Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mating the First Four Speeches of the Symposium

Mating the First Four Speeches of the Symposium,
plus My Digressions

Eros, Dionysus, Artisan

Phaedrus lays the pillars of thought for this discussion by painting, with broad strokes and blinding highlights, a picture (Artisan) of Love from the role of the deity to the role of the child beloved. Phaedrus describes an overpowering, erotic and sexual Love (Eros) that revels in its excesses (Dionysus) of Shame and Pride in order to bring unity of purpose.

Phaedrus does not get deeply into what Love is, though his speech does lay the foundation upon which the others build on. He argues that Eros is one of the most ancient entities, preceded only by Chaos and Earth. Phaedrus thus declares that Love is a primal God, powerful and universal. Eros, it is implied, is therefore only constrained by the Laws of Chaos and Earth, and not by any of the Gods or mortals that come after him. As such, Eros deserves honor and respect. Mortal Humans infused by Love can be lifted through the raw passions of Shame and Pride to heroics that please the Gods. Phaedrus gives the example of an army of male soldiers made up of mature lovers and their immature beloveds. He states they would be undefeatable because, in the company of their lovers, Eros would cause them to experience all-encompassing Pride in succeeding, and all encompassing Shame if they fail. Phaedrus thinks that wish for one and the fear of the other are the natural effects of Love, and are the only way to ascend to great achievements. He describes Love in its pure form as properly being from a mature man for an immature boy. He also claims that beauty is a characteristic of the loved one, and not of the lover.

I find fault in his portrayal of the avoidance of Shame and the attainment of Pride as constructive forces. In moderation they can be a part of a holistic experience, but in the all-or-nothing world of Phaedrus these emotions are, to my thinking, fatally destructive. His description of Love as one-sided, with Eros within one causing him to love another is restrictively selfish and self-obsessed. The requirement that the loved one have Beauty, or at least more of it than the lover, only strengthens the self-centered nature of this Love. This is a controlling emotion he is describing, a master that needs a slave. But then he claims the Gods honor more the loved one who loves back, then the lover. Perhaps the loved one is not a slave, but a pet. I don't know quite what to make of the sexual mores he shows me, except to highlight that sexual customs are chaotic -- Chaos being one of two that have power over Love in this scenario. Since his thoughts are control oriented I would have to say that his sexual preference for youth indicates the same thing then as it does now: inability to have a relationship on an equal basis, and a weakness that necessitates controlling children. Is it a cultural or emotional disability? Both.

Nomos, Epimetheus, Guardian

Pausanias delineates two levels of Love, one divine and one common, and lists the rules that are designed to harvest good Love in society (Nomos). Pausanias is stubborn in his beliefs, though well intentioned and, in his mind, caring (Epimetheus). Pausanias makes a clear distinction between the group he belongs to, and all other groups. Together with the customs he describes, that shows a clear need to belong, and in that belonging be confident that his views are legitimate (Guardian).

Pausanias starts off by giving more detail to Phaedrus' foundation by splitting Love away from the God Eros, and into the province of two Goddesses (yet he strangely calls them by the male pronoun, regardless), one divine (Urania) and one base (Pandemos). He claims Love is not in itself a noble emotion, it depends on what Love causes us to do, and how we do it. But he argues that if others recognize Love as the impelling motion within us, we are allowed more latitude by society in our actions. He also argues there are no rules in Love because the emotion clouds judgment. The Divine aspect represents a love that needs a caring relationship, while the Common aspect wants only momentary sexual fulfillment. Pausanias then descends into a diatribe of rules, regulations and their wherefores that society puts on the proper application of Love. He also deplores the concepts of Love in communities that have different opinions than he.

I was kind to Pausanias in describing his ideal relationship as a "caring" one. That he thinks it is a caring relationship is certain. However, it strikes me as nothing other than a predatory, or perhaps parasitic, relationship. He denounces any kind of Love that is not between a mature man and immature boy. This strikes me as simply rationalizing his own preferences. That there were societies with different mores that were familiar to him, and that he could not see past his own prejudice and lust indicates to me that Pausanias is a cultural barbarian, a common rednecked drunk stuck in his sophomoric fantasies. That Athens was also open to a wide variety of relationships, even between males and females of equal maturity, you would never know from Pausanias' speech. He is extremely myopic in his views. He goes so far to make an argument that heavenly Love is purely Male, yet even in his example he can't quite rid himself of the Female in the form of Aphrodite.

Agape, Apollo, Idealist

Eryximachus emphasizes Harmony (Idealist) and Order (Apollo) in all things, and the divine nature of true Love (Agape).

Eryximachus expands the domain of Love to include animals, plants and the entire Universe. He goes so far as to equate Love to the physical health of the body, and in so doing demonstrates that the principles of Love can be applied to all things. He continues upon this line comparing Love to Harmony, using musical harmony as an example. Indeed, Eryximachus states that all science is simply the knowledge of how Love, the absolute power, operates within that specific field. Eryximachus further distinguishes the split of Heavenly Love (Urania) and Common Love (who he designates as Polyhymnia). The high Love is noble and beautiful, while the low Love is ugly and disgraceful. When the divine Love is in control of anything, as in the weather, all things are mild, pleasant and abundant. When the base Love is in control there are storms, blights, disease and all manner of ill winds blow. The divine Love is Harmony; the common Love is Discord to Eryximachus. Finally he reaches the art of divination, and describes it as attempting to maintain a balance of Heavenly and Common Love in our relations with the Gods. Love is absolute when guided by temperance and justice. This is an evolution of the argument at this point, because Eryximachus takes Pausanias' division of the two kinds of Love and firmly places each at opposite ends of a spectrum. He councils aspiring to a careful balance of both in order to enjoy the pleasures of the base Love while remaining within the saving grace of the divine Love.

