Friday, February 02, 2007

Theory of Aspect

Jacques Barzun mentions the Theory of Aspect in From Dawn to Decadence. He says, "It would state that an object or idea is rarely seen in the round. Like a mountain, it presents a variety of faces."

I have been thinking about this for several days. This theory could explain a lot of things. If an idea is like a mountain, and we can see only one aspect of it at a time, it is our own present position which will determine which face of the idea that we see. The mountain isn't going anywhere, and in order to view other aspects or faces of the same mountain, we are the ones who have to move.

In the case of a real mountain, we might drive from one side to the other, or climb a hill, or hike along a ridge on one mountain to get a better view of a second. Once, I flew from Phoenix to Chicago, and we flew over flat, flat land from which jutted surprisingly sharp and high mountains, and from above we could see them in entirety.

In the case of ideas, if we wish to view other faces of the "mountain," we will have to remove ourselves from one place to another mentally. I cannot imagine any better way of doing that than reading a book. Read a book written from the point of view of a general and of a common soldier, and you will see the same battle from more than one location. Read books about the Civil War from both a "northern" and a "southern" perspective. Read books written by men, and books written by women. The more "views" we are able to get of an idea, the better able we will be to grasp the entire truth, rather than just a part of it.

The whole thing resonates with something I read recently in Charlotte Mason's School Education.
Some such principle stands out luminous in the vision of a philosopher; he sees it is truth; it takes possession of him and he believes it to be the whole truth, and urges it to the point of reductio ad absurdum. Then the principle at the opposite pole of thought is similarly illuminated and glorified by a succeeding school of thought; and, later, it is discerned that it is not by either principle, but by both, that men live.
Charlotte may not have seen the whole mountain, either, but she knew it was there.

And sometimes I think we are like the blind men who wanted to know what an elephant was like. You know the story? One grabbed the trunk, and said, "An elephant is like a snake!" Another felt the leg, and cried, "No! An elephant is like a tree." A third held the tail and asserted, "An elephant is like a rope." Sometimes I think we shut our eyes and are willfully blind to any aspect of an idea except the one we choose to see. We get settled too comfortably in one mental location, and the view is fine, and we think it is enough.

But we will never see the whole mountain that way. The other faces are there, but they can only be seen if we move ourselves out of our comfort zone, and mentally hike to another location.

I may just be rambling...but that's what has been on my mind for the past few days.


At 5:54 AM , Blogger Mother Auma said...

Wow. This makes so much sense. I have never thought of an idea as a mountain.

At 8:47 PM , Blogger Our Coffee Rings said...

I've never thought of it this way either. How interesting. I'm sure I'll be mulling this over for a long time.

At 8:48 PM , Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Sorry, I forgot I was signed in via the book club blog. That was me - Heather from The Library Ladder.


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