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Plotinus – Is “The One” really God?

Plotinus

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Plotinus (205-70 CE) was an ancient Greek speaking philosopher thought to have been born in Egypt. He established a branch of philosophy that, since the Renaissance, has been called Neoplatonism.

At Rome in 244 CE he became a prominent teacher of asceticism, encouraging the introspective life. Later, he founded a short-lived community in Campania, based on an ideal society outlined in Plato‘s Republic.

Plotinus’ works were edited by his disciple Porphyry and put into six groups of nine, called the “Enneads.”

Perhaps Plotinus’ most important contribution to the history of ideas is his notion of the One. For Plotinus, the One is Goodness and Beauty existing before, and the ultimate source of all observable differences found in, our world of becoming. Our world emanates from the One, this process setting up a complicated and hierarchical series of arrangements, or dyads, all leading back up to the One.

Psycho-spiritual liberation is best found in personal union with the One, described as an ephemeral experience of pure, insurmountable delight. According to Porphyry, Plotinus had four of these ecstatic experiences during the time these two men knew each other.

Plontinus’ work has been widely influential. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung mentions the term “Word Soul” (anima mundi) when speaking of the archetype of the self. And New Age and Gnostic circles have adapted his legacy in countless ways. Artists, musicians and poets have also tried to capture or develop the essence of his thought.¹

Plotinus

An anachronistic portrait of Plotinus – Wikipedia

Basically, Plontinus believes we can become one with God. By way of contrast, most monotheistic religions believe that we can have a relationship with God but never actually be the same as God.

This difference is key and, I think, could influence how we understand and experience our world.

Consider an analogy: If an ant falls into a sugar jar it might eat tons of sugar and become totally absorbed with the sweet substance. For the ant, this is Heaven on Earth and nothing is greater.

Likewise with some people. One experience of extreme absorption and they assume they have found the ultimate. This could be unfortunate because that presumption might prevent them from encountering even greater perspectives and experiences.

¹ Although Elton John’s 1992 song “The One” is really about meeting a soulmate, I think one could argue that Plotinus’ ideas, along with the notion of chakras, have an indirect influence. See https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/theone.html

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Oct 6 2017  Highlights with LINER

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His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics

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Plotinus had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry (mimesis) of something “higher and intelligible” [VI.I] which was the “truer part of genuine Being”. This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted,

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From all accounts his personal and social life exhibited the highest moral and spiritual standards.

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Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent “One”, containing no division, multiplicity or distinction;

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Plotinus identified his “One” with the concept of ‘Good’ and the principle of ‘Beauty’.

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The “less perfect” must, of necessity, “emanate”, or issue forth, from the “perfect” or “more perfect”. Thus, all of “creation” emanates from the One in succeeding stages of lesser and lesser perfection. These stages are not temporally isolated, but occur throughout time as a constant process.

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The One is not just an intellectual concept but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity.

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Plotinus writes, “We ought not even to say that he will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one.”

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Plotinus never mentions Christianity in any of his works.

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Henosis is the word for mystical “oneness”, “union”, or “unity” in classical Greek. In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One (Τὸ Ἕν), the Source, or Monad.

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As is specified in the writings of Plotinus on Henology,[note 1] one can reach a state of tabula rasa, a blank state where the individual may grasp or merge with The One.

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For several centuries after the Protestant Reformation, Neo-Platonism was condemned as a decadent and ‘oriental’ distortion of Platonism.

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Plotinus seems to be one of the first to argue against the still popular notion of causal astrology. In the late tractate 2.3, “Are the stars causes?”, Plotinus makes the argument that specific stars influencing one’s fortune (a common Hellenistic theme) attributes irrationality to a perfect universe, and invites moral turpitude.[clarification needed] He does, however, claim the stars and planets are ensouled, as witnessed by their movement.

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One of his most distinguished pupils was Pico della Mirandola, author of An Oration On the Dignity of Man. Our term ‘Neo Platonist’ has its origins in the Renaissance.

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Plotinus was the cardinal influence on the 17th-century school of the Cambridge Platonists, and on numerous writers from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to W. B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine.

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Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought.