I agree with Eryximachus about divination as I think it is an attunement of the individual Spirit to the Collective Spirit of the Universe (i.e. Deity). But I begin to diverge from Eryximachus when he divides love into good and evil, and attributes all things bad to the Muse of Many Songs. That is quite dastardly treatment of fair Polyhymnia, I must say. He conceives a dark (evil) and light (good) side to everything, and the state of anything is determined by the interplay of darkness and light. I agree with his concept of Harmony, but find fault in his dismissal of Polyhymnia as an evil and dark influence. This Muse could serve extraordinarily well, I reckon, as a patron spirit of philosophers. I would rather he look elsewhere for his personification of Lust, but I understand him to be saying that there is one right way to Love, and many wrong ways. To this I do not agree, or else philosophy itself is evil. I would reverse and add a twist to the example he defines, with the Many being the way to the light (good), and the One and Only way leading to darkness (evil). But even the One is not wholly evil as it does illuminate a wisdom. I think only the absence (i.e. refusal) of a path is darkness (evil). The light of one lamp holds back the darkness, while the light of many lamps reveals what is hidden by the darkness. The light of No-Lamp is the Paradox here.

Philia, Prometheus, Rationalist

Aristophanes seeks to develop a logical progression of events to explain (Rationalist) the Idealist goal of communal harmony (Philia) within a system full of discord that prevent true lovers from finding each other and reuniting forever despite an unending attempt (Prometheus) to do so.

Aristophanes speaks out of turn as he was tending a case of the hiccups caused by overindulgence, and could not speak before this. Evidently he was interrupting continuously during the speech by Eryximachus, and that matches his speech in one aspect. The hiccups were discordant to the harmonious speech of Eryximachus, and now Aristophanes attempts to rationalize Love as a Discordant state attempting to find Harmony. He uses a fable of the origin of humans from an ancient double-sided, circular human being in order to make this clear. Aristophanes works out all the details with explanations aplenty. He makes a logical progression from the beginning to the present. He states the goal is to recreate the beginning, but since we are now Two instead of One we cannot remain joined. Therefore we must wander through life, occasionally united with our other half through sexual union. However, without divine intervention we can only merge for brief moments before wandering through time and space again as two related, but separate individuals.

There is much truth to what Aristophanes says about discordance. I think it is important to pay attention to the discordance in order to perceive the harmony. It is akin to a Beethoven symphony. The music rises time and again to near crescendo (discordance), only to back away and allow the ever-present melody (the counterpoint that creates harmony) to reaffirm itself. As the symphony grows, the loud and the soft build off each other until they progress, note by note, to the point they merge to create a unified climax. So we need to heed the Dionysonian discords within the Promethean struggle to capture the raw passion of Eros so that we can attain the harmony of Apollo. Ta-da!

There is also some truth, I think, to Aristophanes' concept of true lovers being part of the same whole. But since I am a more Apollonian sort, I see the potentiality of everything in the Universe being part of that same great Whole. Thus all of us have the ability of becoming lovers in the harmonious symphony that, to me, is the Communal Spirit (i.e. Deity). OK, so I'm still a hippie at heart. Regardless of my orientation, if, as I put forth in my last homework, the Love each of us seeks is the common Spirit within everything, then there is potential for Love to be found in everything. To go further than last week's homework on this topic, that point of light within everything, each Thing's Spirit, glitters along a spider web of continuity, all linked to all else. The same quivering web thread that emanates from Beethoven finds itself connected to tribal music, to Joan Jett, to all people. The vibrating web doesn't stop there, but continues on to Animals, Plants, Rock, and all the way down to Atom. Past Atom on this road is Idea. Idea creates Movement, and thus the symphony begins anew. Everything exists through the vibrations that reverberate through our collective consciousness -- which is Love, which is Spirit, which is Deity, which is Idea. This is The Logos.

The concept of having only one true love, as Aristophanes declares, has caused a lot of unnecessary grief and misery through the ages. Add this concept to Phaedrus and his love that needs a master-slave relationship, to Pausanias and his love which is a predatory relationship, and to Eryximachus who declares good and evil types of Love, and we see why our culture's mainstream sexual mores are in crisis. These four speeches form the foundation of our own society's deleterious attitudes and laws regarding Love. At this stage let me say I find fault with Aristophanes' statements that perfect love is about the union of two like individuals. I know through the properties of magnetism that opposites attract and like repels. As above, so below. It seems to me that the attraction of opposites is greater than any number of superficial bonds of sameness. There is a magic about it that is omnipotent . . . barring ol' Paradox, of course. It is telling that the myth describes sexual union as the only way to become one again in this halved state. I know from experience that the union of Love is not dependent on a sexual union. By this rendition of the story Aristophanes kneels his Love at the feet of Lust. There is another shortcoming of the fable, this one more serious. The allegory doesn't stand up to scrutiny regarding the Androgynous ones (male-female) and the Female ones (female-female). Aristophanes focuses the lesson on the Male ones (male-male). The comparison of sowing seed and reproducing like cicadas from the ground, while poetic, applies only to the Male. The Female is not a factor. The tale describes a wholly Male oriented progression that minimizes the Female role to an object of mere insult, when it does not relegate it to triviality. This is a polarizing and destructive counterpoint to the Neolithic matriarchal society that is generally held to have existed before the Bronze Age. I have to conclude that the fable as told by Aristophanes is not about harmony at all. The absence of the Female aspect of this yarn shuts out half the Human Race.

