The Five Senses and Metaphors for Understanding

Each of our senses seems to be connected to a primary metaphor for a type of understanding. Vision is good for making fine distinctions; it’s primarily about judging and classifying. “Can’t you see?” When God sees that things are “good” or “very good” in Genesis, he is judging them. Hearing is good for detecting problems / dissonances. “That doesn’t sound right to me.” “He and I are out of tune with each other.” Touch is good for prediction – we explore the contours of an object with our hand and predict its form and purpose – “I can feel my way through it.” Smell is good for memory; diesel brings my wife back to Germany, fish-markets bring me to Japan. Taste is good for value judgment, aesthetics, and other axiological concepts. Of course, we mix these and there are secondary metaphors for each sense. One can “see where this is going” which is about predicting a path. One can develop a “nose for things” which is about judgment.

I first considered this when thinking through digital compression. It is much easier to see lossy compression in an image or in video than to hear it in audio. The eye sees digital artifacts in a compressed image more readily than the ear hears artifacts in lower-quality audio. One of the key examples of prediction used by Numenta in its work on the human neocortex is a human’s ability to touch the handle of a coffee mug and predict the position of the rim.

Self-Knowledge and Empathy

In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, the beautiful and confident Cynthia has a deep knowledge of self, akin to the knowledge one gains from taking personality tests. Her half-sister, Molly, hasn’t engaged in much second-level personality assessment and so her responses to people and events are naive and raw – both more principled and truer. Cynthia “feels” but it is always about personal injury. Molly feels because she really cares for others and empathizes. Molly knows people in order to try and understand them. Cynthia knows people to determine whether she likes them or not and whether to contrast them with her own character. Cynthia measures all things by herself. Molly doesn’t know herself well enough to treat her own character as a reference point for the world. While normally we think that self-knowledge is important as a personal developmental step, Cynthia illustrates that this can become a hindrance to real feeling for others.

Temptation, Time, and Wisdom

We first think of temptation in terms of our tendency to be attracted to committing ethical wrongs. But temptation also has temporal (future) aspects; we are attracted to do good things before we should, important things before we are ready, hard things before we’ve earned the competency. Mastering self-control with respect to these sorts of temptations is one way that we gain wisdom.

Looking for the Right Kind of “All In”

Christians can never be “all in” on anything but Jesus. This puts the reflective person into a dissociative quandary. One’s occupation may or may not survive the refining fire of the eschaton, but it doesn’t make one’s job unnecessary. One’s employer may exist only because of the dysfunctions of a society or even due to injustice, but it doesn’t take away the duty of laboring as unto Jesus. One’s country may be unjust to others or to oneself, but it is no less a gift of God. We understand pilgrims to be those who go somewhere, but one can also be a pilgrim who stays and faithfully lives the awkward life given to us. Each of us bears not the spanner/lance/pen/keyboard/hammer/welding torch in vain.

God has a Very Good Life

God has a good life. He is three persons who mutually submit and glorify one another. He enables our joining that life by creating us in his image and likeness and through the incarnation of Jesus. Then, he unites us to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and we become part of that good life. God has always existed in a psychologically healthy state, possessing and defining all virtues, connected socially, and acting fruitfully. Living within the corona of that beautiful, refined, white-hot life is where we are the most human, the most connected to him and to the other saints, and the healthiest.

Some Helpful Vocabulary Words and Pronunciation Tips

mawkish – sentimental

ultra vires – (latin) outside of (beyond) one’s authority

intra vires – (latin) within proper authority

The word “especially” has no pronounceable “c” sound. Saying “eckspecially” will subject you to judgment by grammar snoots.

The phrase is “home in” not “hone in.” Saying “hone in” will also subject you judgment by grammar snoots. You can hone a knife, you can hone an argument (sharpen an argument). But you must home in on the answer.