Friday, July 22, 2005

More from Temple

I have been away for a short trip and haven't had much time to read but I did finish Temple's book. I didn't expect to learn about God from Grandin's Animals in Translation but I did learn something that gave me a perspective on the spiritual.

In her chapter "How animals think", she talks about Susan Schaller's research on language-less people and how they differ in their thinking from people with language. One of these was Ildefonso. Because he didn't have language he was missing a layer of abstract thinking. Susan did teach him some simple language and although he asked what the word God meant he had already figured it out on his own. Susan writes that he had guessed that the word "God" stood for "unseen greatness apart from and more important than the tangible stuff in front of us." Although Ildefonso had the idea that there was something greater than the material world, he didn't seem to have any concept of human justice...Ildefonso was an innocent. He didn't see all the good and bad that people do...After he learned language, he was sad to learn of the terrible things people do...Ildefonso's innocence was not the same thing as being stupid..Although Ildefonso didn't have an abstract sense of just and unjust, he did have an immediate, concrete sense of right and wrong..That shows you don't have to have language to have a conscience... Temple then talks about how this is what animals are like- innocent but not stupid, with a simple knowledge of right and wrong and an ability to show remorse.

Temple says a bit later: Ildefonso had gone to church when he was little but he didn't know what any of it meant, although he instantly figured out that the baby Jesus in a creche ...was the same as the grown up Jesus he had seen on crucifixes, which I think is pretty amazing. ... Although he ( Ildefonso) didn't know anything about the Christian religion his family practiced, he still had a religious sense.This is obvious to me from the fact that he picked up the word "God" within three weeks of first discovering language and understood that God meant "unseen greatness."... Religion is probably hardwired into the human brain, so it doesn't surprise me that a religious feeling or sense managed to shine through in Ildefonso even without words. Temple then goes on to speculate on whether animals have religious feelings and perceptions.

Interesting isn't it? Where does that innate knowledge of right and wrong come from? I would say from God.

It was a great book. I really must now start Sons of Fortune and I don't want to really.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Temple Grandin

I am supposed to be reading Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer which is our next book circle book. I did start it and got about 2 chapters in but was not captivated enough to keep at it when I had Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation sitting beside it on the bedside table just asking me to crack the cover. What an interesting book. I saw Temple being interviewed on the TV not long ago which is what reminded me about the book and I had to buy it for my daughter who is trying to get work her way into a career in the animal behavior field.

I also have a niece who has aspergers syndrome and I found the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime fascinating so I knew I would get a lot out of this book also. I am about half way through and I am learning so much about animals and how they think and about people and how they think because Temple compares how autistic people (and animals) see the world and how "normal" people see the world. Temple has learned something about how she differs in her thinking from most people and can bridge the divide between the two worlds to some degree.

You know I really think there is a whole continuum of thinking modes and only when you get to one end of the spectrum do you get the aspergers and autism diagnoses. If I was to put myself on that continuum I would say that I might be closer to that end than most other people as there are some things about her thinking that I share ( and since it runs in my family...)... an insistence on facts or truth, perfectionism, some attention to detail...on the other hand I am highly verbal and I don't think in pictures so...I don't know. Anyway, there is no way I am going to get back to Sons of Fortune until I finish Temple's book, so there.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I have just finished re-reading C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy. I was struck in our last book discussion by a certain similarity between The Spiral Staircase and Lewis's book, on the surface anyway. They are both autobiographical journals of the authors' maturing spiritual paths. Both authors are scholars and writers, who started out with a traditional child-like view of Christianity (as most of us do), both "came to atheism" through rationalism but then found it unsatisfactory, although C.S Lewis came to theism and then to Christianity, wheras as yet Armstrong claims only a kind of monotheism. Armstrong's strict and painful time in the convent compares somewhat with Lewis' very painful schooldays. Both found a kind of bliss in literature and study. They both critiqued a materialistic and spritually barren culture they often met in the World.

But oh the differences. I was prepared to really like and get a lot out of Armstrong's book. I dared hardly say I was disappointed. How can one be disappointed in a memoir when the author has honestly told her story. My expectations were too high I told myself. I expected more than a memoir. I wanted more than she was willing to give. I wanted what I got in Surprised by Joy, which was not just the story, how things happened, what instances and people in the life changed thinking but also great insight into the nature of God as the author saw God, as the writer came to know God. There are wonderful comments in Surprised ... on practically every page. The difference I think is in the degree of introspection and contemplation that is articulated in Lewis' book. Armstrong may have those insights but she did not fully share them with the reader or at least was unable to communicate them to me.

I think that is what I meant when I said that Armstrong did not reveal her intellect in Staircase. Lewis's intellect shines through constantly in his clear, elegant critiques and explanations. His comment on the society of his "Coll" was like a mini sociological treatise. His comments in the chapter "Light and Shade" on the evils of the World ( ambition) compared to the evils of the flesh (homosexual affairs) are compassionately brilliant. I also get a very clear idea of Lewis' personality and weaknesses- some of them self confessed, some perhaps unconscious like his belief in the intellectual inferiority of women. I think if I met him I would not be surprised by him. I found it hard to get a feel for what Armstrong would be like if I met her. I get the feeling Lewis would come off the more humble for less reason.

Surprised by Joy is a keeper I will re-read again and again and still come away with something new. I wonder if I could get anything more from Armstrong if I read Staircase again?
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)