http://www.usca.edu/math/~mathdept/hsg/

 

… here is an amazing article that I just discovered …. . Among others, what is interesting is that the author, a professor in physics, personally met and interviewed David Bohm. His comments reinforce my earlier points about Barfield in general and Barfield’s influence on Bohm’s, who, when he was still alive, was a globally famous articulator of quantum physics. (See Bohm’s classic book on quantum physics: The Implicate Order, which I personally think is one of the most important books on the philosophical implications of quantum physics.) (http://www.usca.edu/math/~mathdept/hsg/barfield.html)

I became interested in author Owen Barfield because I was trying to learn more about the “flash of insight” discovery process, the so called “AHA”. I wanted to help my students who became stuck in physics learning. I knew the students often suffered from perceptual blindness or other hang-ups and need help to make learning “break-throughs”. Actually I found much more than I ever imagined!!!!! Here is my path of discovery of Mr. Barfield’s far reaching ideas.

My story begins in the 50′s or 60′s with Harold Kelley, an Experimental Chemist and Victor Thayer, a Theoretical Physical Chemist. Kelley and Thayer where scientific co-workers at the notorious Savannah River Plant. This in an Atomic Weapons Production Facility, near Aiken, SC, where I also happened to live. All his life Mr. Thayer was somewhat of a philosopher who, among many other books, had discovered Mr. Barfield’s “Saving Appearances”. He urged Mr. Kelley to read “Saving the Appearances”, stating that was one of the most important books he knew of! Kelley thus became a solid supporter of Barfield.

Some time around 1980, in retirement, Mr. Kelley became a fellow teacher at USCA. We soon became good friends. He was an enthusiastic chemistry teacher and we shared ideas on teaching and learning. One day Harold handed me a copy of “Saving the Appearances” (STA), and urged me to read it. He said “Henry, what you are studying with the AHA “flash of insight” discovery process, is IN this book!! In a cycle of three successive attempts to read STA, I returned it to him saying “This book is too difficult to read and I can’t get a thing out of it”. Harold for his part would, several months later, bring STA back to me. Three times he presented STA, with additional coaching as to how to understand it’s contents. Well I finally began to understand. Like my students, in following my own process of discovery, I finally achieved my own understanding. Mr. Barfield’s ideas were indeed intriguing. But since most of the book was outside the range of my training, I needed to know how valid his ideas were. So I read such authors as C S Lewis, M H Abrahams, David Bohm, W H Alden, Shirley Sugarman, in process of tracking down evidence that Barfield was “for real” and not just a product of my happy imaginings. Eventually, I too became a solid supporter of Owen Barfield. By now I have read his “Saving the Appearances”, “Poetic Diction”, “History in English Words” and “The Rediscovery of Meaning” a multitude of times. Each time is a breath of fresh air! Such insight into our contemporary times. Such a command of the intellectual history of mankind, what he calls our Evolution of Consciousness.

For me, one of the many things I appreciate about Barfield, is the fact that he does understand science, especially physics, fairly well. I find this is remarkable because he is really a poet and a literary person. Barfield’s understanding of science, along with a solid understanding of the history of language and words, no doubt helps him stay well grounded and hence valuable and contemporary. And I can say this from the stand point of a professional Physicist. And I am not alone. World famous Theoretical Quantum Physicist David Bohm, University of. London etc, was quite appreciative of Barfield. Dr. Bohm even presented a major paper re Barfield’s work a Barfield 70th birthday symposium. (This was published as a book = “Evolution of Consciousness” Shirley Sugarman Ed. See also http://twm.co.nz/Bohm.html **).

Bohm studied Barfield because Barfield accurately (and to my mind correctly) points to where conventional physics is seriously in error in its grounding assumptions. And this was helping Bohm to a new plateau. This is also one of my reasons for attending to Barfield. Let me give an example.

In the very beginning of “Saving the Appearances”, Barfield asks “Is the rainbow really “there”? His answer is no! As he points out:, different simultaneous observers see different rainbows, because each is at a distinctly different location. As he clearly points out, the seeing of rainbow is the joint property of a widely dispersed volume of rain, the sun and the observer’s eye plus the observer’s perception system. These work together to create the perception of the beautiful!!

Then proceeding by way of analogy, Barfield says the same is likewise (and no less true) of seeing, for example, a tree. As he clearly points out, the solid, impenetrable tree is just as illusive as the rainbow! Something is there. The scientist says atoms and molecules, but they are mostly empty space. So the “solidity” is an illusion created by our tactile force sensitive nerves and our overall perception system, which has proceed to construct the solid impenetrateable tree. Thus percieving a tree is similar to how we perceive a rainbow, and because of how constructed in our minds it is just as illusive!

Barfield goes on to point out that what our scientists call the rock-bed of reality, namely atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, etc, are no less illusive than a rainbow. He could have gone on to say: “Every one of the physicist’s particles (of which ALL matter is constructed) are entirely and completely built-up from etherial quantum mechanical waves!! And what these waves are composed of, we have no idea whatsoever!!

He says “Something is THERE, but we do not know what it is, and probably never will. He agrees with author Robert Pirsig: The only thing we are ever in contact with is our own human constructs. We tend to call this reality, and it certainly seems that way. But there is nevertheless an illusive “rainbow-like-quality” to all of what we know.

But here is the big message: We never dare forget, that our science, however wonderful, seemingly permanent, and totally accurate to all the data, is still a human construct. And this construct is necessarily limited in ways we can never know. Moreover, these being human constructs, can not be “reality”.

Barfield did me a great service in being the first to point this out to me! Most certainly none of my scientific training (or research colleagues) ever hinted at this fundamental problem. The feeling was always that a discovery of a complete and final reality is just around the corner!! And always the feeling was that what our instruments and data showed was “good old solid reality”!

The constructive aspect of perception & science is also strongly featured in Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance”.) And as a matter of fact, the intellectual/philosophical problems (and answers) that Pirsig sees are fairly closely aligned with the objections/answers of Barfield.. And this is also what attracts my attention to Barfield where these parts of Barfield support and amplify Pirsig and conversely. I am um aware of where Pirsig and Barfield seriously disagree.

Well, there it is, my story of how I discovered Owen Barfield and what I get out of his writing.
Henry Gurr