Reading the signs of life, and Schuon on Intuition and Intellection

Frithjof Schuon once wrote:
“…In principle, every man is capable of intellection, for the simple reason that man is man; but in fact, intellectual intuition — the “eye of the heart” — is hidden under a sheet of ice, so to speak, because of the degeneration of the human species. So we may say that pure intellection is a gift and not a generally human faculty…There is no need to develop it. Man can be saved by faith alone. But it is evident that a very pious or contemplative person has more intuition than a worldly person. ”

Intellection is one of those grand old words which meant much more than most people think. To intellect on something (“..yeah Virginia, you sure can use intellect as a verb..”) is something deeper than to simply reason over it, to rationalize, reason out and ratiocinate. Intellection includes all of this but is more nuanced, and at a certain level approaches that which the Scholastics of old used to call “intellectual intuition.

Reason and intuition are related, in fact they may be the same thing at a certain level, while being other things at other levels.

Here is something that Sidi Muhammad ibn al-Habib, one of the sages of Morocco, once wrote in his Diwan:

“Verily things are meanings projected into images.
those who understand this are among the people of discernment.”

Reality can literally be read, but only by those who know and understand signs.

You can read the world and you can read reality, but only to a degree. This is something, for example, many writers, artists and photographers understand intuitively. Many may lack some words to express the depth of the truth of this statement.

Look around you and you shall see things. These things are not dumb objects – they are meanings. Modern information theory has a way of mathematically measuring the actual information that material objects and states possess. There are implications to realizing that all things represent, in some way, information – meanings.

And you will indeed find benefit in being able to understand that you can, indeed, read the world. Literally, you can read reality.

Some people are illiterate, hence they do not know how to read the signs. The capacity is there, but they do not know how to use it.

Look. We can see, and then we can actually see. Some people look but they never truly see.

As Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes once said to Dr. Watson “You look, Watson, but you do not observe”

We can see a person. We can look into her eyes, we can witness her skin, it’s texture, where it flushes darker, where it grows lighter, the fine downy hair that the light shines through, the beauty and the flaws, the subtle movements of muscles under her skin, the facial impressions.

Or we can just look at her, and that’s it.  Just looking at her, and not gazing inside of her, are two different things. Two different experiences, of gazing into someone, and of just looking at – but not in – that person.

Look in front of you, you can observe a scene, you can breathe in, drink in, absorb into you what is front of you.

We can feel into it, and we can cultivate this feeling, this ability to feel into a scene. the interplay between objects, people walking, the buildings, the street, the light projected on buildings. You can look as deeply or as shallowly as you like, or are in the habit of doing. You can look at it, or you can try to read into it, what is going on, why is it going on, what is integrating with whom, and how?

Having words, finding words, learning words for things is important. Things are both physical and non-physical.

We are often controlled through words, influence is not bad, persuasion is not bad. But it is best to be aware of how others words influence us, persuade us, guide us, or direct us. There is guidance and there is misguidance. It is stupidity to just avoid all influences, “Ah, I’m soo independent, and so unique”

Well are you?

If you avoid all influences you are probably being influenced anyway, just in ways you cannot yet perceive.

Some persuasions, some influences, may actually be for our good. Others, however, are clearly not.

Control is not always bad, but being controlled without being conscious of being controlled puts you in a dangerous state. Sometimes it is a good thing to control people, or to be controlled by other people, when that control will prevent greater harm from us.

Any parent who does not grasp a child who is straying too far to a cliff’s edge is displaying mind numbing stupidity. There is a time to let a kid burn her hand on a stove, there is a time to realize that if she runs smack into a hot stove and suffers 3rd degree burns over her whole body, that you have not done good by her.

There is a difference between being guided to or through something you do not know, being shown another side of things that you haven’t considered before, being taken on a trip, with someone you trust, and between being coerced and controlled, through subtle or gross means. I could give you an order that you must obey, that would be a blatant control, or I can insinuate something that is not in your best interests but worded in a way that causes you not to see the downside.

“..Verily things are meanings projected into images…”

We perceive depth, breadth, textures to things, we perceive solidity but nothing truly is solid, forms dissolve, they coagulate and dissolve again. The meaning, the information providing the matrix, the grid work around which forms coalesce in the world, that is what people of discernment aim at perceiving.

Words, lovely words..

Early Arab scholars viewed the art and science of al-Balagha, basically rhetoric, as a beautifying of truth, and making falsehood ugly. That is truth is always beautiful, falsehood is always ugly, however we may not be able to clearly see the beauty of truth, or the ugliness of falsehood, because of veils over our perception.

Balagha, then, seeks to use noble speech and eloquence to make the truth plain to us and facts clear and evident, in an eloquent way that brings out and accentuates their natural beauty, while also making clear to us the disadvantages of lies, dangerous courses and situations. You can say that sophistry does something different, however, to “labis al-Haqq bil Batil“, is to say that it puts the clothing of falsehood upon Truth. It disguises it, in a cloak, in a costume, in a disguise.

Are we clothed with jackets and suits and blankets that others threw over our heads when we were young?

We carry around this pile of dirty clothes, on top of us, on top of our ideas, on top of our perceptions of reality that everyone has thrown upon us. The words we use may be laden with presuppositions that we would not naturally agree with had we arrived at them ourselves, but they are conditioned into us by teachers, TV, employers, friends, governments, organizations.

What we may know and feel deep inside, intuitively, is something that is pre-intellectual.
Some people may have the words to explain to us, how this truth we know has been subtly twisted, a little this way, bent a little that way.

What we may know deep inside as truth, may be confused, dull, dim, sometimes there are others who may be able to explain to us, and put into words, what we know and feel inside and by this help us to feel and know with more clarity.

If we do not have the words, the ability to articulate what we feel and know, it remains unclear, a feeling, urges, but it lacks sharpness and you cannot do much with it. Learning the words, from others, from books, from those who know as well as those who do not know (because observing absence can show us the outlines of what is absent. Like looking at a shadow can show us the outlines of what is projecting the shadow.

You’ve got to be able to – first to yourself, and secondly to others, articulate it. Explain it. Without this you cannot analyze it deeper, find the connections between it and other things, comprehend it and wrap your grubby fingers ’round the whole thing. You cannot go deeper. Deeper is always good.

You and I, let us look more, look deeper at this…
Being able to read the signs in the world can possibly save our lives, when the signs point to great danger.

1 Comment

  1. is the movie Jeff, who lives at home an example of reading reality?

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