Tuesday, January 9, 2007


In one of my favorite essays by C.S. Lewis, entitled "Transposition” , Lewis explains how we as human beings can become so fixated, or in my terms, desensitized with our present physical and emotional experience that we forget or at times even deny the existence and potential of a richer spiritual experience. This idea is a recurrent theme evident in most of Lewis' fictional works such as the “Chronicles of Narnia”, “The Great Divorce” and many more. He defines “transposition” as the permutation of a higher-level experience or concept to a lower-level or vice-versa. For example, you would use more words in a language with limited vocabulary to translate the same word from a language with richer vocabulary. A person who has heard a symphony with full orchestration and wants to share this experience to a friend who hasn’t heard it before will usually hum or whistle the tune to his friend especially if this is the only available way to do so. The problem with this is that the friend will never ever fully realize the richness and vivacity of the original orchestral piece through a monotonic rendition (that is the whistle or the humming) especially if he hasn’t heard it before, or worse, had a poor sense of musicality. In fact, it is possible, that the friend may even attempt to compare this to a tune that is more familiar to him, but may not necessarily be so, thus exposing the potential futility of such an attempt. On the other hand, the friend who has heard the symphony before will be able to recall and even relive the full experience of the orchestral piece in his own mind. Lewis further illustrates “transposition” through various examples, such as the attempt of a mother to describe to her child, who was born into a dungeon with no windows, the outside world through words and pencil drawings. The higher concept here is the “outside world” which the mother wants her son, who had no prior experience of the “outside world” at all (therefore has no idea what it looks or feels like) to experience. Through “words” and “pencil drawings”, tools or implements that in their situation, are the only available means, the mother attempts to do so. As you can see, these tools are means that the mother and child can commonly understand and share at their present situation. The mother tries to describe the bright sun, the lush trees and the colorful landscape of the “outside world” through grayscale lines and shades on a piece of paper. The child accepts this and recognizes this as an accurate depiction of the “outside world” and in fact grows more excited as the day that that they will eventually be free draws near.

With this, Lewis establishes the relationship of the spiritual and the physical world, where the spiritual, the higher mode of experience is manifested through the physical, the domain that we are most familiar with in our present state of life. Whenever people claim to have experienced a spiritual event, they almost always describe it through words usually associated to sensation (visual, auditory, tactile and sometimes, olfactory) or raw emotions, because these are the only ways they can be able to interpret these higher experiences to the general public (as the symphony person and the mother in the earlier examples). In fact, if asked how one would describe “heaven”, we would be able to create a list ranging from a cloudy paradise with cute cherubs to various states of positive emotions such as happiness and satisfaction. Most likely, these images have been shaped by our previous experiences and education, presented through depictions in books and stories by other people. Higher experiences seem to have very similar manifestations to certain psychological states and even psychiatric conditions (for example, being in the state of “glossolalia” - “slain in the spirit” in the charismatic movement lingo, or “speaking in tongues” shares similar symptoms with hysteria). This exposes the problem and difficulty in proving their authenticity and most importantly, their existence. A skeptic would always deny the presence of a higher state of being or the possibility of higher experiences. He would always explain things according to the meter stick familiar and available to him.

Recalling the mother-child dungeon story, questions can be raised whether the child will truly be able to appreciate the full glory of the outside world. Won't the child look for the same gray lines and scribbles that his mother drew on pieces of paper in the outside world? ("Mom, I can not see the lines that you drew, are you sure that is the sun or trees that you have been drawing and talking about?") How sure are we, that heaven will be the same heaven that we have imagined it to be when our time comes? Are we truly ready to appreciate God's glory, or are we too fragile and presently incapable to experience this or even recognize this experience? Does heaven and God exist at all, and can we prove this?!

In another imaginative imagery that Lewis utilizes, he compares this situation to the interior of a dark shed, with light beaming through a small hole . Placing ourselves inside this shed and assuming we are unaware of the existence of the outside world, the beam of light will be noticeable and may provide valuable clues. The skeptic seeing this beam of light would only be able to see this "merely" as a beam of light. A believer on the other and, will not only see it as a beam of light, but will attempt to peer within it, thus catching a glimpse of the branches of trees, the sky and the trees of the outside world through the little hole. Upon seeing this he will seek to be free to experience the outside world. The skeptic would always remain inside the dark shed.

The concept of “transposition” provides the defense, or a convincing explanation. Extending the idea, it insightfully provides more value to our present base experiences within nature in this lifetime as it is possible that through these, we get a glimpse of heaven, of beyond, and of God. But how sure are we that we can be free to be part of heaven, of beyond and to experience God? "Transpositon" provides a gateway towards the understanding and assumption of this experience - in the same manner that the incarnation of God as man (in the form of Jesus) provides HOPE of what mankind can achieve and is destined to be.

No comments: