Board of Ancestors |Ralph Waldo Emerson: Artifacts of Knowledge

Reflections on an American Scholar

“We are not meant to obsess over the literal word of the Bible, as much are we meant to see the divine teach lesson via the soul, through the expression of man in art, music, the spoken word. The lessons of courage, piety, love, wisdom.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (The Divinity School)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Board of Ancestors is a blog series, where I reflect on my role models, my philosophical influences and inspiring peers. It’s part of our Meet the Founder Series.

This passage is a direct quote pulled from one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s addresses to the Harvard Divinity School.
Emerson’s audiences in this text are graduates of a Divinity school, which explains the emphasis on spiritual language. The primary idea of this lecture was the emergence of the the “American Scholar,” and the role that “artifacts of knowledge”, no matter the source, play in achieving the growth of the human mind and soul, and thus the growth of society.

Emerson was known as a transcendental thinker, and abolitionist, and poet. The scholar, I front of an audience of scholars, ironically, and often warns against the use of books, and “Reason” as the mean to replace a lived life. He sees over reliance on written text and the words of otherstools that dull the mind and lead individuals to no longer find purpose.

“When ‘men’ lose their pursuit of purpose and allow artifacts to dull their minds they become susceptible to evil and lose their ability to work toward a greater future.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Conversely, Emerson doesn’t believe that these artifacts of knowledge (bibles, churches, preachers, books, etc.) are inherently evil, but that they are tools that are meant to support the soul as it expresses itself through the creation of art, music, spoken word, and good deeds.

One must be an inventor to read well.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The American Scholar)

This quote is powerful because of its pith. Similar to the above text, Emerson’s The American Scholar, emphasizes the importance of nature, the soul of man, and the importance of creating as an expression of the soul and God. The quote above focuses on the same warning mentioned in The Divinity School Address, that artifacts created by other men, books, theories, speeches that dispel knowledge are tools but not the means to achieving the goal of growth.

Harnessing the benefits of Knowledge

I remember first reading this essay and being struck by the dichotomy Emerson creates, telling a within-between worlds story of the farmer and the scholar. I grew up privileged to have nature in my life. Farming was my first love, work-love. And working the land has been a catalyst for truth and opportunity in my life for year. The American Scholar, emphasizes how only those who seek their own truth can even begin to harness the benefits of reading/ knowledge. Those who attempt to use the knowledge and experience of others to achieve growth for they are doomed to become dull, a cog of society.

Ultimately in both these text Emerson urges his audience to observe the world, listen to their soul, or gut, and pursue the knowledge of life, and live a life of character. He sees no hierarchy between the farmer and the scholar; he believes both are capable of progressing themselves and society. Both must be educated by nature, by books, and by actions, working in concert.

Last Thought

It’s in this reflection I find the audience (the farmer and the scholar) for my work. In my experiences as farmer, scholar, and inventor I’ve found the notes of progress. Authenticity an American Scholar myself, I’ve built Cypher as a tool for those lost in between and within worlds.

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