Issue 101 / September - October 2014
Three Tiers of Knowledge
"I am here," she said. Her friends were looking all over for her. "I forgot myself under this tree for a while," she responded to the curious eyes of her friends. 'I am physically here, but I was inside the tree in my mind.'
She was studying biology and was in love with the micro-cosmos.
"Why don't you go to lab, then?" Alice asked. "It would be better if you stay there. At least we'll know where to find you."
Marylyn breathed and responded. "You know, there are three tiers of knowledge. One is while you sit in class. There, you just hear about cells, the plants, and various kinds of bacteria. When you are in lab, you see that the knowledge you know so far is just a narrative. But when I am in nature, even it is only one tree, I can live it. I can breathe in, breathe out, and each time my cells will appreciate me, my soul will feel refreshed. I wish I could breathe in all knowledge as such. I wish I could be more into their hidden world."
"You know, I love hiking," Sharon said. "I love seeing places that I have never been to. To get to know a tree I have never been introduced to before is a way of getting to know the wilderness friendship community. I try hard to have a meaning each time I walk on a new trail. There is that huge connection and circulation in nature. A drop of water that was once at Manhattan Beach can return back to the Bay Area as morning dew. A leaf that left the family tree in one fall can return to her wilderness society in the form of a new nutrient that serves birds or other animals in the form of a new plant. Scientists follow birds that travel for years, but we all travel around. That makes us a family. All are given to the service of humans at the end. Beauty is the thing that makes me think the most. Each snow crystal has a unique blueprint, though we cannot see that with our bare eyes. When an ocean wave pounds the shore, the way the drops of water scatter is very mathematical. You can measure it, and figure out a pattern. But does the water know this? Do flowers know how to calculate how to take off their petals, mathematically, every morning when they see the sun? If not, what kind of knowledge is it? As a human, am I the only one who can read this knowledge?
"If so, we are given both a big responsibility and a very deep honor. I cannot appreciate enough that duty and honor. But, my problem is it is not as easy to read or listen to the language of the universe as it is to read a book. But I imagine, if I could listen to that language, what would it feel like? I would have new friends each and every day from nature, friends who would have scientific names. But I know them beyond science. This is a knowledge of friendship. This is beyond just names; it is to be able to carry a conversation and be one of them."
"You are funny," Alberto said. "You should have studied philosophy."
Karen was silent until that moment. "What you say about three layers of knowledge, reminded me of 3-D movies. It's as if you would rather be in that movie. But I suppose we do not have a 4-D."
"I agree," continued Alice. "But I assume there is something in nature that tells you even though you are in the most beautiful place, it will not last long. Or you will not be able to penetrate into it. You are just an outsider. When you read a book, you can have a special imagined space for that book in your mind. Movies are different. Say, you read Great Expectations. Your characters and places are unique to you when you read it. No cinema can substitute the places and characters your imagination generates in your little world. So when you read, you enter into a secret world of your own. It is so secret that sometimes, even words or art cannot describe it. You travel to the tops of mountains, or to city centers ÔÇô except those places only exist inside of you. And you can go to those places whenever you want to.
"Nature is like the words on the page of a book. The first layer of knowledge is to attain the ability to read. But when letters composed of leaves come together and form a word from a tree, and when you put trees together what does the sentence of the forest say to you? This is, again, a secret world. First it reads, then it tells, then it speaks, and I suppose at the zenith, it feels. When we go into the wilderness, the first impression is that feeling. Then we go backwards and try to see where it speaks, what it says, what it writes. At the zenith of that inner journey, we meet ourselves as a reader of nature. We are interlocutor, we are in a conversation that touches, that encompasses, but it is beyond the limits of even 4-D. We do not know how to describe it. Thus, we can only say that it feels."
"Well, is it like me when I want to lie in one letter of a song?" Liam asked. "Or take that word as a jacket and wear it for days? Once we even discussed with my friends in philosophy club whether to initiate a group on wearing the sounds of words in our every day presence. A friend once made a presentation on how we talk out our inner self when we meditate and how that moment of meditation is indeed a replica of nature speaking in its own language. He brought pictures both from nature and from other traditions. He showed how sitting in silence is reminiscent of how trees with big, strong roots lay out on the earth. He showed how oceans and the earth prostrate, teaching us to be humble despite the fact that oceans and water compose 70% of the world and the rest is the soil. He showed us flowers that open their hands and arms to reach out beyond the sky and heavens. When we bow down, we intend to leave our carnal selves in the shape of an animal on four legs, he believed. In his presentation, nature spoke in the form of a human. But I do not know the reverse. Can humans decipher more than the symbolic language of nature? Can we delve in between the lines of the book of universe?"
'This is a very sophisticated talk. I'm not sure I can add much to it," Suzie said. "Yet, I see that this is also our daily lives. You know my friends in art school, we seek ways to make things speak in the language of art. I suppose one flower is an example of the highest level of sophistication in the artistic language. Humans can make that flower speak in zillions of languages. But art also feels. The regular words are just a tool to express the meaning. It is mostly a knowledge that is revealed in the forms of feeling. Is feeling also a type of knowledge?"
"Maybe, maybe not," Evan responded. "My professor used to say that sometimes a great article begins with an unsatisfied feeling. You do research and find out that you were not satisfied because of an aspect you missed or that you were right and the literature dismissed one important point. Thus, we shall not underestimate feelings as a point of origin, but we have to dig deeper for the source of knowledge. Feelings are a trigger; the rest is all on the results of the analysis."
"Well then," Sharon said. "It is five minutes to my class. Hope to see you again afterwards?"