In this article, Ong comments on Dr. James L. Foy's paper "Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenology, and the Study of Man."  Ong centers his remarks on the thoughts of Fr. Teilhard, which are pertinent to current developmental issues with which humankind is now faced.  Ong explains that the works of Fr. Teilhard are often highly parochialized, meaning highly specific thoughts organized in narrow, confined mental structures.  The popular objection to this, Ong explains, is not the specificity of language, but rather that Fr. Teilhard's manner of thinking does not fit into already existent mental categories.  Instead, the reader of Fr. Teilhard's work is forced to restructure his or her thinking around Teilhard's groundbreaking ideas, a necessity which Ong feels deserves praise for its originality rather than criticism for its parochialization.

Ong lists two reviews which illustrate both the parochialism and the originality of Fr. Teilhard's works, as well as the psychological discomfort these techniques often elicit from the reader.  These reviews are George Gaylord Simpson's review of "The Phenomenon of Man" in The Scientific American and P.B. Medawar's review in the journal Mind.

Simpson's review shows his dislike for Fr. Teilhard's theories, however Ong asserts that Teilhard's works must have been very stimulating for Simpson, judging from the length of the review he wrote.  Medawar's review, however, is the most interesting to Ong.  He points out that Medawar clearly indicates that he is touched deeply by the subject matter, despite his unsupportive position toward Fr. Teilhard's work.  His review, Ong explains, is a specific example of the parochial thought of Teilhard, indicated by the "frenetic" style throughout the review.  Medawar struggled so hard to fit Teilhard's new categories of thought into his own that the result with a frenetically written review indicating less about the subject matter of Teilhard's thoughts than about the impact the subject matter had on the reviewer.  The parochialization of Fr. Teilhard's theories is revealed by the difficulty of effort required of Medawar to fit Teilhard's thinking into his own already existent mental categories.

To understand the theories of Fr. Teilhard, Ong asserts, we need to "face the real time and space dimensions of our present day intellectual work."  Ong concentrates on the aspect of time, beginning with Fr. Teilhard's theory of the development of human thought over time.  The oldest yet clearest records we have of earlier thought coincide with the invention of forms of written language.  Now, considering that our alphabet is only 3,500 years old, and noting the advancement of human thought within those 3,500 years, the prospect of how human thought will evolve in ten thousand or a hundred thousand years from now is terrifying.

Ong argues that although we cannot specifically articulate right now how thought will develop in the next ten thousand years, "our sense of what we are doing here and now is very much influenced by whether or not we accept the real dimension of the total effort of which our effort is a part."  In other words, we cannot, in the present, specifically outline what dimensions thought will assume in the future, but we have a responsibility, since the present and the future are influenced by whether we believe that our current efforts will advance the evolution of thought.

The next part of the article tackles present day theories which propose solutions to the puzzle of how thought will evolve in the future.  The most visible theories at this time involve synthesis or generalization of thoughts.  For various reasons, Ong states why these concepts are inadequate solutions for the query at hand.  For Ong, the inadequacy of these theories is evidence enough that assimilating and coordinating our thought now to what it will be in the future is a staggering problem.  Ong proposes that what we need is "some kind of radical reorientation inside ourselves which all of us today are feeling for the help of what we know from the natural world and with the help we can get from faith . . . We need, as Dr. Foy's paper points out, concentration upon the person and the person in the cosmos."

One such publication which supports this idea is the magazine Acheron, which expounds the idea of the interiorization of history, a main component in Fr. Teilhard's "Phenomenology of Man."  The interiorization of history is "seeing history as primarily not just a series of temporal events strung out in a linear way, but as something which happens to the human psyche--history as a differentiation between your mode of consciousness and unconsciousness today and that of a man . . . some six hundred or a thousand or twenty thousand years ago."  Ong further illustrates the evolution of this idea in the remainder of his article, and he concludes by citing other scholars who also endorse Teilhard's work.

Sarah Bauer
University of Dayton
 

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