In his Theaetetus, Plato offers an anecdotal tale of Thales – an early Ionian philosopher – who gazing up at the stars fell into a well. Philosophical inquiry has been caricatured as a senseless preoccupation with the transcendent, the beyond, the out of range, out of sight, the senseless: in a word nonsense! Stay close to the ground and run not the risk of your own demise!
Philosophers are great squabblers over what’s real. They’re even greater squabblers over how the real is conceived. Thales sought out the enduring underlying material element in what was both perceptible and imperceptible. Concretely present to his senses was an abundance, variability, fluxity; yet beyond the ever-present was also unity, a common ancestry, a shared and enduring link that binds and connects all things. I don’t really care to talk cosmology or metaphysics today. Instead let’s talk about how to see. Seems a circuitous way to embark on what seems (you do see my point….) obvious.
In this story Thales did not see what was before him. As it turns out the concrete present is lost on many who locked into their past never quite manage to climb out of the well, and eventually when their will fails them and they can no longer tread water, drown. Yet affixed to the ground Thales may have avoided the well, but lost the sky. The art of seeing is like the surfer who rides the waves; the past is always under her feet, whilst her present is open to the majestic sounds of the waves crashing upon her board, the brilliance of the sun caressing her face, and the subtle taste of salt touching her lips. Looking ahead, she is meet with feelings both of exhilaration and trepidation as the shoreline comes into view. Seeing through time is never quite so linearly experienced. For time is not intervals of space but modes of being. Learning how to see is then a lesson on how to be.