The Blinding Insight

Oh blinding light,
Oh light that blinds,
I cannot see,
Look out for me.

The Firesign Theatre,
Everything You Know is Wrong, 1974

When I was first thinking about the plan of my dissertation, in the late 1970's, I had an idea about understanding. This was going to provide an explanation for the way that implicit, a priori moral knowledge makes its way into our awareness.

When it came time to actually write the dissertation, and I did not substantially get into the process until 1981, I realized to my horror that I seemed to have lost the original idea. I had not written down any version of it.

How is this possible? It is one thing for T.E. Lawrence to leave the manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom on the train and lose it, but it would seem to be something else entirely, this side of senile dementia, to permanently lose a thought that one has had. It seems more like the curse on Karn.a in the Mahâbhârata, that he would lose his knowledge just when he needed it. Or, it is as though some god teased me with a moment of insight, and then withdrew it, as a capricious god may do.

As I wrote the dissertation, I endeavored to put the idea, or its equivalent, back together. But I never felt like I had gotten it all back. Something was missing. Perhaps this was an illusion, and the original idea had never been clear enough or definite enough in the first place to make it possible to "remember" it the way I expected. I don't know.

I do know that I am still trying to come up with something that feels commensurable to what I thought I had. It has been about thirty-five years. But I think I'm getting closer. The essay linked below, "Concrete and Abstract," is the closest yet.

Concrete and Abstract,

The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function



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