As my head touched the pillow last night, and I entered the halfway house between waking and dreaming, I heard a whisper: “Thomas Aquinas.” Aquinas was an influential theologian whose work I’ve encountered over the years, yet never dived into. The echo of his name in my half-conscious state made me alert, intrigued. The whisper arrived again, along with a sense of ‘knowing’ that I was him in a previous life.
This morning, sober, ego-faculties intact, I take the knowing with a pinch of salt. I’ve ‘known’ myself to be many people in past lives, which indicates to me the interconnected nature of all people, of all time, all eras, in an ever-present, all-existing-at-once, eternal Now. The true self behind my ‘ego’ was, and is, Thomas Aquinas. For the purpose of balance, the true self was also Hitler. So, swings and roundabouts…
Whether or not I was Thomas Aquinas is surprisingly irrelevant, despite this introduction. I sat down to write today with the intention to capture an idea that has been alive in me for a few weeks. “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” Michelangelo once remarked, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writing replaces chisel with pen, words sculpting ideas into form, from a place where it already exists in its entirety.
Ideas aren’t thoughts, but worlds, existing in dimensions beyond what we see with the traditional senses. They’re accessed by the mind, yet independent of it. When ideas arrive in consciousness, they’re universal and personal. The original source of the idea, in its purest form, is refracted through the uniqueness of the individual, resulting in an idea expressed in the sculpture’s personal touch.
The etymology of idea links to this way of thinking, originating from archetypes and Plato’s theory of form. Ideas are a “concept of a thing in the mind of God” (the universal aspect) and “mental image or picture” (the personal arrival of an idea). That word originates from Latin idein, which means “to see.” Ideas aren’t created in the mind, but fruits from the universal tree of knowledge. They aren’t created from nothing. They’re discovered.
The Memory Palace
The Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, along with eight of his fellow lyricists, was identified by the esteemed scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria as worthy of study. Simonides was viewed as one of the wisest men to live. Legend has it, Simonides was performing at a luxurious ceremony when tragedy struck. By pure chance, Simonides was called outside just as the roof of the hall collapsed, crushing everyone inside. The bodies where unable to be identified, but Simonides used a special technique to recollect the seating arrangement.
The poet revisited the location in his mind’s eye, and was able to identify each individual. In the De Oratore, written in 55BC, Roman philosopher Cicero introduced the memory technique the method of loci (loci means location in Latin) by reciting this legend. “This circumstance suggested the discovery of the truth that the best aid to clearness of memory consists in orderly arrangement.” By selecting locations in the mind, and storing images in those places, people would be able to recollect as vividly “as a wax writing tablet and the letters written on it.”
The Memory Palace is a visualization technique where people place facts, symbolised in imagery, into mental locations, which they can later retrieve by visiting that location. Lucid dreamers sometimes visit these places unconsciously, as if creating these worlds in the mind creates them independent of the architect. I bring this up because, since my awakening, I seem to have ‘access’ to dimensions of thought that do not belong to me, networks of ideas that I can only describe as alive, sentient, or intelligent.
The comprehension has been vague. I’ve been aware of my tendency to visit these places through conscious will, where ideas reside. They come with their own energy, emotions, and flavour, a unique landscape and world within itself. A few days ago, I had a visualisation of a translucent network of tunnels and labyrinth and mazes, symbolising the routes we have to take to ‘see’ the ideas residing at the heart of nature, as if re-search is a shamanic journey to the underworld.
Castles in the air
One of my favourite quotes from Henry David Thoreau is: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” This statement takes on a different meaning through this exploration. What if Thoreau was articulating invisible castles, locations in the air, where ideas reside? What if the work of an artist, a writer, an oracle, a philosopher, is to put foundations beneath, to bring forth, to carve the marble to free the angel?
Materialism has a narrow definition of what ‘alive’ is. My view is different. With consciousness, or God, being the foundation of everything, everything, by definition, is alive. There might be various degrees of sentience when it comes to physical beings, but I see ideas, and thoughts, as independent realities. I’ll draw upon a vague recital of Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic resonance to illustrate. Sheldrake theorises that phenomena are linked by proximity, in fields of resonance. The closer the similarity, the stronger the resonance.
Those ‘I’ thoughts are so familiar and so close because they’re the closest in proximity. The thoughts related to people closest to you, a step farther away, but still close, explains synchronicity and psychic phenomenon. As consciousness expands, so does the field of resonance. Returning to Thomas Aquinas, I believe that each person’s field of knowledge is alive, sentient, and exists outside of the individual.
As I was researching the Greek concept of genius, or ‘daimon,’ the messenger between the divine and the mortal, the source of creative inspiration that presented ideas, which Aristotle called a “divine or supernatural” experience which guided his actions, Thomas Aquinas came to mind, again. So I searched him briefly, to see if there was anything of relevance. What I discovered is synchronistic, a common experience when exploring these landscapes.
Thomas Aquinas’ Theory of Knowledge
I had no knowledge of this prior to writing this article. I had planned to write about ideas being alive for a few weeks, and last night, heard Thomas Aquinas voice as I was drifting to sleep, largely forgot about it, before the name returned as I started writing the introduction. I then discovered Aquinas’ Theory of Knowledge. Wikipedia uses the quote “that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.“
Aquinas’ metaphysics explores the study of being itself. In referencing the ‘positively immaterial,’ i.e. things that only exist outside of physical form:
“Unaided human reason cannot have direct knowledge of the positively immaterial; this is because such things (God and angels) outstrip the human intellect’s capacity to know. Nevertheless, direct knowledge of the positively immaterial is possible, but this will not be on the basis of unaided human reason; it will require that the positively immaterial reveal themselves to us in some way, in which case direct knowledge of the positively immaterial will be dependent on some sort of revelation.”from Internet ENCYCLOPEDIA of philosophy
Aligned to Aquinas’ vision, I wonder if ideas, pre-existing, arrive as revelation? That the creative process is guided by the daimon, a messenger of the divine, to take human consciousness to further realms, in order to bring forth universal truths, to put the foundations under the castles in the air? That re-search is a journey to lands of knowledge waiting to be discovered?
Related to each person’s field of knowledge, I wonder if their spirit acts as a guide? That entire networks of knowledge are linked, an internet of the unseen. That Aquinas’ spirit guides those through his work. That when tapping into these networks, people are guided through tunnels and corridors and up mountains and between valleys, of sentient, living, breathing knowledge, by those who know the landscape so well.
Many great works come from people who feel compelled by forces that want to move through them. Rather than coming from the brain, what if this comes from an outside source, because the manifestation of that idea is meaningful, has to be? What if, to reach the highest rungs of knowledge, one has to ask for God’s assistance, to dedicate the intellect in service to the divine?
An extension of this — something that excites me a lot, and inspires the work I do — is that ideas aren’t only alive, they’re trying to get our attention. The universe, as a sentient being itself, and creative intelligence, operates through individuals receptive enough to receive revelation.
People are drawn into these worlds, and the right information, at the right time, gets our attention through synchronicity, through words whispered into your mind, just before sleep.