Seven-sided gem

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This lecture was given Oct. 26, 2001 during the Midwestern Mensa regional gathering, at the Arlington Heights Sheraton.

Introductory remarks by Dr. Mike Doyle, CEO and Founder of Eolas Technologies: I first met CJS Hayward on the MegaList about a year and a half ago. I was impressed enough by his abilities to hire him at the first opportunity, and he now works as a software developer for Eolas Technologies. Jonathan, in one year, did an independent study of calculus, programmed a four-dimensional maze, and ranked 7th nationally in the 1989 MathCounts competition. Then he turned 14 and turned his attention to deeper challenges. He has studied at Wheaton College, the Sorbonne, and the University of Illinois. Like many profoundly gifted, Jonathan moves among a wide range of interests. He is now focused on writing. He has been published in Ubiquity, Noesis, Inner Sanctum, Perfection, and nowVidya, with Religion Within the Bounds of Amusement. Please welcome him as he speaks about his experiences as a profoundly gifted individual.

Jonathan: Thank you. It is a privelege to be here; I have been looking forward to this night, a time when we can connect and share—not only through our costumes. More on my costume later. Before I begin my speech proper, I’d like to deal with a couple of preliminaries. I have a slight speech impediment; I’ll try to speak clearly, but you may have to work a little harder to understand me. Second, I’d like to review the seven points of my speech, the seven facets of the seven-sided gem:

  • Metaculture: a term which I coined and which I’ll explain.
  • Ages and cultures: by ‘ages’ I mean different temporal ages, not how old a person is.
  • Beyond the Binet-Simon: alternative approaches to intelligence estimation.
  • Inside the glass wall: a private symbol I’ll explain.
  • A musing life: Do I mean a life that is amusing or a life that has musing? I’ll explain that.
  • Thinking inside the box: lessons learned from living among IQ normals.
  • Mystic, Artist, Christian.

Don’t talk about the things you’re interested in with someone you’ve just met. Never mind that, to you, abstract conversation is a staple of acquaintanceship and friendship. To the other person, it may be boring, unpleasant, or a sign of unwanted romantic interest.

Never mind that you have five points of great subtlety and complexity. Pick one, and when you have simplified past the point of distortion, be ready for the other person to say, “Excuse me. Could you say that in English?”

Don’t assume that the person in authority believes, “The rules exist for the betterment of the community and are therefore negotiable when they do not contribute to that end.” Even if the rules do not consider your case, even if they end up hurting you, expect, “The rules are the rules and I am not here to make exceptions.”

Never mind that you can shift your culture at will, or that it is something you must do to connect with others. Don’t try explaining it to others, and whatever you do don’t ask them to do so. If you do, they will experience culture shock and react accordingly. Never mind that to you, foreign cultures are familiar and familiar cultures foreign. Don’t try to explain this either. It asks them to do something completely unfair.

Be very careful in sharing accomplishments, or even things you don’t think of as accomplishments, just cherished moments. To the other person, they may well be intimidating to the point of alienation.

Grieve a thousand wounds, but don’t fall prey to the worst wound of all. Don’t come to believe, “I will never connect with them, and they will never understand me.” If you do, you will find yourself in a sort of Hell—not in the world to come, but here on earth. You will be in a Hell of isolation, an alien in an alien land.

They can joke. That’s why you’re frustrated they don’t understand your humor. They can think. That’s why you’re hurt and upset when they never fathom your deepest thoughts. To those separated by the greatest chasm, is given the greatest ability to bridge chasms.

Perhaps it is harder than doing calculus in middle school or creating a language. It is still something you can do. That intellect that leaves people dazed is the intellect you can use to communicate—connect—in ways that aren’t open to them. That burning intensity that’s gotten you into so much trouble can put fire in your friendships such as many of your friends would never have otherwise known. That unique inner world, that you’ve closed the doors to, after being burned time and time again, is a place you may learn to draw people into. I cannot tell you how, but with a lot of hard work, a lot of patience, a lot of humility, a lot of forgiveness given and received, you may come to a point of synergy past the point where you wished you were not quite so gifted.

