The Process of Knowing

March 29, 2016
Timothy J. Basselin, Darrell L. Bock, Bill Hendricks, and Esther Meek

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Topic Time Codes

00:15
Dr. Meek’s interest in epistemology
04:30
The contribution of Michael Polanyi to philosophy
09:29
The flaws in Western approaches to knowledge
15:22
Personal interaction and covenant epistemology
22:53
The process of knowing and its impact on the knower
28:45
God and the personalization of reality
34:48
Indwelling and the pursuit of knowledge
37:18
Contrasting the indwelling of physical space with the indwelling of ideas
39:20
One’s response to reality and its response to a person
44:02
Pledge, openness and transformative learning

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Transcript

Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. I'm Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and our topic today is knowing and the process of knowing, and our special guest is Esther Meek, who is from Geneva College. Is that correct?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And if a philosopher and has spent her life delving into helping people discover how they can know reality. Is that a fair summary of what you're about?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Sure. I had to figure it out first, though.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You had to figure it out first? And now you're gonna help us figure it out.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I hope so.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's right. And then I've got Tim Basselin here on my left, who is in our Media Arts Department. They are hosting the Media Arts Week here at Dallas Seminary that Esther is the primary lecturer for, and over here is Bill Hendricks, who is my cohort in crime at the Hendricks Center. He is executive director for Christian leaderships. And so the four of us are going to engage in a discussion with Esther about coming to know.

So my simple question is how does someone like you get into detailed philosophy and the issue of knowing? How did you start off with an interest in this area?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, I had some odd questions when I was middle school age, in particular growing up knowing the Bible and knowing what I was supposed to know about God, but then finding out that I wondered how I could know whether he existed. So it's like I knew all there was to know that I was supposed to believe but the question was how do I know?
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you grew up in a Christian home?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I did, and then I also wondered how I could be sure that there actually was a world outside my mind, and I was sure that the questions were weird and probably sin and –
Dr. Darrell Bock
I'm saying you sound like a normal middle school gal I knew when I was growing up. So it started from there?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, I think so. It just seemed to me that I needed proof. I was lacking proof in both of those. I knew I was supposed to believe the Bible to tell me about God but that was an odd thing that you would actually believe what a book told you about some reality, it seemed to me, and how could I be sure, those kinds of things.

It was later, in high school, that I learned that my questions were philosophical. I learned that from reading the work of Francis Schaeffer and realized also that responses to those questions had shaped whole cultural epochs and shaped them across disciplines, and so my love of things interdisciplinary came at that point, too.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I see, and so you did your training where as you worked on philosophy?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah. When I figured out that you could study philosophy, I transferred to Cedarville College and studied with a philosopher whose reputation I had only heard of, that my life changed with that decision. Yeah, and so from getting that, it was a BA in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in philosophy, and then I did the master's in humanities at Western Kentucky, and then wanted to stay interdisciplinary but you'd have to do two Ph.D.'s for that, so one, I thought if I could do that, I'd be doing well. And then I was also interested in doing more theological work, too. I had been being trained in the Reformational tradition, the Van Tilian tradition, so I went to Westminster Seminary to get some more from the horse's mouth. So other than some work I've also done at Covenant Seminary, that's kind of where I did all the training that I did.