On the other hand, I think in his fable he tantalizingly describes the geometric Lemniscate of Bernoulli, which has the algebraic expression -- (x^2+y^2)^2=2c^2(x^2-y^2) -- which is not understandable by me anymore, if it ever was, but it strikes me intuitively that it resonates with relativity to this topic. If it is not applicable, it is still a path to knowledge. However I cannot find my way in that direction without a guide. In any case, a lemniscate is the result of two circles having a mutual attraction. The result being a warping toward each other that results in a single conjoined point. This is called a polar curve in geometric parlance. The formula, when plotted, is what we use as the symbol for infinity. Aristophanes' contention, I think, is that we travel along the curves of the lemniscate, and when we meet our other half in the middle, for one glorious moment we are One again. I extrapolate from that to mean we seek to merge the two halves of that lemniscate into a circle by a permanent and total union of the two polar orbits into one.

I have a question: what is Hate?

The gift from the Muse Polyhymnia that aided inspiration for this writing was: Lillian Eichler Watson (ed.), 1951, "Light From Many Lamps", USA, Simon & Schuster).

Parmenides of Elea

A Pre-Socratic Philosopher

Why Parmenides? Why return to learn from one I gave such a scathing review of so recently? Why write about one who's philosophical rival, Herclitus, I find myself in much agreement? Precisely because I disagree with Parmenides I have the most to learn from him. If I can push aside my prejudices that hang like heavy curtains in a theater, blocking the view to the stage, perhaps I can see the play.

If I may quote the perhaps fictional shade of Neo-Platonist Philosopher, Hypatia of Alexandria: "To know one philosophy is to know none." Between Heraclitus and Parmenides I originally prefered Heraclitus by a large margin. But our discourse in class showed me that I had been blind to what Parmenides was saying, and I did not agree with Heraclitus as much as I at first thought. Listening to my fellow classmates I realized I had let the rhetoric of Parmenides stuff up my ears, and I could not hear the kernal of Truth he held. Therefore I have three things I must do: acknowledge where my prejudices come from, then return to Parmenides without the blinding darkness of pre-conceptions, and finally to learn from Parmenides.

My prejudices are easy to discern in this case, yet still difficult to eradicate. Parmenides Philosophy strikes me as having the same foundation as the argument used by the Religious Right in this present time for so many issues: what they believe is true, and any facts to the contrary will be ignored. Therefore, seeing this, I brought with me all the baggage of present-day politics to the ancient philosophy of Parmenides. I blocked out any agreement I had with Parmenides, and focused on the disagreements. I cast Parmenides in my mind, not as W. C. Fields as I had characterized in my previous homework, but subconciously as any one of a number of minor political-religious zealots with egos and agendas far beyond their stature mentally or emotionally, but unfortunately not beyond their financial reach.

So, casting aside those notions I revisit the house of Parmenides. The most striking thing to me at this fleeting moment is that I fell prey to his Third Path of Inquiry that he warns so strongly against:

"#3. The one on which mortals, knowing nothing, wander, two-headed, for helplessness in their breasts guides their wandering minds and they are carried, deaf and blind alike, dazed, uncritical tribes, for whom being and not-being are thought the same and yet not the same, and the path of all runs in opposite directions. For never shall this be proved: that things that are not are. But do restrain your thought from this path of inquiry, and do not let habit, born from much experience, compel you along this path, to guide your sightless eye and ringing ear and tongue. But judge by reason the highly contentious disproof that I have spoken."

So with hopefully open eyes and clear ears I find that I now wonder if in his other statements he is struggling with the concepts of Zero and Infinity. I had a hint of it before, as a blind man scents the presence of another, but I had the particulars all wrong. Can he be trying to define Divinity within mathematical conext? Or do I still focus on the shadowy after-images of my own pre-conceived notions when I seek only for Parmenides? Is he speaking only of what he considers the faulty belief of Opposites? I have to ask someone who knows more than I, and so I ask you as Teacher: Is he speaking of Zero and Infinity in any way, even though as concepts they were not yet named, or is that just me? In either case, his words have caused me to think more on exactly what Zero and Infinity are.

Aside from Zero and Infinity, the aspect that strikes me most is still the conflict between the viewpoint that what "Is" must always "Be" and cannot be what "Is Not," and Heraclitus' opposing argument that Reality is Paradox and must be ascertained by Collective Perception because Objective Thought alone leads elsewhere. Am I seeing the conflict between Deductive Thought (Parmenides) and Inductive Thought (Heraclitus) being played out for me?

