## Essay 6: Enchantment as an “Engine of Education”

We started this book mentioning Wittgenstein’s assertion, “Light dawns gradually over the whole.”

There are two “players”—light (illumination) and the whole.

The learner, especially the deeper variety of learner, then has two quests: the flashlight or searchlight that gives off the light and the “problem” of defining “the whole.”

We argue in this book only something called “enchantment” (seeing the magic in some question or phenomenon or thing) can be the engine that gives you the impetus to go on in this double search.

For example:

1. Think of the opening line in the great novel from 1959, The Last of the Just, which won the Goncourt Prize, the highest literary award in France.

The opening line, which serves as a kind of “overture” for the entire book, is:

“Our eyes register the light of dead stars.”

The author uses this as a figure of speech which captures the lasting influence of people who came before you who somehow are “stars” in the sense of principal actors in your mental life. When you begin the novel, you don’t know if the writer is going to use this concept not as a statement about stellar objects in the sky, as understood by astronomy or cosmology or optics, but in the personal influence sense, as he does.

This is a beautiful “overture” because it links the physical to the personal in a “dual metaphor.” There’s a secondary poetical device since stars could mean shiny objects in the sky or people as in “movie stars.”

Great writing has this “enchanting” quality and it addresses a deep human hunger for so-called “words to live by.”

1. Go back to our elementary math example where 1=.9 recurring.

A student gets intrigued by this and senses “how can that be? how can you add these decimal nines infinitely?

In fact, this is a deep and “enchanting” question. If you look into something called infinitesimals (smallest math “objects”) you will find that this issue is still an “argument without end” to use Pieter Geyl’s phrase.

Furthermore: If something is or seems to be “an argument without end,” what does that imply about our ability to “nail” things down in our minds?  That’s an enchanting question in itself which resonates with the Descartes “epistemology” and certitude quest we have seen previously.

Then there’s the other elusive “player” in the Wittgenstein sentence: “the whole.”

Does one mean the whole of a novel or math problem? The whole of the world of metaphors and numerical thinking (i.e., math)? Does one mean everything that exists? It’s not a set or static “thing.”

The point is not to decide any of this in a “once-and-for-all” way. The point is only to allow the enchantment engine to carry the student into these realms and domains without insisting on an eternal “final answer.”

This is why this kind of meta-intelligent self-education or re-education parts company with quests such as Stephen Hawking’s, to “know the mind of God” as mentioned in the last lines of his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time.

Enchantment gives you some pre-understanding which pulls you higher and you can relax the insistence on finality or absolute certainty which characterizes the whole trajectory from Descartes through Husserl, who died in 1938 (think of his book, Cartesian Meditations) through contemporary “scientism” such as exemplified by Hawking with his undoubted analytical genius.

## Essay 3: Why Descartes-Type Assumptions Might Confuse This Type of Holism Quest

René Descartes, who died in 1650, and whom you remember from high school Cartesian coordinates, points the way to the modern intellectual assumption that everything should be explained by means of the mathematical sciences which then eventually gives us the Steven Hawking sense of reality (i.e., science will yield final certitude and thus we’ll know “the mind of God.”)

Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time concludes explicitly with a rousing vision of science as the ultimate triumph of the rational mind eventually revealing “the mind of God.”

To get our bearings on this set of beliefs, go back to Descartes’ masterpiece from 1641/42, Meditations on First Philosophy, one of the world’s great books. “Meditation 2” of this book starts with:

“So serious are the doubts into which I have been thrown as a result of yesterday’s meditation that I can neither put them out of my mind nor see any way of resolving them. It feels as if I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the top. Nevertheless, I will make an effort and once more make an effort and once more attempt the same path which I started on yesterday.

Anything which admits of the slightest doubt I will set aside just as if I had found it to be wholly false; and I will proceed in this way until I recognize something certain, or, if nothing else, until I at least recognize for certain that there is no certainty. Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakeable.

I will suppose then, that everything i see is spurious. I will believe that my memory tells me lies, and that none of the things that it reports ever happened.

I have no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are chimeras. So what remains true? Perhaps just the one fact that nothing is certain.”

The reader will sense a radical vision of infinite doubt looking for an “Archimedean point” of one certain item. The reader can easily see why mathematical constants such as the ubiquitous pi would be something to cling to since one assumes that 22/7 or pi will be the same forever. What else could it be, one thinks.

What we are doing in this book doesn’t look for any “Archimedean point” of final certainty at all. What we want to do is to introduce exercises in holism, giving a more wide-angle view of a field, course, topic, lecture, book, educational experience. We are not in Descartes-type “new certainty” business and don’t look for eternal truths or axioms.

In fact, let’s use Descartes own words here to “extract” some connectedness on the spot:

He says:  “I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the doubt.”

Let’s call this a kind of “knowledge vertigo.” The reader might sense that there is a “family” of such dizziness. You think of Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  That some psychological panic attack which he tries to explain in the movie. Kim Novak, the female protagonist in the movie, has her own kind of dizziness and falls into the ocean. You can have dizziness from hunger, overtiredness, inner ear infection, salmonella, anxiety, etc. Kierkegaard (1813-1855) discusses a dizziness and vertigo of a person “lost in the world” like a sailor lost at sea with no direction.

In other words, one can use Descartes description of his own “certainty chasing” panic to build a taxonomy of dizzy feelings and get a more holistic sense of such phenomena without insisting on any “eye in the sky” perspective on everything based on a rebuilt version of certainty.

In other words, these Cartesian quests could block the reader from connecting things at a more intermediate or “meso” level, neither micro (too small) nor macro (too far away).