An anthropologist at this point might make the case that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the already very bright minds associated with Mensa, and the severely gifted. I’d rather say something different. I’d rather say the severely gifted experience is a crystallization of many things that make the Mensa experience distinctive, and there is a common bond of giftedness as well as the bond of being human. I’d rather say that what gap does exist is one that can be bridged. That is the premise this whole talk is based on.

A much better speaker than I am might be able to explain, in the abstract and in entirety, what the inner world and experience of the severely gifted is like. I can’t do that, but I have my sights set on a much more modest goal: to share something of my own inner world and experience, and light a candle of illumination.

When I was a student at Wheaton College, there was a chapel where students lined up and shared some of the, ahem, interesting questions they’d been asked: “You grew up in Japan? Say something in Chinese!” “Say something in African!” “What did it feel like growing up in Finland?” (Uh, I don’t know. Slight tingling sensation around the toes?) The chapel was given by missionary’s kids/third culture kids, sometimes abbreviated MK/TCK. A third culture kid is a kid who grows up surrounded by one host culture—let us say, blue—to parents who belong to another culture—let us say, yellow. They are neither properly blue nor properly yellow, but create a third culture that draws on both. This is not a simple average of the two cultures; there are common similarities, whether it’s a U.S. kid growing up in Kenya, or a Japanese growing up in the U.S. It is a different mode of experience, a different way of being human. Third culture kids tend to have a tremendous ability to adapt to new cultures, but at times a cost: the price of never being completely at home in a culture, as a fish in water. When I heard that chapel, I said, “That’s me!”

It is the characteristic of very creative minds to hit a very large nail not quite on the head. I am not literally a third culture kid; by the time I heard that chapel, I had not lived abroad. There was something deep that resonated, however. The best way I can describe it is that a third culture kid creates a third culture after being shaped by the outer forces of the host culture on one hand and his parents on the other, and a severely gifted individual is shaped by the outer forces of an IQ-normal world and an inner world from a different kind of mind: the higher you go on the IQ spectrum, there is less and less more of the same intelligence, and more and more of a different kind of intelligence altogether. I coined the term ‘metaculture’ to refer to the commonality of experience, a way of not ever being in a culture as a fish is in water. It brings pain, a sense of never fitting in, and at the same time a freedom from some of the blindnesses others can’t escape.

In talking about cultures, I’m hesitant to say that they’ve left an imprint on me, because the metaphor is deficient. It evokes an image of an active, solid, definite culture that leaves a mark on hot wax which is simply there to receive an imprint. The truth is much more interesting: the cultures are themselves, yes, but I am actively drawing, discerning, seeing what in them is of interest to me and can be drawn into myself. Anyone who knows cultures knows that conveying even one culture in five hours is impossible; I hope not to convey the cultures I visited, so much as give a sense of what sort of thing is interesting.

The summer after that chapel, I lived in Malaysia. My father spent the year teaching, and the rest of the family lived there. I got to spend the summer. I understand why my Mom said it was the best year of her life.

In American culture, there is always a clock tick-tick-ticking. It’s not just there when you look down at your watch; it may be more present when you’re not looking: when you’re visiting your friend and distracted with twenty other things to do that day, or on the road where you move faster than any human athlete can run, and one second’s needless delay is one second’s torment. In Malaysia, the clock’s constant ticking stops. This is not unique to Malaysia; those of you familiar with African cultures, or Latin American, will know something similar, but it is at any rate different from the U.S. It’s not exactly true that the Malaysians perceive time slowly where we perceive it quickly, as that the U.S. is conscious of time where Malaysians are conscious of other things. I have continued to shape my sense of time after leaving Malaysia, and come to focus not on time but on people, creation, and some work. If I try to spend a half an hour on my third novel, what will dominate is the half hour, not the novel; I try to give focused presence to what I am doing now and not have a clock cut up my emotions. It is a tremendous boon in writing, or being with people. I try to keep enough of an American time sense to not be needlessly rude by being late to appointments, but on the inside I seek a different time, and I believe my friendships and my creations are the better for it. Dost thou love life? Then do not quantize time, for numbers are not the stuff life’s made of.

Some time after that, I studied in Paris at the Sorbonne. It was a wonderful time; part of my heart is still there. During my time as a student, I acquired a taste for alcohol. One thing I realized rather quickly is that five ounces of wine is not much. If I had a glass of wine with dinner and tossed it back after my first bites, I could have another… and another… and another… and become rather quickly inebriated. Or I could simply not have any more wine. Or—there is an alternative—I could sip my wine, savor it.

