A Larger Language

“I had begun to form a philosophy of existence that demanded a larger language than the scientific one I had concentrated on for the last few years.”

This is a quote from a book, Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte, (page 75) and it states exactly what was happening to me at age 20 as a senior in college in 1952.

In order to share with you the depth of this shift, I need to brag a bit about my accomplishments in mathematics and physics at that tender age. I had taken every course in mathematics that was offered in my high school and made an A in all of them.

In the summer of 1949 I took and passed tests for college credit for two courses. This enabled me in the fall of my freshman year to be taking and mastering a college calculus course along with some senior engineering students that were struggling with that required course for the second time. In mathematics and physics, I was the star student at the university then called Oklahoma A & M. I continued making A grades in every mathematics and physics course offered, and in my senior year I was asked to teach a freshman course in mathematics. I represented my university at a national mathematics conference where I met mathematicians and physicists who were way more expert than me, one of whom insisted that I read a book he pulled out of a library self for me about Einstein’s theory of relativity. At that time this revolution in physics was still filtering down to places like Oklahoma. My mind was permanently blown by this revolution is thought about the basic foundations of our cosmos.

I had been expected by my parents and peers to proceed with graduate degrees in math and physics and become some sort of teacher or professional in that field. So it was a big deal for me that I had also “begun to form a philosophy of existence that demanded a larger language than the scientific one.”

To the surprise of my parents and many of my peers, I abandoned my scientific track and entered Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas in March of 1953. I chose that school because a revolution in existential theology was taking place there, and I had met a Perkins professor, Joe Mathews, with whom I wanted to study. In my first quarter I managed to enroll in a course with this professor. I never worked harder in a course in my whole life, and I was embarrassed, because with my poor language and spelling skills I ended up with a C grade. I also had to take a remedial philosophy course which also worked my being with unfamiliar content. On top of that, I was an outsider in that pastor-training community. No one I met there matched the sort of scientific nerd that I felt myself to be.

I became what my father correctly predicted, a third-rate preacher rather than a first-rate mathematician. My first church was a sort of disaster. Half this rural east-Texas Methodist congregation thought it was great having an enthusiastic young paster who gave them the best he could do with recreated Paul Tillich sermons, but the other half of that congregation wanted to get rid of me. All this was taking place while I was finishing seminary as well as getting adjusted to married life, complete with two baby boys. But my lifetime in “a larger language than the scientific one” was on its way.

So as I headed off to seminary in 1953, I was seeking a larger language, a contemplative language with which to make a deeper approach to Truth. David Whyte talking about his own life in the paragraphs that followed the above quote says:

“Somewhere out there beyond (my current work) was another work and another life that would support those farther explorations. . . . Every path, no matter how diligently we follow it, can lead to staleness . . . We might reach dizzying heights . . . the top floor . . . but if we lose our horizon and the excitement of that horizon, our high office . . . can seem like a gilded cage.” (Whyte, David, Crossing the Unknown Sea (Riverhead Books, New York: 2001) page 75-76

So what does has this larger-language revolution become for me 60 years later as I write about it at age 84? I am now very clear that there are two very different approached to truth: the scientific approach to truth, an approach that Ken Wilber calls the “It” approach, and the existential or contemplative approach to truth, an approach that Wilber calls the “I” approach. I would like to share with you this very deep discovery with a video-recorded talk I gave on the subject:


Scroll down to the video entitled The Enigma of Consciousness Workshop Opening Talk. This is the best talk I have given on this topic. It is a brief contemplative talk. Perhaps it will be worth your time.

If you prefer reading, I have also addressed this topic in an earlier blog post:


By the way the Realistic Living blog has been thoroughly redone, all the previous Realistic Living Pointers are posted there. Take a look; send me a comment. I will answer it.

Finally, I have published a whole book, The Enigma of Consciousness, the first part of which is on this topic of the approaches to Truth.


If you don’t already own this book, well you should (my opinion, of course).

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