 Elton John is the muse for Gucci’s latest maximalist mille-feuille collection (telegraph.co.uk)

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Platonism – The one and the many

Platonism refers to beliefs and theories based on the metaphysical ideas expressed in Plato‘s dialogues.

These usually include Plato’s division of

  • an ideal realm of the Forms that is unchanging eternal truth

and

  • an ordinary realm of the so-called external world of change

Neoplatonist thinkers like Plotinus argued for the “One” from which all else proceeds, and which is comprehended only through mystical union. This is linked to the term “world soul” or anima mundi which depth psychologists and occultists tend to mention.¹

Platonism takes many different forms. It spans from the early Church Fathers (especially those inclined toward gnosticism like Origen and Clement of Alexandria) to the European Middles Ages² and 17th century theologians (known as the Cambridge Platonists), right into New Age philosophies, academic philosophy and maths.

In contrast to works directly linked to Plato’s ideas, small-p platonism refers to any theory that affirms the existence of abstract concepts, as opposed to nominalism.

Small-p platonists may or may not believe in Plato’s general outlook.

A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion engraving – Wikipedia

It should be noted, however, that the distinction between small-p platonism and large-p Platonism is not universally applied. A bit confusing but, considering the vast and varied influence of Plato, not surprising.

Plato’s ideas have been so incredibly influential that A. N. Whitehead said all of European philosophy is a “footnote to Plato.”³

A modern example of platonism can be found in the notion that mathematical truths have an independent existence, as opposed to being mere products of the human mind. According to this view, “Mathematical truths are…discovered, not invented.”4

¹ Sometimes in arguably muddled, undifferentiated theories about spirituality.

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma

XXI: Azathoth Pleroma: Arenamontanus / Anders Sandberg

² S. G. F. Brandon notes that Platonism in the Middle Ages was temporarily “eclipsed” by the ideas of Aristotle.  See Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 505.
However, some like the Anglican A. E. Taylor maintain that St. Thomas Aquinas’ work, which adapts Aristotelian arguments to Christianity, is fundamentally based on Platonism. See “Platonism.” Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 1300.
Whether or not Plato’s idea of eternity is on par with Aquinas’ is open to debate. Is an ancient Greek view of eternal truth, beauty and justice equivalent to the Christian understanding of heaven? For that matter, do all Christians agree on what the word heaven means? And what about hell? How would Plato and Aquinas stack up there?

³ For more, see my highlights at LINER http://lnr.li/HTRX8/

4 See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/

Related » NeoPlatonism, Proclus


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Particles – “I want to be a particle of your light”

A general view of ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) cavern and detector during a behind the scenes tour at CERN, the World’s Largest Particle Physics Laboratory on April 19, 2017 in Meyrin, Switzerland.

In physics a particle is defined as a tiny unit of matter. But what is matter?

Subatomic physics discoveries along with the development of semiotics (the study of signs) have thrown the entire notion of matter into question.

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, saw the particle as a standing wave, which is a relatively stable energy pattern. For others, particles are seen as wave packets of energy.

Particle physicists also hypothesize what the media has sensationalized as the “God Particle.”¹ If its existence is confirmed, the God Particle apparently would resolve some of the inconsistencies found in theoretical physics.

Time to step back and think intelligently, something that some scientists fail to do. My main beef with the claims of some researchers rests on the problem of subjectivity.

How may we confirm the independent existence of something when the longstanding debate about subjectivity (biased observation) vs. objectivity (unbiased observation) is unresolved, and might always be?

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Wikipedia)

Physicists play a high priced game and convince a good number of people that they’re getting at some basic truth when arguably they’re just fabricating a historically relative worldview.

As any sociologist worth his or her salt with note, scientists carry out experiments within a given framework that, consciously or unconsciously, not only advance knowledge but also reinforce and legitimize beliefs about (a) how best to proceed and (b) what our world is all about.

So alleged high-tech “confirmations” run the risk of becoming, at bottom, a biased way of saying that a particular truth game is the truth game.

But science is no abstract game. It’s a human enterprise that takes money to operate. The general public is easily enchanted by glimmering machines and Photoshopped lab results. And this popular enthusiasm probably makes it easier for scientists to get funded.²

Not that I’m a Luddite, dead against anything new. Physics, of course, can be theoretically useful and reap many practical rewards. Our limits as a species should not deter us from exploring and developing new ideas. However, we would be wise to remember that ideas like the God Particle are culturally relative stories and certainly not the whole story.