In doing that, I tasted wine as I had not tasted any beverage before. Because there was so little, I learned to be present and enjoy much more than absently having a hazy awareness that something I liked was passing through my mouth. My absent awareness of sodas was not a bad thing; one thing I learned upon returning is that American soft drinks are not intended to be consumed that way. If you sip a small glass of Mountain Don’t, you will soon learn that Mountain Don’t isn’t meant to be so sipped. I learned to be present, not just to wine and non-alcoholic beverages like fruit drinks and Mocha, but also to food, and to a much broader circle. If I am in a public place, and music I like comes across the air, it is transient; it is fleeting. I cannot make it last any longer, but I can be present to it in the short time it does last. When a friend comes from out of town, in all likelihood her visit will be over before it has begun—but I can be present in that time as well. This presence has added something to my life complimentary to the time sense I acquired from Malaysia.

What’s the last culture? One that will take a bit more explaining, as I have to swim upstream against more than one thread of American culture. What is it that I have to swim up against? “This is an idea whose time has come.” “It’s the wave of the future.” “We’re entering the third millenium.”

If I were to speak of “an idea whose time has come, and gone,” or “the wave of the past,” it would be less clear that I was speaking a compliment. If I were to say, in the most reverent of tones, “We’re standing at the forty-second latitude and eighty-seventh longitude.”, you’d have every right to accuse me of a non sequitur. I believe that “We’re entering the third millenium.” is also a non sequitur, even though it is spoken as a statement of great significance.

There are two ideas closely intertwined: the doctrine of progress, which says we are better, nobler, wiser people than those who came before—a temporal version of ethnocentrism, which says that ideas like machines grow rust and need to be replaced—and period awareness, which goes beyond the historicist observation that all of us, past and present, exist in a historical-cultural context and are affected by it; period awareness fixes an unbridgeable chasm between the people who walked before and us; they are in a hermetically sealed box. The net respect is to believe that the peoples of the past cannot talk with us: we can point out how they were less enlightened times, but they certainly cannot criticize us.

My second novel, Firestorm 2034, is the story of a medieval in 21st century America. In the course of researching medieval culture, thinking about it, and trying to convey it, it left a mark on me in many ways similar to Malaysia and France. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a masterpiece of humor that is often mistaken for a reasonable treatment of medieval culture; my novel reverses it in more ways than one. Not only is it a medieval in America, but more deeply I reject the belief that the most significant difference between the medievals and us is that we have better technology. There is a wealth of culture and wisdom that has been largely lost.

What is one such area? The present issue of My Generation, the magazine of the American Association of Retired Persons, has a cover story about “Jeff Bridges: Beautiful Dreamer.” On the cover, he has black hair tinged with silver, although I would forgive you if you glanced and said it was brown. It’s a few inches longer than mine. He’s curled up, slouching, with his arms over his knees, wearing faded jeans, white socks, and tennis shoes. The man looks like a teenager. This is not an accident. I have never seen a My Generationcover with a woman who looks old enough to be admitted to the AARP, and when I first saw that periodical, I mistook it for a GenX magazine.

Why? The core idea is that there is a short period of glory—I’ll say from fifteen to twenty-five years, although some of you might place the beginning and end a little differently—and before that point, you’re only a child, meaning curiously enough that you don’t have access to adult pleasures; you can’t drink, you can’t drive—and after that point, you’re a has-been. This message is ubiquitous, present not only in children’s TV shows but equally in a magazine for retired people. And, in a certain manner, it makes perfect sense.

It makes perfect sense if there is nothing more to have in life than physical pleasure. Before fifteen, you can’t acquire as much pleasure as someone with adult resources; after twenty-five, your capacity for youthful pleasure diminishes. And so, if one starts by assuming that the whole point of life is to have pleasure, that the point of science is to create a Utopia of spoiled children, then it follows quite simply that a child is nothing much and someone past the age of thirty is a has-been. It follows quite simply for us, but the medievals saw it differently.