Parmenides claims no thing has an Opposite, for a Thing must always be Itself and not the Opposite of Itself. He claims that a Thing and its supposed Opposite are still the same Thing, and therefore what "Is" can not be what "Is Not."

At the utterance of this last phrase outside of school these past two weeks I have found a universal response -- that of running away. The common response has been to flee my presence with all semblance of haste, just as I had retreated from Parmenides in my prejudice.

Is Parmenides' Objective Truth actually Deductive Thought? He makes some good arguments: he illustrates the wrongness of Subjective Thought (Doxa, superstition) by revealing its assumption that Day and Night are Opposites. But Day and Night are indeed aspects of the same Greater Thing (the Earth spinning in Space as it orbits the Sun), and both are not the absence of the other but more a different intensity of the same substance (i.e. light). But that they are a Single Thing or Opposites, what does it matter? Inductive Thought can see that same Reality.

Heraclitus: 114. "Hesiod, whom so many accept as their wise teacher, did not even understand the nature of day and night; for they are one." (57)

So is Parmenides really arguing against Heraclitus, or has Parmenides fallen prey to his own prejudices as I did, and has ascribed to Heraclitus' Philosophy some definition that is false? Parmenides rails against mortal superstition in his Doxa:

8d (Sentence 1&2) "Here I stop my trustworthy speech to you and thought about Objective Truth. From here on, learn the subjective beliefs of mortals; listen to the deceptive ordering of my words."

Does he consider that Heraclitus uses deceptive words? But Parmenides goes on from there to detail a host of superstitions that, I suppose, were common to the uneducated in his day. But Heraclitus was not without insight, and I do not see the superstitions of the masses in the words of Heraclitus. So Parmenides entire Doxa has nothing to do with the perceived argument between him and Heraclitus. Parmenides uses examples of mistaken beliefs to illustrate what he means by Doxa. But in so doing he lays a trap for himself, because if he espouses Deductive Thought, as I think he does, then he is the one who comes from a set of Beliefs to fit Reality around. Heraclitus, as linked to Inductive Thought as I see him, is the one without preconceived notions. If I am wrong on this premise I am hopeful a third day of class will show me the error of my thought. But in this fleeting moment (now gone), I am sure of my conclusion.

What Parmenides calls Objective Truth, I assume he defines it as something that can be reached through Deductive Thought as opposed to Perception or Inductive Thought.

I cannot deny Paradox unless I deny my Perception. If I deny my Perception, I then become a slave of the mind that makes the most convincing argument, regardless of the facts. But then, am I better off as a slave of our Collective Perception? No. That point I also learned from the discourse in class.

If denying Perception is closed to me, I am left with denying Paradox. That might be where Parmenides wants to go. Perception reveals the Universe as full of Paradox. Is Paradox Real? Or is it a Perception of Things I Do Not Understand?

Parmenides argument itself appears to be paradoxical to me now, what with conclusions on perceptions being pre-determined. And if it Is, yet Is Not because Paradox does not exist, there is only Doxa, are his words then an example of what he argues against?

I now flee from my own words for now, and go on to a slightly different spiral of thought.

Since multiple people can agree by using Inductive Thought on their Perceptions of Paradox in their separate Realities, it seems that Deductive Thought (or Holy Dogma, for that matter) might not be enough to Know a Thing. However, Perception is not Universal. There can be a Paradox in Perception as well. Multiple people can Perceive different Realties, even conflicting ones. In this case, of necessity, Deductive Thought must be applied to reach a conclusion about what is actually Perceived.

As well, sometimes what I Perceive is Unknown to me, and then I must apply Deductive Thought to have a frame of reference from whence to extrapolate the Definition of what I Perceive, as best I can. Deductive Thought can help me find a Path I could not see.

Perception (Inductive Thought) and Objective Truth (Deductive Thought) are both necessary for us to Know Reality. Is that what I have learned by revisiting Parmenides?

Am I a slave to Perception? Do I deceive myself with my ever-changing Perception? Is there a Constant that is hidden behind Change? Or, is simply the Perception of what is named Opposites, Change and Constant, one and the same Thing in different quantities? That there is no Pure Extreme -- no pure Change, no pure Constant?

Am I stuck in an eddy of the river? Is my Perception limited to this backwater, only dimly aware of the main current of the river? Is my Perception and the Perception of Others like different regions of a river -- some experience the eddy, some the main current, some the space inbetween eddy and current? Do we All think we agree on our Collective Perception because we All agree on the river, but on closer inspection find that we disagree on its Nature? Is this the connection between Doxa and Heraclitus Philosophy that Parmenides wants to make?

What is Paradox? Is it Not Doxa? Or am I mistaken in my assumptions? Am I using Deductive Thought or Inductive Thought? Or are both simply aspects of the same Thing – Thought?

Ouch! Again I flee to another spiral of thought.

Heraclitus: 19. "Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain." (18)

Expect the Unexpected, says Heraclitus. Expectation is Surprise. Change is Constant. Above is Below. Within is Without. Life is Death. Paradox is Reality. Chaos is Order.

8d (Sentence 3) "For they made up their minds to name two forms, one of which it is not right to name at all (here is where they have gone astray) and have distinguished them as opposite in bodily form and have assigned to them marks distinguishing them from one another."

