Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mis-Marketing the Moon? (2014)

From The Philosopher, Volume 102 No. 2 Autumn 2014 

Mis-Marketing the Moon?

The Philosopher's verdict: the billion-dollar photo-story

Review article by Martin Cohen

 Putting 'Man on the Moon' is surely some sort of an achievement. Yet how should we measure its importance? By TV audiences, of course. As David Meerman Scott  and Richard Jurek say in their glossy new book, Marketing the Moon, 'The Apollo 11 lunar landing was a television story. More than 53 million homes with television - 94% of all American homes - witnessed some portion of the … Apollo 11 mission… hundreds of millions more watched around the world.'

Yet only 3 years later, CBS News President Richard Salent would write in a memo:


Let me put it quite bluntly: I do not think that Apollos are any longer prime news and nobody has told me anything about this flight [Apollo17] - except that it is the last one and since it is at night, it will be pretty visible and spectacular… Further.. I would like someone to explain to me why a live splashdown is worth the couple of hundred thousand dollars it would cost.

The TV anchorman, Walter Cronkite's daughter put it even more bluntly. She complained of the sheer boringness of NASA's diet of golf balls and moon buggies. It seemed that having won the race to the moon, NASA lost the more important war for the world's imagination.

Not, as David Scott and Richard Jurek say, that they did not take home some important consolation prizes. A chance sighting of the crescent Earth as it was seen 'rising' in the dark sky by the  Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the first ever lunar orbit, changed the way a whole generation felt about their planet.

The poet Archibald MacLeish was moved to write:

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together…

Scott and Jurek link this particular image, along with one of the 'whole Earth', to adding emotional force to the new environmental movement - epitomised by Stuart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog. This featured  the original 'whole Earth' image on its cover,  and demanded a new kind of thinking of its many readers based precisely on that new perspective: 'We are as gods and might as well get good at it'.

And technologically speaking, the Apollo program without any doubt incubated a vast range of scientific marvels, in the realms of  computers, and communications. In 1969, colour TV cameras weighed fifty pounds and the latest model was nicknamed 'the backbreaker'. It was in the teeth of scepticism from both the scientists and the astronauts, NASA committed vast sums to its US contractors to develop the kind of portable technologies that have become so unremarkable today.

Marketing the Moo
n records elegantly and precisely such details, but it tells an important and generally understated sociological story of how the Apollo program changed the way we see the world in a different sense too: it introduced new expectations of 'live television', of unedited audio transcripts, or direct access to experts and officials. All this openness was remarkable in the context of a space program launched in the  shadow of the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion and driven by the military's need to 'beat the Russians'.

Yet I think that somehow, the criticism of Cronkite's daughter is nearer the mark. There is a smallness of imagination behind the Apollo program. The technical was superlative - the philosophies commonplace. The Americans savoured the sight of 'their flag' on the Moon - but it was, in a none-too-subtle way, also sticking two fingers up at the rest of the world. Since the astronauts 'came in peace' on behalf of all the peoples, couldn't the Stars and Stripes, at least, have been accompanied by a more internationalist symbol?.

When President Nixon telephoned the astronauts on the Moon, it represented a remarkable technical achievement but the dialogue also represented a rather shallow and partisan agenda, as did Nixon's signature on  the Apollo 11 lunar plaque. Indeed, as Scott and Jurek do note, there is something rather self-serving in Nixon's remark to the astronauts standing there on the Moon that 'this certainly has to be the most historical telephone call ever made from the White House'.

Of course, Nixon was not the only one whose words failed to rise to the occasion with regard to the Moon. The most famous malapropism of all time is Neil Armstrong's missing indefinite article:

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

How unfortunate that the word 'man' is ambiguous in this context - it can also stand for 'mankind'. Thus the defining moment of the modern age is spoilt by a kind of non-sequitur. 'I think that was Neil's quote. I didn't quite understand it', said one of Armstrong's fellow astronauts, Wally Shirra, explaining things to the TV audience, back on Earth.

Other duff notes were struck during wrangles over advertising and sponsorship. There was even a rather unseemly battle of sorts between NASA and its Moon walkers over the 'souvenirs' the latter were entitled to keep for their retirement mantelpieces. However  the tacky 'death plaque' (along with  Bible and figurine) left on the moon by the Apollo 15 astronauts (with the names of both American and Soviet comrades who perished during the program), was smuggled aboard the lunar module without NASA's agreement or even knowledge. This piece of improvisation showed all the sensitivity and style of numerous other 'memorials' left along roadsides marking car crashes.

As Scott and Jurek say, the TV coverage of such a momentous occasion seems strangely banal in retrospect. Walter Cronkite, whose program for CBS was the one most Americans watched, was enthusiastic but strangely (and atypically) amateurish. The presenters of NBC's Huntley and Brinkley cover Apollo Show were worse still -  'throughly bored' by the whole business. That's  according to the television historian Barbara Mattusow, but they were certainly unashamed to have publicly complained that astronauts were 'dull as hell, nice guys, mechanics'. If only a TV anchor could have been sent to the Moon! 'Here I am, standing in the Bay of Tranquility...'  Wouldn't that have increased viewer interest? Well, maybe on Day 1. Because from the perspective of history, the Apollo 11 transcript (one of the many fascinating details in the book) seems nonetheless, to have the astronauts delivering the best lines, whilst the pros flounder for words . . .

EAGLE: Lights on. Down 2 and a half. Forward. Forward. Good. 40 feet. Down 2 and a half. Picking up some dust. 30 feet, 2 and a half down. Faint shadow: 4 forward, 4 forward, drifting to the right a little, 6 down a half.

CRONKITE (anchor-man for CBS's coverage): Boy, what a day.

CAPCOM (Capsule Commander): 30 seconds.

EAGLE: Contact light. Okay, engine stop. ACA out of detent. Modes control both auto, descent engine command override, off . .

SCHIRRA (Wally Schirra, former astronaut co-hosting program): We’re home!

CRONKITE: Man on the moon!

CAPCOM: We copy you down, Eagle.

EAGLE (Neil Armstrong): Houston.

SCHIRRA: Oh Jeeze!

EAGLE: Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

CAPCOM: Roger, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.

CRONKITE: Oh boy!

EAGLE: Thank you.

CAPCOM: You’re looking good here.

CRONKITE: Whew! Boy!

EAGLE: We’re going to be busy here for a minute.

CRONKITE: Wally, say something, I'm speechless.

[A little bit later]

ALDRIN (Buzz Alrdin, second man on the moon): Roger, TV circuit breakers in. Receive loud and clear..

CAPCOM: Man, we’re getting a picture on the TV.

CRONKITE: There it is.

ALDRIN: Oh, you got a good picture, huh? [...]

SCHIRRA: There’s that foot coming down  now.

CRONKITE: There he is. There’s a foot coming down the steps.

CAPCOM: Okay, Neil, we can see you coming down the ladder now [...]

ARMSTRONG: I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM [Lunar Module] foot pads are only depressed  on the surface about one or two inches. Although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder. Now and then it’s very fine.

CRONKITE: Boy! Look at those pictures. Wow! It’s a little shadowy, but he said he expected that in the shadow of the lunar module.Armstrong is on the Moon!

ARMSTRONG: I’m going to step off the LM now.

CRONKITE: Neil Armstrong, a 38 year old American standing on the surface of the Moon! On this July 20th, nineteen hundred and sixty nine.

ARMSTRONG: That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.

SCHIRRA: I think that was Neil's quote. I didn't quite understand it.

CRONKITE: Yes, 'One small step for man', but I didn't quite get the second phrase. If someone of our monitors here at Space Headquarters was able to hear that we would like to know what it was.




Never mind what The Philosopher says -

Take me to the bookshop!  

Marketing the Moon : The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program
By David Meerman Scott  and Richard Jurek
MIT Press, 2014, Hardback,, 130 full colour pages, ISBN 978-0-262-02696-3


Friday, 5 September 2014

The Russian view of the English as Seen Through Literature (2014)

From The Philosopher, Volume CII No. 2


THE RUSSIAN VIEW OF THE ENGLISH AS SEEN THROUGH THE PRISM OF ENGLISH LITERATURE
By Yelena Korshunova



The 21st century is already marked by a great increase in communication between the many different nations that make up the modern community. Stereotypes are an essential part of this cross-cultural communication, providing individuals with stable, if mythical, ideas about their native country and about the character of other nations.

Fiction has long been one of the most important sources of such ideas in Russia. Here, linguistic, geographical and other constraints create conditions of sharply limited cultural contacts and so for many years the  Russian people have drawn their knowledge of the customs, behavior and of the peculiarities and national characters of their neighbours through the peculiar prism of writing and particularly fiction.

Above all, it is English fiction that arouses the most interest in Russia, just as it does all over the world. (English is truly the world’s second language.) It is through novels written in English that the Russian audience forms many of its ideas about the ‘typical Englishman’. Even when Russians go on to meet real Englishmen, or women, they follow (partly unconsciously) these ideas. The flesh and blood English readers of this piece would, I am sure, be surprised both at their popularity in the Russian context – and by the characters created there for them. It is with this mismatch in mind that I argue here for a pause for reflection over the broad issues in this sphere of ideas as  part of preparing for a new generation to the balanced cross-cultural contacts.

