Perhaps you have had occasion to use a pair of three-dimensional glasses, those barely-more-than-cardboard contraptions that get issued, for example, at the door of Disney MGM’s Muppet Movie show. If you wear them, things in the movie appear three-dimensional.
I have something like the reverse of those in mind. A pair of two-dimensional glasses, as I am conceiving of them, when you put them on, would make something three-dimensional appear two-dimensional, allowing you only to see the two-dimensional aspects of what you are looking at.
People generally are born with a certain kind of two-dimensional glasses plastered to their face. When we think about what knowledge or knowing is, we think of information, facts, statements, formulas. Not that these aren’t knowledge. It’s that these aren’t all there is to knowledge, nor even the most important part. If we think knowledge is information, it’s as if two-dimensional glasses are serving to flatten knowledge for us, keeping us from registering any dimensions of knowing which aren’t information.
Then, when it comes to thinking about learning, or getting an education, we think this involves transfer of information. True, we might protest that knowledge isn’t just information; it’s also application. You learn information, and you learn a method; you implement the method that uses the information, and you’re educated.
What else could knowledge be, you might ask? Not information, but transformation, according to James Loder, in his book, The Transforming Moment (2nd ed. Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 1989). Loder criticizes our preconceived notions regarding knowledge as resulting from an “eikonic eclipse”: something that hides the critically central transformational role of the imagination in any act of coming to know.
Take the scientific method, for instance, taught from grade school on: in science you identify a problem, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis by collecting and analyzing data, and formulate conclusions. All this sounds systematic and right as rain. But our two-dimensional glasses (my analogy, inspired by Loder’s term) flatten out the profoundly imaginative, highly talented and wise, risky, responsible, deeply human, somehow divinely inspired, self-and-world transforming, “form a hypothesis.”
When I was in 11th grade, contemplating studying chemistry in college, something drew me up short. I couldn’t see how anybody, no matter how many labs they did, could count on “forming a hypothesis.” To me that seemed a kind of magic that I could not explain and didn’t think I could generate. And so I thought I couldn’t be a chemist. (I didn’t realize that I was, however, on my way to being an epistemologist—somebody who thinks a lot about knowing.)
Knowing is transformation. It is a creative insight that changes us and changes things. We emerge, from the knowing event, different persons, seeing the world differently. Knowing is more like a conversion and less like catechism, we might say. And apart from the conversion, catechism is lifeless two-dimensionality. Catechism of course is important, but precisely because it invites conversion.
The dynamic of transformational knowing is, I believe, akin to the descent of God. The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, says the Scriptures. God comes; I am changed. He breaks the bread and our eyes are opened to see Him and ourselves and our world differently. We’ve been summoned. There is no going back. That is knowing.
This suggests two very profound implications. In one direction, our relationship with the living Lord, far from being antithetical to “knowledge,” (as in “faith VERSUS reason”) is the best specimen and model of it. In the other, in whatever way we are involved in education—as teachers or students in classrooms, churches, homes, or on-the-job training, we must teach and learn and assess for transformation. We must learn, not so much to comprehend as to be apprehended. We must see ourselves as, in our determined efforts, putting ourselves in the way of the incoming of God.