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The Violence of Our Knowledge: Toward a Spirituality of Higher Education

Parker J. Palmer
The Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture, Berea College, Kentucky
The Seventh Lecture 1993

Palmer as usual never fails to amaze me with the depth of his wisdom and understanding about the spirituality of education. In this lecture, he correctly pointed his finger on the three weak points of contemporary epistemology: objectivism, analytic and experimentalism. As he put it, “everyway of knowing becomes a way of living”. For him, true higher learning involves a “healthy dance of between the objective and the subjective, between the analytic and the integrative, between the experimental and what (he) will call the subjective.”

The spirituality of learning or a “transformed understanding of knowing” comes from 4 components:

(1) learning is personal
“In contrast to modern objectivism, the wisdom traditions say truth is personal, not propositional. The modem academy is very hung up on the notion that truth is to be found in our propositions about things. But the spiritual traditions drive our understanding of knowing to a deeper level where it is said, "Truth is personal and, yes, we need propositions to share our person hood with each other, but unless it is incarnate, unless it is embodied, unless we are attempting to 'walk the talk' or 'talk the walk', it cannot be truth."”

(2) learning is communal
“It means that our movement toward truth is a corporate movement in which we must wrestle with each other, we must have conflict with each other, we must reach consensus with each other - and then we must break that consensus because some new observation has been made or some more powerful interpretation has been offered. Truth emerges between us and among us and through us as we wrestle together with the great and small questions of life.”

(3) learning is reciprocal
“There is something powerful about the spiritual understanding that we are not only seeking truth, but truth is seeking us…At the heart of all great knowing is a sense that the "object" of knowledge isn't an object at all. It has some kind of personal quality to it that speaks to the knower, that reaches for the knower; great knowing is always involved in that mutuality, that reciprocal dance between the knower and the knowing.”

(4) learning is transformational
“I will be changed by truth, and there is no way to evade that. It will be a daily struggle with what I know, to live my life more fully and more deeply. Knowing, teaching and learning will transform me if my knowing, teaching and learning are guided by the images and norms that I have just been trying to articulate.”






Notes
Text of Lecture from
www.21learn.org/arch/articles/palmer_spirituality.html

I spend a lot of time looking for little stories that will help me tell a big story. I have a very big story that I want to explore with you tonight, and I have found a little story that I hope will help us along. It is a true story from North American history, from the world of the first Americans, the Native Americans, as they encountered what we now call "higher education." It's a story that, if we could fully understand it, would help us understand ourselves in higher education a good deal better. Let me tell you this story, and let the rest of my remarks this evening be an elaboration on it.
The story comes from the year 1744. That was the year when the white commissioners of the territory known as Virginia had negotiated a treaty with the Indians of the Six Nations. As part of that treaty, these Indians were invited to send their young men to the College of William and Mary, one of the first institutions of higher learning established in the Colony. The elders of the tribes took this treaty home, spent an evening considering the offer of these white commissioners to educate their young men, and on the next day, June 17, 1744, answered the white commissioners with the following words:

"we know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in your colleges, and that the maintenance of our young men while with you would be very expensive to you. We are convinced that you mean to do us good by your proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different nations have different conceptions of things, and you will therefore not take it amiss if our ideas of education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some experience of it. Several of our young people were brought up at the colleges of the Northern Provinces. They were instructed in all your sciences, but when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, neither fit for hunters nor counselors, they were totally good for nothing. We are, however, not the less obliged by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it. But to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them."

Now that story has a voice of humor, a voice of quiet wisdom, a voice of deep insight. It also has within it an enormous amount of pain. It is the pain of the tribal elders who, "unlettered" as they were, still knew something deep in their bones that we don't quite yet know today. What they knew I would put in the following phrase: they knew that every way of knowing becomes a way of living. Let me put it in language that they would not have used or understood, and power to them: every epistemology becomes an ethic.