The background to this article is research carried out in 2010 in Omsk, in Western Siberia, where the task was to try to find out more about how much Russian readers know about English literature nowadays but also to gain insights about how ordinary Russians imagine the English national character. It seemed interesting to compare the perspectives of two generations: that of the current generation of Russian students and that of ‘Cold War’ generation, their parents. For the research, one hundred families were contacted. There were two research participants drawn from each family – a student and one of the parents. The research project required the participants to rank possible sources of Russian information about England and the English, according to their perception of their importance. From this, we obtained some interesting results.

The most important things to stress is that both the student generation and their parents clearly privileged real life links with England as their most important source of knowledge about the English character. However, then the views of the younger and older generations diverged. For the older generation, their second most important source was English fiction, whereas the new generation students put in second place  things like English language lessons and associated English course materials, leaving English fiction to occupy the third place. Parents put in the third place cross-cultural literature, meaning books such as the English anthropologist Kate Fox’s book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (2004).

Since the older generation did not have any access to information about the English from language lessons and courseware, it was inevitable that they placed sources like these second from last in their list. Curiously, it was here that the students placed the Internet. It seems remarkable that despite the popularity and the constant presence of the Internet in a modern life, it wasn’t rated by either of the two generations of Russians as one of the most significant sources of knowledge about England and the Englishmen. Instead, knowledge obtained via the Internet is interpreted as transient, momentary, based on commonplace notions and information.

And so our survey illustrated that, one of the main sources of information for many Russians about England and the Englishmen is English fiction. But what English books exactly do we mean here? The results of the survey again revealed some interesting differences between the generations.

According to the survey, the most popular books for parents were the various detective mysteries written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in himself something of an English stereotype. After The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, came  Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of a man extracted from society:  Robinson Crusoe. But following shortly after this were some works of fiction of a much lighter vein:  A. A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh; Jonathan. Swift’s Gulliver's Travels; Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland; Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Jerome K. Jerome’s  Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) and last, but not least, Charlotte Bronte’s  Jane Eyre.

This then is what ‘England’ means to Russians born after the Second World War. But which books were the new generation reading?

Winnie the Pooh came in top of the poll in the students’ view, followed by Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels, with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in fourth place. No prizes for spotting that all of these are light, entertaining fiction. Half of the students read the more challenging books of Daniel Defoe  and Shakespeare, but few had read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Many respondents, both students and their parents, knew of J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings, but few of them had really read the book. Rather, they knew of, and had usually also seen, the recent, popular film. Which, incidentally, is set in New Zealand.

Despite the younger generation having supposedly studied ‘English’, the knowledge of the older generation about serious modern literature was much greater than that of their children. The members of this generation had read James Joyce, George Orwell, Lewis Stern, Virginia Woolf, Edward Forster, William Golding (who wrote a dsytopia with political significance called Lord of the Flies) and Benjamin Disraeli (more often remembered as a British Prime Minister). The overall picture reveals that parents knew the names, the authors and the contents of the English books considerably better than students. In addition, the parents give various and correct characteristics for many of the heroes of English fiction. That said, one or two books were equally well known by both generations. Which were these? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

When asked to suggest some ‘favourite literary heroes’, an odd and childish mix emerged: Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, Alice, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins were the names offered by both of the two generations. For many Russians the idea of the ‘typical Englishman’ is associated more with images of Winnie and Pickwick than with more contemporary figures, such as Harry Potter. Perhaps it is because these heroes of English literature seem to be very strange, ready to do something not ordinary. But Winnie and Pickwick are not so simple and foolish as they seem at first sight. They are indeed very clever, optimistic and noble, and always ready to help their friends.



Popular literature is the dominant source of the basic imaginations about the English, particularly children’s literature. What image of a ‘typical Englishman’ does it construct for readers?



The list of the most often cited widespread associations made about the expression ‘a typical Englishman’ revealed a number of constant character elements. These are mainly positive features: evaluated by the participants as follows: punctuality, conservatism, pedantry, intelligence, politeness, accuracy. However, a small number of negative features were also identified by both generations. Among these: reticence, arrogance, pride, greediness, insensibility, a strange humor and egoism.

Both the parental and the student participants identified ‘the English sense of humor’ as the most important feature of the Englishman’s character, a trait of course emphasized in the particular literary sources they were using. Parents also noted, however, the eccentricity of the English, again supporting this idea by examples from English fiction such as Dickens’s Mr. Pickwick. Pickwick, to recall, is fat old man who becomes a romantic adventurer, and discovers ethics and wisdom as the novel progresses. By the end of the novel he has become the incarnation of charity and goodwill.

It is evident that, for the most part, all the associations offered for the ‘typical Englishman’, have a direct literary origin. They included such things as: a stove-pipe hat,  horseracing, a tail-coat, a pince-nez, a monocle, a pocket watch, white gloves, and so on. All these trappings are clearly drawn from fiction, not from daily life. Other associations are clearly connected to their literary and cinematographic image of Sherlock Holmes: the gentleman with a strict suit, a tobacco-pipe, a walking stick, tall, thin, tidiness, politeness, punctuality, good manners of behavior, restraint, gentlemanly behavior and so on.

The differences between the reading habits of the two generations led to significantly more character associations, by which I mean personal qualities such as pragmatism and conservatism being given by the parents. Students were much more likely than their parents to characterize the typical Englishman merely through appearance, meaning that their views were considerably more superficial.

The results of the research brought me to conclude that  Russians do have a well-defined and precise image of a ‘typical Englishman’. However, this image is not determined by aspects of  real life or from personal experience of communication; this is a construct, that has been formed by a more complex sociocultural process, among which the choices of the reading circle play a great role. The powerful influence of fiction upon mass consciousness is largely due to the fact that fiction vividly, holistically, and emotionally describes and represents certain features of the English character.

It is only to be expected that fiction should try to show us sharper, brighter heroes than individuals can ever be in real life. But in conditions when the image of the national character of one nation is formed in the minds of peoples in another country in many ways all due to the fiction, it represents a particular and  potentially dangerous displacement of the reader’s perception.

In the context of cross-cultural communication, cultural stereotypes, created by the literary ideas, seem to be primary, structuring and often modifying real experience. The way the view of one nation about another is created and develops, and the adequacy and coloration of the view is influenced by the fictional countries explored, and the choice of books becomes not only an indicator of common culture, but a real factor, determining many other aspects of the cross- cultural dialogue.

Comparing the reading circle of two Russian generations, we noticed a rather precise difference, which seemed to us to confirm a certain inter-generational tendency. The parents were seeking at a more realistic and a more complete understanding of people than the new generation. This in turn influenced their literary preferences and then the particular books that they chose to read in turn provided a more developed and complete view of the English. By contrast, the children’s literature popular with the students, created an image of the English in the students’ minds that was both more mysterious and fantastical, and less accurate or even complete.

The new generation reads books – both those drawn from their native literature and those from foreign sources -  far less than their parents. We can conclude that parents are appreciably more erudite in the sphere of the English fiction, especially the Classics, than the students, who often did not know or remember even the most famous classical or modern works.

It seems likely that this decrease of erudition in the sphere of writing leads to a shallower image of people from other cultures, and not only a shallower but a more externalized and random characterisation. In modern conditions reading from the very beginning is inevitably loaded by the stereotypes, but the problem appears about the quality of these stereotypes.

As the students in our survey are the generation of the future, it seems to us that our research reveals a need to do everything possible to raise the interest and motivation of society to develop its knowledge of other cultures, not least, through the reading of serious books. One element, we believe, is in the sphere of the expansion of the cross-cultural contacts between countries, of which, the publication of this article in The Philosopher is a small piece.

Ethnic conflicts may arise from the elementary ignorance of the national character of other countries, or the negligence to seek to understand the mentality of our neighbours; such problems should be guarded against and solved beforehand, not least by considering the influence of literary stereotypes. National character is a dynamic concept. Time will pass, nations will change and the contacts between Russia and Britain will doubtless soon be on a different level, forming in turn, in the future, very different views. We can only hope that the Russian understanding of ‘the typical Englishman’ over the years will expand and be enriched, and create a more complete image of the nation.



Contact details: Yelena Korshunova  is a social scientist and English teacher based at Omsk State University in Russia. She can be contacted via: omichka-1@yandex.ru

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Man, the Measure of All Things? (2014)

From The Philosopher, Volume 102 No. 2
 


MAN, THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS?
New Efforts to Deconstruct the Writings of the Ancient Greeks
By Martin Cohen and Thomas Scarborough



Is Plato written in sort of code? It is something of a commonplace that Plato’s writings are both very important and very obscure. Indeed the obscurity has increased their longevity and importance.

Certainly, there is a large and powerful lobby of logicians and professional philosophers who insist that the writings all make perfect sense, if you are but able to see it, and a small but probably better informed body of scholars who say that they are playful, creative and frequently contradictory.

There is even a middle-ground of scholars who say that Plato's writings do make sense, but it is a multifaceted and changing one. Such talk is in the spirit of the French literary theorist, Roland Barthes, who some may recall, in 1968, announcing 'the death of the author' and 'the birth of the reader'. When writing begins, says Barthes, the 'voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death'. This is all the more true where an author is historically and culturally remote. All literary works, as the literary theorist, Terry Eagleton has put it, are 'rewritten' by the societies which read them.

From this post-rational, post-critical perspective, the reader needs to have a lively sense of one's own historical and cultural situation when reading ancient authors in particular, or they may lack the cultural 'passwords' to enter into the discourse. In this sense too, then, Plato is indeed written in a kind of code. But what is it?

