A Memory Metaphor:

Remembering ourselves and our power can lead to revolution, but it requires more than recalling a few facts.  Re-membering involves putting ourselves back together, recovering identity and integrity, reclaiming the wholeness of our lives.  When we forget who we are we do not merely drop some data. We dis-member ourselves, with unhappy consequences for our politics, our work, our hearts.

Epistemology on which that Memory Metaphor is based:

The foundation of any culture lies in the way it answers the question “Where do power and reality reside?”  For some cultures the answer is the gods; for some it is nature; for some it is tradition.  In our culture, the answer is clear: reality and power reside in the external world of objects and events and in the sciences that study that world . . . .  We are obsessed with manipulating externals . . . .  Mesmerized by a technology that seems to have [won us freedom from the constraints of reality], we dismiss the inward world.

--Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 19-20.

A New Knowledge Metaphor

The hallmark of the community of truth is not psychological intimacy or political civility or pragmatic accountability, though it does not exclude these virtues.  This model of community reaches deeper, into onotology and epistemology – into assumptions about the nature of reality and how we know it – on which all education is built.  The hallmark of the community of truth is in its claim that reality is a web of communical relationships, and we can know reality only by being in community with it.

 . . . .

            Two or three generations ago, no professor of biology would have claimed that community was good science. . . .  For [an] earlier generation of biologists, nature was, in Tennyson’s famous phrase, “red in tooth and claw.”  For the Social Darwinists who built on that image of nature, human relations were no more than the survival of the fittest, thinly coated with a veneer of civilization.

            But today our images of biological reality have been transformed.  Ecological studies offer a picture of nature less focused on the terrors of combat than on the dance of communal collaboration, a picture of the great web of being.  Struggle and death have not disappeared from the natural world, but death is now understood as a factor in the ongoing life of the community rather than a failure in the life of the individual.

            From its inception, physics was shaped by the image of the atom, an image that originated in pre-Socratic philosophy, then took on new significance as modern physicists gained predictive, even political power by analyzing reality into its consituent parts. . . .

            But the image of reality offered by recent physics renders this sort of atomism naive.  In a series of critical experiments, physicists have shown that subatomic particles behave “as if there were some communication between them,” even when they are “too far apart to communicate in the time available.”[1] These so-called particles, widely separated in time and space, seem to be connected in ways that make them act less like isolated individuals and more like participants in an interactive and interdependent community. . . .  [P]hysical reality . . . is made up of an invisible web of information, an incredibly complex community of coded messages . . . .

--Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 95-7.


[1] Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper-SanFrancisco, 1990), p. 107. Back