But really, so the philosopher that I did my dissertation on, Michael Polanyi, that is not somebody I read in any course. It actually was a young man at church that asked me if I'd read Personal Knowledge and I was looking for a dissertation area that would be cross-disciplinary, and when I read Polanyi's work, I thought it might hold some prospect for a dissertation, but then when you look at the secondary literature, Polanyi was being connected with every discipline, so that was intriguing.
Bill Hendricks
I wanted to ask you about that. Polanyi seems like he does connect to a lot of disciplines and yet he seems like one of these shadow figures, at least I'm not a philosopher, but I had heard of him. In preparation for today, I did a little research. I didn't realize, for instance, that he had come to faith at one point, converted to Christianity, and I wondered how much his faith affected his thinking and vice versa, and is this somebody who we need to pull out from the shadows and really go to school on?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yes. Well, so Wilfred McClay, who's a public intellectual, said to me that Polanyi was the greatest underrated public intellectual of the 20th Century and he influenced lots of people who are way more well-known than he is. But what he was was a premier scientist at the beginning of the 20th Century in conversation with Einstein and that set, then really left science, migrated eventually to philosophy really to save science because he felt that in the Western philosophical tradition, there was no account that made sense of scientific discovery, so actually coming to know what you do not know, and he argued that if knowledge is exhaustively explicit information, no scientific discovery could ever happen but it does. Therefore, we need a new epistemology.
Bill Hendricks
I actually brought a couple of quotes from scientists to perhaps open that up a little bit. Wernher von Braun, the physicist, wrote, "Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing." And Einstein himself said that, "When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge." And apparently the whole notion of the theory of relativity came to him he said through music.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, so Personal Knowledge, which is Polanyi's Gifford lectures, really starts with Einstein. Well, it starts with it's called the lesson of the Copernican revolution, and so he's really exploring the misperception that we have all been led to believe about how science works where you collect data, and then make a tentative hypothesis, and test it, that sort of thing, and Personal Knowledge is really his sustained agenda to identify what he calls the tacit coefficient in all knowledge and to have us accredit it. That's his word, so accrediting that tacit coefficient. And really what he's saying is the scientific method is not how discovery works. So you need to be able to rely on tacit powers of integration and tacit hunches even of beauty to navigate toward what you do not yet know.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So if someone were to say, "I don't know anything about Polanyi but I'd like to get started," what would you recommend to them?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, that's good. Well, he's an elegant writer. He is a scientist and if it's somebody who loves science, Personal Knowledge is a great book. I suggest that you could start with there were later essays that he wrote that were kind of standalone pieces, that you could read one of those and that would be a good entre to Polanyi before you jumped into something longer. And so there's a small book of three lectures. It's called The Tacit Dimension, and Marjorie Green, who's a philosopher that worked with Polanyi, said that Lecture 1, Tacit Knowing, is a good short form of Personal Knowledge, so I often have my students read that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now let's transition a little bit and discuss the starting point for your concerns, part of which is what you regard as the flaw in general Western approaches to knowledge. Describe that for us, and if you can briefly do it, tell us where the problems are.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Mm-hmm. Well, Polanyi's unique insight is that no knowledge can be wholly focal and no knowledge can be wholly explicit articulated in statement form and that, if you take the no off and you say it positively, that's the tacit presumption that sets up more than modernist epistemology, really all of the Western tradition. We just presume that if you know something, you say it in sentence statements, right, and we'd rather snort at the idea that there could be something that would be called knowledge that was not articulated in statements. And nobody really examines that tacit presumption.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So the idea that knowledge is basically information in one way or another or a proposition in one way or another and that's all that we're dealing with is too narrow a definition of what knowledge is about.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, and the ironic thing is what exactly would a statement be? Okay, is it something you write out on the board? "The door is open." Well, it's not even meaningful if you're not subsidiarily indwelling it. So here we are having this conversation and we're rattling off these sentences and they only are meaningful because we are tacitly subsidiarily indwelling them to focus on their meaning.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In other words, there's a larger context in which they're functioning in which the sentence, "The door is open," has some kind of meaning to us?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, context would be part of it but the actual text would be subsidiary, so let me talk about this word subsidiary, 'cause it really is key to getting Polanyi, and the word tacit is not key to getting him. People have said, "Okay, Polanyi says there's explicit knowledge and then there's this leftover tacit residue." No, no, no, no.

So what you need to get is that there's a two-level structure to knowing and he called the level subsidiary and focal, so you're always attending from and attending to simultaneously and you never don't do both of those simultaneously. It's always from to. So all of this is subsidiary. There's context but there's other things. There's bodily clues. There's the authoritative guides of my past, the folks that have taught me language and all those kinds of things and are authoritatively guiding what I'm doing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So these are grids of lenses that I see through so when I focus on something, I have some sense of what the pattern is, for lack of a better description. You showed a slide in one of the lectures that –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I wouldn't say grids and lenses. I would just stick with subsidiaries because the point is that you subsidiarily rely on them and indwell on them. Grids and lenses are part of it but there's other things, too, like the firings in your brain, and also, there's just more. There's just more.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, the differences between focal and subsidiary, it's trying to bring those into focus. I'm thinking of a slide that you showed in one of your lectures that I will generally describe. It's gonna ruin the illustration to describe it at the start, but I will. You look at it and it's a series of colors initially and then what you recognize is there is a copperhead that's very much the same color as everything else around it. So when you first look at it, you're not quite sure what you're looking at, but as you zero in and maybe focalize might be the term that we're talking about, you recognize, "Oh, there's a copperhead in the mix to there."
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, you pick out the pattern.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So the pattern is the focal element and the subsidiary is what is all around it?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, this is a great question and it's hard to learn to say this but here's what I would say. Okay, in that process of moving to actually seeing the copperhead, what you're looking at first you might call particulars and you don't see the pattern. But then there's these squiggles and they start to be fraught with more meaning than you're able to put your finger on. In my case, it was the Hershey Kiss idea, and at that point, the particulars start to be clues, but by the time you have the ah-ha moment and you actually see the copperhead, the particulars turn subsidiary. So what you had been looking at, you shift to be looking from to see the pattern.

