Anti-Humanism in the Work of John Gray:The failure of rationality and the reality of human dissonance.

    Constructed Views.

  • John Gray argues that humans deny reality in order to preserve constructed views and beliefs about themselves and the world.
  • At the same time humans deny any belief in the mythologies in favour of science.
  • Gray argues that the mythologies are a part of a normal human condition he calls ‘’cognitive dissonance’’. (J. Gray: The Silence of Animals, 2014,p 74).
  • Leon Festinger’s (1957) Cognitive Dissonance Theory.
    • Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.
    • This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.
    • For example, when people knowingly (cognitively) engage in harmful behavior.
    • According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance.
    • Messianic Movements.
      • Gray believes that cognitive dissonance is expressed in the notion of history and progress and especially in the messianic movements that advocate the arrival of a saviour who will rescue humanity from self-destruction and replace chaos with love and a perceived eternal life.
      • This has been played out in apocalyptic movements, revolutions and politics. It is also played out in the day-to-day planning said to organize humans into a “civilized world”.
      • Gray argues that humans are naturally civilized and naturally barbaric (p75) and there is no such thing as “fate”; ideas that stem from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
      • Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860.
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        • Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he describes the world, and consequently all human action, as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will.
        • Life Beyond Reason.
          • According to Schopenhauer humans are governed by an unconscious will. Freud called this unconscious flow of energy the “id”. Schopenhauer believed in salvation (with the elimination of the ego).   Freud argued there was no salvation;  the ego and the id are natural human components. They could however, be understood through psychoanalysis (myth-making).
            • Or, the avoidance of making claims about things in themselves. (This view became a philosophy called Logical Positivism. In positivism the boundaries between illusion, fiction, myth and science are blurred or returned to nature (as in the case of evolution).
            • Meaning must be found in fictions because there are no absolutes. The unconscious =abstracts, thought=concepts, actions =unintended consequences.
            • Who’s Interests are Being Served?
            • However those who look to science to answer questions of a personal, social or political nature have instead mostly ended up reinforcing the mainstream ideologies of the era, and in an age when science has replaced religion as the ultimate intellectual authority, it has become a powerful ideological weapon of the ruling class.
            • Evolution and Unintended Consequences.
              • Darwin advocated a process of natural selection of random genetic material and was of the opinion that an individual would inherit the optimal characteristics that would ensure survival ( or a reproductive advantage). However:
              • Evolution has no end point. Gray calls it an “evolutionary drift”.
              • The natural world and the social world are not the same. For example,:
              • Herbert Spencer’s Social Evolution (Social Darwinism) has no scientific basis (p78). This view is also called biological determinism and has become a battleground between biology and ideology.
              • The biological sciences have an altogether more fundamental political nature, which is often grounded in the misleading term “human nature”.
              • Or, what is the natural world expected to tell us about ourselves and how we should behave.
              • The difference between Evolution and Natural Selection.
                  • Evolution is the process by which new species come into being. The term is also used for the history of species on the planet.
                  • Natural selection is the mechanism by which evolution occurs: variations in the population which spread or are eliminated based on how well they manage to survive in the environment.
                  • Nowhere in science can we say societies are “naturally” based on hereditary factors.
                  • Ernst Haeckel 1834-1919.
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                “I established the opposite view, that this history of the embryo (ontogeny) must be completed by a second, equally valuable, and closely connected branch of thought – the history of race (phylogeny).

                Both of these branches of evolutionary science, are, in my opinion, in the closest causal connection; this arises from the reciprocal action of the laws of heredity and adaptation… ‘ontogenesis is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogenesis, determined by the physiological functions of heredity (generation) and adaptation (maintenance).'”Haeckel, E. 1899. Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century.

                This view has been discredited except by the extreme far Right.