The medievals believed that the entire purpose of this life is as a preparation, an apprenticeship, a beginning, to an eternity gazing on God’s glory. It means that, even in this life, there is infinitely more to seek than physical pleasure. There is more to desire. There is virtue, both earthly, natural virtues, and the merry, heavenly, deiform virtues. One can begin to be a heavenly person, enjoy Heaven’s joys, and know God.

The words, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” voice a pessimistic philosophy: enjoy pleasure because there’s nothing more and we have a grim life. The medieval view sought much more than pleasure, and in following it, I want to grow more. I don’t believe I’m leaving the time when I can enjoy the only good in life, pleasure. I believe I have different fruits in season coming. Some people dread their thirtieth birthday. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to turning thirty, forty, fifty, to when my hair turns tweed and then white. I’m looking forward to growing in wisdom: the interesting part of my life isn’t ending, but just beginning.

What about intelligence testing? I like Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door; it’s a children’s book with a little boy, Charles Wallace, whose IQ is “so high it’s untestable by normal means.” I like the story and Charles Wallace; I identify with him, and in reference to that passage began to wish the same were true of me, that my IQ were so high it was untestable by normal means. I even tried to convince myself, in moments of pride, that this was true.

It came as a great disappointment to learn not only was this literally true, that my IQ was literally so high as to be untestable by normal means, but that the threshold was so low. If the authors of the Binet-Simon test, paradigm example of the good IQ test, were to be told, “This test you’ve made, doesn’t really distinguish average from below average, but shows a remarkably fine discrimination at the upper strata of human intelligence,” they would have regarded the test as a failure, pure and simple. The Binet-Simon test is a test for inferiority. Sources I’ve seen differ as to why; one gently states that it was meant to identify special needs people and give them that extra boost of special education they need to function in life. Another says, less charitably, that it’s to identify certain people as inferior: exclude them; stop ‘wasting’ resources on them. In either case, it is less than clear to me that this is the model of test for organizations like Mensa.

Some other high-IQ societies use an adjusted model of test, where they take off the time limit, because they recognize that rushing people doesn’t get best behavior, and put all the problems on anabolic steroids. This can probably boost the ceiling a little, but it has its own problems. It’s a bit like taking an office where work isn’t getting done, and making everybody work twenty more hours a week: if work isn’t getting done, five more hours might help a little, but twenty won’t fix the problem. Howard Gardner, multiple intelligence theorist, spends most of Extraordinary Minds arguing for a multiplicity of genius; in the beginning, he asks if there’s anything common to all kinds of genius, and says, yes, he’d identify three things:

  • There is some domain of performance.
  • There is a community that appreciates the genius’s performance in this domain.
  • Failures.

According to Gardner, a genius fails more, and more spectacularly, than an average person.

This notwithstanding, if you’re trying to get into Mega Society East, what counts on the test is not what you get right; it’s what you get wrong. It’s not the absolutely brilliant answers you had to questions two, five, and seven; it’s the fact that you missed something on questions one, four, and nine. Given the cognitive diversity at the upper end of the spectrum, there are limitations to even high-ceiling tests.

Is there any alternative? I would say yes, and I believe a hint of it comes from a story about a high school physics student. After the unit covering air pressure, the teacher wrote on an exam, “Explain how to use a barometer to determine the height of a tall building.” The student wrote, “Tie a rope around the barometer, lower it from the top of the building until it hits the ground, make a mark on the rope, pull it up, and measure the length of the rope. (There are other ways of doing this.)”

This put the teacher in a bit of a bind. He called in one of his colleagues, and explained what had happened. The colleague said, “In a way that demonstrates your knowledge of physics, explain how to use a barometer to determine the height of a tall building.” The student said, “Go to the top of the building with a barometer and a stopwatch. Drop the barometer, and measure the time before the barometer splatters on the ground beneath. Then use the formula y = 1/2 at2 to calculate the height of the building.” The teachers conferred and gave him almost full credit.

The teacher asked what some of the other ways were: “Go outside on a sunny day, and measure the height of the barometer, the length of the barometer’s shadow, and the length of the building’s shadows, and use ratios to determine the height of the building.” “This probably isn’t the best way, but go into the basement, knock on the superintendent’s door, and say, ‘Mr. Superintendent! I have a fine barometer for you if you will only tell me the height of the building!'”