There is no Opposite, says Parmenides. Only the Same in different aspects. Is the Thing an equal mix of what I Perceive to be Opposites, and so in naming the ends of the Thing as Opposites, instead of naming the middle, are we creating illusions?

Is there no Zero, and no Infinity? Is the Universe Finite and All-Encompassing within that Finiteness? Are Zero and Infinity constructs of Faith and Dogma without basis in Reality? Are Zero and Inifinity actually Doxa (i.e. Superstition)?

Do I run from the Objective Truth of Parmenides? Do I flee whenever I approach the Divine -- what I perceive to be the underlying Truth behind all things? Am I afraid of perceiving Reality? Does fear of the Unknown keep me in Perceived Reality, disallowing Objective Truth? Am I deluded by the Collective Perception of like-minded individuals in the false conclusion that our tenuous agreement on our Reality Perception is, in fact, What Is?

Are both Heraclitus and Parmenides right? Are they both wrong? By eithers philosophy the other is what Is Not. But that is a Paradox, and that itself is a Paradox within a Paradox.

Does Paradox equal Paradox? Round and round I go. Is this the lesson? Is this the point I start 'analyzing everything to death?' Constant Change is what I Perceive. Is this Reality? Or have I done too many drugs in my youth? What do the Blind hear? What do the Deaf see? Is the world of the Autistic real or perception?

Reality is Fiction. Nothing is Something. Is this Parmenides or Heraclitus? Is this the point where Heraclitus and Parmenides meet, proving that the Opposite Philosophies are One and the Same? Were they never Opposites, but different aspects of the same Philosophy?

I do Not Know, and therefore do I Know? Where do I go from here? Can I go anywhere from here? Stop me now, is this the birth of Why?

What did I learn from Parmenides? Was I studying Parmenides, or myself? Is Change possible? Is there Free Will? In either case, in this unchanging but fleeting moment I learned that I do not know what I think I know.

Later . . .

The Median! Ah-ha! (a small eureka) The Next Step. Yin-Yang. One extreme drives the Other, gives substance to the Other, together they are One. The Line with Opposites at the ends to represent the Whole is better depicted, for me, as a Circle with equal halves pushing the other half into motion.

The Philosopher of Alexandria

Hypatia (355?370-415 CE)

Why Hypatia? The answer is simply because I wanted to know what her philosophy was. Nobody can convincingly deny that women have a different perspective than men, and so for there to be any philosophy at all it stands to reason that both men and women must contribute to the understanding. As it happens, I had investigated her many years ago after reading a fiction novel based on her life. What I re-discovered was a long-neglected origin of a branch of my own current personal philosophy, such as it is.

History does not have much to share with us about Hypatia. What little history does give us, though, is enough to make us wonder.

The daughter of Theon, a renowned scholar and mathematician, Hypatia was also a mathematician, as well as astronomer, of famous reputation. We know Hypatia wrote evolutionary commentaries on the Arithmetica of Diophantus of Alexandria, on the Conics of Apollonius of Perga, and on the astronomical canon of Ptolemy. Philosophically her specialties were gnosiology, ontology-metaphysics and axiology (aka, insight of life, definition of life, and values of life). Her expertise was undeniable. Many other learned and influential persons sought her out as a teacher. She was so respected that she participated in the governance of Alexandria and the surrounding region as an advisor. Her morality and ethics were exemplary. If we can believe half of what the romanticists have made of her legend, then Hypatia lived the Platonic Life as no other had before her. Regardless of the exaggerations in the fictional accounts of her life, it is definite that she was held in very high regard by a majority of her peer contemporaries.

It is known that she argued for discourse over violence, tolerance over bigotry, secular authority over religious authority. In any age these views will brand a person dangerous to authority, but here against the newly tyrannical Church that was about to plunge Europe into the Dark Ages, her views could not be tolerated. That she was a woman was even more proof of the dangerous devil within her. She was assassinated in the most brutal fashion, very probably at the command of the so-called Saint Cyril I, The Pillar of the Faith. This particular pillar is unable to hold its own weight, and may expose the fundamental flaw of what it attempts to uphold.

Her murder was never investigated. The memory of her has been expunged from almost all historical and scientific texts except Church documents that revile her. We have precious little trustworthy information of her. I find it difficult to believe that a male of her import would have been so thoroughly eradicated from the annals of humankind's achievements. True, some of her scientific work is known, but none of her esoteric philosophical work has yet survived -- not even her letters. However, we do have extensive writing of one of her students, a person named Synesius of Cyrene, the Bishop of Ptolemais. Hypatia was his only teacher, and so we can probably hear an echo of Hypatia in his works. I use the following passages as examples that he never forsook his teacher, and it should be noted that he died before Hypatia came into overt conflict with Cyril and the Church over her profound influence on the citizens of Alexandria and her students from all lands. The first quote is taken from a letter to The Elders upon his appointment as bishop. The second quote is taken from Synesius' address to a council of bishops, and titled "Against Andronicus." The third quote is from a letter to Hypatia. There are a number of other examples such as these in his Letters:

"If I am not forsaken by God, I shall then know that this office of Priesthood is not a decline from the realms of philosophy, but, on the contrary, a step upwards to them."

