If to love something is to seek to strengthen it, then in the period between high school and the World Trade Center attack, my life was devoted to the loving of ideas.
Of course, as an initiate to modern scientific materialism, at first I didn’t see it that way. I was strengthening my brain to ensure my future as a knowledge worker. I understood that when exercised, the tissues of the brain become more densely penetrated with energy-delivering capillaries. Neurons that were stimulated by thinking sprouted dendrites that sought axons, and when those synaptic connections were triggered, new thoughts were born.
I didn’t really begin to examine the detailed operation of my mind until my wife began to get angry with me when I didn’t look at her when she was asking for advice. She was a very ambitious woman, seeking a complex balance in life between competing priorities, and when she brought me a problem I would go into a kind of meditative state. Her words would enter my mind, as though through a gateway into a garden that she could not enter. I would hold them all together, not weighing them, but allowing them to find a balance among themselves. When a pathway through the possibilities became clear, I would focus on the most immediate priority and serialize the procedure that would generate the desired conclusion.
The friendship that I offered to ideas was the maintenance of the preserve in which they organized themselves. I didn’t force them together. I have never been invested in the outcome of the determination. I was interested in the truth that was revealed. When none became apparent, I would produce a plethora of possibilities for my interrogator, intuitively probing for more constraints so that I could produce a definite conclusion.
Most people, of course, found this incredibly confusing.
In the quiet hours alone, I continued to grapple with my growing concerns regarding the stability of our civilization. What I realize now is that I was reaching ever deeper into the space of ideas, and that exploration was allowed because I was trusted. Ultimately this manifested as a terrible intellectual force that simply brushed others aside as I pursued ideas to their conclusion.
The outcome on my professional relationships was distressing. In one case, I had identified a fundamental inconsistency in a design method, revealed only through a seven-step chain of reasoning. I tried to offer this to the lead investigator, who fought me at every step. When I finally wore him out one day and was able to lay out the logic, he broke off with the complaint “If you talk long enough, Brian, you can convince people of anything.” In another situation, a potential collaborator noticed me breaking eye contact when he asked a difficult question. I was looking past the blank wall of the cafeteria into the space of ideas. Intuitively, he tried to follow my gaze to enter along with me, but was rebuffed. And finally in 2005 I had a female sponsor show up in my dreams one night, offering to usher me into the quantum realm. She slipped through the atoms of the wall, pulling me behind her, and I simply bounced off. When she mused “I wonder why that happened,” I realized that I was in possession of a view of reality that led into deeper truth.
In the spiritual awakening that occurred after 9/11, I came to understand just how great a gift I had been awarded by the ideas that accepted my attention. My elder son Kevin gained access to them early in his childhood. Distressingly, he considered that space as a private preserve, and worked systematically to exclude his younger brother. So Greg learned to access ideas through his peers.
As they grew older, I offered them some advice. To Kevin, “Ideas are strongest when they are shared.” And to Greg, “People can introduce you to ideas, but eventually you need to make friends with them yourself.”
While in my childhood I was in awe of the past, I am relieved to say now that I am blessed with the awe of realizing how deeply they have integrated that advice into their lives, and to observe how their moral and intellectual skills mesh to create value in the world. While I try not to impose my expectations upon them, I find through them hope for the future.