The Knowing Heart

Why is love so important? What is it about love that sets us apart and sets the angels apart?

Continued from page 2

The brain had its place too, but brain thinking, according to traditional wisdom, was generally regarded as secondary to heart thinking. According to Aristotle—a man not known for letting his emotions run away with him—the truest knowledge was obtained not from mere speculative knowledge (brain knowledge), but from something called the intellect. The intellect was the true center of the human being, and it was located not in the brain but within the heart.

All the truest and most reliable knowledge came from the intellect, whereas those who just used speculative knowledge (brain knowledge) un-illumined by the intellect were essentially like people fumbling in the dark.

To understand why brain thinking was so much less important than heart thinking, it might be useful to use a computer analogy. When we are online, we are plugged into a potentially limitless source of information.

While a high school student writing a paper about the American Revolution on her computer can check a fact on the internet or e-mail a friend with a question about the assignment, a student whose computer connectivity is down will be cut off from all those outside resources and stuck with whatever she has immediately at hand.

In the same way, when a person looks into her heart to see what she thinks about some matter of importance, that person isn’t just consulting her deepest and truest self, but going beyond that self to an immeasurably larger source of wisdom. When people think with their hearts, they are being “intellectuals” in the original sense of the term, using their intellect or heart to link up directly with God.

The French philosopher René Guénon—another writer not known for his gooey sentimentality—put it this way: “This direct perception of truth, this intellectual and suprarational intuition, the very notion of which modern man seems to have lost, is true heart knowledge.”

This “heart knowledge,” says Guénon, “is the direct perception of the intelligible light, of that Light of the Word of which Saint John speaks, radiant Light of the ‘Supernal Sun’ which is the true ‘Heart of the World.’”

The same root that gives us the word “mind” also gives us the word “moon.” Just as the moon reflects the sun’s light, reflective knowledge makes use of a light that comes from a place other than itself. Hence it is always, in comparison to heart knowledge, limited in what it can tell us.

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Column: The Winged Life