the courage to become wise:
freedom, responsibility, & chaos
fred abraham department of psychology, graduate faculty, & interdisciplinary
silliman university, dumaguete city, negros oriental, philippines
blueberry brain institute
waterbury center vt usa [http://www.blueberry-brain.org/]
Maayong hapon. Congratulations for this recognition today of a major
bifurcations in your process of individuation and service within your chosen
Our first reading is taken from the Epistle of Ruby (Blanco,
"We believe in your expertise to impart
knowledge in our minds."
We'll I was honored to be invited to speak, and readily accepted, but
I didn't want to "impart knowledge" for two reasons. Not only
did I doubt that I had any wise body of knowledge to "impart",
but I remembered that in Genesis, it is forbidden:
Second reading, taken from Genesis 2:17 (Chamberlin & Feldman,
"Of every tree of the garden thou mayest
freely eat; But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not
eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof then thou shall surely
If God won't tell you, I surely won't. So that is two of us refusing
you wisdom. Was Eve scared? Wala' gayud (Genesis 3:6, ibid):
"And when the woman saw the tree was good
for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired
to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave
also unto her husband with her, and he did eat."
God, defied, defiled; everything but deified, exclaimed "Pastilan!",
and then relented saying something like, "The lady really has spunk."
Round one to Eve! More seriously and deeply, we might note, in the tradition
of Nietzsche (1883), that an act of defiance is also an act of affirmation.
God's creation, Eve, was redefining God!
Were the serpent and Eve right? Were God and I wrong? What did God
mean in warning us not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? While
God may have been the first to look to the dangers of wisdom, God isn't
the only one. Jesus had secret information that he would impart only to
the inner circle of disciples. For some polytheistic religions that preceded
monistic religions, we get the story of Prometheus, the Greek Titan who
transgressed the other gods in bringing the fire of the gods to humans,
for which he was sorely punished. The Tower of Babel is a story of God
continuing to try to keep people ignorant by confounding them with many
confusing languages. Most institutional religion has its secret or guarded
ways to wisdom, and most mystical traditions, such as among many mystical
Jewish sects, consider wisdom dangerous, and will only let those who demonstrate
great sincerity of purpose undertake learning their repository of ideas.
Our universities, and our ceremonies, such as today's Pinning-Up, are participating
in this caution on the dangers of incomplete knowledge.
Many contemporary hermeneutic and postmodern writers believe that knowledge
is not a fixed thing, not a great fixed truth waiting passively to be discovered.
This anti-logocentric view (actually dating back to the PreSocratic and
early Greek Enlightenment philosophers such as Heraclitus, Protagoras,
and Gorgias) thus proposes that all knowledge is under constant creation,
arises from dialogue and discovery, a process view (Abraham, 1996; Crusius,
1991; Greeley, 1991; Sabelli, 1989; Serebriakoff, 1988).
Also, I think God was worried for us. We are always doomed to disappointment.
We cannot know everything. This is the angst of existentialism. We are
concerned about our finite nature, we fear death, we fear being wrong.
But we constantly seek the truth: The great existential theologian Paul
Tillich and the psychological existentialist Rollo May have both told of
the courage to affirm self and meaning despite this angst, in the face
of it (May, 1975; Tillich, 1952). That courage, that search, is what gives
us our meaning. Eve had that courage. She also showed the joy and curiosity
sides of existentialism. She saw the nourishment and beauty provided by
the tree as well as its source of wisdom. Many other myths and folktales
about heroes embody this type of courage and enthusiasm; as for example
in the Bogobo epic where the hero Lagabaan joins gods in the sky-world
after leaping a chasm at the horizon while it is opening and closing and
killing his fellow tribesmen.
Third reading: from Henri Poincaré (1905), the great French
Mathematician (and father of chaos theory), put the provisional nature
of truth, like this:
"The search for truth should be the goal
of our activities; it is the sole end worthy of them.
"But sometimes the truth frightens us. And in fact we know that sometimes
it is deceptive, that it is a phantom never showing itself for a moment
except to ceaselessly flee, that it must be pursued further and further
without ever being attained."
Well, if we shouldn't partake of the fruit, what do we do? The answer:
we have to take over the whole job of the tree. We are no longer just it's
caretakers. We have to create knowledge. What do I mean? To explain, I
must explore tohu.
Fourth readings (first from the Sunrise Service, Faculty/Staff Retreat,
Silliman University, 6/26/97):
"Out of chaos, you created order."
And (this second by (Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, quoted from Weiner, 1969):
"The souls of tohu, of chaos, are
higher than the souls of order (they are very great). They seek much from
reality, more than their vessels can endure. They seek very great illumination.
Everything which is bounded, delimited, and arranged, they cannot bear
. . .
"Strength appears in the form of tohu, but finally it will
be taken from the evil ones and given to the righteous, who with the heroism
of lions, through a forceful and clear reason, with the strong feeling,
in a practical clear, and ordered way, will reveal the true order of construction."
There are a few basic concepts from chaos theory that help us understand
tohu and the pursuit of wisdom; how we develop the courage to be
creative, how chaos helps make for creative conditions, and how we can
control our own destinies.
