16 January 2009

First Day Back

As I sat in my first class this morning, I couldn't believe my eyes. The light was clear. All around me were students from different years. Some of them were happily chatting to their neighbors, two behind me were bemoaning the lack of party opportunities in our fair city and talking of transferring to one of the other state universities. Some were silent, as I was. It was warm in the classroom and I sat comfortably at my desk.

It was not at all what I remembered.

One year ago I had my first class of the semester in this same classroom, taught by the same teacher. But that day it was too dark to see properly in the classroom so that the edges of things blurred and crackled against one another. That day, the air was sharp and rough, and made me cough. That day, the desk felt too small and I sat squeezed uncomfortably while my fellow students made a chorus of raucous guffaws and descant whispers. My hands were numb while I was damped with sweat and shivering.

It was not that the heating system had been redone, nor the building remodelled, nor the desks changed nor the students. It was me.

The stark difference between my memory and my immediate perception was startling. I had new eyes!

We rely on our senses for unmediated knowledge. Our modern sciences are based in empricism, i.e. the idea that knowledge must come from direct observation. This has led to many innovations: the helio-centric theory, evolution, calculus, even our dear friends psychology and psychiatry. Empiricism as a code of action and of evaluation has reached into history, political thory, philosophy, art. It is always with us, even in such hackneyed sayings as "I can't believe my eyes." This expression would carry no great meaning if we did not understand that our senses were our best conduits to understanding. Divine Illumination it is not.

I thought that I was entering the port of an earthly purgatory; imagine my surprise when I found a welcoming place instead.

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