What this story screams out to me is not just that the student is bright enough that he could see the desired answer about calculating from the difference in air pressure. I’m positive of that. It’s not just that he could give several alternate approaches. It’s that he would. It’s that he behaved like a gifted mind does when it’s been completely insulted.

That gives a hint of an indirect approach: don’t try IQ-normal-style cognitive strain questions, but look for a very different kind of thinking, and the effects of living in a world where most other people are two, three, four, five sigma below you. I wrote up the basic ideas, and e-mailed Paul Cooijmans, head of Giga and Glia. He suggested I start my own high-IQ society. I thought that was a little more ambitious than I wanted to take on now, but I did create a test. I wrote it up, gave it to heads of some high-IQ societies to distribute, received very kind responses from Gina LoSasso of the Mega Foundation and Nik Lygeros of the Pi Society… and have gotten two tests filled out, which I haven’t looked at because I want to read them together. The test may turn out to be nothing more than an interesting fizzle. Even then, I thought it might be interesting enough to share.

What about the glass wall? The symbol relates to me to three layers, or levels, of maturity in dealing with others. The first layer is not recognizing there is a difference. In childhood, even when I scored high in the MathCounts competition, I might have realized there was something called intelligence and I had more of it, but not that I thought all that differently: I treated others as if they were the same as me underneath. That is a recipe for giving and receiving hurt.

When I finally let myself see that there were differences, I tried to fit in through blending in. In the short run, that’s much better; there are far fewer incidents. Over time, it costs—the cost of a false self. There were some things in myself I wasn’t showing anyone, not even myself.

After that, I began to erect a glass wall about myself, something that would keep things out of view before I was confident people were ready, but not permanently—and would let me draw others in. I don’t think this is a final resting place—in fact, I’m almost positive itisn’t—but it seems a definite step ahead of the other two steps.

What’s inside the glass wall? Much of this speech hints at things inside the glass wall, but I’d like to give one concrete example.

In the book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Phillip Yancey helps draw out stories and insights from Paul Brand, the doctor who discovered that leprosy ravages the body by destroying the sense of touch, and with it the ability to feel pain. In one of these stories, Dr. Brand tells how he left a speaking engagement sick, sat hunched in the corner of a train car, wishing the interminable train ride would be over, and finally staggered to his hotel room. He began to undress, and realized to his horror that there was no feeling in his left heel.

He pricked himself with a pin and felt nothing. He jabbed himself harder, watched a drop of blood form, and moaned for the pain that would not come. That night, he lay dressed on his bed. He knew that sulfone drugs would probably stop the spread of the disease quite quickly, but he still could not help imagine it spreading to his hands, his feet. As a doctor who worked with patients who’d lost their sense of touch, he cherished the feel of earth in his fingers, the feel of a puppy’s fur, the affection of a friend. His career as a surgeon would soon end. What’s more, what would become of his movement? He, their leader, had assured others that leprosy was the least contagious of all communicable diseases, and careful hygeine could almost ensure that they would not get it. What would it mean if he, their leader, was a leper? That ugly word he’d banished from his vocabulary rose like a monster with new strength.

After a long and sleepless night, Dr. Brand got up, and took a pin to face the gristly task of mapping out the affected area. He took a breath, jabbed himself—and roared in pain. Nothing had ever felt so delicious to him as that one electric jolt of pain.

He realized what had happened. He was sick, with something mundane, and as a sick traveller had forgone his usual motion. His foot had fallen asleep. Dr. Brand was for a time too ashamed to recount that dismal experience, but I’m glad he did. The experience changed his life, and the story has impacted me.

As far as perception goes, I’m not sure if my sense of touch is more perceptive than most people’s. Probably a little bit. I can say that it is integrated with other senses. There was one time I was at the supermarket, and the woman in front of me in the checkout line dropped a soda bottle a short distance. Being bored, I gently pinched the bottle, and then made a comment that seemed to me almost too obvious to be worth saying: if you pinch a soda bottle, you can tell if it’s safe to open. A bottle that can be safely opened will give slightly to moderate pressure; a bottle that’s shaken up is firm as a rock. Her reply, “Oh, is that the trick that you use?” caught me off guard. Feeling a shaken soda bottle like that is no more a trick to me than looking at the stove for dancing orange spots is a trick to see if I’ve started a grease fire.

