The more I write, the more convinced I become that all things that are true, and all things that are right, and all things that are beautiful, edifying, and healing, are more than just related. They are more than dependent on one another. They are more than complementary. They are, at the heart, all born of the same thing.
Now, this may be because this is my brain, and my brain is always making connections. Yesterday, as a friend and I were looking at an Impressionist painting, I mused on why visual art underwent such huge changes in the mid-nineteenth century. The mid-nineteenth century seems a long time ago, especially for us short-memoried Americans, but my not-remotely-exhaustive understanding of the era started picking out ideas: political upheaval as the British Empire began to fail and monarchies worldwide were challenged, the U.S. going through civil war and beginning to establish itself on the world scene, the full flowering of Enlightenment, and, as my friend pointed out, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Of course art changed.
The concept was first introduced to me in college. (Yes, college wreaked strange and lovely havoc on my thinking – which is why you don’t hear me complain about all the loans I’m still paying back.) I know that it’s common to read politics into art and sociology into literature and pull out strange interpretations that I’m pretty sure are the reader’s imagination, but it is still true that all the arts and all the sciences are related. Even at the basic level. And I’m not talking about the chemistry of paint, either. Western music – meaning European/American music – is based on physics. They meet and fuse in a thing called the harmonic series.
And advances in one field can show up in another. Look up “game theory” for a field of mathematics that did some massive things to politics. Pointillism in art is an ancestor to the whole idea of pixels. There’s a branch of Biblical scholarship that’s seeking to clear up the inconsistent passages of the Bible (the ones where the oldest manuscripts don’t agree – they’re very few) by using algorithms from evolution. And currently there’s some great stuff going on in philosophy about information and meaning that got started in computer science.
This sounds weird to us, because we have got used to separating all these things out. Not that there’s anything wrong with separating things out: if you can’t classify something, and say that it has one thing but not another, you can’t begin to understand it. But saying that a thing is in a certain class doesn’t mean it’s not related to another class. They have places they overlap. They have places they interact. If you know how physics and music are related, you can play any instrument without being taught – you can build an instrument out of anything at hand. You know what makes it an instrument, and therefore what needs to be done with it. Physics and music are not the same thing, but it opens up whole new worlds if we know that they touch.
This is what I’m finding with philosophy. The more I dig around in morals and ethics and worldviews, the more I find roots running out to places I didn’t know were connected. Justice and mercy, I’m now convinced, are two aspects of the same thing. The difference is how they manifest. Order and freedom are showing signs of the same: neither one of them’s chaos, for starters, and I’m beginning to work out how order is the root of communication. Under bitterness is pride, and under apathy is fear – and, actually, pride is under fear, too. Humility leads to contentment, but I’m also pretty sure it’s the key to right ambition, and that it’s at the root of joy. And I am thinking that the heart, at the very heart, underneath all these things and influencing them at every point, whether seen or unseen, known or unknown, is love. The amount, the quality, and the object are what it hinges on, and determine where things go.
For years, scientists have been chasing the so-called “theory of everything” or “grand unifying theory”, and haven’t found it yet. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Said “theory of everything” would resolve everything we know about science. Which makes me wonder if there is perhaps a “theory of everything” in philosophy too. Maybe it’s the same thing. And maybe it is unknowable by our tiny finite minds. It wouldn’t surprise me.
But that’s no reason to stop finding the connections. That’s no reason to stop putting these theories together. Even when they fall apart, we learn more. Knowledge isn’t wisdom, but it can help wisdom grow, and the more connections we can find, the better chance we have to see the whole picture, or at least as much as we can handle. If we did that, we would transform ourselves.
We should at least try.