Reading works the same way. So my daughter had a Chinese copy of Harry Potter that she got in China and when she brought it home and laid it next to the English Harry Potter, the Chinese for me is beautiful but it's not fraught with the meaning of quidditch, and Hogwarts, and all those kinds of things, whereas if you're reading text, you're attending from the book. If I took the book out from under your nose, you'd stop reading, right, but you don't see the page because you're attending from it to the meaning of the text.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. We're moving quickly here, so let me see if I can pull some of this together, and that is when we're in the process of knowing, and I'm going to continue to contrast with the way people are oftentimes used to thinking about knowing. They will think about, "I want to think about what that picture is," thinking about your slide, or, "I want to figure out what the meaning of that sentence is," thinking about reading the book, or a paragraph, or a story, or whatever level you want to work at, that kind of thing. I picture myself as this external, neutral observer of the stuff that's in front of me. That's kind of the Western model of how we think about knowledge.

But what you're trying to get us to think about is that knowing is actually much more than that because knowing is about an interaction that takes place between whatever it is I'm looking at and myself and that's the covenant part of what you talk about and when you talk about covenantal epistemology, at least that's the way I'm reading it, and correct me if I'm wrong. And so there's this interactive thing in which you – I'm gonna say it this way. You are a part of the story that's happening in relationship to reality as opposed to being this detached outside of the game, if I can use another picture, outside of the relationship that's being established between what you are engaged with and yourself. Is that a decent summary of what's going on here or is there more you have to –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
There's more of it. I guess I'd like to go back to the subsidiaries, because what Polanyi said was you've got to shift from looking – if you're doing epistemology, you've gotta stop looking at the confirmed facts you think you already have to do epistemology and you have to shift to look at discovery because discovery puts into this trajectory the whole magic process of going from not yet knowing to knowing. How do you go from zero to 60? How do you come to know in the first place? And that's what when you attend to that, you can start to see how the knowing process happens, and really what has to happen first is something like a struggle.

This is the first time I've ever done these talks that I did not use the magic eye to start out and I often carry those books with me and pass around these magic eye 3D things and get people playing with them. Well, you can't not try to do those things. They just draw you in. Then you're like, "What is this?" And you read the directions and you're supposed to hold it up to your nose and you're supposed to pull it away slowly. You want to get your focal point somehow beyond – I didn't even know I had a focal point. You have to get it beyond the surface features of the page and struggle to find a different way to relate to the surface features of the page.

Chapter 6 then, in my Longing to Know, is called "The 'Oh, I see it' moment," because I do talk about those magic eyes and so I unfold the whole thing in terms of what goes on in that process, how you go from looking at the surface features of the page to struggling to make sense of them in the way the directions say. Even though the directions sound crazy to you, you're still trying to do what they say, and then you navigate your way to this logical shift, this leap where you can switch the way you're looking at the surface features of the page so that you're able to look from them.