What they knew, deep in their bones, is that they were engaged in a battle, and it was not simply a battle over land, over territory, over natural resources and mineral rights. It was a more fundamental battle about whose way of knowing would prevail as formative and shaping of the lives of human beings. Let me put it from a slightly different angle. These elders knew that every mode of education, no matter what its name, is a mode of soul-making. They knew that all forms of teaching and learning are forms of spiritual formation, or deformation. And they were deeply troubled by the kind of deformation that they knew this form of knowing, teaching and learning - the one represented by William and Mary College - would bring upon their heads and the heads of their young.

(There arc many subtexts in this story, and I hope to tease some of them out as the evening goes on. You will have noted that the story not only is about a history in which a way of knowing represented by Native Americans is losing the war. It is also about the education of "boys" and the making of "men." It was a time in history when "girls" and "women" were simply not on the agenda of higher education, and therefore the story is about another kind of warfare that has gone on in our world as well. I will come back to those themes later.)

I want to reflect for a while on the mode of knowing that won out in this battle. What was the mode of knowing represented by William and Mary? What ethical formation, and deformation, has it created in our lives? As the title of my remarks suggests, I want to make a link between our knowledge and our violence. I want to talk about the violence of our knowledge because I believe that the kind of knowing that has been practiced in our institutions of higher learning has lent itself to subtle and pervasive forms of violence to our personal and social lives. As backdrop, let me give a quick definition of what I mean by "violence."

It is important to recognize that to do violence to each other we need not drop a bomb or hit someone with a stick. We do violence in much more subtle ways. My operating definition of violence is that violence always involves violating the integrity of the other. We do violence whenever we violate the integrity or the nature of the other, whether the other is the earth, or another human being, or another culture. I want to suggest that in our institutions of higher education we are deeply devoted to a mode of knowing that often issues in violence, thus understood.

What is that mode of knowing? I want to describe it with three words. I will say a brief bit about each of the three words, then I want to offer some examples of how this mode of knowing becomes a way of living. The three words are "objective," "analytic," and "experimental' - three word, without which I think the western academy would be virtually speechless.

Objective means that you cannot know anything truly and well unless know it at arm's length, at distance, at great remove. If there is not a great chasm between the knower and the known, we believe that the knowledge is somehow tainted, distorted, unreliable, untrustworthy. We believe that until you have taken that person (if you are a sociologist or a psychologist), or that literary text (if you are in the field of literature), or that historical episode or natural phenomenon (if you arc a historian or a scientist), and held it at arm's length from yourself, you cannot possibly be doing scholarship, you cannot possibly be generating valid knowledge.

Let me turn this around. There is in our dominant mode of knowing a profound fear of subjectivity and a profound fear of relatedness, a fear of entering into relationship with that which we know. This is a very complicated subject, because this objectivism which I am criticizing arose historically at a time when radical subjectivism had gotten us into terrible trouble, and I don't want to ignore or override or forget that fact. Historians tell us that over the course of history, something like 6,000,000 women have been burned as witches because someone's subjectivity said, 'You are evil.' I have no desire to throw out the baby with the bath water. I have no desire to lose the fruits of an objectivism that has attempted to give us independent norms for what is true and untrue, apart from the whims and opinions of people who hold religious or secular power. I honor that impulse and that need, but I think that we are a time in history when we have to understand that unfettered objectivism is equally as cruel as unfettered subjectivism.

My country fought a 'famous" war not long ago, the Gulf War, in which tens of thousands of non-combatants were murdered - and it was an acceptable war to a large majority of the American public because we were able to fight it at distance and detachment and remove. Apparently the modern ethic regarding warfare is that if it can be air war - one conducted at arm's length through the miracle of electronics and engineering - then it is an ethical war. After the Gulf War, our president said we had 'kicked the Vietnam syndrome, which was a subjective war, fought face to face, which tore us apart as a people because we were so troubled by the evidence of subjectivity. But we are at ease in a world of objectivity where whatever we do to the other is done across a great chasm.