The Plato Code

This question recently came to the fore in a popular book by the science historian, Jay Kennedy, entitled simply: The Plato Code (Penguin, 2010). Kennedy, as scientists do from time to time, stepped into the debates with 'magic bullet' insights into the Ancients. In unambiguous fashion, he claimed to have cracked the Code, and discovered secret messages hidden in the great philosopher's writings. His own description of his discovery is ambitious to say the least:
This is the beginning of something big. It will take a generation to work out the implications. All 2,000 pages contain undetected symbols.
As part of the publicity for the book he explained that:
There was no Rosetta Stone. To announce a result like this I needed rigorous, independent proofs based on crystal-clear evidence. The result was amazing – it was like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself. Plato is smiling. He sent us a time capsule.
Kennedy published his discoveries in the American journal Apeiron, promising that they revolutionised our conceptions of the origins of Western thought. Perhaps seeing himself as following in the footsteps of Galileo - who claimed in The Assayer that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, Kennedy argued that Plato gave his books a concealed, mathematical  structure following the Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans had declared that the stars and the planets made an inaudible music, a 'harmony of the spheres', and Plato created this hidden music in his books.

Specifically, Kennedy claimed to have found in Plato's most famous work,  the Republic, clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text – at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, and so on. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale – some harmonic, others dissonant – in keeping with which Plato described love or laughter, war or death. He explained: 'As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments.' This insight became Kennedy's key to cracking Plato's entire symbolic system.

The book attracted a great deal of media interest for a few fleeting weeks. The Guardian,  called it a 'breakthrough', noting that of Plato's major works:
The Apology has 1,200 lines; the Protagoras, Cratylus, Philebus and Symposium each have 2,400 lines; the Gorgias 3,600; the Republic 12,200; and the Laws 14,400.
Alas, on closer examination, Kennedy's theory collapsed – not least because the ratios he claimed the writings reproduced could not have been the ones that Plato might have had in mind. One mathematically minded philosophy blog (Heraclitean River) put it like this: 'Kennedy's secret hidden musical code is absolute nonsense, as any music theorist (modern or ancient Greek) could have told him at first glance.'

Nonetheless, the fact that Kennedy's theory was taken seriously by so many people, albeit for a relatively short time, reflects a deeper view that there may well be something going on 'below the surface' in Plato's writings that our supposed philosophical experts are completely missing. This widely shared intuition is worthy of further attention.

The Socrates Code

Stepping again into the river, so to speak, is the German physicist Peter Hubral, with three new books, The Socrates Code, The Plato Code and The Laozi Code, which all seek to promote a common argument. Here we focus primarily on his book The Socrates Code (Lotus Press, 2014), although Hubral's paper for The Philosopher,  The Tao: Modern Pathway to Ancient Wisdom (published in Volume 99 No. 2, Autumn 2011) was an important first step too.

Hubral, however, is not on the trail of literal codes as Kennedy was. Rather he stands more safely in the tradition of 'the death of the author', pointing out that Plato – and other ancient Greek philosophers – may be far from what they seem to be to the (post) modern eye.

Plato's writings, Hubral notes, are rooted instead in a mystical view of the universe, a view long lost to modern man, and closer to the views of the likes of, yes, Pythagoras than it is to the views of say, Galileo, Descartes and Kant. Even so, some modern physicists seem to be more in tune with Plato than mere chronology might indicate. The Twentieth Century physicist, Werner Heisenberg, is an example, Hubral calls him not only a fine physicist but also a fine philosopher:
... we have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal. In this way quantum theory reminds us, as Bohr has put it, of the old wisdom that when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators.
This was a possibility of which Descartes could not have thought, but it makes the sharp separation between the world and the 'I' (between object and observer) impossible.'

Such a point is, however, a commonplace in Eastern thought, redolent of Taoism. And Peter Hubral's core thesis can be summed up as saying that what we conventionally study and talk about as being Ancient Greek philosophy is – as in the case of the science described by Heisenberg – a kind of reassuring fiction, yet repeated so many times that it has acquired the status of incontrovertible truth, despite being at root based on nothing so much as elementary errors in translation and interpretation – the kind where words that look similar to terms we use are assumed to have the same sense.

Hubral offers specific examples of the kinds of terms he has in mind: astronomy, atom, cosmos, geometry, idea, planets, practice, psyche, music, symposium, theory, and so on. He points to things like this snippet is from Plato's Phaedrus:
SOCRATES: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.
Hubral argues that these much pored-over terms have nothing at all to do with the Greek originals:  astronomía, átomos, kósmos, geometría, idéa, planétes, práxis, psyché, mousiké, sympósion, theoría, and even philosophía, but instead have completely different roots, that are better approached via the, almost completely neglected, Eastern tradition. Take astronomía, for example. In the Republic, Plato says that it forces the psyché to 'look up' and leads us from this kósmos into 'another one' (Plato; Republic VII 529). This language has nothing to do with 'astronomy', just as, he says, philosophía has nothing to do with 'love of wisdom'!

Eastern Analogies

The most difficult aspect for many readers (including us), is that Hubral argues that these key ideas can only really be understood by approaching them through Taoist thought and the practice of the arts of Tai-Chi. (In modern U.S. terminology (which is what Hubral uses) through Daoism and Taiji.) If you do this, Hubral claims  (in contrast to others) that Plato's words are perfectly logical and non-contradictory. They are metaphors that can be properly understood by the seeker who has the necessary practical experience to be gained on the Great Path - a central metaphor of Taoism. For Hubral, the logic is a function of the progress made on the Great Path: the more the practitioner advances, the more logical and less questionable things become.

Of course, few of us will ever travel that Tai Chi route, and even reading of Hubral's travels along it is testing as The Socrates Code uses not one language – English – as would really seem to be the practical way forward, but a melange of English, Greek and Chinese –  with even a little bit of Farsi and German thrown in. The end result is that this is a book which even the author admits is not really possible to fully understand, and certainly not without practical Tai-Chi experience. But there is such a wealth of ideas, many of which are profound and fundamental, and most of which are barely discussed elsewhere, that a little ramble is well worth undertaking. To better understand, for instance, the metaphor astronomía, conventionally rendered as astronomy. We read about it in Plato's Republic (in Book VII 529). Here Plato says:
Astronomía forces the psyché to 'look up' and leads us from this kósmos into 'another one'.
There is a very simple, almost childlike way to interpret this – something about imagining other worlds going around other stars on a starry night – and there is a very different one which says that here 'look up' refers to the concepts which are understood with reference to the advance of the Oriental sages on the Great Path (Dadao) from the conventional, lower world of everyday Being, to the higher planes of Non-being.Astronomía requires 'looking up' only in the same sense as does geometría (conventionally taken as equivalent to modern notions of 'geometry') that are both closely connected to each other. Plato says as much, writing: 'We should approach the astronomía in the same way as the geometría …' (Republic VII, 530b-c). Hubral discusses all this in detail. But his main point is simple: astronomía and geometría have nothing to do with astronomy and geometry.

Many other interesting examples are discussed by Hubral. Some concern Pythagoras, a figure so little understood by conventional philosophers that they often do not discuss him at all. Where we do read about Pythagoras, it is to the effect that he is supposed to have had quasi-religious views, not least about numbers. As to this, Hubral has no doubt that the interpretations are reckless. He compares the notion that the Pythagoreans worshipped numbers  to the traditional formula of the Chinese 'No laws and no God!' and instead offers a portrait which seems to provide a plausible way to unify elements of the thought of the Chinese Taoist sage Lao Tzu (Laozi) with both Pythagoras and Plato.



Take astronomía, for example. In the Republic, Plato says that it forces the psyché to 'look up' and leads us from this kósmos into 'another one'. This language has nothing to do with 'astronomy', just as philosophía has nothing to do with 'love of wisdom'!



One story, that many readers may be familiar with, is that told by Plato of a slave boy being taught 'geometry' by Socrates. And weren't the words‚ 'Let no one who is ignorant of geometry enter' written over the door of Plato's Academy? In fact, they were not, and it makes striking impression to go back and re-translate geometría as something other than schoolbook geometry. Hubral's interpretation is that it is not geometers who Plato invites in, but geometrikoí – the term implying, rather, those practitioners who follow the Great Path – the Parmenidean Path to Truth – in search of equality and justice. Such a shift in understanding would seem to make a great deal more sense.

Another much-cited and powerful image is that of Socrates standing‚ 'as if transfixed' for hours in the middle of the road while he seemed to struggle with some thought or another. We read about such things in several of Plato's dialogues, for example at the beginning of the Symposium (or 'Drinking Party') dialogue. This mentions, almost in passing, that:
... later another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had retired into the portico of the neighbouring house. 'There he is fixed,' he said, 'and when I call to him he will not stir.' How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep calling him. 'Let him alone', said my informant, 'he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason. I believe that he will soon appear, do not therefore disturb him.
Such behaviour is alien to modern readers, indicating little else than that Socrates was evidently (a) eccentric, and (b) some sort of serious thinker. But to those familiar with the Eastern tradition, the sight of people standing immobile is not so bizarre – it is a standard posture of Tai-Chi, and if Socrates stood immobile all day and all night as Plato tells us, this could indicate not so much how odd a person Socrates was, as how experienced a practitioner (or a follower of the Path to Truth, to cast it in terms of Tai-Chi) he was.

Hubral puts it this way: 'Standing: The best posture to implement Wuwei.'

