Ask a man of mere science, what is the truth of a flower: he will pull it to pieces, show you its parts, explain how they operate, how they minister each to the life of the flower; he will tell you what changes are wrought in it by scientific cultivation; and many more facts about it. Ask the poet what is the truth of the flower, and he will answer: “Why, the flower itself, the perfect flower, and what it cannot help saying to him who has ears to hear it.” The truth of the flower is not the facts about it, but the shining, glowing, gladdening, patient thing throned on its stalk—the compeller of smile and tear from child and prophet. The man of science laughs at this, because he does not know what it means; but the poet and the child care as little for his laughter as the birds of God, as Dante calls the angels, for his treatise on aeronautics. The children of God must always be mocked by the children of the world, whether in the church or out of it—children with sharp ears and eyes, but dull hearts. Those that hold love the only good in the world, understand and smile at the world’s children, and can do very well without anything the world has to tell them. In the higher state to which their love is leading them, they will speedily outstrip the men of science, for they have that which is at the root of science, that for the revealing of which God’s science exists. What shall it profit a man to know all things, and lose the bliss, the consciousness of well-being, which alone can give value to knowledge?
by Diane Adams
If you had to define a human being (no googling) what would you give for a short answer? I doubt seriously that many people would answer that question by listing percentages of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. While that is technically, scientifically, true, most of us realize it comes nowhere close to defining what human beings truly are.
Regardless of the fact that we live in a largely reductionist, materialist age, a question like this would rarely be met with a pat materialist answer. We would say, perhaps, something about a higher order of being that can create reality from thought, or a creature capable of self-awareness. Carbon and hydrogen just won’t cut it.
There is a difference between what is true and what is truth, and we seem to instinctively know it. The whole, as Aristotle taught, is greater than the sum of its parts. If we try to think of love or a sense of wonder simply as chemical processes in the brain, we find something inside ourselves is outraged by the idea. There are parts above the physical in human beings, and to define such experiences as solely material takes away from the whole and impinges on our ability to immerse ourselves in aspects of life that are essential for wellbeing. Joy, hope, peace--these go beyond the material, into the realm of poetry and spiritual truth.
It is true that the world scoffs at children and poets, and always will. The poet seeks the feeling that comes on top of a hill, where you can see for miles and the sky is round with the impending birth of its world inside. A child does not measure the height or distances, at least not together with the adventure itself. But I think, am very sure actually, that without a sense of what cannot be explained, without the feeling that there is something above us that cannot be quantified, life itself becomes a burden, perhaps even a forfeit.
What moves the soul to something higher than thought is what many are missing when they have every material need met, yet feel hopeless or worthless or as if there is no reason to go on living. To define a thing is not to know it. Knowing what is true is only a small part of knowing. To see light and clouds and dust in a sunset is not the same as seeing the holy glory of the promise of eternal life, written in the skies so clearly that often children alone can understand it. Existential truth is above fact, and nothing but experience can comprehend it.