Now you see, as I talk, I am already crossing the line from epistemology to ethics. I am already offering an example of how a way of knowing that arose for important and valuable reasons has become a form of of ill in its own right. But more important to me than the fact that objectivism creates cruelty is that it does not accurately portray how real knowing happens. This objectivist mythology about knowing at arm's length, knowledge that William and Mary wanted to introduce to the poor, ignorant Native Americans, is in fact a distortion of how science itself is done. It turns out that great knowing is not simply done objectively; it is done paradoxically in a dance between the subjective and the objective, a balance between intimacy and distance. That is how great knowing happens in all disciplines. This mythology of objectivism is more about control over the world, or over each other, more a mythology of power than a real epistemology that reflects how real knowing proceeds.

Let me tell a quick story about the dance of great knowing, the paradoxical integration of the subjective and the objective at the heart of human knowledge. It involves an American geneticist, a great scientist named Barbara McClintock. Some of you may know that name, if not, I urge you to get acquainted with her life. Barbara McClintock died about a year ago at age 92. Her obituary was on the front page of the New York Times, an honor usually reserved for heads of state. She was arguably the greatest American scientist, and almost certainly the greatest American biologist, of the 20th century. Her work as a young women brought her into a fascination with the phenomenon of genetic transmission, and she pursued hypotheses and used methodologies that were so contrary to the objectivist view of science that she had great difficulty getting support for her work, getting grants, getting lab space, and getting colleagues. Then, in her early 80's, she won a Nobel Prize for science, at which point her dance ticket starting getting filled!


Another scientist, Evelyn Fox Keller, intrigued with the amazing story of McClintock's life and with the courage with which she had pursued her insights, went to McClintock and said "I want to write your intellectual biography. Tell me, how do you do this great science?" Barbara McClintock thought for a moment and said, "Well, all I can really tell you is that to do science of this sort, you have to somehow have a feeling for the organism." Keller asked again, "Tell me, how do you do this great science? And Barbara McClintock, thinking about the ears of corn that she had worked with all her life because they were cheap and plentiful, said "All I call say is that to do science of this sort,you have to know how to learn from the kernel."

In order to describe her science, McClintock used profoundly relational and connected metaphors, not distant and detached images. Is she saying that logic and data have no place in scientific inquiry? Of course not. You don't win a Nobel Prize if you believe that. What she is saying is caught up in one sentence from her biographer, a sentence that I find deeply revealing about human knowing. Evelyn Fox Keller says, in her relation to ears of corn, Barbara McClintock practiced the highest form of love: intimacy that does not annihilate difference." When I read that I thought, "Oh, my goodness, Barbara McClintock had a relation to ears of corn that I yearn to have with another human being!" The Native Americans in my opening story would have loved Barbara McClintock. But higher education has not understood the Barbara McClintocks of this world, and so it practices an objectivism that becomes ethically deforming.


The second dimension is "analytic." Analytic means that, once you have made an object out of something to be studied, you are free to chop it up in pieces to see what makes it tick. The analytic act is possible only when you have objectified something, only when you have held it off at a distance and made it into a thing. I was trained as a sociologist, and I really believed that the average American family had 2.8 people in it - until I became a community organizer and started to have to put a different face on what a family was like.

I remember that, as a young child, I was terribly attracted to watches or clocks that were not immediately attached to an owner, and I would take them down in the basement and disassemble them, fascinated literally with what made them tick. Only in later years did I realize that I was never able to get one of those things back together

This memory became a metaphor for me of what my education had done to my mind, to my heart, to my soul: it created a great facility with the analytic act of taking things apart, and very little capacity for the creative or integrative act of putting things back together. That is the second dimension of this knowledge that the Native Americans knew they were in a life and death struggle with, a knowledge that lends itself to the violence of dissecting everything so that the center cannot hold.