"I call to witness the God who rules over all, and whose hidden mysteries I have espoused for your sakes, that away from human preoccupations and ambitions I have come alone to Him in many places and at many times. Prostrate and upon my knees, I have in suppliant guise prayed for death rather than the priesthood. For a certain reverence and love for the leisure I had found in philosophy held me to her, in whose behalf I thought I ought to do and say all things."

"I seemed destined to play the part of an echo. Whatever sounds I catch, these I repeat."

There is much to say about Synesius, but this is not about him. I will, however, read all his letters in order to try to catch a glimpse of Hypatia for myself. So far I find Synesius full of wit, insight, honesty and courage. No doubt he learned, at least, to hone these traits at the feet of his teacher.

Below are quotes that some attribute to Hypatia. I must be very wary though, these are without doubt fictional, being brash attempts to vocalize what is perceived to be her teachings. But then, how much of the body of work attributed to Kung Fu-tze is actually his? Very little, if any, but that does not prevent us from accepting them as "his." What is good for man is good for woman in this regard. If these are only accurate as summations of her thought, that is enough reason to study them as hers. However, even if these words are entirely the work of fiction, they still deserve their day in the sun -- and if we must attribute them to someone there is no better choice, I think, than the Philosopher of Alexandria, Hypatia.

"All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final. Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all." (also attributed to Theon speaking to Hypatia)

"Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child-mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after-years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth - often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you can not get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable."

"Neo-Platonism is a progressive philosophy, and does not expect to state final conditions to men whose minds are finite. Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond."

"To know but one religion is not to know that one. In fact, superstition consists in this one thing - faith in one religion, to the exclusion of all others."

"To know one philosophy is to know none. They are all comparative, and each serves as a small arc of the circle. A man living in a certain environment, with a certain outlook, describes the things he sees; and out of these, plus what he imagines, is shaped his philosophy of life. If he is repressed, suppressed, frightened, he will not see very much, and what he does see will be out of focus."

"Spiritual strabismus and mental myopia are the results of vicarious peeps at the universe. All formal religions have taught that to look for yourself was bad."

"Had there been no Plato, there would have been no Plotinus (i.e. Hypatia's immediate prototype); although Plotinus surpassed Plato, yet it is plain that Plato, the inspirer of Plotinus and so many more, is the one man whom philosophy cannot spare. Hail, Plato!"

"To rule by fettering the mind through fear of punishment in another world is just as base as to use force."

If these are truly the thoughts of Hypatia, if not the actual words, I can understand why the Church Elders wanted this woman dead.

If only they had failed . . .

Heraclitus & Parmenides

I. Heraclitus

It was difficult to choose only two Heraclitus Fragments to write about, especially since so many struck me as interesting. My first selection, therefore, must be the one that impressed me so many years ago I cannot remember when first I read it. But I know it was as a child in Catholic School that I first came to understand these words (which is in itself a paradox, but that is for another story).

"Men who love wisdom should acquaint themselves with a great many particulars." (3(35))

For me this has always translated into the term: "Jack-of-All-Trades." I have always interpreted "Jack-of-All-Trades" using the Yankee definition. That was how it was used by those close to me during my lifetime -- Connecticut Yankees of the tradesman class. They used the term to mean someone who is skilled in many trades. This also happens to be the original medieval meaning of the word as defined by the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" (William and Mary Morris, HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988) Even if one tacks on the more modern "master of none" to the end of the original I do not see that as a disparagement as so many others do. This I will explain below.

"Men who love wisdom" (also known as philosophers) does not have the same meaning as does the phrase: "a wise one." The same is true that a skilled craftsman is not the same thing as a master craftsman. But also true is that a skilled craftsman in many professions is neither the same thing as a skilled craftsman in one profession, nor an expert craftsman in one profession.

I may seem to be running in circles for no good reason, but there is method in this madness for I seek to exclaim that a Jack-of-All-Trades is a person who loves wisdom. The Jack is not a sciolist, rather the sciolist is the dark opposite, the photo-negative of the Jack. A sciolist being "one," as defined by Webster's Dictionary, "who knows many things superficially; a pretender to science; a smatterer." The Jack-of-All-Trades, on the other hand, is skilled in many things; the Jack is not a pretender.

Heraclitus might have defined a sciolist by another of his fragments: "Most people do not take heed of things they encounter, nor do they grasp them even when they have learned about them, although they think they do." (57(17)) Therefore Heraclitus makes, I think, a distinction here that gives us reason to infer that when he uses the word "acquainted" he means having more than a passing acquaintance, or in this context, "skilled."

Having a working and skilled knowledge of a great many particulars, to be a Jack-of-All-Trades in Yankee parlance, allows one to have a functional skill in many areas of knowledge. This enables the Jack to be able to do many different jobs without outside help. In other words, the breadth of the Jack's knowledge enables a self-sufficiency a degree above and beyond the ordinary, and especially much different than the "wise one" or master craftsman of a single skill. A master craftsman necessarily has devoted a lifetime in the pursuit of one Ideal, one trade or skill, to the exclusion of others. The skilled craftsman is competent, knowledgeable and is in no way lacking of the fundamentals of a specific trade. The difference between a skilled craftsman and a master craftsman is art. While both can construct quality products that will serve the purpose intended, the master crafts a work of art while the skilled crafts a functional piece. The products are the same in function but different, and the difference is perception -- i.e. art. But then, paradoxically, just as a tourist sees the exotic in a landscape that the native sees as mundane, the Jack sees the divine in what the expert sees as ordinary. Both are correct in their observations, but each perception leads the onlooker to different goals.