Wuwei is the Chinese equivalent of the Greek principle philía – it is the only principle that makes it possible to have 'stillness create self-movements' on the mental, psychic and bodily plane. 'Standing' is better for this purpose than any other posture. It permits creative, unconditioned self-movements of the mind, psyché and body in all possible directions to explore the unknown. For Hubral, it is truly unconditioned in comparison to assuming, for instance, that the 'book of nature is written in the language of mathematics', which he sees as a kind of modern nonsense  thoroughly disproven by Socrates and many other practising 'natural philosophers'.



'Standing' is better for this purpose than any other posture. It permits creative unconditioned self-movements of the mind, psyché and body in all possible directions to explore the unknown.




And so we arrive at another key element to Hubral's Socrates Code - the correct interpretation of the Socratic aphorism that 'Man is the measure of all things'. Hubral argues that this phrase is a misinterpretation of the original text, which means, contrary to modern interpretations, that man is not the measure of the world that surrounds him. The misinterpretation spread, he says, from the time when the Platonic and Socratic 'science' (the kind he calls unconditioned) was lost at its last European stronghold in al Andalus in the 13th century – and went on a triumphal procession to the Western non-Islamic world, where it was enthusiastically accepted by reputed thinkers, who steered the scientific revolution.

Hubral sees this loss as being reported by the widely travelled Arabic historian and philosopher Mas'udi (895 - 957) from Baghdad, who writes in Meadows of Gold:
During our travels we have consorted with several kings, as different in their manners and their opinions as are the different geographical situations of the countries, and yet little by little we have found among them the same accord in recognizing that all traces of 'science' have vanished and that its splendour is spent; learning has become too general and has lost its depth, and one no longer sees any but people filled with vanity and ignorance, imperfect scholars who are content with superficial ideas and do not recognize the truth…
The true Greek philosophy, Hubral argues, the one which Plato intends to promote, is not based on the familiar conditioned empirical approach, to understand the universe and the self that most commentators see in it. It is rather founded on a meditative self-observation practice to explore the psychic kósmos, which provides the beyond-the-senses knowledge (gnósis) that is summed up in the famous Orphic injunction: Know thyself.

Such extraordinary knowledge can only be experienced, not 'taught' -  and certainly not questioned. As The Socrates Code puts it, such knowledge is based on the principle that there is no principle, which means that it is completely unconditioned. Hubral says that all the vocabulary that Plato uses finds its source in this. Plato calls the practice meléte thanátou  - the practice of dying. This is dying to the conditioned, empirical world. It requires submitting to philía during the Tai-Chi practice!

For Hubral, then, this is the essence of Plato's 'code' or unwritten doctrine. Its promise is of a pure knowledge, knowledge that in Hubral's view, 'requires a master, who teaches his students to rigorously disconnect themselves during their practice from Being and thus recollect the gnósis. Yet even the master cannot offer the insights (the recollection or anamnésis) directly, but can only try to show a few how to attain it for themselves.

Man the Measure?

It is in the dialogue Theaetetus (at line 152a) that Socrates states:
Man is the measure of all things. Of the things that are 'as they are'; of the things that are 'not as they are'.
Hubral expresses the line thus (attempting to distinguish between two kinds of 'being'): 'Man is the measure of all things. Of the things that are 'as they are (in BEING)'; of the things (in Being) that are 'not as they are (because they are the transient appearance of BEING).'

The last phrase points out – contrary to what the first phrase seems to convey – that a human being, who confines himself to Being (the bodily world), cannot correctly appraise all things (in Being). Socrates regards the one-sided dedication to Being harmful to the psyché (Gorgias 493a): Sóma (body = bodily world = Being) is a grave of the psyché. A Platonist accepts the limitation and pitfalls of Being and carefully acts or does not act accordingly. He knows that Being is only understood if he also knows BEING. He regularly dedicates himself to the practice of dying to Being, to explore BEING, the things that are 'as they are', which are unavailable in society. He can then find out by reawakening his hidden eidetic senses that Being is the emanation (outflow) of BEING, also called ONE. Plato calls the practice also metrétiké téchne - the art of measurement.

The familiar sciences are dedicated to Being, and many of us believe that they liberate us from the dogmatic 'Do not question, but believe!' However, to investigate Being and to make use of it, we must in fact accept many conjectures. We do not question the five familiar senses, consciousness, reasoning and language. Scientists do not doubt the repeatability of experiments, validity of closed systems, mathematical axioms. They ignore undesired effects, and so on. In this respect, the familiar sciences may not differ from a religion. The American theoretical physicist, Leon Ederman, wrote: 'To believe something while knowing it cannot be proved (yet) is the essence of physics.'

Both belief and physics are conjectured (conditioned) and must be believed in. They are, as Plato puts it, confined to the 'realm of belief (ta dóxasta)'. This does not apply to the gnósis, which is immediate knowledge, and falls for him into the unconditioned 'realm of true (pure) knowledge (ta gnósta)'.

The words of Socrates, 'Man is the measure of all things', may be employed as a means for tracing the change in our understanding of Ancient Greek thought – a cultural litmus paper, as it were. It was a precept, a key reference principle, among the Andalusian philosophers, in particular of Ibn Tufayl (ca 1116- 1185), whom the 13th-century Moroccan historian Abdelwahid al-Marrakushi counts among al-Andalus's 'most versatile scholars'.

The Socratic principle was also the precept of Hayy, a kind of prototype 'Robinson Crusoe' of Ibn Tufayl's novel Hayy ibn Yaqzin (Living Son of the Wakeful One). Tom Verde, an American journalist who specialises in Christian-Islamic history, writes that the predominant Andalusian thought at that time was Platonism, according to which existence was emanating from a single source, the ONE. This was a time of transition from original to misinterpreted Platonism. Verde writes about the change from 'dogmatic and thus inferior knowledge' that preceded the 'self-taught and thus superior knowledge (obtained by contemplation)', which he attributes to Hayy and Ibn Tufayl.

To cast the contrast between Being and BEING in more (post) modern terms, one may contemplate the words of popular philosophy writers Jacob Needleman and David Appelbaum:
In almost every area of our culture, the realization is dawning that material and scientific achievement cannot of themselves lead us towards an understanding of the meaning of our lives and that unless scientific progress is balanced by another kind of enquiry, it will inevitably become an instrument of self-destruction.
Their words echo Plato's of two thousand years ago (Republic 406 e):
Researchers (scientists) belong to the best men in the world, who always formulate and continuously refine laws, without grasping that they are in reality cutting the head of the hydra.
The Regression

According to Hubral, starting with Ibn Tufayl, the following six milestones have been set up by scientifically minded searchers of 'truth'. These represent symbolic landmarks in humanity's regression from BEING to Being – a coming to believe that the idea that man is the (true, divine, pure) measure of all things was in agreement with Plato (Socrates) and the way to overcome was 'Do not question, but believe!' It was for them the approach to ascend to higher worlds. Hubral offers the milestones in chronological order, apart from his inclusion of Johannes Kepler suggested by Verde. The idea is that they show the close connection between the new, conditioned, Aristotelian science and the religious conviction of their protagonists.
• Ibn Tufayl (c 1116- 1185), a scholar who remains 'ignorant in the (conditioned) Sciences', makes false claims to 'experiencing the ultimate truth' through these same sciences.

• Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), who studied Ibn Rushd and believed in 'man is the measure of all things', concluded in Heptaplus, in the same vein as Ibn Tufayl, that humans – after living lives of rigorous scientific and spiritual reflection – are destined to rise above this world and enjoy reunion with the Divine.

• Francis Bacon (1561-1626), regarded as the father of empiricism, conceived of a mythical island in his New Atlantis. With an eye to both Heptaplus and Hayy, he envisioned an insular society in which the religiously devout inhabitants are also devoted to the pursuit of pure, scientific knowledge. His concept of purity is not, however, that of Plato, who connects it to the meditative dedication to BEING (the primeval source of Being).
Located at the 'very eye of Bacon's kingdom' is 'Salomon's House,' an institution that anticipated the modern research university, and in 1660 inspired the establishment of England's Royal Society of London for Improving Natural (conditioned) Knowledge. One of the Society's early presidents was Isaac Newton, who wrote more books on religion than natural science, choosing as its motto a shorthand version of one of Pico's favoured, autodidactic canons of the Roman poet Horace: Nullius in verba: 'Don't take anyone's word for it.'
• Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) who writes in Harmonices Mundi: 'Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is, because man is an image of God'. He also writes: 'The geometry is before the creation of things equally eternal as the spirit of the creator himself and delivered to him the archetype for the creation of the world'.

• The translation of the Hayy (1671) by the reputed Oxford Arabist, Pockoke, published in Oxford. The work's subtitle spelled out the nuts and bolts: 'In which it is demonstrated by what means human reason can ascend from contemplation of the inferior to (conditioned) knowledge of the superior.'

• And finally to 'the Age of Enlightenment' which according to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the historical period when humankind gained the courage and determination to rely on one's own understanding (of Being). He writes in Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784): 'Enlightenment is the exit of humans from their self-inflicted immaturity, which is the incapability to serve himself of his mind without guidance of someone else'.
Hubral's point is that the above searchers believed they found the way to 'rise above this world' and 'enjoy reunion with the Divine'. They believed that they discovered the 'exit from human self-inflicted immaturity' by 'not taking anyone's word for it.' They believed they followed the path to 'Enlightenment' of the Ancient Greeks. Alas (he thinks) they did not know was that their 'superior knowledge' had nothing to do with what the Ancient Greeks looked for in the schools of the philosophía, which taught the unconditioned search of sophía (wisdom) with philía (Wuwei) based on doing nothing but letting nature act out of itself during the Tai-Chi practice.