Thirdly, this knowledge is experimental. Once you have made an object out of something, and chopped it up into pieces to see what makes it tick, you then can move those pieces around to see if you can create something more consistent with your design of what the world ought to be. I am not taking a cheap crack at science. I honor great science in its original and authentic form - though I have little truck with the textbook version of science which wants to say that science is all logic and data. So I'm not talking here about laboratory experimentation which clearly has its place. I am talking instead about, let us say, our relation as a western society to third world cultures. I am talking about the kind of "experimenting" done in third world societies all around the globe. In my country at least, we have very frequently looked overseas and said, "What might it be like if we removed a little bit of your political system and put some of ours in? We think we could make your polity more pleasing to our eyes. What it might look like if we removed a dimension of your economy and put in a little of ours? What might it look like if we removed some elements of your religious understanding and replaced them with some of ours?" We have experimented on a global scale, experimented with all kinds of things beyond the legitimacy of the laboratory.

Objective, analytic and experimental: this is the kind of knowing that the Native Americans were struggling with as they encountered this phenomenon called 'William and Mary, or western higher education. Now, are those merely philosophical abstractions which might interest a few academics but that never come home to roost in daily life? I think not, and before I move to the more constructive part of my remarks, I want to share a couple of real-life stories about how this mode of knowing can control and lead to the deformation of our ethical lives.


Every year, the Carnegie Commission does a survey of recent college graduates in the United States, and every year they come up with the same litany of findings. It goes something like this: when you ask recent graduates, "What do you think about the shape of the global society? - their answers are profoundly negative and pessimistic. They say the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and they can quote chapter and verse on environmental pollution, nuclear proliferation,the collapse of governments, the dissolution of local economies. Ninety percent of these college graduates will tell you that the world has a very dim future, very low chances of global survival. But when you ask the next question, "What, then, do you think about your own personal futures?", the same 90 percent who say the world is going to hell in a hand basket will get a collective grin on their faces and say, "No problem! Have a nice day!"

What's going on when these graduates, our best and brightest, will say that the world has no chance of survival, but will also say that they are going to a good school, are getting good grades, are going to get a decent job and have a decent life? Well, lots of things are going on, but one thing is that they have been so thoroughly schooled in an objectivist view of the world that they don't even know that their dismal facts and figures are about the very planet that they walk upon day in and day out. How could they, when the information has been presented to them at such great remove? Theirs is a trained schizophrenia, a trained division between personal reality and the reality of the larger global society.

Let me give you an example from my own life which remains immensely painful for me, but is sadly true. I was taught in some of the best colleges in my country about the Third Reich, about the murder of 6,000,000 Jews, and God knows how many homosexuals and gypsies and others who didn't fit the mold. But I was taught about those horrors in a way that left me feeling that all of that had happened on another planet, to another species. It had happened, I knew that for a fact, but it was presented to me at such objective distance, so disconnected from the facts of my own life, that at a feeling level I ended up with a sense of "another planet and another species." I look back and realize that never in my history courses were we presented with the art created by the inmates of concentration camps, never were we presented with the poetry written by them, never were we shown photographs of the bodies stacked like logs at Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Why? Because in the academic formation I got, those kinds of data would have been dangerously subjective; we were given only the objective concept and statistics which left us at arm's length from these events.

I never learned that the town I grew up in on the North Shore of Chicago had its own fascist tendencies. Nobody in those history courses ever challenged me to ask, "Why do no Jews live in your home town?" Even worse, I was never challenged to understand that I had inside myself a little Hitler - that is, a force of shadow and darkness which,when the difference between you and me becomes too great, leads me to want to kill you - not with a bullet or a gas chamber, but with some word or image of dismissal: "Oh, you're only this, or you're only that." I was never asked to interject and introspect in that manner. Why do those American college graduates make such a radical and insane division between the facts about their world and their own personal lives? Because that is how objectivism teaches us to think about everything. It teaches us to think at arm's length, it teaches us to imagine realities 'out there" that have nothing to do with realities in here.

A second story: there is an amazing motion picture produced by public television in the United States called "The Day After Trinity." It is a film about the first detonation of an atomic weapon at Almagordo in New Mexico. "Trinity" was the ironic code-name for that explosion, and "The Day After Trinity" is a documentary in which the nuclear physicists and the mathematicians and the chemists come together 45 years later to reflect on what they had wrought. As a Quaker, I was prepared to judge those war makers, but part of the power of the documentary is that one walks away deeply touched by their humanity, by their moral anguish, by their capacity to wrestle with the meaning of their own actions and of their own lives. There is no one there that you can hate.