¹ Many scientists, themselves, see this as an irresponsible metaphor for the hypothesized Higgs Boson particle.

² I have no data on this but it seems like common sense. Science exists in society. If nobody in society is interested in something, chances are funding won’t happen. Enthusiasm can have a ripple effect throughout the whole system.

† Title quote from Bruce Cockburn, “Hills of Morning” from the True North album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. One of the things I like about Cockburn’s “peak period” lyrics is his intelligent mix of science and spirituality.

Related » Democritus, David Hume, Philipp Eduard Anton Lenard, Particle-Wave Duality, Thomas Young

 Lithuania joins CERN as associate member (cerncourier.com)

 Clash of the particle people (physicsworld.com)

 Physicists find new particle with a double dose of charm (bostonherald.com)

 CERN’s LHCb experiment announces observation of a new particle (watchers.news)

 Can World’s Largest Atom Smasher Solve the Universe’s Deepest Mysteries? (livescience.com)


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Willard Quine – My unapologetic simplification

Willard Quine (1908-2000) was an influential American mathematician and philosopher who rejected Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction¹ and advocated a form of holism.

English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo: Wikipedia)

Quine argues that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts.

The second dogma is reductionism—that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.

Quine’s thought has been variously championed and critiqued. It seems that whatever way we look at the issues Quine addresses, we encounter the same problem. Language (and arguably all symbols, to include numbers) has conceptual and descriptive limits. It can never be entirely precise nor complete.²

The relationship between symbols and reality is an age old debate with no definitive answer. The discussion can go along ‘horizontal,’ conceptual lines or veer off into deeper, ‘vertical’ lines (as with Carl Jung‘s view of the archetypal image).

The discussion can also exist in a kind of matrix. That is, one could argue – as I do – that all words carry a potential numinous power. Numinosity isn’t something restricted to religious or mythological symbols.

In sociology, Quine’s thought appears in discussions about reification and also about the relation between scientific truth claims on the one hand, and ideology, the profit motive and social power on the other hand.

Healthcare Costs by Images Money via Flickr

Admittedly this is the briefest of brief sketches about Quine. When it comes to Western philosophy, it seems everyone has their own take on what these complicated thinkers are trying to say.³ My interest in Quine is mostly in trying to get people to think critically about scientific truth claims.

Science is becoming a new kind or medieval-style religion. The initial assumptions, selectivity, biases, interpretations and extrapolations built in to science are so glossed over or taken for granted that the average person tends to see science as “truth” and doesn’t even want to discuss any further.

In other words, science has a pretty firm grip on the minds and actions of many people. Too see this in action, we don’t have to look any further than some of the facile placards in the recent “March for Science.”

Making a religion out of science is misguided, authoritarian and dangerous. I think humanity can do better. So that’s how I justify simplifying Quine. I’m taking a poststructural approach. Something that I think everyone does. Although not everyone might be aware of it (or admit it, if they are).

Image by Becker1999 via Flickr

Need I say more?

¹ Kant devised a distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are said to contain the predicate in the subject. Synthetic propositions do not contain the predicate in the subject. An example of an analytic proposition is, “All squares have four sides.” An example of a synthetic proposition is, “All men are athletic.”

² Along these lines the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, once wrote said that we cannot step into the same river twice. So what is a “river?”

³ Not to imply that Eastern philosophy is necessarily simpler or less open to interpretation. Just look at some of the Buddhist logic schools, for instance.

Related » Science, scientism


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Gilbert Ryle – An Oxford man who advocated “ordinary language”

Gilbert Ryle (1900-76) was an English philosopher who taught at Oxford from 1945-68. He edited the journal Mind from 1947-71.

Ryle and others like G. E. Moore developed the idea, forwarded by Wittgenstein, that philosophy is best expressed in so-called “ordinary language.” For Ryle, using abstract language is so removed from everyday experience and speech that it tends to be, for the most part, inaccurate and irrelevant.

Some philosophers are so heavily invested in their specialized language that they become blind to the ambiguities, limitations and sometimes absurdity of their claims.

