the courage to become wise:
freedom, responsibility, & chaos

drawing by
don ferrolino
silliman university
high school

fred abraham
department of psychology, graduate faculty, & interdisciplinary research group
silliman university, dumaguete city, negros oriental, philippines
and the
blueberry brain institute
waterbury center vt usa []

Maayong hapon. Congratulations for this recognition today of a major bifurcations in your process of individuation and service within your chosen professional education.

Our first reading is taken from the Epistle of Ruby (Blanco, 1997):

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, 1961):

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):

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:

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):

And (this second by (Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, quoted from Weiner, 1969):

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, 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Crusius, T. W. (1991). Philosophical hermeneutics. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity. New York: Harper/Collins.

Feldman, D. H. (1994). Creativity: Proof that development occurs. In D. H. Feldman, M. Csikszentmihalyi, & H. Gardner (Eds.), Changing the world: A framework for the study of creativity (pp. 85-102). Westport: Praeger.

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, Harvard University.

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. Boston: Shambala.

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).

Serebriakoff, V. (1998). The Athene Forum. An electronic meeting place, url tba.

Tillich, P. (1952). The courage to be. New Haven: Yale.

Weiner, H. (1969). 9 1/2 mystics: The Kabbala today. New York: Macmillan.

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.)

Created: 12/25/97 Updated: