Possibility of Interpretation
Ideas, late-night thoughts, random musings––to keep track of things, and why not?
Item. Certain strongly held beliefs, particularly those which define one’s identity, if looked upon at a slightly readjusted angle, can easily become a form of self-deception in much the same way as that of a mirage or hallucination or possibility of interpretation. We know we see unmistakably the waves of a lake in the midst of a desert––but who can we ask to verify whether our own interior vision of the world is accurate?
Item. Stephen Ambrose writes in Undaunted Courage : “Over the next few days, the men worked the craft upstream, seldom making more than one mile per hour. Even more maddening, the river twisted and turned to such an extent that the twenty-five air miles to Cape Girardeau were forty-eight river miles. It took four days to reach the cape.” River miles vs. air miles––what are some examples of short passages becoming far longer and arduous due to unexpected twists and turns? An arduous journey occurs when a roadway is blocked or a mountain pass is covered in snow. In argumentation, it’s easy to take a wrong turn. Trace beforehand your facts and arguments to their last conclusion––where’s this leading? Does it flow? Or will its passage be easily blocked? Before undertaking any direct or cross examination, ask: should I be traveling in river miles or air miles? River miles – when a step by step chronology of events has to be carefully traced. Air miles – when a flyover view is necessary to provide context and comparison.
Item. Teaching/learning as internalizing method. Don’t teach another to be a “carpenter.” Teach how to tap straight a finishing nail. Don’t teach another to be a “painter.” Teach how to hold steadily the fine end of a horsehair brush. For those younger, seek out teachers, guides––if none available, then find your way in the act of doing, of experience and the possibility of interpretation. “That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him… Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much...” (R.W. Emerson, Self-Reliance).
Item. Walter Isaacson writes in Benjamin Franklin, comparing John Adams and Franklin: “They were both very smart, but otherwise they had quite different personalities. Adams was unbending and outspoken and argumentative, Franklin charming and taciturn and flirtatious. Adams was rigid in his personal morality and lifestyle, Franklin famously playful. Adams learned French by poring over grammar books and memorizing a collection of funeral orations; Franklin (who cared little about the grammar) learned the language by lounging on the pillows of his female friends and writing them amusing little tales. Adams felt comfortable confronting people, whereas Franklin preferred to seduce them, and the same was true of the way they dealt with nations.” To communicate well with another requires at least some sensitivity of their personality type––Adams would most likely not be moved by a less-than-rigorous appeal; Franklin would be capable of keeping an open mind, even if everything were not entirely explained and justified. Thus, one question to ask silently––how would this person likely approach the task of learning something new?
Item. Most of life––avian and animal, mammalian and microscopic––takes place in front of you but without your awareness. A slow simmer, a boil. Thus, do not be surprised when your own mental and emotional architecture seems to take on a life of its own. It’s a rather odd thought: just because one “exists” does not necessarily imply complete control over one’s “existence.” How much easier things seem once you cut loose of the false belief you have the power to coordinate and control every last detail.
Item. We find one’s argumentative pick and shovel merely scrapes the surface. How to reach the next layer? One way is to notice when the very act of digging assumes independent significance. Part of this is psychological, motivational. And to notice further that arguments can cluster as well, not always beneficially. What psychologists call a “composition fallacy” where one falsely assumes that a group possesses the characteristics of its individual members. Yet another odd thought: to recognize that merely having made a group of stronger arguments does not necessarily equate with having made the winning argument.
Item. Just as a mirror reflects but a mere fraction of the entire spectrum of light’s wavelength so too does our perception of the world deceive us into thinking we see accurately; thus, we step cautiously onto a river’s ice not entirely sure of its thickness. We must ask just before taking our first step: what sure method exists to verify that which we most need to know?
The possibility of interpretation lies in the identity of the observer with the observed. Each material thing has its celestial side; has its translation, through humanity, into the spiritual and necessary sphere where it plays a part as indestructible as any other. And to these, their ends, all things continually ascend... Man, made of the dust of the world, does not forget his origin; and all that is yet inanimate will one day speak and reason. Unpublished nature will have its whole secret told…Thus we sit by the fire and take hold on the poles of the earth. (R.W. Emerson, Uses of Great Men).
 Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Pg. 121)(Simon and Schuster 1996)
 Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (Pg. 351)(Simon and Schuster 2003).