Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Seeing

3 July 2012


Discussed Text: Fr. Roque Ferriols, S.J., "Insight"

Fr. Roque Ferriols, famous for his reflections on being human in Filipino, now introduces us to the foundation of philosophical thinking, namely insight. Gaining an insight would share the same meaning with experiencing something, which is linked to tasting and seeing.  He reminds us in the introduction of his essay that we do not seek to define philosophy in order to understand what it is and how it is important in our lives. Instead, it is understood by actually doing it, as he would say when he talks about doing philosophy as very much alike to swimming: Lundagin mo beybe! One learns how to swim not by reading a thousand books about swimming, but by actually jumping into the pool and trying how to swim. Likewise, we cannot know philosophy by talking about it but actually doing it.


What does philosophy have to do with insight, then? Fr. Ferriols tells us basically that doing philosophy allows us to see what cannot be seen at first glance by way of insight. Through insight, we see what something actually means and therefore, gives us access to what something is as it exists. He expounds on this by showing three examples of seeing with the mind.


The first is by getting the point of a joke, laughing about it, and realizing through analysis how it becomes a joke. This moment of "getting it" (i.e. understanding why that particular joke is a funny joke), one not only laughs but also understands well why it is funny, not merely laughing along with others or not laughing at all because you do not see its point.


The second example is Juan's insight about life after the death of his grandfather, who was once, like him, young and full of hope. He realizes that it is the way life goes: at one moment you are energetic and dashing and popular with the ladies, but as time passes by, this energy fades and you are reduced to just another man walking into this earth. I (Doc G) had this significant memory of Fr. Ferriols as a youthful and fiery Jesuit priest. During my graduation, he really wanted my parents to come over to Manila, but one can only ride in Manila-bound buses on a first come, first served basis, and you have to wait for hours before you can ride in another trip (buses then have wooden windows and are not air conditioned yet). To "reserve" seats for my parents who are waiting in line, Fr. Ferriols ran to the bus, rolled up his soutane and hopped up the bus through the window, just to reserve the seats for my parents. Those were the days for this great Jesuit thinker, who is now on a wheelchair, happy in his old age despite his Parkinson's disease, and still teaching Philosophy 101 to 9 or so students.


Fr. Ferriols noticed that this insight had once been said by Homer in a poetic fashion, in a metaphorical manner (he included two translations of The Iliad in his essay, because his little student named Leovino Garcia gave him a different translation). He wishes to show here the power of the metaphor, as, faithful to its Greek meaning, one that "carries us beyond" what we ordinarily experience, as that which allows us to convey something that we cannot fully describe. To have a metaphorized eye is to have the ability to see something and convey it through the similarity between 2 dissimilar objects. The leg of the chair, the foot of the mountain, the opera singer floating like a galleon. We see there a kind of linking, of copulating two dissimilar objects in order to convey something that our "ordinary language" cannot reach.

The third example that Fr. Ferriols mentioned is about the number four (4). We gain insight on the meaning of four, not only as "four" but also the sum of 1+1+1+1 or 2+2, through the very act of counting. We can count four cars, four people, four buildings, and so on and so forth. What is common here is that we do not mind what kind of car, building, or person we are counting. Rather, we are merely concerned that each one of them counts as one.

This is called an abstraction, where we concentrate on one aspect of a thing while temporarily not minding other aspects of existing things. It is an important tool in the analysis of insights and findings, as we momentarily distance ourselves from reality in order to focus on something. However, it has the chance of desiccating an insight, freezing it and prohibiting it from becoming open for other insights to spring forth. That is why it is important that one should return to the "concrete fullness of the original insight," that which is still rooted in what is seen and experienced. Abstraction is both a reward and a danger, and it takes much wisdom to know how and when to use it or remain in it.

We see from these examples that insight is indeed a kind of seeing with the mind, through the powers of our thinking. More often, these insights are so reach that we cannot exhaust its meaning, and therefore we are called to look further, to think outside the box, and to think otherwise. In doing something with an insight, we also come up with other insights that perhaps be more profound that what we have first seen. Likewise, it is necessary for us to see, through an insight, whether our conceptual analysis deepens a particular insight or merely classifies it.

Perhaps the most important thing that Fr. Ferriols has said about insight is that no one insight cannot be completely understood, primarily because these insights bring us into the heart of reality, which is rich and inexhaustible in itself. That is why we need to keep our minds constantly open for whatever that is to come. Such openness is that which characterizes a philosopher and separates him from the rest.

Or, in Fr. Ferriols' own words: Sa lahat ng ito, meron pa! To do philosophy is a grasping at reality, but, it also comes with the humble and yet hopeful claim that there is still more to be seen.

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