So for example, switching back to reading, I taught all my daughters to read and used this phonetically-based approach that sounded out the short letters and the consonants and then had very simple books that used them. And so I taught them all the things they were supposed to do about how to say these different sounds and there came this point where I got one of the simplest little books and I handed it to them and then I took a picture. Because what happened was they did dutifully the sounding out that they were supposed to do and then they realized it made sense and they went [gasps]. They were reading. So that shift took place in that moment.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In the, "Oh, I see it," moment.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
That's right. Not every trajectory of knowing has that, but I think enough of us have that experience that we understand that shift. Sometimes we talk about a figure ground shift, right, so that kind of shift has to happen, so to see that knowing moves like that toward discovery, then you're able to see laid out the pieces that actually go into coming to know.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so knowing is related to the process of discovery and discovery is kind of that you talk about that ah-ha moment where you see something and I take it you see something that you hadn't seen before and so you go, "Ah-ha."
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And you see it in a different way.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In a different light. Well, that's where I'm going to is that in seeing it in a different light, you actually come to realize that now I see not just that but even other things differently than I would have before I had the ah-ha moment. Is that what we're talking about?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
That's when it starts to get cool.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
Well, then you have new questions. You have questions that you couldn't have had before.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Before, exactly.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
And so then you have a new focal point that you can focus on things, right, and you begin to focus on those things, and once that discovery happens, then there are new questions, and that's how you move into –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, you're on to the future.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
You're moving in relation –
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's like a flower that opens up and you realize, "Oh, there are more petals here than I realized."
Dr. Esther L. Meek
That's right, and that's how you know you've made contact with reality.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
Or getting to know a spouse in a relationship, you're moving.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And that's the major metaphor that you used is the relational metaphor to talk about this 'cause there are figures like pledge, and dance, and embrace, and all those kinds of things.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
But back to the copperhead, see what happens is once you see the pattern of the copperhead, and this was my experience. I'm here to testify that when I finally saw the copperhead, everything changed, and I was terrified, and he was at my feet, and my little daughters had pointed out to – they didn't say, "Mom, look at the copperhead." They said, "Mom, look."
Dr. Timothy Basselin
And now the woods have new meaning and there are different questions to be asked.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
The whole woods, my parenting, the possibilities aren't necessarily very good. You know what I'm saying? So yes, it just changed everything. It changed me. It changed them. It changed just the whole thing, so yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So we're coming to our break. On the other side, we've gotta talk about the other elements of this, but I like the picture of the copperhead and realizing that the copperhead is there and how that changes reality, because when you do come across a snake as you're on a walk –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And he's looking at you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And he's looking at you and he's coiled. You have the picture, the copperhead is coiled, that means something. I didn't realize you had your children with you. That adds a whole 'nother dimension.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Oh, they found the copperhead.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The found it.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
It's even worse.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It sounds pretty grim to me in terms of what the situation was, so that was a different kind of ah-ha moment you were in the midst of. Go ahead and give us the technical term that you used to describe this?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Subsidiary focal integration.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, that and then the bigger term for the entire epistemology.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Covenant epistemology.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Covenant epistemology, yeah, so I'm sure those are words that most people use every day in their everyday lives.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Sure, that's right. I've had wives of students tell me later, "We have a whole new vocabulary in our home."
Dr. Darrell Bock