A Jack-of-All-Trades can perceive who is an actual expert in all the many fields, and who are merely skilled or even just pretenders. A Jack can grasp this even in the fields the Jack has relatively little knowledge of because a Jack also understands that everything is relative. In fact, the Jack can see the threads of relativity that paradoxically bind all things into one universe -- to see the divine in all things. It is this, I posit, that allows the Jack to be skilled in "all trades" -- that the Jack sees the connection between what he knows and what he doesn't know, and uses what he knows to understand the unknown. This is the result of the skill the Jack has honed, the skill of acquainting oneself with a great many particulars. So, once again paradoxically, the Jack finds that he has an expertise as well.

We know what Heraclitus said about "understanding" -- that "Human nature has no real understanding, only the divine nature has it." (61(78)) So whenever we find a way to real understanding we are finding a bit of the divine in our base nature. And while that may seem impossible, we must also remember what Heraclitus says about the nature of the paradoxical universe. If I may sum up his several known statements on paradox in my own words: expect the opposite of what you expect, but both will be true.

Therefore, human nature is base, and divine. Divine nature is noble, and human. Just as Herclitus proclaims in the fragment "Nature loves to hide itself." (17(123)), the divine and base hide themselves in each other. Just as he says in another fragment, "The fairest universe is but a heap of rubbish piled up at random." (40(124)). Here is the beginning of Chaos Theory.

And all of this revolves around, and is orbited by, the fragment "Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain." (19(18)) So, what is wisdom but the truth that hides in all things?

When I go down to the Quinebaug River for meditation, I arrive and see water, dirt, gravel, grass, trees, muck and remains of past human, animal and weather passage. As I meditate there quietly the surroundings come into focus and I see chipmunks, turtles, fish, crayfish, frogs, toads, as well as birds, plants and insects of many varieties. If I meditate a bit longer it becomes a web of relativity, independent yet connected, a dewdrop of the divine.

A Jack sees what the Fool is blind to, what the Knowledgeable only glimpse in one dimension, and what the Wise One understands completely but only in myopia. In my capacity as a public librarian, admittedly of the lowest rank not even deserving of the name librarian for I have no paper that proclaims me such, I have helped an elderly master craftsman, a sculptor of wood, a cabinetmaker of the highest order research particulars for his life's work -- a definitive encyclopedia on all aspects of 18th Century Yankee cabinetmaking. In so doing, time and again he comes to me, the lowest of librarians, to help him find some bit of information in a field other than his chosen one. Everything is indeed relative, and 18th century cabinetmaking does not exist in a vacuum. Many different skills and trades are necessary to get the raw material from a faraway land transformed into a finished product here. From merchant sailors to ship the exotic woods across the world, to stonemasons to build the buildings that the shipping community needs to support the industry, to toolmakers to design and forge the tools of the trade, and even to all the simple people who do the necessary odds and ends of life. It is all connected. When I help him find what he is looking for, the object of the search seems familiar to the point of being ordinary to me because it contains the thread of the divine that flows through everything. But he finds it as wondrous as a child finds a new toy. He also sees the thread of the divine as commonplace, but he is amazed that something so familiar to him in his chosen field can also be found in places not within his area of expertise.

And so I attempted to define the "philosopher," the lover of wisdom who is acquainted with a great many particulars, opposing him to the "wise one," by exhibiting the "Jack-of-All-Trades."

II. Heraclitus

While I rambled in spirals on the first Heraclitus fragment I chose, on this second one I will be direct and succinct.

"I have searched myself." (8(101))

As above, so below.

Perception colors all. To know how one's perception filters reality one must know oneself.

After I wrote the above, which I did honestly come up with out of my own mind while pondering the fragment -- I looked up the "as above, so below" quote to jog my memory of where it came from. To my surprise I found that it is ascribed to The Emerald Tablet and Hermes Trismegistus. That it, along with the precept "know thyself," form the foundation of ancient occultism as the Doctrine of Correspondences. That I have read that before I do not doubt. Also without doubt, I agree that these two Ideas are connected and important -- so much so that no other narrative need be given.

My knowledge is such that I know a little about a lot, and I don't waste brain cells worrying about who said what. All that matters to me at this point in my life is the connection between one Idea and Another. People are singular and transitory, Ideas fade in and out of vogue but live far longer than people. While it is interesting and sometimes informative and important to know who said what, the always-important part is The Idea.

I remember the Idea and its use, not the people or the dates. I can always look up the people and dates when they are needed, but the Idea is necessary for everyday life. In much the same way it is not important when the Battle of Thermopylae happened, or even who was involved, only that as an Idea it survives.

Obviously, I believe in the two Ideas, "know thyself" and "as above, so below," as Universal Truths. So for me there is naught else that needs be said.

III. Parmenides

Ah, the original snake oil peddler. No, I don't mean the original meaning: one who sells snake oil as a remedy for joint pain. Rather, I brand Parmenides with the later and current meaning, one who, with dubious credentials and boisterous hype, is exhorting a fictitious miracle cure. But there is some truth in what he says -- for the best lies contain obvious truths in order to misdirect the listener. I find it very difficult not to ascribe the character of W. C. Fields in "My Little Chickadee" to this person.