But that makes the chilling moments in that film all the more chilling. And one of the most chilling moments is when a mathematician comes on the screen and says, "The day before we pushed the button on that nuclear I weapon, we had done calculations to indicate there was a small but real real possibility that when we set it off there would be an instant incineration of the entire envelope of oxygen surrounding the earth, thus snuffing out life on earth." Then he says, "Still, we went ahead and pushed the button." I have thought about that moment a lot over the years since I saw that film, because it is not an isolated moment in the history of science or the history of politics. And I have wondered, "How do you interpret that moment?" I am sure there are many interpretations. But the one I offer you is this: we are so deeply imbued with the idea that truth lies in "experimentation" that we are willing to experiment with the entire planet as a laboratory in order to fulfill our concept of truth. It is chilling to think that our concept of truth could lead to self-destruction, and yet I think we have ample evidence, and it is not just from this kind of high drama I am portraying, that our concept of truth does exactly that.

We talk about ourselves being "in possession' of great knowledge. I would like to turn that around and suggest that we "are possessed" by our knowledge in a way not unlike the way the ancients talked about demon possession. We are driven to unethical acts by an epistemology that has fundamentally deformed our relation to each other and our relation to the world.

I want to turn a corner toward the constructive part of my thesis, having, I hope, illustrated the violence of our knowledge as clearly as I know how. What is important about today, what is hopeful about our times for me, is that the way of knowing called objectivism, that single minded emphasis on objectivity, analysis and experimentation, is now being challenged from many quarters. We are being called into a more paradoxical wholeness of knowing by many voices. There is a new community of scholars in a variety of Fields now who understand that genuine knowing comes out of a healthy dance between the objective and the subjective, between the analytic and the integrative, between the experimental and what I would call the receptive. It is remarkable to talk with scientists today in many fields (and I see this, for example, among biologists whom I talk to all across the States), who say that a very different science comes from approaching the world with a kind of appreciative receptivity than when you approach the world as raw material to be dealt with at your will. When you understand an organic reality and take an appreciative, receptive approach to it, you do a subtly but significantly different kind of science than when you approach the world as a machine to be taken apart like those watches that I could never get back together.

So I am not trying to split these paradoxes apart; I am trying to put them back together. I am suggesting that those of us who are interested in bringing these paradoxes back into harmony will find support today in some very major and significant intellectual movements. We find support, for example, in the feminist philosophers who are re-visioning the nature of science. I think some of the most important literature of our time is being written by feminist scholars who are retelling the story of what science is all about, telling it from the inside as scientists. They are not inventing a new science but are telling the truth about how science is done - and it turns out to be a deeply human enterprise, a deeply human truth.

What fascinates me is that we find many, many young people not interested in learning science as it is traditionally taught. But in these new models of science, which want to integrate the subjective with the objective, which want to present a more connective mode of doing science, we find a terrific interest among young people. I have a hunch about why that is. I have a hunch that young people today feel profoundly disconnected and alienated from community in its many forms - from human community, to community with nature, to community with things of the spirit. If we present science or thinking to them as one more way of getting alienated and disconnected, why would they want to learn? Who would want it if you already lived in a world of disconnection and alienation and someone cynics along and says, 'learn to do science or sociology or literary criticism or history because it will disconnect you even further." But when we represent human thinking for what I believe it is, which is not a disconnected mechanism but a community-building capacity, then it turns out students want to learn because students want to conic back into community with that which they have lost.