They no longer knew that this was the Platonic guiding principle to withdraw from Being. It was the principle to have the psyché ascend to experience BEING and grasp the world more profoundly than they did! They were, unlike the Platonists, unaware of the restriction of the world and self-perception that humans are subjected to in their exclusive dedication to Being (Phaedo 79c1-8):
When the psyché makes use of sóma to investigate something through vision or hearing or some other sense … it is dragged by sóma towards objects.
So is it time for a general reassessment of those foundational texts of Western philosophy? If Hubral is correct that the spirit of Tai-Chi was central to Greek thinking, then we need to reassess not just the life of Socrates, but many of the key ideas in Ancient philosophy. Reassessing the ancients would bring with it a reassessment of today. One of the foremost consequences would be that contemporary environmental and social problems, which are a consequence of deifying man as the (true, divine, pure) measure of all things, could be replaced by less wishful and more holistic thinking, which was the true thinking of the Ancient Greeks.

But let us give the last word to Thomas Huxley, who in 1870 warned against:
...  the extension of the province of what we call matter and causation, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity.
Alas, his warning has gone unheeded. Up to now.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

About Doublethink (2014)

About Doublethink

The philosophical cartoons by Youngjin Kang

The Philosopher is very pleased to add a new dimension to its studies of the great issues - a look at some of the deepest issues in maths, language and science all presented in a deceptively simple and definitely charming way by Youngjin Kang.

Youngjin is a natural cartoonist with a taste for the philosophy of science. Indeed, his academic studies (in the US) are within the field of electrical engineering, and if he has been drawing comics since he was in high school, it has had to be fitted in with the demands of everyday life, including recently mandatory military service in his native South Korea. (But at least the authorities allowed him to fulfil his obligations by working in Daejeon Municipal Art Museum!)

His method, briefly speaking, is to choose a topic and try to reduce it to just 16 frames. The narratives are not drafted beforehand but are almost 'stream of consciousness', something that might be considered unacceptable in mainstream philosophical writing, but yet somehow liberates in the format of the comic.

Why 'Doublethink'? The title is not an obvious match for some of the subjects covered, yet Youngjin says that most episodes do invite the all-important -second look - and after all, there is a duality in the format of pictures that contain thoughts within them. Youngjin says that comics convey information in multiple dimensions,  for example, between pictures (corporeal symbols) and writings (abstract symbols), thus presenting the reader with a wider spectrum of meanings because what one method cannot express can be conveyed, in complementary fashion, by the other.

Secondly, comics prevent misinterpretation. Since what is told by the writing often gets "solidified" by its corresponding pictorial representations inside a comic strip, it is much easier for the reader to grasp the exact meaning of the content while looking at comics than while looking at pure writings. And a third advantage of the technique is that pictorial language is universal.

Philosophers quite like cartoons - they seem to promise a more accessible way into dry and obscure material. But is the reassurance they offer illusory?

About thirty years ago, the Writers and Readers publishers (a radical press at the time) produced several books that used the cartoon format to present philosophical ideas, typically biographical sketches of famous philosophers, although some books also covered the 'isms'. More recently, and in a slightly different style, there have been  books attempting to investigate deep issues in ethics through lengthy cartoon stories. But Doublethink is really a unique venture and one that may even change the way philosophy thinks of cartoons - giving the method a little more respect in the way that Critical Thinking has begun to emphasise the extra insights that diagrams, mind maps and even the humble doodle can bring.

Youngjin says that one of the issues he has had to deal with is his tendency to write in a manner that sounds too academic. It is almost inevitable because the topics are heavy, but it should be minimised so as not to lose the general audience

He says "I think many writers besides me have once faced such problem as well.Whether to go deep and lose contact, or to remain in contact and miss the deep - it is a serious dilemma one is obliged to resolve (especially the ones who are obsessed with esoteric ideas)."




This way to the cartoons:
Stack 1, cartoon 1 Doublethink


 

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review article: Secrets of the Seven Seals (2014)

Review article

Secrets of the Seven Seals
The Philosopher's verdict: plenty of implied connections


 




Discovering The Lead Codices: The Book of Seven Seals and the Secret Teachings of Jesus
By David and Jennifer Elkington
£19.99, 288 pages, Watkins Publishing (May 2014) ISBN-10: 1780287666

Most of what we know as the Old Testament, upon which the New Testament was founded, is in fact propaganda, not history. The ancient Ten Commandments, as set out in Exodus, for example, have had many incarnations, with the laws being adjusted to fit the needs of political expediency. It's been at least a little like the tale of the commandments written on the side of the barn described by George Orwell in his Twentieth century parable of the animal revolutionaries of Home Farm - a tale designed to mock the communists in Russia for rewriting their orthodoxies.

And the Tanakh or Hebrew Canon – the Old Testament, as it usually called – is riddled with inconsistencies as a result of being rewritten and edited to exclude anything that might be perceived as Christian. For example, Genesis tells of the sacrifice of Isaac: this was omitted as a result of antipathy to the Christians, when Mark's Gospel was composed, the story of the Crucifixion ends at the site of the empty tomb. The Resurrection text was written into it subsequently, possibly as much as one hundred and fifty years later.

The Old Testament the modern reader will see, has come down to us via Saint Jerome, who used the adjusted Hebrew texts. These are not the texts that Jesus and the Christians would have been familiar with but ones that had been entirely rewritten and edited, to expunge the mention of Jesus, the early Christian movement and certain of the Temple mysteries. The central claim that the The Lead Codices makes is that these sealed books offer us more than a glimpse into this highly secretive, controversial world. They give us a deeper understanding of Christian origins – and in particular, the ancient royal cult of the semi-divine King.

Presenting the factual background, the Elkingtons explain that the view we have today of early Christianity is drawn mainly from the writings of Eusebius, an early Church Father and adviser to the Emperor Constantine. It was Eusebius who drew up the Nicaean creed, the article of faith that is still used in modern times. People who objected to his teachings were accused of heresy, and silenced. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. It was at this council that Jesus was finally voted as having divine status, the creed was agreed upon and the dating of Easter was confirmed. Jesus was God, and now equal, if not superior, to all of the other gods – no longer was he a dangerous mortal. It was also at Nicaea that the orthodoxies of the faith were established: for the first time the word 'heresy' began its intimate association with the Church.

A key propagandist in this case was the philosopher and early Christian Father, Saint Justin Martyr, who was born around 100 C.E. in the former Roman city of Flavia Neapolis (modern-day Nablus), near the old territory of Samaria. Justin took issue with the Jews over their rewriting of texts. In a text supposedly recording a conversation with a representative of the offending group, called Trypho, he declares:

'I certainly do not trust your teachers who refuse to admit that the translation made by the seventy elders who were with King Ptolemy of Egypt is a correct one and attempt to make their own translation…. They have deleted entire passages… and I wish you to observe that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures composed by those elders.'

Following the conventional histories here, the Elkingtons explain that the decision to adopt the newly altered canon is thought to have taken place at Jamnia in the years after the fall of the Temple in 135 C.E. and that there is a disguised account of this process in which Ezra hears the Most High speaking to him from a bush. Ezra was the new Moses. He was instructed to write the new canon in the form of a series of books, only some of which were to be made public.

Ezra's 'new law' was no doubt based partially on older oral tradition, and perhaps even scraps of earlier written material, but its main core of animal sacrifice was most certainly not part of the original Law of Moses. Not that the Elkingtons make this point, rather they are interested in what Ezra 'left out'.

'The remainder, containing the source of understanding, wisdom and knowledge, were therefore of utmost importance. It is possible that they were the pre-Christian books that came to be preserved only by the Christians: The Ascension of Isaiah, 1 and 2 Enoch and so on.'

The discovery of the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, indisputably the Biblical find of the age, brought this issue into sharp relief, since texts long cited as major, yet written out of the Scriptures, were found in the hoard. The Scrolls contain the earliest versions of the Hebrew bible, maps to hidden temple treasure, and insights into the ideas of Jesus and the early Christians.

However, the Elkingtons' particular claim is that what has been hidden away or completely rewritten is nothing less than the secret history of Hebraism, the long-lost original theology… and the fact that it was based upon ritual performed at the Temple of Jerusalem. They explain that throughout antiquity the Temple played a crucial role as a mouthpiece of the divine through the person of the King-Messiah, but that by the time of Jesus the image of the Temple had become tarnished, and the Temple itself had become effectively Judea's central bank. 'Payment of Temple tax was compulsory for every devout pilgrim, and such a captive following – thousands went up to Jerusalem every year for the Passover – brought phenomenal power, as well as intrigue, strife and political assassination, as various parties struggled for prestige and influence.' They write:

'When we first looked upon the codices and their iconography, an image of the Temple, with its accoutrements, was precisely what stood out for us. One of these accoutrements strongly affirmed that this was indeed the holy place in which Jesus had preached and worked: the Seven-branched Menorah, or candlestick. This singular item was to be found in only one place: deep inside the Hall of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in 1st-century Palestine.'

The Elkingtons' write that seeing the Menorah on the codices 'was the moment of confirmation – that the codices abounded in hidden knowledge, sealed in books and then hidden away for many, many centuries.' However, 'it was only when we first saw, on one codex, the face of Jesus, the Man of Woes, with all of its power and the sadness in its eyes that we began fully to appreciate the codices as repositories of early Christianity.'