I bet it reduces down to CE real easily. So but the picture of the covenant is the picture of this relationship you have in the process of knowing, and so there are a lot of pictures that you use to kind of get us there, to think about knowing in this kind of way. I'll let you just decide what you want to talk about here. I'm going to give two sets of terms. One comes very early on in your book called, The Little Manual, and love, notice, wonder, pilgrimage, resh, shalom, that sequence which you introduce the book with, and then the other are ideas like pledge on the one hand, and then moving to the subsidiary focal integration, which I'm sure we spent a lot of time talking about, which takes us into the idea of indwelling, and then we've got the idea of encounter, transformational, dance, and then eventually shalom. So we end up in the same place in both lists. We end up with shalom, but describe the process of encountering knowledge and having knowledge impact you.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah. Well, back to the copperhead. My experience, my Polanyi-shaped experience, what Polanyi said about discovery is that you know you've made contact with reality when you have this sense of the possibility of indeterminate future manifestations, which I call IFMs, but when I recognized the copperhead, all these copperhead possibilities started cropping up.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I take it many of them were not good.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
The fact that I could not see them was a problem. So really in that ah-ha moment and this shift so that I saw this pattern opened up vistas that I hadn't entertained before and it was almost like reality kind of came in and started asking me the questions. It wasn't about having new questions so much as my questions not being answered but exploded and I was in a new world.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You went from a very pleasant walk with your kids to a very threatening situation.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yes. So I started to have this sense that in the knower seeking the yet to be known, there was a reciprocity. So I was reaching out to reality and reality more than shook my hand. Do you see what I'm saying?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. It was sticking its tongue out at you.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
This copperhead and I actually had a staring contest and I won and eventually he went away.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's actually frightening to contemplate.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I know. He looked at me. I looked at him. The I saw a bear? So that's what I've started to work on to move into this thing I call covenant epistemology. That's my idea. I don't want to blame that on Polanyi, except that I do feel in his Personal Knowledge that I've taken the personal and gone in a different way that is consistent with I will never leave behind subsidiary focal integration, but I've picked up on this reciprocal know or known thing and tried to argue in Loving to Know that that relationship should best be paradigmed by the interpersonal relationship where actually interpersonal because I make an overture and then what reality does in responding is person-like, too. It's like somebody's home and contacting back.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, it's an interesting image because most people think of reality as the thing that's out there. They think of it as dead and it's not very vibrant.
Bill Hendricks
Impersonal.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly, impersonal, and so to think about reality as being this breathing entity that responds to me, if I'm gonna stay in metaphors here, that then into which I can enter into almost a relational give and take, which is the language that I think you're suggesting, really does make us think about how we interact with our environment. That's very sterile but that's the way most people think about it, in a different kind of way.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Amen. And John Macmurray is the philosopher of religion who kind of leads the way in arguing for this, and he says really what we do is we take a personal reality and depersonalize it to make data, and but what has happened in the modernist mindset is we've depersonalized reality into two-dimensional ones and zeroes and that's part of giving us control over it. We can do anything we want with reality.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It demoralizes the world.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yes, and think about all the environmental damage and all those kinds of things. We just presume we can do anything we want with it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now step back and think about this theologically for a second. What I think you're saying is that the creation is a – because when we're talking about reality, we're obviously talking about how we function in the creation, and the creation is not amoral and it's not depersonalized. There's presence involved in the creation and so talk a little bit theologically about how this fits in.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, reality is God and God's stuff, right? And we're kind of attached to our stuff.
Male
We is?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And he's really attached to his stuff because all the stuff is his let there be. It is his word, so we confess both the inscripturated word but also the word that is general revelation. That's the word of the Lord. And so every atom and every instant is his let there be, let there be, let there be. It's a promise. What reality is at bottom is love. Love is at the core of all things. It is his promissory bringing things to be by his I do.