As an American who’s lived in France, I like to give my friends hugs and kisses. I’m careful how and when I ask, particularly about a kiss on the cheek, and I listen to people with my intuition before asking those questions… but that invitation (accepted or not) is usually tied to when I pull someone inside the glass wall.

What about a musing life? Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business talks about the dark side of television’s effects on culture. Without going into a full analysis of Plato’s Allegory of the Television, I will say that television blinds the inner eye by stimulating the surface and starving the depths. A home without a television is like a slice of chocolate cake without tartar sauce.

Without television, what happens? At times, you get bored, and then more bored, and then you come to a place on the other side of boredom with renewed creativity, sensitivity, and insight. I try to live there; like my time sense and the presence learned through wine, it gives focus to musings, such as this talk was woven from. It is a sort of fast for the mind, and makes room for a considerable degree of depth.

What is my interest in thinking inside the box? There’s been a lot of homage paid to the many virtues of thinking outside the box. Perhaps many of you have stories to tell of a time when someone was extolling the many virtues of thinking outside the box, but that’s not where I’m going. The praises of thinking outside the box are sung because thinking inside and outside the box complement each other, and most people are so often inside the box that it’s hard for them to step out. With severely gifted individuals, the real challenge is not thinking outside the box, but thinking inside the box.

There are many times that it’s better to think inside the box. Driving to work, for instance. More deeply, communicating and negotiating requires one to understand and think like the other person, and for many people, this means thinking inside the box. I’d also like to give one very concrete example of where it’s important to think inside the box: manners.

Manners are an arbitrary collection of rules, and there is no unifying principle that everything else flows from. Respecting and valuing the person will not tell you why you should hold a fork like a pen instead of how a little boy wants to hold a knife. Something that meaningless may be very difficult for you and me to learn, but it is important. Why? To many people, manners are the very foundation of civilized interaction, and it presents them with a needless and pointless obstacle if you say, “I respect you and I do not feel the need to observe manners in your presence.” It’s been said, “Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance;” if people are going to walk away from you offended, let them be offended by something of substance, not by crude manners.

And lastly: mystic, artist, Christian. Why do I group these together? Does being a mystic make one an artist and a Christian? No; nothing like that holds directly, but there is a common thread. It’s illuminated by a conversation I had with one friend, where I said that pragmatism was a philosophical disease. I learned shortly thereafter that pragmatism was quite important to her.

Why would I say something like that? In one conversation a few years earlier, at Calvin College, one of my friends asked me why I wanted something, and didn’t like my response. A little probing, and I knew why: while the words he used were, “Why do you want it?”, what he meant by it, the only thing he could mean at that time, was, “What do you find it useful for?” The item, whatever it was (I don’t remember), was not something I wanted for its usefulness in letting me get something else; it was something I valued in itself. He couldn’t see that.

So I asked him, “Do you value having that arm on your body?” “Uh, yes…” “Why?” “Because if I have an arm, I can grab an apple.” “Why do you want that?” “Because if I grab an apple, I can eat an apple.” “Why do you want that?” “Because if I eat an apple, I can live and not die!” “Why do you want that?” At that point, he gave the response I’d been waiting for: an impassioned explanation that living and not dying was not simply valued as a means to something else, but something he wanted for itself.

Pragmatism and utilitarianism have a very small circle of things that are valued outside of their usefulness to something else: the Oxford Companion to Philosophy lists only pleasure, which seems a dismally small selection to me. Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts talks about the insipid banality in the Christian art tradition: the tradition that once produced Dante and Bach has now produced “John’s Christian Stores”, and a large part of that is because Christians sold their birthright to embrace pragmatism. Where pragmatism draws a small circle of things that are embraced, Christianity, mysticism, and art draw a much larger circle: there’s something there that isn’t in Dewey and Mill’s practical world.

Madeleine l’Engle, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, tells of a time in college when her professor asked on a test how Chaucer chose a particular literary device in a passage, and she wrote in a white heat of fury that Chaucer did not “choose a literary device;” that’s not how an artist works at all! I had a loosely similar experience, if not involving anger; I was sharing something I was writing with a new acquaintance, and she complimented my use of personification at a specific point. I had to reread the passage more than once to see what she meant; she made a straightforward statement, but I had not thought in those terms. A good artist may have excellent technique, but the technique is there because the art is good; the art is not good just because of the technique. Good art comes through something much more, and much more interesting, than technique: listening to the work, serving it, cooperating with it, helping an unformed idea have a shape that others can see.