The problem of reconciling all the views of the Old Testament scriptures was one that beset the early Church for many years. According to the Clementine Homilies, Jesus himself says:

'On this account do you go astray, not knowing the true things of the Scriptures and for this reason you are also ignorant of the Power of God. Therefore every man who wishes to be saved must become, as the Teacher said, a judge of the books written to try us. For he said:  "Become experienced bankers." Now the need for bankers arises when forgeries are mixed up with the genuine.'

The homilies are named after Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the 2nd century. In them, Clement makes an astonishing, though at the time secret, admission:

'For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.'

The issue that Clement, was corresponding about was the real nature of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from a state of apparent death … apparent because in his response Clement reveals the truth by giving a verbatim description of what is in the original text. But first of all, here is what you can read in today's Bibles:

'Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"  So they took away the stone.

Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

Compare this, to the 'secret text':

'And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him, "Son of David, have mercy on me." But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb.

And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.

And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked [body]. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence arising he returned to the other side of the Jordan.'

The Elkingtons quote the second (but not the first) text, while stressing that many scholars question the antiquity and genuineness of this document. However, they say, supposing that the secret text is the more authentic, it makes clear that the raising of Lazarus, one of the most remarkable miracles in St John's testimony, 'was a ritualistic affair'.

As Colin Kirk explains in his recent book, Jesus Forever Reborn (Xlibris, 2014) at the time of Jesus, only one small sect, called the Pharisees, a wealthy minority of businessmen, traders and bankers, believed in resurrection of the body. Advocacy of the idea was thus highly political.

What this instance demonstrates is that this Gospel was changed, and it is likely that others too suffered the same fate. Gospels were expurgated, revised and edited into a form that suited the needs of the soon to be organised religion of Christianity. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, as does John (who omits the Last Supper). However, when we come to the events of Jesus' execution, each is seemingly at odds with the other, particularly regarding the actual day of the Crucifixion: in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke it occurs the day after the Passover, whereas in John it is the day before.

Jesus' actions in the Temple, (which the Elkingtons see specifically reflected in the codices) made him the Church, and it made Christianity what it was and still is today. Suddenly the Temple was in man. God was a concept no longer rooted to a particular, centralized spot: he was everywhere, but particularly within us.

The Elkingtons argue that the codices show Jesus:

'… making his point overwhelmingly. He is making reference to the most archaic form of Israelite belief. He is sending out a message that the original Temple worship should be restored and that the abuses carried out in the name of God at Jerusalem should be brought to an end. He is pointing out the illegitimacy of the priesthood at Jerusalem – and as King he has the right to effect the necessary reform.'

Both history and Christianity tell us that Jesus was the Messiah, that is, that he was a king, and that he was crucified. However, Christianity makes the even greater claim, that, by virtue of his status as the Messiah, he is in some way semi-, or even fully, divine: that he is in fact the Son of God.

The last of the canonical Gospels, written by Saint John, is deemed to be the most reliable in terms of historical detail and first-hand knowledge. It reveals a surprising level of topographical information about Jerusalem in the 1st century and contains incidents and names that do not occur in the other Gospels.  John's is the only Gospel most likely to have been written by an actual disciple of Jesus.

John's is also the only Gospel that mentions that the notice on Jesus' cross included the words 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews': the other three Gospels say only 'King of the Jews'. The Elkingtons explain that what John actually says is: 'Jesus the Nazoraios'. Nazoraios is most likely to be a Greek word taken from the Hebrew notzer, meaning 'the one who keeps/guards the old ways'. This became the general Hebrew term for Christians.

What the authors of Discovering The Lead Codices: The Book of Seven Seals and the Secret Teachings of Jesus play down however, is that St John is perhaps best known as the author of the Book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible. They don't even mention that John writes of a book sealed with seven seals.

But we might recall that, when broken, the first four seals unleash the infamous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first seal releases a rider on a white horse with a bow who is given a crown. He probably represents war. The second seal releases a rider on a red horse with a giant sword. This horseman is supposed to represent bloodshed. The third seal releases a rider on a black horse carrying a scale, who symbolizes famine. The fourth seal releases a rider on a pale green horse who represents death.

Some scholars propose that the first horseman on a white horse is actually the victorious and triumphant Christ himself. Most, however, believe the first horseman is war since this fits better with the character of the other three riders. (Another candidate would be the Antichrist himself, who is supposed to usher in the horror of doomsday.)

After the famous four horsemen are released at the breaking of the first four seals, the last three are then opened. The fifth seal is supposed to release all the souls of the martyrs who were slain for the faith. They ask how long before their deaths are avenged and they are assured that justice is not far behind. The sixth seal unleashes the Day of Wrath. The sun goes dark, the moon turns blood red, the stars fall from the sky, and islands and mountains disappear. After the breaking of the sixth seal and before the seventh, four angels are dispatched to each of the four corners of the earth. One of these angels places a mark on the foreheads of 144,000 souls (12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel) to protect them 'as the lamb's blood on the doorpost protected the Israelites from the last plague of Egypt the night of Passover'.

What strange things can the seventh and final seal ushers in? Why, the spookiness of a half hour of silence. After which seven angels blow seven trumpets.

Now this is all fine stuff, but instead of linking the story into that of their own leaden seals, which evidently have been rather brusquely broken in the archaeological investigations, the Elkingtons simply note that the main codex of their hoard was closed with seven seals, and that seven is a significant number, associated symbolically with perfection. They are more interested in in the fact that the main codex has a portrait of 'a bearded man, with a halo framing his portrait' on the cover.

'Looking over his wife's shoulders, as she delicately prised the first pages apart with tweezers, David Elkington writes that he was rendered speechless by what he saw. 'The silvery pristine beauty of the image was deeply moving: but what on earth was it? Most remarkably, among all the aged and corroded pages in the rest of the codex, this one was uniquely pure. It was totally unmarred by time and the external elements: it was a miraculous vision.'

For them, 'The face reveals much. It has suffering written upon it, and yet it is strangely serene.' Who can it be?

'The codex is sealed on all sides with lead binding rings and contains some script. What stands out in the script is the row of Xs – the ancient Hebrew letter form of Tav, the letter T; otherwise known in the Palaeo-Hebrew alphabet as the cross. 'X' is the name of Yahweh – the Lord, the Second God of Israel, Son of God Most High. Quite simply, there is no one other than Christ whom this face could represent. What we are looking at is the first icon. No other theory of identification stands up to close scrutiny. The image is kingly, and it portrays a man who had obviously attained a reasonable level of esteem. The rendering of the image would have been expensive: no one would have gone to this trouble had it not been vitally important to do so. The process of making the face and then setting it in solid lead would have been difficult using the processes of the day.'

Their idea is that the image of Jesus, this eikon, this secret image, to be seen by very few, would upon contemplation reveal certain of the mysteries behind the veil – in this case, the veil of flesh. 'What we have here is an example of the old Temple theology meeting the rise of Christianity – in the form of our artefacts.'

The parallel story in the book, comprising around half of the text, is the 'ripping yarn' one of an international chase for the priceless relics, which brings in the Queen of Jordan and the Pope. The book opens with this unpromising appetizer:

'A wild Bedouin Arab with a hoard of priceless antiquities and his dubious accomplices. We were not comfortable with the way things looked, but someone had to do something to save the codices.'

At the outset it seems that the codices will be worth millions of dollars an and the Elkingtons are the only people determined to save them for the academics to study. At one point the London police confiscate the precious lead codices, and a police officer leading the enquiry took the tablets, without the Elkingtons' knowledge or permission, to the British Museum. There, Dr Irving Finkel, deemed them to be forgeries.

Experts! Who needs 'em… The Elkingtons certainly didn't, pointing out that although Dr Finkel is a well-respected historian in his field of Mesopotamian cuneiform: 'These books were written at least 2,000 years after the emergence of cuneiform.'

The police however did believe him and lost interest in the artifacts which was good news in a sense as David Elkington was able to get them back.

'When I arrived back home, I opened the envelope and inspected the tablets. One of them had been damaged. There was a distinct bend, forming a ridge on the upper left-hand corner. Deemed to be fakes, they had been treated with disdainful irreverence: as valueless pieces of scrap metal.'

The Elkingtons describe some of the frustration they felt as bit by bit an opposed view of the codices as crude forgeries built up, and as contact after contact declined to be named in support of their views.

'There have also been confident claims that all symbols on the codices are to be seen elsewhere, that they are crude copies made by forgers. This assertion is inaccurate. As one of our experts puts it, 'the most complex pattern, which appears several times and seems to have been the main symbol of whatever the codices represent, has not been found elsewhere.' One commentator has stated that the seven-branched menorah on all the codices is uniquely wide and semi-circular and that, as comparable examples have not been seen anywhere, it must be a forgery. Such tortuous reasoning seems to be de rigueur among those who are seeking to condemn the discovery.'

However, they do not give the reader convincing reasons to believe that the codices are not in fact fakes, a mélange of symbols from various sources, including certain text elements that have been repeatedly stamped into the lead in ways that belie any possible secret meanings. Had they done so, the book would have had a much greater value. As it is, I don't think the 'ripping yarn' adds anything to the serious matters, but surely it makes the book more palatable for a general audience, who might otherwise tire of a diet of obscure disputes about ancient languages.