              • Precursor  to Sociobiology.
                • Although best known for the famous statement “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, (recapitulation theory means a linear chain of being involving all animals).
                • Haeckel also stated that “politics is applied biology”, a quote used by Nazi propagandists. The Nazi party, rather unfortunately, used not only Haeckel’s quotes, but also Haeckel’s justifications for racism, nationalism and Social Darwinism.
                • A more covert adaptation of these views arose in 1975 with the publication of Edward O Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.
                • Please read the following article from Frontline Vol 2. Issue 8. December 2008.
                • Biology and Ideology
                  The case against biological determinism
                  From Darwin to Dawkins views on evolution tend towards controversy. In this article Neil Bennet takes a look at current debates in the field.
                  Biology is a political battleground – more so than the other natural sciences, where a political discourse only really exists around applications of technologies (such as hydrogen bombs, nuclear power, Agent Orange and DDT) and even then only usually because of the biological impacts of those technologies – that is their effects on human or animal health and the ecosystem.Of course the same holds true for biology, with the greatest public and media interest in scientific news understandably surrounding threats or perceived threats to public health – whether variant CJD, avian influenza, the MMR vaccine or genetically-modified foods.

                  However the biological sciences have an altogether more fundamental political nature. It is the branch of the natural sciences expected to tell us about ourselves – about the human being as a species and our place in the world.

                  It is in this context that various conceptions of what comprises “human nature” have been fiercely debated, and various apparent attempts to understand or explain human (and animal) behaviours have been have put forward, and ideological battles fought.

                  However those who look to science to answer questions of a personal, social or political nature have instead mostly ended up reinforcing the mainstream ideologies of the era, and in an age when science has replaced religion as the ultimate intellectual authority, it has become a powerful ideological weapon of the ruling class.

                  Since Darwin

                  Ever since Charles Darwin first published his Origin of Species in 1859, the relationship between the process of “natural selection” Darwin described in nature has been closely intertwined with human social and economic structures. The phrase “survival of the fittest”, often attributed to Darwin, was in fact first used by political theorist Herbert Spencer in his The Principles of Biology in 1864, before being adopted by Darwin for later editions of Origin. Spencer used the phrase to draw parallels between the struggle for survival in nature and competition between individuals in the capitalist economy of Victorian England, and Darwin appropriated the term in order to avoid possible anthropomorphic confusions from the word “selection”.

                  Both Darwin and Spencer were strongly influenced by the writings of the economist Thomas Malthus, whose Essay on the Principle of Population (originally published in 1798) first inspired Darwin’s theory. Malthus’ widely-read essay argued that growth of human populations far outstripped the available food supply, and that laissez-faire capitalism was necessary for distributing what food there was. The 6th and final edition (1826), which Darwin would have read, softened its message somewhat by proposing mass emigration to the colonies as an alternative to watching the poor die of starvation caused by economic recession.

                  Of course this is not to undermine the importance of Darwin’s work or of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Rather it is necessary to note the social and political contexts in which scientific theories arise, particularly in order to understand the way those theories can be abused or misinterpreted.

                  One of the main problems with early Social Darwinism (as Spencer and others came to be associated with) was the confusion over the word “fitness”. In the aspects of Darwin’s writing dealing with the evolution of plants and animals, the term almost exclusively refers to reproductive success – that is the number of reproductively viable offspring of an individual organism or group of organisms. In more modern terms reproductive success is defined as the passing of an organism’s genes onto the next generation, so that they too can continue to pass those genes on. However both Darwin himself and the social theorists who appropriated his theories used “fitness” in the human context to refer to economic and social success – despite this being greatly at odds with evidence concerning reproductive success, as often poorer families had a great many more children than wealthy families.

                  On the basis of this confusion a new and influential philosophy was born. The association of Darwin’s theory of evolution with Spencer’s Social Darwinist doctrine was heavily promoted in the popular press in the United States in particular, with the help of funding from John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison – contributing to the rejection of Darwin’s theory by many, and (with a tremendous irony) helping create the layer of right-wing fundamentalist Christians still so politically powerful today.