I wanted to argue and articulate where in reality is person-like, because you don't want to say that reality kind of is God. That's kind of pantheistic, but that actually depersonalizes everything. So the theologians that I work with, they argue that you could only think this way if you were Christian and had a personal god. So the intriguing thing about Christianity is I think the word with, God with us, for example. True personhood, and really as I understand it, the idea of personhood really developed as people were trying to articulate the trinity, and so persons are not intended to absorb each other. We're called to be god-like, not god-ish, right?

And so as a healthy friendship would develop, you wouldn't absorb each other. That would be sick. You want a relationship to be healthy such that your interpersonhood makes each other more the person that they are.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
You discover each other,
Dr. Darrell Bock
You're respecting each other and discovering each other simultaneously.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Right, and so that is not a dynamic of control. It is a dynamic of relationality. And so what I tried to argue was that reality is person-like and –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Because God has us there.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Okay, and are you ready for this big, long word that I haven't used yet this week? I argue that reality is metonymously personal. Do you know what a metonym is?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes. Yeah, but you're probably gonna have to explain it.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
So there are figures of speech that the part stands for the whole. That's actually synecdoche, but metonym is one thing stands for another. So we talk about the president by talking about the White House, or in World War II, they called the female soldiers skirts, or we talk about our wheels, so that's what I mean. So if you say that reality is metonymously personal means it's a kind of truncated. That means that you cut the limbs off and you've got the trunk left. That's what truncated means. So it's kind of a reduced form of personness.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Because God has us there, if I can say it that way?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, it's his stuff, so just as you went into somebody's apartment and you would respect their things, and their design, and their knickknacks just because it belonged to them. That's what I mean persons in the vicinity. A ring is a good example, a wedding ring or an engagement ring. If a guy gives a girl an engagement ring and she admires the ring more than the guy, that's a problem.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I think we would concur.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
However, if she tosses the ring away, that would not be good, either.
Dr. Timothy Basselin
That's a problem, too.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's right.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
See gift becomes a way to say that reality is metonymously personal because only persons give gifts and a gift is fraught with person-likeness. It's imbued with this relationship of love that it is a passing between. Do you see what I'm saying?
Dr. Darrell Bock
And you're trying to engender with all this –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I think covenant is metonymously personal, too, by the way.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly, 'cause it's a relationship between two people that's agreed upon. What I'm sensing in part is going on here is really a desire to move us towards an appreciation of the pursuit of knowledge in some ways as well as an engagement.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Adventure, yep. It should be the most fun ever. It should be.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Because it opens you up to deepening your understanding, your appreciation, your awareness. There are all kinds of things that are impacted by the pursuit of knowledge in this kind of sense that we're talking about. It's not like sitting back and admiring a World Book Encyclopedia of facts. It's something very, very different than that.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah, think Star Trek here. Start singing the theme, da da da. Why would anybody do that, the voyages of the starship Enterprise? Just because it's there. You just long to know.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let's talk about indwelling for a second and this is probably in some ways I find it the most fascinating part of what you're talking about. Tell us about what indwelling means when we're thinking about the pursuit of knowledge.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Okay. Polanyi's word, possibly got it from John 15. There is slippage in the way the term is used but one thing it means is in that two-level structure of knowing subsidiary focal, you indwell all the subsidiaries that support the pattern. So when you learn to drive a car, actually you come to be subsidiary indwelling the car so your body extends to the edges of the car and that's how you can dance down the highway. So that's indwelling. All subsidiaries become embodied by you, so your body, Polanyi would say, is amazing in that it's the one thing that you know almost entirely subsidiarily. That's why it's so odd to go to the doctor because you're an object for them.
Dr. Darrell Bock
He pokes and prods you and you go –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Right, you're plumbing, but the way you feel your body to be your own is you indwell it subsidiarily, right, and you would indwell the car. If you're a basketball player, you indwell the basket. You actually indwell the authoritative guides, whether it's the scriptures or the playbook in football. Yeah, so all of that gets subsidiarily indwelled as you seek the pattern.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, now the hard part of this is –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Can I tell you the other –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
The other thing on the way to understanding, so here you are so sweetly listening deeply to me. Well, you, in trying to piece together what I'm saying, you're also indwelling me, so you're trying to get inside the crazy things I'm doing with my hands and thinking, "What could she possibly mean?" You're actually indwelling me.

So if you're a scientific discoverer like that Barbara McClintock, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, she was trying to indwell the ear of corn, right? You remember, "Be the ball?" You actually want to be the golf ball, indwell what you're trying to understand, so that's a kind of anticipated indwelling.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. You're getting at kind of where my question is going. It goes something like this. I can get being subsidiary and being in a car, being a driver. I can get being the basketball player who's indwelling the court during the game, those kinds of things. But you're also talking about indwelling ideas and so I've got in the first set, I've got physical things that I'm thinking about that help me figure out how the space is working, okay?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I like that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So when I come to ideas, that feels spaceless. I know it isn't, but that feels spaceless, so how is indwelling ideas like or unlike being the driver of the car?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
I think we'd be better at ideas if we saw that it was like and not unlike.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, and that's what I'm asking. So how is it like as opposed to unlike?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Well, that actually brings us back to what's wrong with modernist, Western epistemology, because if you think that knowledge is information, you're just presuming it's focal. You're looking at it. You're not looking from it. And we think that the point of the classroom is impassive transfer of information. I'm sorry, passive transfer of information from one impersonal robot to another. You know what I'm saying? But really what we all know needs to happen is something more indwellingish and that what you want is not information focal but information subsidiary.