There is a related sub-plot in the book concerning the trials of authors with publishers with which I can certainly sympathize. The Elkingtons relate how their book was on course for Easter publication until, at the publisher's request, Jennifer compiled a comprehensive report of everything they knew to date of the circumstantial evidence. Then:

'Instead, the knowledge we shared was used against us. Much to our dismay, we received a call from our agent saying that the publishers were pulling out following a report from the SDEMA, a private investigation agency in Israel that had been commissioned by them. The investigation was ordered despite our earlier protests that it would be a waste of money. A copy of the email from the CEO was forwarded to us. The email informed us that independent research had been commissioned into the background of the codices, causing the publishers to be very concerned by what they had discovered. The investigation, in their opinion, had cast doubts on the authenticity of the codices. They reassured us that they believed we had acted in good faith, but in their opinion we had been misled. The email went on to say that the report was devastating in its conclusion, destroying any credibility the artefacts might have; therefore, regretfully, they would have to withdraw.'

As the Elkingtons quickly point out, the same sort of thing was maintained for years about the Dead Sea Scrolls, aided by a forty year monopoly on the research by Professor John Strugnell, Head of the International Team of scholars selected to study the Dead Sea Scrolls. When the monopoly was broken, researchers soon decided that the Scrolls were not in fact medieval forgeries but vitally important historical texts. Clearly, if commercial publishers were to be the judges, the Dead Sea Scrolls would still be locked away and dismissed as of no scholarly importance. The Elkingtons of course want their Lead Codices and the Dead Sea Scrolls to be paired.

Image ©David Elkington 2014 and reproduced here courtesy of the publishers
However the links offered seem rather feeble. The scrolls contain, after all, extensive amounts of overtly Biblical text, approximately 900 texts written in Hebrew and Aramaic, whereas, on the lead codices, we are told here only that they offer  'common statements with reference to 'standing uprightly'' and implied connections from the symbols seen all over them. The Elkingtons insist that his amounts to 'more than a shared similarity'. And then, remember, 'there is the face of Christ on the front cover of the main codex – a clear link to the identity of the expected Messiah.'

Well, what is it about this image? The Elkingtons repeatedly remark on itspower and beauty of the  – making it sound like something that rivals say, the Turin Shroud (but is that a fake too?).  Detractors of the Lead Codices allege that the image has been crudely transplanted from an Italian source by a forger, or even that it is of a lion. But the Elkingtons see instead a great history:

'In the first few centuries ad, Jesus was symbolized by the image of a fish or by the labarum, an anchor-shaped cross. One of the first images of the bearded Christ in Western art is to be found in the catacombs of Commodilla, Italy, dating back to the 4th century. Perhaps the most striking early depiction of Christ is one that managed to survive the destruction of the icons throughout the Byzantine Empire in the years 730–87 C.E.: the Christ Pantocrator (the all-Encompassing) found in the monastery of St Catherine's in Sinai, dating to the 6th century. '

This Syrian icon of Christ Pantocrator, like many other holy icons, portrays Christ carrying a sealed metal book. Why is Jesus holding a book? The Elkingtons answer this, at least, this straightforwardly, by saying that in the Hebrew-Christian perspective: Jesus, the Logos, the 'Word', was holding the Book of the Law, God's laws, which were 'made flesh' in him – in the manner that Kings and Queens all over Europe were supposed to be there by divine descent. The Lead Codices continues:

'Placed alongside the frontal image on the main codex, these faces appear very like each other – so similar, in fact, as to be the same. Both are surrounded by a remarkable halo that serves, aesthetically, to separate the face from its background. The eyes, in each image, are very different from one another: one eye seems to be looking inward, the other outward (in fact, the inward eye is half-covered by shadow, which gives the strange illusion of a face in two halves). The face shows both holiness and introspection. But the significant thing about the icon from Sinai is that, although this is difficult to see in reproductions, it has two eight-pointed stars in the top left- and right-hand corners. This is one of the only instances of eight-pointed stars anywhere other than on the codices.'

The Elkingtons make much of the fact that eight-pointed stars are symbolic of kingship. The six-pointed star is familiar to us today as a symbol of black magic and of Israel: it is derived from the famous King, Solomon. The seven-pointed star denoted Solomon's father, King David. However, the eight-pointed star is indicative of the enigmatic figure of Melchizedek, the figure to whom Abraham showed obeisance. Melchizedek appears in the Book of Genesis as the King of Salem. His role is that of High Priest, and a cursory inspection of the codices showed definite High Priestly and regal references.

In the Gospels Jesus is actually called the 'cornerstone': he is the link – the physical link, in his role of King and High Priest – between humanity and God.

Earlier images seem to be influenced by Greek ideals of beauty, with Jesus as the 'new Apollo', and beardless. If the codices are genuine, then we now know, if nothing else, that Jesus really had a beard.

For the Elkingtons' many critics, it does seem that the actual lead codices are not so much a carefully hidden away collection of secret teachings as a richly decorated forgery. That said, the book is still well worth a read, as both a ripping yarn, and an unusual introduction to the deep and definitely mysterious world of Biblical archaeology. 

Reviewed by Martin Cohen. 

On the Nature of Things: Twenty First Century Update (2014)

From The Philosopher, Volume 102 No. 1
 

 On the Nature of Things
Twenty First Century Update

 





By Alvin Yusin


 About two thousand years ago, Lucretius wrote a treatise, in the form of an epic poem, whose Latin title is De Rerum Natura*. There are two common translations of the title: On the Nature of Things and On The Nature of the Universe. But whatever it is called, Lucretius' poem is a remarkable work. It expounds the perspective of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose explanation regarding origins of the world and the living things on it differed from the perspectives held at the time by his fellow Greeks, which in turn derived from mystical notions form the Far East.

One such explanation has been described as the Theory of Chaos. It is claimed that before sea, earth, and heaven separated there existed a confused, shapeless mass given the name Chaos. Unknown gods and nature separated the earth from the sea and the heavens from both. Other or the same gods then laid out topography of the earth's surface appointing rivers and bays, fields and forests, raising up mountains, and so on. When this work was completed those gods created living creatures from heavenly seeds in the earth. Birds lived in the air, fish in the sea, and four footed beasts on the land. When a nobler creature was sought, the god Prometheus kneaded heavenly seeds with water thereby creating man in the image of the gods and giving man upright stature - so that he could look at the heavens.

It is a fine story, but Epicurus did not accept it as any kind of an explanation of the natural world. Instead, according to Epicurus and Lucretius, all things, inanimate (non - living) and animate (living) alike are composed of small particles called atoms. The arrangement and organisation of these atoms determines the form those things will take as well as whether it will be living or inanimate.

Lucretius’ poem includes this account:


The supply of matter in the universe was never more tightly packed than it is now, or more widely spread out. For nothing is ever added to it or subtracted from it. It follows that the movement of atoms today is no different from what it was in bygone ages and always will be. So the things that have regularly come into being will continue to come into being in the same manner; they will be and grow and flourish so far as each is allowed by the laws of nature.

Clearly neither Epicurus or his pupil Lucretius were satisfied by explanations that the universe was created by gods. Instead, in On the Nature of Things, it is said to have sprung into existence spontaneously through the random play of atoms.  Later, both gods and human beings came into existence as a result of specific arrangements of the atoms, and share similar forms. Life comes about when what might be called 'specialised atoms' came into existence and formed souls. A special feature of the gods is that their souls cannot leave their bodies. It is this circumstance that provides them with the gift of immortality. The soul atoms of human beings, on the other hand, do leave their bodies and with their departure comes death. Other than this one difference, gods and human beings are exactly alike. 

Of course, these days, both the Ancient notions of Chaos and Epicurus' theory have been discarded. They have been replaced by two different and conflicting notions. In a general sense, these opposing notions are not unlike the views of interacting forces held in ancient Greece. Modern perspectives, too, identify two diverse powers that have created the world and the living things on it. The first, theological perspective, claims that divine forces created and organized the inanimate or physical world, then created the animate or living things who populate that world. The other world view insists that it is solely physical laws framing the random combinations and re-combinations of specific elements and molecules that have, over vast periods of time, given rise to the world and all its living creatures.

Yet, if the specifics of these ideas differ from the specifics of the earlier theory of Chaos and Epicurus and Lucretius ideas they all share something. In their different ways, they all reflect the same conflict that appears in human explanations regarding creation of the universe and the living things on it. Are the world and the life forms in it the result of spontaneous random interactions of basic elements that over time have given rise to simple then more complex life forms? Or is this world and its life forms the signature of a carefully constructed universe containing a variety of life forms designed by some unknown, perhaps divine power. To make that determination requires a review of the great scientific theories of today.

There are currently three competing scientific viewpoints to explain the creation of the universe: the Big Bang theory; the Steady State theory and more recently the Dark Hole theory, however all are based on the shared assumption that the universe came into existence spontaneously and that random combinations of universe components gave rise, over time, to the inanimate and the animate that exist in the world today. The prevailing scientific account is the Big Bang theory. It maintains that about 10 – 20 billion years ago the universe, which was then extremely hot and dense, experienced a massive blast causing the existing matter and energy to expand, and following this expansion began to cool peripherally. Proponents of the theory use Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which identifies the ability of energy to convert to matter, to explain the mechanisms by which the energy driving the expansion of the universe gradually 'cooled' giving rise to stars and galaxies.

