often comes down to listening to the Holy Spirit within us. Intuition may get us closer to the mark, but getting it right requires God’s help.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.