So if you're a chemist, you want to have indwelled the periodic table of the elements, so not just the thing on the wall but it's gotta be that – and you used the word grid. That's a great example of a grid. You need to go at the world in terms of that periodic chart. And so that's an idea and we talk about I need to get inside that. That's indwelling, so you want to get inside ideas –
Dr. Darrell Bock
So I want to understand how that idea works but it isn't just me – I also want to understand how I can be impacted by that idea. The thing that I'm kinda pushing here for is the idea I'm not external to what it is that I'm examining.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And if you were, you wouldn't get the idea.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's exactly right.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
You have to indwell it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I'm gonna use another metaphor. You have to dive in.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
You do, right. You can't learn to swim standing on the side of the pool.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you have to dive into the idea and when we talk about unpacking an idea –
Dr. Esther L. Meek
You do it from the inside.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right, okay, and so the change comes, or the encounter comes, and the dance as well, once I dive in and the idea grabs me, if I can say it that way, okay, and all of a sudden, I realize I'm not looking at this from the outside. This idea has hold of me, okay, and now I'm in, to use another figure, your dance. So explain the dance.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Okay. If the knower and the yet to be known are persons in relationship, that relationship is best if it's one of my overture, realities, response; my overture, realities, response. It's a little dance-like, so it's asymmetrical gift and receipt of gift, overture, response.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the learning that's taking place as the interaction takes place and I'm impacted in the midst of the interaction. Is that fair?
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yeah. So I haven't told my Bandit story.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. We want you to get all your cool stories out, so go for this.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Okay, so Bandit was this little cedar waxwing and I won't take time to tell the whole thing but I inherited Bandit from a student, and at the point that I inherited Bandit, I thought he was missing his entire wing. Well, he was apparently just missing the feathers off of it. He could not fly. And my rabbit had just died and so Bandit moved into the rabbit cage. I was in awe of being this close to a wild bird, and then a week later, I thought, "Well, my little bird can't fly like all the other little birds, so what's wrong with my little bird?"

But I listened, and attended, and attended, and tried to take care of this bird, and he lived the summer with me, and I learned to pick him up with a stick, and then I wore a diaper and he sat on my shoulder and he spent the summer on my shoulder. So when I gardened and bent over, he'd run up to the high point on my back, and when I stood up, he would run back up. I learned that cedar waxwings do not eat seeds. They eat 80 percent fruit and 20 percent insects. You could waft him through the air on a stick and he would just snap the bugs out of the air. It was really remarkable.

Well, and I also learned that cedar waxwings are group birds. They bathe together. They eat together. They're always in groups. He loved nothing better than looking at my face. Dogs are olfactory. Birds are visual and they see very, very far, and I know this because I was loved by a bird. Do you see? I'm kinda saying I was changed but here's the deal. He loved it when I put on my makeup and he would sit right there. He loved pecking in the powder, but he wanted to see my face. I was his group.

I was his group and it really became a spiritual thing for me because I was in a grieving time and here's this little broken bird sitting on my arm gazing at my face, and I thought, "You know what? I have a broken wing but nothing keeps me, if I just sit still, from seeing my heavenly father's face." So it was like I'd read Psalm 84 and the sparrow by the altar and all those things, and I'd look at Bandit, and I'm that bird.

Well, so all this to say I was changed even spiritually by that bird 'cause that bird saw me, and then at the end of the summer, he flew away. He healed well enough that one day after 20 minutes on my shoulder on the deck, he flew straight and true.
Bill Hendricks
And that was an animal and you're saying the same thing could happen with a language, or concept, or a person, or anything.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the appreciation that's also being expressed for what's been learned for the nature of the experience, et cetera, that's the essence of what learning and not only do you dive in, you have a great swim.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
That's right, and it's transformative.
Bill Hendricks
If you allow it.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And if you don't, you don't learn.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There's an issue here about openness that's very, very significant.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Yep, scary.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, because to be open, you've got to be willing to be reshaped.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Because you don't know what's coming. You have some sense of it, but I love to talk about surprising recognition because you can be angling for something you can only half say what it is, but when it shows up, you both recognize it but then you're also surprised by it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And you're opened up at the same time for even more and so the cycle continues.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
And that's where the pledge stuff comes back in, too. If you pledge yourself to a partner, that's come what may. You say in sickness and death, and all those things.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I didn't sign up for that.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
That's right, and then you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. So I remember my Aunt Lorraine saying to me about my Uncle Dale, "I could never have imagined what he would be like as a grandfather." Well, she'd lived with him for 50 years and he was still surprising her? Do you see? That's person-likeness.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, that's cool. Well, we're out of time, amazingly. It's flown by, to use the metaphor of the bird, and we've learned a lot. We've done some swimming and we just appreciate your taking the time to interact with us and have us thinking about knowledge in just kind of a different and fresh kind of way and to show the value of thinking even philosophically about how we view, and learn, and think.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
About birds and –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and it's clear that when you asked those questions as a middle schooler, that it was a great journey, so we thank you for being with us, Esther, today.
Dr. Esther L. Meek
Thank you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Thank you, Tim, and thank you, Bill, for being with us, and we're pleased to have you with us on The Table. Hope you'll be back again, soon.

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