Why does a passionate historian think about the dead past? To make it deader? No, to bring it back to life so that we can understand our connectedness with it. Why does a biologist think about the minute world of nature? To make it more minute? No, to give it a voice so we can hear what nature is trying to say to us. Why does a literary scholar reflect on the world of imagination? To separate it from the world of "reality?" No, to help us understand that the world of facts cannot be adequately understood alone but by acts of imagination. Great thinking in all fields at its deepest and best is a connective activity, a community-building activity, and not an activity which is meant to distance and alienate us. When young people start to understand that, then they start having a real reason to learn how to think because they are hungry for community, they are hungry to get reconnected.

So the feminist philosophers of science are one source of a profound intellectual revolution in our time, bringing us toward a more paradoxical and relational model of doing science. There is another place where what I am talking about has actually been institutionalized in colleges and universities. It is in ecological science, where a new generation of students are learning that they are not apart from nature, they are a part of nature, they are in a conversation with nature that makes claims on their own lives. I have two sons who are biologists, and both of them, in graduate programs centered on ecology, have a real ethic about their intellectual work and about what it implies for their daily lives. This revolution is also happening in subatomic physics where the separation between the knower and the known has really been discarded. To hear physicists say things like, "it is no longer possible to make a statement about nature that is not also a statement about myself," is to hear the myth of objectivism crack and crumble.

But what I want to say in the context of this college, and of the tradition in which this college stands, is that there is at least one more place to look, for the kind of transformation of knowing that I am reflecting on tonight. It is happening not only in quantum physics, not only in ecological study, not only in feminist scholarship about the nature of science. It is also at the heart of our major spiritual traditions. I think we have especially rich legacies to draw on that are rich and transformative - images of what human knowing is all about.


Think for a moment about that little formula that I offered at the outset, that every way of knowing becomes a way of living, that every epistemology becomes an ethic. Our religious traditions have primarily been presented to us as an ethic, at least in modern times - a set of values to live by, a way to conduct our lives. What we have forgotten, perhaps, is that behind this ethic lies a way of knowing, and without that way of knowing the ethic is hardly sustainable. My own tradition in Christianity, and I have given this a lot of thought over the years as to what might be the major elements of the Christian understanding of how we know, of coming to know what we call truth. I have found four words that I want to end with in the hope that they will be suggestive to some of you who are attempting to live at the intersection between faith and intellect, to live at the fruitful place where the lilt of the spirit and the life of the mind co-exist and connect.

What might be the major marks of a spiritual understanding of knowing that could save us from the violence of our knowledge, and help move us closer to what might have been possible if those Native Americans and those folks from William and Mary could have sat down and had a good long talk with each other? Here are four words that emerge from the heart of my own tradition (and others, as well) that might move us toward a transformed understanding of knowing.


The first word is personal. I don't know of any spiritual tradition in which the first thing to say isn't something like, "Truth is personal." It seems to me that all of the great spiritual traditions are asserting in a vigorous and fundamental way that person hood and truth have something elemental to do with each other. In contrast to modern objectivism, the wisdom traditions say truth is personal, not propositional. The modem academy is very hung up on the notion that truth is to be found in our propositions about things. But the spiritual traditions drive our understanding of knowing to a deeper level where it is said, "Truth is personal and, yes, we need propositions to share our person hood with each other, but unless it is incarnate, unless it is embodied, unless we are attempting to 'walk the talk' or 'talk the walk', it cannot be truth." I do not mean to say that we must live up to all the truths we know. That is not possible in human life. But I do think we are called to speak honestly, experientially, and existentially about our struggle to embody the truth as we know it.

As a teacher, a lot of this boils down to some very practical stuff. I find as a teacher that when I no longer stay on the abstract level of propositions, but talk with my students about the human struggle to live what I know, then something new opens up in the educational process that is deep and powerful and connected between them and me. I am deeply challenged by the statement that is at the heart of Christian faith (and I speak now to those of you who understand yourself as Christian). When Jesus is asked, "What is the truth?", he replies, "I am the truth." He makes a statement that is radically personal. I read that statement through Quaker sensibilities which say that this incarnation of truth is not limited to one person at one point in space and time, but is a constant possibility in every human heart. That is how I understand the person hood of truth in my own tradition. But in the simple proposition, "I am the truth", I find a deep challenge to the academic notion that truth is abstract, truth is at arm's length, truth is propositional, truth is out there.

