Friday, November 18, 2005

Folly

I haven't read Plato in four years. If nothing else, he is a wonderful rhetorician, he escapes most of the hopeless situations he finds himself in by shifting the vocabulary towards more mystical, loosely defined terms. Nevertheless, I remember being very open to his brand of thinking when I read him at 19. Now I find myself frustrated and yearning for a less ambiguous language. I guess this is basically also the history of philosophy as it moves toward (I couldn't help but peek), the last chapter: symbolic logic. Well, we'll get to that...



Russell covers briefly the evolution of scientific thought concerning the motion of the planets. The Pythagoreans hypothesized that the planets move in circles around the sun, but the idea was made unpopular by Aristotle, who argued for a geocentric model of the universe. The heliocentric thesis was later revived by Copernicus, then overturned by Kepler, who found that the planets move in ellipses around the sun. Later, Newton discovered that the movements are not even exact ellipses.

All this serves as a metaphor for the evolution of Plato's idea of the Good. Although not a very good idea (hah), it gave philosophers a starting-off point. In other words, "This piece of scientific history illustrates a general maxim: that any hypothesis, however absurd, may be useful in science, if it enables a discoverer to conceive things in a new way."

This seems to fit art as well as it does science. I had been thinking about it not too long ago as it pertains to music. A musical hypothesis might consist in particular melodic, timbral, rhythmic, harmonic move; a certain way of introducting or resolving tension, etc. Many of these "hypotheses" will not turn out, but only through great folly will something truly great be discovered. This seems to me the most adequate argument in favor of avant-garde or experimental musics I can offer, the occasional feeling of stunning, though unpolished innovation.

To begin, to hypothesize is absurd and can be quite embarrasing. Indeed, how difficult it is for something to be created from nothing. Just look at the folly that resonates throughout this first post. Let our errors verge on cataclysm!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Philosophy in the Hellenic World

This book is as much history as it is philosophy - the story of how ideas shaped culture, the way culture then shaped ideas, and why we ended up thinking the way we do. It was published in 1945, so I suppose it was fairly important to Russell to figure out where ideas came from and why.

This approach is important to me because it seems that the passing of knowledge and culture is the most important thing in a given human's life. Imagine being born in the wilderness, with no knowledge of numbers or God -- this is where Russell begins in the history of human culture. It feels to me that I was born with an understanding that zero was an obvious concept. Perhaps more importantly, I feel I was born with the idea that social equality is the equivalent of justice. This surely wasn't so - there was a human who had to be the first to multiply, and another to recognize the passing of seasons.

Greygreywolfwolf recently said to me that "we are residing in the substance of other people's minds."

So, we start with the early Greek philosophers, who spent much of their time wondering whether the fundamental substance of life was air, or water, or fire, or earth, and finally concluding that it was all four. Another school held that there was a more fundamental building block -- atoms -- that composed all of matter. I don't know whether to be astounded that anybody without a microscope could even conceive of this, or to assume that even the first humans were considering this possibility. A similarly fantastic thing to me is the idea that stars are a great distance away. What could lead anybody to think that stars are millions of miles distant? Perhaps it took merely climbing a mountain and noting that their size had not changed at all. I don't know that I'll ever understand what any culture without a telescope thought of stars, and that saddens me. [Note: after writing this, I read passages later in the book that suggest most of our knowledge of space comes originally from lunar eclipses, which very clearly showed the Earth being round, and the moon being very far away. Sweet.]

At any rate, Russell says these earlier philosophers were "interested in everything -- meteors and eclipses, fishes and whirlwinds, religion and morality; with a penetrating intellect they combined the zest of children." It would be exciting to live in a time when scientific truths hadn't been so convincingly elicited. These days, it's very hard to think differently from physicists and astronomers. I think mostly of the declining biodiversity on earth, but the great dearth of ideas these days is saddening, too.

I am skirting the real issue I want to discuss, which is the handing down of ideas across generations. Plato lived about 25 centuries ago. If you assume an average of about five generations per century (Spartans, for example, did not have children until they were in their twenties, so I think that civilization has decided this the best decade to become a parent; we are, at any rate, only interested in a mean age of child-bearing). This means that there are 125 generations between you, the reader, and Plato. Only 125 parents have raised children since he discovered the awful possibility of the cave. I don't know if we can understand the passing of human time in any better way than thinking of generations -- my grandfather, for instance, knew people who fought in the Civil War. This makes the evolution of western ideas seem not so grand at all, but in fact rather short.

I want further to think about the difference between reality and memory, because I think such a gap exists not only for individual brains but for culture as well. Depending on the event, and the wisdown of a person, it may take many many years for her to decide the true meaning of the outcome. Why, we wonder, could this love not come to be? What did I learn from being 20 years old? Although we may never come to a single answer, we certainly narrow in on one, at which point the purpose of the experience was justified and we move on. The lesson becomes implicit. History, I believe, must behave similarly. Our cultural memory of the Civil War is essentially implict, whereas for my grandfather it must have been much more real.

Consider the State House in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the very top (the whole structure is 30 floors; it stands out like a dreamy temple-grain silo rising off the plains). There are mosaics dedicated to all aspects of human culture - agriculture, the arts, war. The war portrayed, however, is dedicated not to the First World War - which was being fought as the tiles were being affixed - but the Civil War. Such an affect that war had had on the country that fifty years later, it was still The War.


Still, the only way we can understand something is if we finally think it for ourselves - let another person reside in our own mind, or let us reside in theirs. Amazing that we are shaped by ideas 125 generations old.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A History of Western Philosophy

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Greygreywolfwolf and I began our new quest for knowledge. Our first book is A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, so read along and comment if you like. We'll have three weeks to deal with the repercussions of living in Russell's mental world, then move on to something new.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Universal Forces

Ok, so we continue to be bombarded with questions about whether this project is truly "occult" and have received numerous emails asking for clarification. I'll go over it one more time. 3, 6, 9 are the important numbers here (see my last post), the numbers that assert themselves over and over throughout the process. What would be the significance of these numbers? First of all, remember that 3 is the number of the triune God of the Judeo-Christian mythology -- father, son, holy ghost. 3 is a holy number that represents "the good." Secondly, you'll recall that 6 is the "number of the beast" mentioned in Revelations. 6 is associated with the forces of evil in many of the world's religions. Now, combining 3 and 6, the forces of good and evil, justice and injustice, etc., we produce 9. 9 are the number of months the human fetus lives in the womb before it is birthed. 9 represents creation; as we read the books the universe has selected for us, we will recreate ourselves, giving birth continuously. Finally, one ought to use a pentagram penny instead of a regular penny for the coin tosses.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More on Numerology

Note also:

Of the 36 books, 24 are mutually un-read, whereas 12 are individually unread. 12+12=24+12=36. 12*3=36. 12, 24, 36: all digits 1-6 are here represented but for 5, which is prime. Each reader initially chooses 6 individually unread books. 6*2=12. 6*4=24. 6*6=36. 2, 4, 6. This number is reduced in 1/2, leaving 3. 3*2=6. 3, 6, 12, 24, 36.

Please consider that 24 writ backwards is 42, and when the first of 12 becomes last, the result is 21. 21*2=42.

As we may discuss in reading our first book, A History of Western Philosophy, numbers have greater power than a single person can imagine. It is left to the Pythagorean reader of our text to discover the meaning of the numerology in our system. Their true significance lie in dictating my fellow reader's and my forthcoming knowledge. You and we have numbers to thank for insight. The occult question resides in who or what provides these numbers.