Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sensuality and Intellect (13 April 2014)

[I got into a discussion with an old friend the other day about the relationship between the ‘head’ and the ‘heart’ and afterwards remembered this old blog, once posted on another site.  As I still think it says what I want to say, in at least a basic way, I re-post it here]

“What exhilarates us human creatures more than freedom, more than the glory of achievement, is the joy of finding and surrendering to a Beauty greater than man, the rapture of being possessed.” (119)

-  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

  Hymn of the Universe  (1969)

One of the challenges in our short, mortal lives is finding a way to balance our various abilities as human beings-in-becoming; learning to appreciate the 'faculties' with which we have been invested by Nature's whims, given our particular evolutionary history.  The struggle of the spiritual life is to come to fruition; to become a flourishment that brings all of our ‘faculties’ and abilities together in an integrated whole that we can then say is “who I am.”  This is the way to wisdom’s henges.

Bringing ourselves to wholeness; to a state of healthy integration and fulfilment – often involves dissolving the biases between one dimension of ourselves and another; one aspect of our being-in-becoming over against another.  There are many such oppositions that need dissolved.  One of the most pervasive in our culture is that between the 'head' and the 'heart.'  For some people, the 'heart' – meaning 'emotions' and/or 'sensuality' – is what seems the most 'real' and the most profitable aspect of their being in becoming.  For others, it is the life of the mind, the practice of thinking, and the arts of the intellect that make life worth living. 

Two traditions exemplify this distinction.  From Plato onward, down to the present, the mind – rationality, logic, and discourse – have been made to seem identical with the pinnacle of human nature.  From ancient religious poets down to the Romanticists of the 19th and 20th centuries, the heart – the emotions, experience and the life of the senses – has been held in highest regard as what makes us most characteristically 'human.'

For me, both of these traditions seem insufficient.  There have been times in my life when I was a Romanticist to the hilt, living out of my emotions and reveling in the sensuous, intuitive, and en-fleshed dimensions of human existence.  At other times, I have been more 'aloof,' committed to a more rational and logical approach to the world around me, believing reason and dialogic discourse to be what best wins us a taste of truth.  [Is it any wonder I now identify myself as both a poet and a philosopher?]

Since turning to science as a way of re-grounding my existence in the Given; the What is as apprehended objectively—I have come to see intellect and sensuality (as ciphers for the 'head' and 'heart' traditions) as bound up together in a dyadic relationship in which one is incomplete without the other.

I have come to think that, as evolution has endowed us with both emotions and with a mind, that it is imperative that we learn to develop each of these dimensions of our selves.  While the fact of having emotions and the fact of having a mind is not enough to justify or legitimate all the workings of either intellect or emotions, they are both a part of our existential and sociocultural toolkit, embedded in our biology and having a long history of expression.  I have not been able to come up with any good reason to diminish one of these dimensions of the human 'soul' in favor of the other.

In my own life the senses and my emotions seem to be 'fed' by the influence of the intellect.  I first realized this after studying philosophy for several years; my emotions and my sensual life had both been 'educated' by the cultivated practice of reasoning, rational exploration of the world around me, and by dialogic discourse with others intent on drawing ourselves a bit closer to wisdom.  Conversely, my intellect has always been fed and deepened by experience; by emotional experience and by the experience of the senses.  Years of Romanticist engagements with the world around me and the construction of stories and the writing of poetry resulted in being transformed by the renewal of my mind.

Thus it would seem to me at this point that the love of wisdom demands an affirmation of both sensuality and the emotions, on one hand, and the intellect and rationality, on the other.

Sensuality and Intellect are for me complementary modes of the human self becoming human; they stand in tension with one another and play off each other as I seek to work out problems, always learning and seeking wisdom, journeying onward, all the while attempting to go deeper into the nature of reality, both subjective realities and the objective reality that constitutes 'the Given' (i.e., that which we cannot change just by thinking about it differently; e.g., the fact that the sun is the center of our solar system, the fact of life having evolved on this planet over a period of close to 4 billion years, the law of gravity, etc.).

The whole person, fully realized, would be that person who has so fully integrated all of their various traits, aspects and functions that 'sensuality' and 'intellect' would not longer be 'things' that could be juxtaposed against one another; rather, they would be all but blended into the mix of the self as perhaps 'colors' in a kaleidoscope or perhaps 'flavors' in a well-made stew.  This is the goal I strive for; the end result of the quest for the love of wisdom as a philosopher (a lover of wisdom) and a poet (a word-smith and constructor of imaginative realities).  So be it.