The second word that comes to me from my own tradition poses a paradox to the first one - and that is the word communal. Truth is personal, but truth is also communal. What that means to me is that it is not enough to say, "One truth for you, another truth for me, and never mind the difference." It means that our movement toward truth is a corporate movement in which we must wrestle with each other, we must have conflict with each other, we must reach consensus with each other - and then we must break that consensus because some new observation has been made or some more powerful interpretation has been offered. Truth emerges between us and among us and through us as we wrestle together with the great and small questions of life. So right at the heart of my spiritual tradition is statement not only that truth is personal, but a statement that you are person only in community. You cannot sink into narcissism or solipsism or some kind of private version of truth. That would be to deny the very nature of person hood itself, which is essentially communal.

The third quality truth has in my spiritual tradition is mutuality of reciprocity. The academy has an amazing slogan that it uses all the time, at least in my country. In the catalog of every college or university, their is the statement that "this institution is deeply dedicated to the pursuit of truth." There is an astonishing conceit buried in that image of "the pursuit of truth." If you think about it for a minute, the notion is that truth is an evasive rabbit scampering across the field and hiding under the hedge, and trying with all its might to evade us, but we, with our deep dedication to finding and consuming the truth, are out there with our hounds and horns, and horses, tracking truth down at risk of life and limb, until we catch it all and kill it and eat it. It is an amazing image if you think about it!

But the spiritual traditions know something quite different. It is not truth that is evasive - we are. Spiritual tradition knows that truth is the 'hound of heaven' trying to track us down, while we use all our efforts to evade truth's voice, truth's hand, truth's claim upon our lives. There is something powerful about the spiritual understanding that we are not only seeking truth, but truth is seeking us. I think this is something that is known in every field of study. Have you ever had the experience of reading a great novel and suddenly asking yourself, "How does this great writer, who lived a hundred years ago, know me so well?" That is an experience of being tracked down by truth. I have talked with scientists who feel that the fundamental movement in the doing of their science is more than simply them chasing nature, but nature chasing them. Einstein used to talk about spending most of his life "listening to the universe speak." At the heart of all great knowing is a sense that the "object" of knowledge isn't an object at all. It has some kind of personal quality to it that speaks to the knower, that reaches for the knower; great knowing is always involved in that mutuality, that reciprocal dance between the knower and the knowing.

Finally, the fourth word is transformational. Truth is personal, truth is communal, truth is mutual or reciprocal, and so truth is inevitably transformational. I will be changed by truth, and there is no way to evade that. It will be a daily struggle with what I know, to live my life more fully and more deeply. Knowing, teaching and learning will transform me if my knowing, teaching and learning are guided by the images and norms that I have just been trying to articulate. That brings me full circle, I think. I can now say why it is that objectivism holds such sway in the academy, why it is that knowing, teaching and learning at arm's length are so popular and so tenacious. The reason is that objectivism allows us always to be the changers and never the changed. It gives us the illusion that we can reach into any domain we wish and manipulate it without every allowing that domain to speak back to us in a compelling way.

But I think that what is happening now, the reason for the intellectual revolutions I have been naming, is that we have a growing sense that our myths of control are only that - myths. We begin now to understand that the world, whether it be the world of nature, or the third world of disempowered people, or whatever world you want to name that we have been attempting to manipulate and control, will in fact speak back to us, does in fact speak back to us, is in fact making a claim upon our lives. We are not only the changers,but we are inevitably the changed. Our intellectual revolutions in feminism, in physics, ecology, literature, and across the board, are slowly catching us up with the fact that whether we like it or not, we are involved in a transforming live encounter with the world through our scholarship and through our knowledge.


There is a way of doing education that will honor afresh and significantly the wisdom of those Native American elders who, back in 1744, understood, I think, everything I have been trying to say tonight. Let us continue to try to understand what they are trying to say to you and to me.


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