A similar argument could be made about anyone who overly invests in a particular language game or symbol system, to include psychologists, biologists, physicists, economists, lawyers, environmentalists… The list goes on.

Not everyone agrees with Ryle. For a while, his views were trendy in philosophy but that didn’t last long. Today, philosophy is even more esoteric and symbolic than ever. Most modern philosophy degrees demand advanced courses in symbolic logic that, to the uninitiated, might look more like math than critical thinking.

Drawing from René Descartes' (1596-1650) in &q...

Drawing from René Descartes’ (1596-1650) in “meditations métaphysiques” explaining the function of the pineal gland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the main points for and against the use of ordinary language in philosophy and related disciplines:

For:

  • Language is dynamic, full of ambiguous connotation and a product of culture. Meanings are always open to interpretation.
  • Specialized language cloaks bias and subtly reinforces unequal relations of power. For instance, in psychology a person is “ADD” or “Autistic.” The scientific label makes it so. End of discussion. Who cares if these people have unusual abilities that the status quo is too biased to recognize or support?
  • Ordinary language isn’t patronizing to ordinary people and may, in fact, draw them into a discussion. This could lead to new insights and benefits for all.

Against:

  • Given the potential ambiguity and fluidity of language, shouldn’t philosophers try to define their terms as precisely as possible?
  • Isn’t it valid for specialists to use specialized language? For example, do you really want your operating room surgeon to say “give me that blade over there” one day and “hand me the knife” another day instead of always using the quick and precise, “scalpel“?
  • Specialized language increases precision and facilitates greater communication, efficiency and effectiveness among specialists. Popular writers can always translate the main points to the public, later on.

It seems each of these arguments has its pros and cons.

For some, the best approach – ironically an age-old advertising and entertaining technique – is to tailor one’s expression to fit the perceived audience. Instead of speaking above people, some believe it’s better to try to connect—unless, of course, you’re in a specialized group using shared terms (e.g. A Trekkie convention).

Some hard core philosophers seem to overlook the many nuances of human interaction. So they can come off dry, abstract or irrelevant. But every now and then specialized thinkers do come up with ideas worth considering. For me, one example is Hume’s critique of causality. I love and sometimes mention that idea if I feel my audience is ready to consider its transformational potential.

But to return to Ryle, he also published a popular work in 1949, The Concept of Mind, that questioned Descartes mind/body dualism. Ryle says Descartes describes the mind as a metaphysical ghost in a material machine. And from that we have the enduring phrase, “ghost in the machine,” an idea now morphing into new meanings with the rise of AI.


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Bertrand Russell – Temporarily lost his job for advocating peace

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Photo Wikipedia)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a Welsh philosopher, mathematician and activist.

Russell taught at Cambridge in 1895, published Principles of Mathematics (1903) and, with A. N. Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13).

He was let go from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1916 for advocating pacifism during World War I. This was scandalous even at the time because most of his Fellows opposed his firing.¹ Jailed in 1918 for six months, Russell eventually revoked his support for pacifism with the rise of Fascism.

Soon after his Fellowship was restored.

In the 1920’s he lectured and wrote widely. In 1927 he founded an experimental school with his second wife, Dora, a woman of achievement in her own right. And he toured the Soviet Union and lectured in China and America.

Russell’s best known publications are The Problems of Philosophy (1912), On Education (1926), An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), History of Western Philosophy (1945), and Human Knowledge (1948). He also wrote probing essays on a variety of topics, such as Why I am not a Christian (1927).

After World War II Russell advocated a ban on nuclear weapons and corresponded with leading politicians around the world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and authored a three-volume Autobiography (1967-9).

English: Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behi...

Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behind bust of Bertrand Russell (by Marcelle Quinton 1980) in Red Lion Square the entrance to Conway Hall can be seen with Royal Mail van parked outside. (Photo: Wikipedia)

¹ Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m posting this revision on Good Friday. Seems a lot of people run into bad luck for advocating peace. †

Related » Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Creative genius on the edge

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counte...

Rousseau (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a French speaking political writer and educator born in Geneva, Switzerland.

After taking various odd jobs this self-taught intellectual moved to Paris in 1741, meeting up with Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists.

A kind of romantic naturalism pervades much of his work, which many equate with the idea of the “noble savage.”

