The Tree of Knowledge
By Athos A. Altomonte
© copyright 2007 by Esonet.it – Esonet.com
The flame of knowledge
« Those who have brought ‘Light' to the humankind have paid their idealism dearly. The symbol of these heroes is Prometheus .»
The flame of knowledge revives intelligence and it is a source of creativity.
It was considered a Divine prerogative and it could be conquered by taking heaven by storm. Dare and be silent, as the hermeticist still teaches today. By knowledge he doesn't mean the ability to remember the learnt notions, but the faculty to understand what is hidden in the stroke, in the symbol, in the sound, in the color, in the word.
To understand a meaning even when appearance can deceive the reason is the characteristic of a well developed intuition, which is the anteroom of free will. It is a dangerous virtue, because it can't be cajoled or tamed; therefore people who get their strength from other people's subjection don't like it.
The Tree of Knowledge
The Tree is an old symbol, common heritage of all peoples. In the West it is used to represent mystic, mysteriosophic, hermetic and alchemic concepts; we must also remember araldic and genealogic trees.
For a conscious feeling the meaning of the tree changes depending on where it has its roots. In allegorical terms this means where it takes its lymph, from the top or from the bottom. We know about a time when ‘giants' existed; men for which knowledge/science and spiritual knowledge/science (see note 1) had the same root and produced the same fruit. Then the ‘giants' disappeared, because the faculties of the mind and the feeling of the heart separated, transforming the unique fruit in products of the material knowledge.
Note 1: In Italian this is a play on words; the word ‘conoscenza' (knowledge) also includes the word ‘scienza' (science).
The Tree of Knowledge has its roots down in the ground, meaning concrete knowledge and its branches spread in the different aspects of learning.
It is superfluous to list the benefits of knowledge, since it accompanies us from birth to death and since our own quality and what we do depends on the quality of our knowledge. Furthermore, we don't think this is the right place to discuss the catastrophic effects of its abuse. On the contrary, it would be interesting to verify the effects of its scarcity, especially if we consider Socrates' thought.
Socrates and the problem of non knowledge
The formula: ‘ ignorance brings mistakes and pain follows mistakes' is well put; it also leads to the ethical problem of non-knowledge.
«… seeing amidst shadows and fogs is not truly seeing in the light of science. If you saw clearly in that light the consequences of your actions, if you had science of it, you would never sin .» Socrates said. Because of ignorance we hurt others and ourselves, « in absence of ‘epistemè' (science in the sense of virtue that derives from the truth) man ends up ignoring the link between the desire to obtain pleasure straight away and the pain that might follow .»
According to Socrates, then, man sins because he doesn't know and he doesn't know because he has no ability of judgment. Without developing knowledge and ability of judgment it is unlikely that we can achieve Free Will.
To know with our mind and to understand with our heart gives us the ability to distinguish permanency from transience, to discriminate good and evil, fair and unfair, necessary and superfluous.
Nevertheless it is true that when we go through the stages of growth, mistakes are part of the learning process. In these cases it is an acceptable symptom, as long as it doesn't keep happening and we don't abuse this alibi.
Knowledge is the result of the earth that can lead to heaven. This is the teaching of the other tree: The Tree of Life , which has its roots stretched to the sky. But knowledge takes here a course that is different from material reason; the latter must be obscured in order to look in the deepest layers of one's conscience and find the inner sky that covers man's materialism and makes a soul of him.