The One, part two

In my previous post, I sketched out Pascal’s Wager, and commented a little on why the cosmos must be more complex than our thoughts about it.

I was moved to comment by this endearingly earnest post in a blog I follow. The charming presenter calls it “Deep Thoughts about God”, but this is a subject that the very best thinkers of our species have been contemplating for thousands of years, and we have access to much of their thinking because they or some devoted scribe wrote down the best bits.

I reckon that the thoughtful blogger could usefully apply himself to studying Parmenides, who flourished around 500 BCE, and then consider the deep thinkers who subsequently examined his claims. Parmenides concluded that everything has existence, that it is nonsensical to consider things that have no existence – otherwise, how could we speak of them? – and transition from a state of no existence to existence, or vice versa, is impossible. Nothing arises from nothing, and something cannot turn into nothing.

Plato later attacks this idea in The Sophist, where he examines the things that are – we may easily find things which exist, simply by pointing to them – and the things that are not – and how can we hold up something that has no existence, eh? – and concludes that Parmenides was mistaken and that Non-Existence is not the opposite of Existence, it is just different.

In other words, simply being able to talk about something does not mean that it exists, and we may identify sophists as being persuasive liars, because they talk about things which have no existence.

In his video post, the charmingly earnest Steven Colborne says that he is convinced of his own existence – and who am I to argue with Descartes? – and offers an argument for the existence of God because everything is ordered and someone must be doing the ordering. God therefore exists, the Bible is true, and it’s all done through science and logic!

Well, no. This is the same problem that Pascal’s Wager possesses. Yes, we can identify a higher ordering power than ourselves and everything we perceive, but concluding that this power is the Christian deity is hardly justified when there are so many other candidates. Every culture has a creation myth, and there are a wide diversity of creators to choose from. I personally like the myth where the creator-deity takes a crap, and that divine dump is the entire universe. If you are going to have a shitty concept as your fundamental philosophy, why not do the thing properly?

Plotinus, who gave Christianity the Trinity, had his Three Primary Hypostases, which may be viewed as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or in his terms, Intellect, Soul, and the One.

The One is Plato’s Good, and may be seen as Beauty. In the Indian tradition, this is the Absolute. Eternal, unchanging, non-dual, ineffable.

If we make this concept discursive, capable of division, able to encompass many different concepts, then we have reached the second level of Plotinus’ model. Intellect, or Nous. This is the realm of Plato’s Forms, and we may usefully toss all of scientific theory in here as well. A triangle is three points joined by lines, but as points have no dimension, and lines have no thickness, we can never discern a true triangle, merely the imperfect representations drawn with pencils or made out of girders bolted together. This is the realm of everything conceptual.

And then there is us. Plotinus calls his third primary hypostasis the Soul, and we may clamber aboard at this point. Unlike the unchanging and eternal Intellect, and the indivisible One, we are many, changeable, and mortal. We come and we go and we do stuff. Like write blog posts or make videos where we attempt to explain the inexplicable.

I personally don’t claim to be any great thinker, but to all those who claim to be thinking Deep Thoughts, I say that they should make themselves familiar with those whose thoughts have survived centuries of analysis and still hold currency. Those thoughts are useful, rather than anything you can knock up in your own head, rejecting all criticism.


Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

philosophy , , , ,

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