Many see the noble savage as one who rejects stultifying conventions and religious promises of an afterlife in favor of spontaneous desire and worldly affections.

But this is another myth that students of Rousseau say does not apply to his work. In reference to Rousseau’s belief in stages of human development, Wikipedia notes:

Rousseau believed that the savage stage was not the first stage of human development, but the third stage. Rousseau held that this third savage stage of human societal development was an optimum, between the extreme of the state of brute animals and animal-like “ape-men” on the one hand and the extreme of decadent civilized life on the other. This has led some critics to attribute to Rousseau the invention of the idea of the noble savage, which Arthur Lovejoy conclusively showed misrepresents Rousseau’s thought.¹

Voltaire & Rousseau

Voltaire & Rousseau by Anne via Flickr

In 1754 Rousseau wrote Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Amongst Men, outlining an apparently innate sense of freedom and perfectibility in human beings, in contrast to the corrupting powers of institutions.

In Luxembourg from 1757-1762 he wrote The Social Contract, which had a significant bearing on the French revolution, as exemplified by Rousseau’s cry for ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ The Social Contract produced the famous line, “man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” This work remains a cornerstone in modern political theory, but has roots in ancient Greece and Rome.

In 1762 Rousseau published the novel, Emile. Its critique of the monarchy and government bureaucracy got him into hot water with the authorities. To avoid arrest he retreated to Switzerland, ultimately to end up in England with the support of the philosopher David Hume.

Rousseau later wrote his Confessions and returned to Paris in 1767, ignoring the threat of an outstanding arrest warrant. He continued to write but became hypersensitive to perceived threats. Some of these threats may have been real and others exaggerated. For instance, he believed that Hume was conspiring against him, which may have been partly true. And Voltaire accused him of burning down the theater at Geneva in 1768.²

Devon Hollahan – Paranoid android via Flickr

Some say that Rousseau was paranoid during this period. But I prefer to think of him as confusing actual and perceived threats.

When people are threatened, possibly traumatized and lied to, and all they have is their intuition to guide them, it’s hardly surprising that they make interpretive mistakes. They sense the bad vibes from others, which are real. But unless they train themselves to treat every perceived threat as a hypothesis instead of a fact, they could become overwhelmed and see some non-threats as threats.³

Rousseau also took some heat for his views on religion, which challenged both Catholic and Calvinist teachings. Rousseau was a precursor to those Romantics who see God in natural creation and society as something other and potentially corrupting. He rejected the belief in original sin and was upset that his views gained much criticism while the religious authorities were indifferent to the atheistic philosophers of the day.4

Related » Enlightenment

The house where Rousseau was born at number 40, Grand-Rue. – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau

² Ibid. Hume had offered to filter and forward Rousseau’s more important incoming mail, to which Rousseau agreed. But there is some evidence that Hume also read Rousseau’s outgoing mail, which was not agreed upon. This only goes to show that creeps who somehow think they’re justified in violating personal privacy – just because they can – have been around for a very long time. It’s not something unique to the cyber age.

³ Of course, it’s not easy to support or reject these hypotheses because some threatening people are pathological liars and polished fakers. As for those generating the bad vibes, I believe God will deal with them – fairly – in good time.

4 This situation has been tentatively explained by the sociological “in-group / out-group” theory. According the theory, people in an in-group feel more threatened or irritated by an out-group when the out-group shares some but not all of the in-group’s views and practices. So for example, some Americans and Canadians look down on and insult one another because inhabitants share some but not all elements with the other country. But neither Americans nor Canadians become emotionally invested or insulting toward peaceful, faraway lands that are fundamentally different. Most just couldn’t care less. It’s the partial similarity that stirs up discontent between in-groups and out-groups.

 Trump and the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ (3quarksdaily.com)

  New New Left Ideology Controls the Democratic Party (americanthinker.com)

 The Concept of Facts Is Newer Than You Think (time.com)

 Scots sick and tired of Sturgeon’s independence referendum ‘rabble rousing’ (express.co.uk)

 Eurozone economy overtakes UK as France and Germany accelerate (telegraph.co.uk)

 [Nelson Lund] Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Not a nut, not a leftist and not an irresponsible intellectual (washingtonpost.com)