Now stars consist primarily of the element hydrogen. At the center of each hydrogen atom is the nucleus. Energy generated by stars comes about when these nuclei join - fusion. Such fusions generate the other elements, such as helium, the second lightest element and the second most abundant element in the observable universe. Heavier elements such as iron come about as a result of fusion that occurs when massive stars die at which time they explode. Over time peripheral cooling took place leading to element combinations called molecules that with further cooling combined to give rise to a variety of inanimate forms.

Over unimaginable periods of time, specific elements and molecules in some inanimate forms combined and rearranged themselves gradually giving rise to simple life forms. Of course, this perspective regarding the origins of life dovetails nicely with Darwinian perspectives of evolution, which seeks to account for the eventual emergence of the human species from these simple life forms. Today, most scientists accept the Big Bang Theory, certainly as it relates to the creation of both inanimate and animate forms. However, in order to explain the origins of living forms developing from non-living forms they rely upon another Ancient idea, that was theory promoted (but not invented) by Aristotle. This is the theory called Spontaneous Generation. The theory assumes that life forms can arise from non-living things: for example, that worms and flies spring into life from mud and water.

Naive though the Ancient theory is (nowadays we know that there is microscopic universe of bacteria, eggs and DNA present even in many supposedly inanimate things) Spontaneous Generation remains, in another sense, the only possible explanation for the origin of life in its most basic form - if the physicists explanations of the start of the universe are correct. But what if they are not? After all, here, the Divine Force Theory, the basis of all religions, has, in a sense, an explanatory advantage. It simply identifies God as creator both of the universe and the animate and inanimate forms in it. Is there proof that such a force exists? Truly religious individuals accept God's existence on faith and require no further proof.

Yet, even so, Saint Thomas Aquinas found it worthwhile to try to prove God's existence using another of the philosophical perspectives associated with Aristotle. The basis of that perspective is the truism that every effect has a cause.  That is to say, when something happens, something must have made it happen. 

When a specific cause always produces the same effect a causal relationship is assumed to exist between them. Aristotle's view was that the cause of an effect can also be an effect. For example, consider the question as to what is causes ice to melt? Higher temperatures cause ice to melt. (The effect). But what caused the temperature to rise? Let’s say that exceptional sunlight caused the temperatures to rise (so what was previously a cause has now become also an effect). There exists a cascade of causal relationships. In fact, Aristotle believed that all causal relationships could be traced back to a single one., which he named 'the Prime Mover', an approach to understanding causal relationships sometimes called 'retrograde analysis’. Aquinas was using retrograde analysis of causal relationships when he identified God as the Prime Mover. However, there may be a way to reconcile the Vital Force and Big Bang Theories as regarding living things. But before I explain how I think this approach can be used, two areas important to their study must be briefly addressed. These concern the operation of computers and human genetics.

First of all, computers. Computer science speaks of three essential components for the machine to function: hardware, software and input data. Of course, hardware has components of its own. However, the only hardware component of interest to us is the so-called Central Processing Unit located inside the computer. The CPU typically consists of electronic boards which process the programs - the 'Software' - required to accomplish the specific tasks the computer must perform.

Now consider a second area of importance to our question of origins - human genetics. Over the last forty to fifty years research has provided a much more detailed understanding of human genetics. It is increasingly clear that the development of human beings from conception to death is precisely programmed. I have a particular sense of this, as in my professional life, I specialised in the study of Pediatrics, Neurology and Psychiatry and Human Behavior. I cared for children with Developmental Disabilities, which was defined as children with Epilepsy, Autism, Mental Retardation, and Cerebral Palsy and 'other conditions requiring similar programs’ in the state of California. Many of these children had genetic disorders.

Anyway, what can unambiguously be stated is that genes consist of a chemical structure called Deoxyribonucleic Acid - or DNA. To understand DNA's function in life requires us to always remember that the human body is composed of proteins. Proteins are incorporated into the structures and functions of every organ in the human body. These organs in turn are composed of thousand of microscopic entities - the cells. Proteins with different shapes, compositions, and functions are manufactured in the organ in which they are found. Thus, proteins determine how human beings will look and how we function. They are involved in the initiation, performance, and termination of all human activities. Now what I want to argue is that at least in one sense, DNA is humanity's central processing unit, one containing all the programs that create, shape and modify proteins so that they can perform their function.

The inputs to this biological CPU come from signals either within the cells or from outside of them. These signals trigger the DNA programs to initiate manufacture of the proteins necessary to perform the required activity. When whatever was required is completed another signal terminates the program. But back to cosmology. Scientific theories increasingly hold to the notion that there is no vital force controlling the universe, that it arose as a result of cooling down from an extremely high temperature soon after the Big Bang and that the effects of that cooling are as described by the Theory of Relativity.

Yet, as we saw, Epicurus also believed that the universe came about as a result of combinations of atoms, small discrete particles that were the basic building blocks of all things even if there is no reason to suppose that he considered them in the same sense as we do today, with our theories of the specific structure of atoms and of the conversion of energy to matter (or vice versa). Equally, the Vital Force theory too accepts the fact that when the universe was first created first it consisted only of inanimate structures. So, in some ways there is agreement between Epicurus and modern theories regarding the origins of life. There is agreement that living forms (including human beings) came into existence by chance combinations of specific elements and molecules.

Epicurus sees a specific atomic structure - the soul - bestowing life on an inanimate form while scientists see all living things as containing DNA, or something similar, that stores genetic codes which allow those living things to develop and survive in their environments. The key assumption that must be made by those who hold to the notion that animate forms developed from inanimate ones is that early life forms programmed themselves. Yet no living thing exists without some genetic code to initiate its growth and development and there is no evidence indicating that any inanimate object ever established its own genetic code which then converted it to a living form. Similarly, all computers developed by human beings require someone to program them, or at least to create the computer chips that will allow them to process inputs and perform the function for which they were designed. Even so-called expert systems that generate new programs have had to be programmed originally.

So, rather than ask the old question, How did life begin? I suggest that the better question we should be asking is: How can the Big Bang and Vital Force theories be reconciled? To start to do this requires a separate discussion of the two components of the creation theories that exist today: inanimate forms and animate forms.

First of all, consider inanimate forms. the Big Bang theory offered to explain the origin of the universe is based on mathematical and physical laws. much work has been done that strongly suggests that it is an accurate account in as much as it is in accordance with mathematical and physical laws, although questions remain, for example about the role of so-called Dark Matter in the equations. The theory offers a sequence of events in which first stars and galaxies come into existence and in turn create the atoms and molecules which make up all the inanimate forms that exist in the universe.

There is also some compatibility between the Big Bang and Vital Force theories when it comes to explaining the creation of animate life. both agree that DNA exists in living things. The conventional, 'scientific', approach explains the origins of DNA much the same way as any other molecule and inanimate form, that is by random combination of the four specific compounds (adenine, guanine, thymine, cytosine) with other components arranged in such a way as to form strands. The explanation regarding origin of the 22 amino acids, which are the building of proteins, is the same as that of DNA.  The scientific perspective is that early strands had simple structures, perhaps precursors, of the more complicated genetic structures existing today that underlie all life forms. Over time, through the processes of mutation and natural selection, ever more complex forms developed.

There are several problems with this explanation. First and foremost of which is that the notion of DNA mutating in such a way as to eventually create new species lacks validation on science's own terms. Existing evidence instead indicates that mutations in DNA either creates a variety of genetic diseases (such as muscular dystrophy or sickle cell anemia) or, conversely, produce a genetic advantage - for example, people with the sickle cell trait show increased resistance to malaria. However, at the present time, there is no evidence to support the notion that mutations could have created DNA molecules of such variance as to produce a new species.

So, although the Big Bang theory does explain the creation of DNA and amino acids it does not explain how proteins came to be. Proteins, in essence, consist of amino acids that connect to each other to form very long chains. The amino acids sequences determine what specific protein is made. Amino acids, by themselves, cannot combine to form chains, never mind in specific arrangements.

Instead, it is the five compounds arranged on DNA strands that start the process that will allow very specific amino acids to be placed in the very specific sequences that produce in turn very specific proteins with correspondingly very specific functions. It is difficult to reconcile the creation of this function of DNA with the explanations provided by the mathematical logic of the theory of the Big Bang. The approach may provide an acceptable level of explanation for the development of DNA and amino acid structure, but it falls far short when it comes to the creation of these functional aspects of DNA.

There may be a way to address the question asked earlier concerning the reconciliation of the two theories. The first thing that must be done is to change the term 'vital force' for that of 'life force'. To understand what I mean by this, consider the cases of the physical phenomena sound and light. We know that sound and light exist, usually in the form of waves around us, but we only experience them when there is a specific structure that allows them to be expressed. For example, with sound, the human hearing apparatus and the radio are two such structures; with light, the human visual system and television are examples. Is it possible that whatever life force exists in the universe is experienced only when it enters a specific structure? If so, such a structure must have DNA and the various components that permit it to express life.

In this sense. the 'life force' would program, or perhaps we should say activate, the structure's components - just as light and sound activate eyes to see and ears to hear. When the life force enters the structure, it lives but should the structure be severely damaged or destroyed, then the life force can no longer be expressed. From this perspective, function overrides structure when it comes to life forms. And perhaps the most striking thing in this is how, in more than one way, such views recall those ancient notions of Epicurus regarding creation, life and death.


*The original text can be read at http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.html

Contact details:
Alvin S. Yusin

Email: <Tmy222 [at] aol.com>