Monday, 4 September 2017


I won't find The Answer in my lifetime. You won't find The Answer in your lifetime. No one alive today will find The Answer in their lifetime. [There are lots of people peddling Answers but they're all wrong.] We can, however, all get a small step closer to total knowledge, total wisdom. We can reject false answers, wrong perspectives, incorrect approaches. The search is from our perspective, never-ending. We can ponder, discuss - reach ever-higher levels of synthesis than has hitherto been reached before, but it is like building a staircase to the sky out of housebricks - if you build too high without a broad-enough base, the while edifice will come eventually crashing down.

Since childhood, I have been convinced that I am somehow operating on a higher level of consciousness than most people around me. My daughter says this way of thinking is judgemental, elitist and snobbish, that I'm putting people down. But my feelings are based not on judging others for their innate intelligence or their level of education. Rather it's the fact that some people do have more acute powers of observation - perceptiveness (spostrzegawczość) than others. And then some people more naturally curious about the world around them than others.

People who notice interesting details of stuff around them and ask themselves questions about life and everything or those who - consciously or subconsciously - are on a lifelong quest to broaden and deepen their understanding of their own existence.

As I grow older, I feel that life is coming into ever-sharper focus. New insights into issues, gained over decades, improve understanding. But simply growing older is not enough; if we do not question what we think we've established as wisdom, we end up entrenching ourselves with fixed ideas. The phrase "I've always said that..." is a warning sign that you're dealing with a person who does not appreciate that one's own views should evolve and mature over time, become more nuanced, accommodating newly-discovered complexities that arise as we honestly ponder the things around us. Beware too of persons (populist politicians, typically), who want to oversimplify, to reduce complex issues into solutions which seem appealing at first sight - but are wrong.

At school, none but the best teachers teach us to be curious. And indeed, can curiosity be taught? Should the curious mind break out from the pack, to seek ahead, alone? Thinking back over my 14 years of primary and secondary education, I cannot honestly recall a single teacher that did encourage us pupils to grow in curiosity. Some were better, others worse - but essentially they were handing down predigested knowledge to be memorised, rather than to be assembled into wisdom.

As to perceptiveness, the concept of spostrzegawczość was explained to me in Polish Scouts in 1970s London. We'd get points for noticing that which is around us. An important part of field-craft, bearing in mind the paramilitary nature of Polish scouting. Powers of observation can make all the difference in a battlefield between survival and being a sniper's victim. But in civilian life, finely-honed powers of observation have different guises. Some of us are attuned to noticing different things - and will attach great import to a stained collar, cracked plaster-work, a funny smell or a chipped cup. Others will notice, but will not get bothered by superficial imperfections. Others will simply not notice.

Those of us with above average levels of curiosity and perceptiveness will grow in consciousness, share and discuss and learn and teach and thus develop as human beings, for consciousness is all, it is the essence of being alive, it is that spark of Godliness, or Universal wholeness within us.

This time last year:
Interstices: between Kłobucka and the tracks

This time three years ago:
In which I ride my Brompton to work

This time six years ago:
Bike ride to Powsin as summer fades gloriously

This time seven years ago: 
Compositions in yellow, blue and white 

This time eight years ago: 
When the Z-9 used to run, temporarily, to Jeziorki 


Jacek Koba said...

An interesting BBC programme explored the question of the perception of time a while ago, explaining, among other things, why time flies faster as we grow older. The answer is obvious but needs articulating lest it be lost in the hurly burly of everyday life: we simply choose to notice less as we go along. Why? Because many things are already familiar. New observations form a series of milestones in our memory which we think of as a journey. The more milestones, the longer the journey, the slower the time passes. A child will be packing a lot into his memory because things are new, thus a year to a child is practically forever. (We fondly say of getting older that our days are longer and our years are shorter.) Another way of looking at it is this: imagine a journey from A to B along a new route, then back from B to A along the same route. It seems that the onward journey takes longer while the return journey takes less time. Why? Because on the way back you are already familiar with the things you've seen on the way over. The only escape from this bind is learn, learn , learn. Never give up. Heed Ghandi: Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever. I tell my students that the more they notice around them the more they will be able to say (in English), and the more they are able to say the more they will notice.

Bozena Masters said...

While I believe we should never close our minds, I also think that we choose not so much "to notice less as we go along", but to be less overwhelmed by changes - global, parochial, familial. Some "comforting" words from my mother recently: I expressed my concern that one way or another, whether via Donald Trump or populist regimes in Europe, we seem to be heading for serious conflict. Her response was "I survived it. You will, too. Or not." In the end, it's all ashes to ashes and dust to dust. If an absence of perceptiveness brings you pleasure, you can just be. Are people who are perceptive any happier than those who aren't? I suspect not.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Jacek Koba

My take on time flying faster is that at the age of 50, a year represents but one-fiftieth of your remembered experience, while at age ten, it represents a tenth. And of course, at age ten, those experiences are all the more memorable for being fresh and in many cases unique.

@ Bozena Masters

Are the perceptive happier than those who aren't? I strongly believe they are. They can perceive those small details that bring joy, they are less materialistic and - to quote Jacek Koba - their expectations-to-reality ratio is nearer one to one as a result.

AndrzejK said...

The one thing Latymer School was good at was fostering an inquisative mind and not taking answers at face value. Interestingly several of the teachers did not have any sort of degree - just a passion for their chosen subject.
It is frightening to think of the vast number of young people both in Britain and Poland going sheep like into higher education at a third rate pseudo university and then finding that they are not suited at all to life and going on to non jobs (if at all). SAD. And I can't imagine that the current "reform" of Polish education is going to do any good at all unless of course the intention is to produce vote fodder!