Basic idea number 1. Systems with complexly interactive
components exhibit complicated patterns of behavior in time and space.
For humans, these are exhibited in behavior, mind, personality, and social
organizations. These are called dynamical systems. The patterns
of their activities and processes are called attractors.
Basic idea number 2. These spatio-temporal patterns
may suddenly change from one stable type of attractor to another, even
though the basic dynamics may remain the same, except that some small feature
has passed some kind of threshold contribution. For humans, these may mean
the moving on to a new personality, learning style, or cognitive style,
or social activity. These transformations are called bifurcations,
and the thresholds are called bifurcation points.
Basic idea number 3. When these patterns (attractors)
are sufficiently complex, they are called chaotic, but in fact they
may have different degrees of order, from almost periodic, to almost totally
messy or random. Most interesting behaviors of humans and society will
exhibit chaos to one or anther degree.
Basic idea number 4. Complex systems almost always
will feed back on themselves in such a way as to be able to cause their
own bifurcations or transformations. We call this self-organization.
Maturana and Varela (1987) called it autopoesis. Bifurcations may
cascade to create sequences of bifurcations to greater complexity. For
intentional systems like humans, that means we can strive for change, we
can create knowledge, we can be creative. Such bifurcations require the
courage of Eve and Tillich, and YOU. It may feel safer to stay with old
patterns of being, old attractors of self, but it is good to move on to
new aspects of self as well. The bifurcation point is like the abyss, the
ayin, requiring courage to cross.
In addition to courage, according to the chao-theoretical views of
creativity (Abraham, 1996; Csitszentmihalyi,1996; Feldman, 1994; Gardner,
1993; Gruber & Davis, 1988; and Nachmanovich, 1990), it is contended
that, a middle amount of complexity (we say a mid-dimensional amount) of
chaotic thought, of free-play in the unconscious mind interacting with
tools and skills of the conscious rational mind, make for optimal conditions
of creativity. The jazz musician has to have courage to play in front of
an audience, improvising and not knowing where the next notes are coming
from, letting go, surrendering, free-playing, while interacting with a
good knowledge of 18th century rules of melodic motion, harmony, and ornamentation.
You may have noticed an article this week on the interplay of the conscious
and the unconscious mind in creativity in The Weekly Sillimanian
by Sheila Campomanes (1997).
And so maybe God was saying that you cannot just partake of the fruit,
you have to co-create your own wisdom. You have the freedom and responsibility
to become more, to create, to evaluate, to realize the limitations of your
knowledge, to seek knowledge. You have the responsility not to abuse knowledge,
to use it to help others and yourself become better, more fulfilled. You
have to avoid getting caught up in a hubris of thinking that you possess
the ultimate fruit, and to avid the despair of thinking that acquiring
knowledge is uselss, to keep a balance between them, to keep seeking more,
but to find a balance between disappointment and curiosity. These combine
courage, freedom, responsibility, and the chaotic interplay of the serious
and joyful aspects of both your rational conscious self, and your unconscious
playful mind. Well, I hope I did not impart wisdom to your minds; that
task is up to you. Wisdom is a matter of continual self-creation.
Abraham, F. D. (1996). The dynamics of creativity and the courage to
be. In W. Sulis & A. Combs (Eds.), Nonlinear dynamics in human behavior
(pp. 364-400). Singapore: World Scientific.
Blanco, A. M. (1997). Letter of invitation to Fred Abraham to address
the Psychology Interns at the Pinning-up ceremony, July 4, 1997.
Campomanes, S. (1997, July 2 ). The unknown power (p. 2). The Weekly
Sillimanian. Dumaguete: Silliman University.
Chamberlin, R. & Feldman, H. (1961). The Dartmouth Bible,
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Crusius, T. W. (1991). Philosophical hermeneutics. Urbana: National
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Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity. New York: Harper/Collins.
Feldman, D. H. (1994). Creativity: Proof that development occurs. In
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the world: A framework for the study of creativity (pp. 85-102). Westport:
Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds. New York: Basic Books.
Greeley, L. (1991). Philosophical spacing: Key to the nonlinear
complex dynamics of the attentional system of the cognitive learning process
in the philosophical dialectical method. Unpublished dissertation,
Gruber, H., & Davis, S. N. (1988). Inching our way up Mount Olympus.
The evolving systems approach to crative thinking. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.),
The nature of creativity (pp. 243-270). New York: Cambridge.
Maturana, H., & Varela, F. (1987). The tree of knowledge.
May, R. (1975). The courage to create. New York: Norton.
Nachmanovich, S. (1990). Free play: Improvisation in life and art.
Los Angeles: Tarcher.
Poincaré, H. (1905). Valeur de science. Paris: Flammarion.
Sabelli, H. C. (1989). Union of opposites. Lawrenceville: Brunswick).
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Tillich, P. (1952). The courage to be. New Haven: Yale.
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Appendix of Cebuano and Hebraic terms:
Ayin: abyss (Heb.) Maayong hapon: Good afternoon (Ceb.) Pastilan: Heck, rats, phooey (Ceb.) Tohu: chaos (Heb.) Wala' gayud: No way (Ceb.)