That Place of Knowledge by Philip Shalka
A Book Review
This is a very interesting work that I will ask my Philosophy students to read. To read or purchase an electronic copy of the book, please go to this link.
Philip’s writing is deep and intense. The work presents the arduous journey that one has to traverse in finding oneself and finding happiness. The core concept that this work presents is thoughtful: to be happy and to find oneself is to know oneself. This is Philip’s message to anyone, any person regardless of the social categories that form his or her identity. Knowledge becomes the essential part of this journey. Philip mentions, “when it comes to your happiness, knowledge of yourself is the answer” (Loc 17). In his elaboration about “the place of knowledge”, we can raise significant themes from Philip’s writing.
The Connection with Happiness and Knowledge
While generally the adage, “know thyself” is attributed to Socrates, Philip adds a twist about how knowing oneself leads one to happiness, or be in one’s true spirit. We can refer to this to what Aristotle calls as eudemonia [eudaimonia], or flourishing of the spirit through some form of balance (Loc 393). This brings in the important “place of knowledge” in our lives, that knowledge serves its purpose to find our true happiness in life and the balance [or Aristotle’s words: the principle of moderation] one must live. And as Aristotle has once reminded Philip, “when one seems to fail, dig deeper” (Loc 195). This suggests to the pursuit of one’s capacity for higher [or higher order] thinking (Loc 336) as necessary to thread the path of knowledge. When we reflect through a learner and in the knowing process that he or she engages with, Philip’s work makes us reflect on the question: is this learning and knowledge journey leads one to know oneself and be happy?
Diversity in our midst and how respect and collaboration must be cultivated
Philip elaborates on the presence of different areas and approaches to knowledge. He mentions how “different people think differently” (Loc 17) and how areas of knowledge such as science, mathematics and even politics tie in together to form some cohesive and collaborative forms of knowledge. Inspired by Aristotle, Philip is encouraged to think about the possibility of collaboration in the midst of the reality that people think differently. This, as Aristotle and Philip have discussed is possible when people come together with open mindedness and respect for each other, regardless of the difference of identities, functions and abilities, in their midst. This could be analogous to how Aristotle has explained to Philip, how different areas of knowledge are, yet they come to play together beautifully (Loc 297) to imbibe and enrich the journey of learning. The diversity of these areas of knowledge should not hinder one to form connections, just as the differences between people in terms of identities, function and abilities should not dissuade collaboration among them. As Aristotle said to Philip: “Just because someone is different doesn’t mean they can’t think” (Loc 353). This is one of the very powerful messages that Philip offers in his work.
The importance of diverse identities and how learning depends on the learner
With a mind of his own and in his unique cognate individuality, Philip is well aware of his worth: “my thoughts are different and they may lead to some important ideas in the future” (Loc 17). This is a very positive, well-grounded reflection. Philip refers to how people may have different ways of learning and different methods to arrive at knowledge yet these different ways must be equally valuable. The differences in methods and ways of learning should not be standardized, and it should not mean that one method or way of thinking is less than the other. This connects well with another point that Aristotle mentions to Philip: “Learning depends on the learner” (Loc 133). This is perhaps, Philip’s subtle critique about how different people are entrapped by a thinking or knowledge system that creates the mind of the similar, only to sacrifice the valuable worth that difference can bring. In a world where accomplishments may always mean that competing against each other and racing your way to a standardized level to be on top is the most preferred, we sometimes forget that just doing your best is really the greatest value that one can attribute as an accomplishment in itself.
The Entire Secret City is entrapped by the “Normal” World
“Under the normal world, there was an entire secret city” (Loc 47). The metaphor of the secret trap door, where the passage leads to a dark corridor and then to the very beautiful city of Athens, where the true spirit of knowledge was cultivated, tells us about how the world is a world of divide (Loc 40). The words or concepts “normal”, “neuro-typical”, mainstream, the standard, the appropriate prototype or fit persons, have unfortunately and sometimes even violently, entrapped the essence and worth of the other words and worlds, of other minds and lives. The world is in so much divide, that difference and diversity are taken undesirably, yet if we open our minds, we could “see that the light was coming of the [entire secret] city” (Loc 47). There is a light in this city because difference and diversity are respected rather than subdued.
The encounters of Philip with Aristotle through letters and in person manifest how much Philip, in his own unique thinking experiences can well engage with Aristotle, a figure of wisdom, revered by the western civilization. This implies that despite how the world of divide and how the normal world sees Philip to be different, he has this great wisdom that makes him capable to live with the true spirit of knowledge and engage with equally wise men/women. Being misunderstood by others must not limit who or what you are (Loc 114) and this is a very important point for children and adults on the autism spectrum and other identities who manifest difference, diversity or disabilities, to be encouraged to pursue their true selves.
Shalka, P. (2016). That Place of Knowledge [Kindle Edition]. Amazon Digital Services LLC.