Recently, someone asked me what sex* The Fact Foundry is and I was stumped for a moment by the question. “It”, was my immediate, gut-feel answer. I thought that would settle the issue for the moment, because “it” is (almost) politically correct and as inclusive as possible… Oh boy/girl/it, was I wrong!
What ensued was a discussion about the attributes of wisdom, and how it relates to a specific sex. In this instance, a strong case was made that The Fact Foundry was indeed female, because it would fit the mould of the Athena/Minerva prototype.
How we ascribe objects and things a particular sex remains one of the enigmas of language. Pilots and ship captains refer to their craft as “she”. In my previous blog, I even referred to aviation and flying as a “she”, as a muse. I did so even without thinking about it. Like many first year students of languages will testify, it can be notoriously difficult to understand how a sex/gender is ascribed to objects in another language.
In mythology and religion we find various references to god’s, deities and people associated with wisdom and insight. In the Judeo-Islam-Christian tradition the history of Solomon and his gift of wisdom is told. In the Greek-Roman mythology the god Athena/Minerva (both female) is associated with wisdom. The Norse mythology tells of Odin (male), who amongst other things is also associated with wisdom. Ancient Egypt gave us Toth (male) and Hinduism gives us Ganesha (male).
This list can go on, and a quick search on Wikipedia[i] will show that across cultures and time wisdom has been connected with both the male and female aspects of the species. At the very least one can conclude that as humankind we have been totally inconsistent with ascribing a specific gender to that which is wisdom or insight.
The question on my mind is whether The Fact Foundry is now without a specific sex – something androgynous or even a hermaphrodite as someone suggested? My immediate answer is surprisingly “No”. In my heart of hearts I want it to be something other than just an “it”. A friend of mine said she wants it to be a “he”. In her heart of hearts she wants wisdom and insight to be something that rides on a white horse and has a shining shield and sword. Perhaps an extremely romantic view of what wisdom is.
This could be what makes wisdom and insight so difficult to capture. Science wants us to believe everything is absolute and that there is the promise of an eloquent theorem that will one day be able to explain everything. In the end we will have an answer, but we will not be able to understand the meaning… and that is the essence of wisdom. Wisdom[ii] is the ability or result of an ability to think and act; utilising knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. This is the goal of The Fact Foundry – to use all these attributes and to share the wisdom that we as people have but with the understanding that context and experience for each one of us is different. Also, that none of us have knowledge that is complete and absolute, but that we gain as a collective by sharing.
So… “What am I?” At this stage I am not sure if it is a boy or a girl… or even an “it’. I do believe however, that given some time The Fact Foundry will find its own sense of being. This can only be left to the minds of of users and participants in the future. But, the question lingers… “What is wisdom?” Can you tell me?
As an afterthought, I realised now that Sophia** might be the answer. Not a sex or gender, but an idea central to our thinking.
*Sex and gender is not the same thing. Sex refers to something being male or female. Gender refers to feminine or masculine attributes, although its outer appearance may be something totally different.
**Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and is a central idea in the Hellenistic philosophy and religion. Sophiology is a philosophical concept regarding wisdom, as well as a theological concept regarding the wisdom of God[iii].