What about mysticism? There is a problem here; you might say that insofar as mysticism can be explained, it is not mysticism. I will say that the characters I identify with most in literature have been characters who’ve had a foot in another world. Charles Wallace from Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door is not the boy genius, Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory, an abstract personification of intelligence; he is a very real and believable person. He is open to another world, not surprised to think he’s seen dragons in the twins’ vegetable garden, and he kythes; that is, he has a real and present communication, something beyond communication, with others. You can read about kything in the 100 ways of kything on my webpage.

In Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Michael Valentine Smith is born as a baby boy on Mars, orphaned by all human travellers, raised on Mars by Martians in Martian culture, and brought to earth as a young man. Let’s talk about culture shock for a moment. Smith causes and receives quite a lot of it, as the story narrates his progression from a Martian with the genes and ancestry of a man to a character who is both human and Martian. There are quite a few stumbling points along the way to this. At one point, early in the story, someone asks Michael what is intended to be a very routine question, but Michael doesn’t get it. He has heard the words before, but he’s a bit like a top-notch English professor trying to decipher a math paper: even with a glossary to all the symbol, there’s a whole way of thinking that goes with the strange words, and Michael doesn’t understand it. Heinlein says that half a million years’ wildly alien abstractions raced through his mind. I don’t have half a million years’ worth of much of anything, but I do have wildly alien abstractions. I first became a philosopher as a boy, too young to touch any of my thoughts in language; one of the questions I thought of was, “Am I human?”, or, “Am I a being of the same class as those I observe around me?” I observed that my parents were linguistic creatures who moved naturally in language, that I was not linguistic in any comparable way, and concluded that I was not human. Another question I pondered was a short, simple question that could be rendered, “Can there be a perpetual motion machine, and if so, how can it be started?” The second part of the question was tied to the first; the best way I can explain it is that, given time-symmetric laws of physics, if there’s a machine that will keep on going forever, then the other side of the coin is that it has been going on forever, and there’s no way to start it. In middle school, I started French at about the age of ten, and in a few years was able to think more fluently in French than in English. My accent sounded more typical of a native Parisian French speaker than a Midwestern American English speaker. Why? There are a couple of reasons, differences in how the two languages were taught, but one of the basic ones is that English was here, French was there, and my way of thinking was way out there, and happened to be closer to French than English.

Blajeny, also from A Wind in the Door, is a Teacher from another galaxy, and the lessons he brings are sometimes difficult: not as, “Face your worst fear ever,” but as different from what they’d expect. He tells the children they will be in his class, and Meg is elated that her brother Charles will never have to go to the red schoolhouse again; then he says something that leaves her wondering where his classroom is. Blajeny retreats inside himself, and when she’s decided he won’t answer, he says, “Here, there, everywhere. In the schoolyard in first-grade recess. With the cherubim and seraphim. Among the farandolae.” I am wearing the costume you see me in because of how I identify with Blajeny, because there’s something of me that shines through him.

Last, what about being a Christian? There’s one music professor who said that, rather than thinking that we sing a song one and then it’s over, and we sing it later, and so on, we should rather thing that as long as there have been created beings, there is an eternal song rising before God, a song rising as incense that will never go out, and that when we sing we step into that song. Christianity is the foundation this whole edifice of thought is built upon, and its crowning jewel. It is the soil in which other things grow, and the thoughts I have given are an example of how Christians may think.

So now in this brief time I have shared a little bit about myself; I have answered a few questions and raised many more. Come visit my website, at CJS Hayward; it’s in your program. Of course I’d like to hear from an editor who’d like me to write something, or would like an existing manuscript, or someone who’d like to hear me speak, or someone who’d like a website built, but more than any of that I have given this talk for the same reason I’ve built my website: to connect. What have I left you wondering about?

After the speech, two hours’ worth of discussion followed. That night, after the speech, Jonathan was invited to speak at the next conference, and invited to two other engagements. He is available.

An abstract art of memory

The Monastery

The spectacles

The wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab