But, what if there is only one side of me?

William Blake: The Four Zoas

What if there is only one side of me? What if I only take in knowledge cognitively? Or what if I am an artist and only take in what registers though my senses which then likely goes into and registers in my gut? What if I only take in and share via stories or arranging patterns on a surface?

What if you put all of us together in a group and tell us to talk? What if you tell us to learn about how each of us allows the world to register upon us? What if some one of us gives the world a hard time when it tries to register? What if someone else allows the world in like a cool breeze through an open window on a spring day. With the light curtains fluttering in the wind.

What if we have other challenges? We study different disciplines. We are from different cultures. Some are introverts — getting their energy from inside. Others are extraverts — getting their energy from outside.

But mostly, the process by which we make sense of the world — our individual epistemology differs. We gain and share the product of our sense-making differently.

I had a student who was a great story teller. She could get up and tell a story on the spur of the moment. And they were good stories, interesting, one was even about math formulas as I recall. I sat enthralled while also observing as if she and I were representatives of different species. Each with our own way of connecting to the world about us. I liked her stories. I learned from them. And I literally saw us encountering the world quite differently.

Now multiply that by the number of people in a group for surely each will have their own unique way of making contact and making sense of the world. Some will do it at slow speeds perhaps even frustratingly slow speeds from the perspective of those of us who are onlookers. Others will seem to do it at a blinding speed which leaves the rest of us in awe. Mundane example: Tom Brady quarterbacking a football team. What goes through his sense-making apparatus in the space of ten seconds at the line of scrimmage as a play starts must be like witnessing the dynamics of a new galaxy at work. Take it down a notch or two or three and that is probably like you or me. Well maybe four.

So now we are all together in a room and the task is to encounter each other, to learn from each other, to work together and in the process to develop something new. Something like a new course on a topic that interests all of us even given our differing disciplines and our unique epistemologies. How will we go about doing it? Will this be the ultimate mash-up which may indeed suit some of the participants or might there be the rudiments of a plan which will suit others.

Could it be that each of us has some semblance of the different epistemological framework embodied by the others? Is this something we could possibly build on?

I use a quote in one of my courses which I have had for a while long enough it seems to become partially disconnected from its original source. It appears to be from a thesis of “Jack Lynn Darden Rundstein, 1970.” These are the relics of the words that I now possess. The writer quite conveniently connects one of my favorite English poets, William Blake, to the dilemma about which we have been speaking.

The thesis writer says in speaking of Blake,

The mandala, the archetype of the four-square representation of man and the world, is found to be well-developed in Blake’s later works. The belief that each human’s personality is composed of four forces which complement and oppose each other is quite ancient, having been traced back as far as Egyptian mythology. Blake perceived these forces at work in his own psyche and constructed a mythology based upon them. The Four Zoas perform the four functions of the psyche (in the Jungian psychological scheme), those of thought, feeling, sensation, and intuition.

So, there is some potential here. The ancient Egyptians believed so, Jung believed so, and William Blake believed so. It would be fascinating to wander around in the metaphysics of Blake’s mind and in his writings to notice how these all interface, work out the various tensions, connect, super-connect, create synergies, find a way to exist as an integral philosophy within an integral human being.

For those with time and interest, I commend to you “Vala, or The Four Zoas,” by William Blake though with the caveat that full comprehension may require learning more of Blake’s system of metaphysics and pronounced use of all four of your own personal zoas.

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Barry Camson

Barry Camson

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