Humans Give Meaning to the World

July 17, 2020

While discussing N. Scott Momaday’s novel A House Made of Dawn, Professor Bowden introduced a new concept – geosophy. It was an unexpected moment during an undergraduate geography class that ultimately opened mental doors and windows to the world. Geosophy, an idea promoted by John Kirtland Wright in the 1940’s, “is the study of geographical knowledge from any or all points of view. It is to geography what historiography is to history… it covers the geographical ideas, both true and false, of all manner of people—not only geographers, but farmers and fishermen, business executives and poets, novelists and painters, Bedouins and Hottentots—and for this reason it necessarily has to do in large degree with subjective conceptions.”* In short, humans give meaning to the physical world.

I felt like I knew that before this moment. However, this humanities moment was a crossroad that never left me. In fact it caused a shift in my psyche. I remember feeling I understood life better, clearer, and with more agency. After all, the spirit of geosophy applies to everything external and physical (including other people), abstractions, events (past and present) and yourself. As a teacher I made sure I introduced this idea to my middle school and high school students. I remember seeing “a-ha” moments in their eyes. Things clicked. They were constructing meaning and felt empowered to explore and develop their ideas and convictions. It is like what Lionel Trilling reminded us; establishing systems of objectivity that people agree to and can interact in is the hardest, and most important, thing for humanity to develop.

*Quoted from:

Wright, J. K. Terrae incognitae: The place of the imagination in geography. Annals of Association of American Geographers, 1947, 37(1): 1-15.