Reading Parmenides brings the concept of Zero to my mind. I will give Parmenides the benefit of the doubt that he knew not of the Idea of Zero -- even though by his own words that could not be so:

8a, Paragraph 2 "The decision on these matters depends on this: either It Is or It Is Not. But it has been decided, as is necessary, to let go the one as unthinkable and unnameable (for it is no true path), but to allow the other, so that it is, and is true. How could What-Is be in the future? How could it come-to-be? For if it came-to-be, it is not, nor is it if at some time it is going to be. Thus, coming-to-be is extinguished and perishing unheard of."

Perhaps I mistake his meaning, but according to what I read here he would exclaim that "Zero" always was, is and will be, yet since "Zero" is the Absence of What-Is it could not be. The Idea of Zero is a difficult one. I do not pretend to know all of its form. But I dare say that the Idea of Zero would give Parmenides fits.

8a, Paragraph 3 "Nor is it divisible, since it all alike is. Nor is there any more of it here than there, to hinder it from holding together, nor any less of it, but it is all a plenum, full of what-is. Therefore, it is all continuous, for what-is touches what-is."

Is he describing Zero or Infinity, or both? Has he, if this Idea is applied to Zero and Infinity, has he traveled full circle back to his starting point? Are Zero and Infinity different aspects of the same Concept? If we explore Zero will we find Infinity? If we explore Infinity will we find Zero?

5 "Wherever I begin, it is all one to me, for there I shall return again."

But wait, he seems to say in this following passage that there is no such thing as Infinity. No Infinity and no Zero.

8c "Since, then, there is an ultimate limit, it is completed from every direction like the bulk of a perfect sphere, evenly balanced in every way from the centre, as it must not be any greater or smaller here than there. For neither is there what-is-not, which could stop it from reaching its like, nor is there a way in which what-is could be more here and less there, since it all inviolably is. For equal to itself in every direction, it reaches its limits uniformly."

IV. Parmenides

He claims The Goddess speaks of What-Is. What is What-Is?

6 "Whatever can be spoken or thought of necessarily is, since it is possible for it to be, but it is not possible for nothing to be."

What does he mean that whatever can be thought of must be? Does a character or idea in a fictional story actually exist? What is Existence? Does Fictional Existence qualify as Existence? According to Parmenides it seems so.

8b It is the same thing, to think of something and to think that it Is, since you will never find thought without what-is, to which it refers, and on which it depends. For nothing is nor will be except what-is, since it was just this that Fate did shackle to be whole and unchanging; wherefore it has been named all things that mortals have established, persuaded that they are true: 'to come-to-be and to perish', 'to be and not to be' and 'to shift place and exchange bright colour'.

Does this mean that whatever anyone can think of, Is? For it cannot be what Is Not if it has been thought. But what of conflicting and incompatible Ideas? Can the Idea of Deity and the Idea of No Deity co-exist, not only in the separate minds of individual mortals but in our collective perception of Reality? Is there such a thing as a "collective perception of Reality," or do we simply ignore each other's realities for the sake of convenience?

If we invented Deity, is it actually Real? Is Belief enough to create Reality? Once created, does a Thing thereupon always Exist? Does The Deity have a reality separate from our thoughts? Must we have created the concept of Deity for it to exist? What if we never created the Idea of Deity? Would Deity therefore not exist because it was not thought of, or would it still exist outside our thought? What if the Idea of Deity was lost in the mists of time -- if we forgot Deity? Would it still exist?

I don't have the answers.

A Fictional Idea can be experienced as Real to believers. For example, Roman Catholics used to believe in Limbo because learned Catholic Theologians declared it must exist in order to hold the innocent souls who have never offended The Deity, yet had not been baptized. The Roman Catholic Church never taught the Idea of Limbo, but it survives nonetheless.

Purgatory. One Pope, speaking with the Infallibility of being The Deity's Representative on Earth, decreed Purgatory existed. The Vatican II Council decided to "continue the belief" in a cleansing fire that eradicates sin after death, but the Council does not go so far as to say Purgatory exists. Does the belief in it make it a reality?

Pope Gregory the Great, speaking with Infallibility, declared that Mary Magdelene was a prostitute. The Vatican II Council declared that Pope Gregory the Great was wrong. Many people still believe Mary Magdelene a prostitute even though many learned Theologians consider her now to have been an Apostle. How does she really exist? Is she Real only as the perception of the Many, or the perception of the Few? Or does she exist as she really was regardless of how we perceive her? Do we need to create two Mary Magdelenes, one a Prostitute and one an Apostle, because the two Ideas exist and influence people's lives?

The Autistic's Reality is fictional to the Non-Autistic, but frighteningly real to the Autistic. Can there be a multiplicity of disparate Realities, separate but equal in authenticity? Is all Parmenides trying to say -- Perception is Reality? I don't know.

I have had a great trouble comprehending Parmenides at the time of this writing. Perhaps my difficulty lies in that he presents his case as Objective Truth from the mouth of The Goddess. What mere mortal can contradict Her? He has tried to sell his ideas under the falsehood that his words are Her words. I do not believe The Deity spoke to him, and I reserve the right to question his arguments as I would those of any mortal.