                  As well as linking so directly to systems of capitalist economics and class domination, from a very early stage Darwin’s theory of evolution was heavily racialised. Just as social stratification was caused by competition for resources between individuals, so competition between races would result in the dominance of the “fittest” race. Thus Darwin wrote in 1839 (cited by Desmond and Moore, Darwin, p267):

                  “When two races of men meet they act precisely like two species of animals – they fight, they eat each other, bring diseases to each other &c, but then comes the more deadly struggle, namely which have the best fitted organisation, or instincts (ie intellect in man) to gain the day.”

                  Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton founded the social philosophy of eugenics towards the end of the 19th century. He introduced the term in his 1883 book Inquiries into human faculty and its development, arguing for intervention to encourage selective breeding of those with “desirable” family traits.

                  It is well known that this idea of intervention to “improve” human hereditary traits put forward by advocates of eugenics, together with the racialised interpretation of Darwinism had a massive and terrible impact on the history of the 20th century. The appropriation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by the Nazis led to the holocaust, in an attempt to maintain a “pure” German race – the superiority of which was a central tenet of Nazism and a background justification for much of Germany’s role in the Second World War.

                  The end of the war and the worldwide horror at the atrocities committed in the name of racial purity led to a long period where biologically-determinist accounts of human nature were sidelined in the popular consciousness.

                  A new synthesis?

                  This period of mainstream quiet came to an end in the mid-1970s with the publication of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology – The New Synthesis (1975). The title makes reference to the so-called “modern synthesis” of the 1930s, in which Darwinian evolutionary theory was combined with Mendelian genetics to bring about in a large part our modern understanding of the genetic mechanisms of inheritance and evolutionary change. The model produced was further confirmed by the discovery in the 1950s of the structure of DNA in the famous experiments of Watson and Crick, illustrating the molecular basis of genes and inheritance.

                  Wilson’s new synthesis purported to apply evolutionary theory to social behaviour, both in animals and in human beings – and to explain a large range of behaviours in terms of Darwinian fitness and evolutionary advantage. The sociobiological idea reached a much larger audience the following year with the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976).

                  The “big idea” of the sociobiologists was to attempt to explain supposedly “altruistic” behaviour in animals and humans with reference to evolutionary advantage. The first attempt was termed kin selection, an idea seemingly based on some off-hand remarks by British Marxist biologist JBS Haldane and formalised into a mathematical model by William Hamilton in 1964. Haldane’s now-famous comments were that based on the frequency of shared genes between related individuals, he ought to be willing to sacrifice his own life for those of two brothers, or of eight cousins.

                  Of course it is necessary to make some assumptions in order for this idea to be taken seriously as way to explain aspects of animal and human behaviour. Primarily it requires the gene-centred view of evolution, later popularised by Dawkins, to be accepted as absolute. That is, selection occurs only at the level of the gene, and that individual organisms (whether human beings, animals, plants or bacteria) are simply “lumbering robots” or “survival machines”, whose only purpose is to serve as transient vehicles for the “selfish replicators” that are our individual genes.

                  The conceptual leap necessary to accept this argument does a great disservice both to the study of evolutionary theory and the richness and diversity of the way the living world has evolved. Genes do not, and cannot, function in isolation. They are not, as some popular-science writers would describe them, controlling “Master Molecules”. Rather genes and their protein and RNA products only work in the context of the cellular environment – which includes the products of all the other genes of the organism, working in concert. Selective pressures can act a variety of different levels, including individual genes, groups of genes, the entire genome of an organism, the living organism itself (remember genes can only exert their influence via the organism, and the whole organism is the only thing in nature that can really be said to be capable of “self-replication”), as well as groups of organism, populations and entire species. While genes are the basic units of inheritance, they are not the basic units of evolution – as there is no such thing.

                  Moreover, an organism’s behavioural characteristics and other qualities are determined by more than just their genes. The process of development and the active interaction of the organism with its environment also have profound effects on how they are. Individuals are the product of unique, contingent and continuous interactions between genes and the broadly-defined environment. The supposed dichotomy of genes vs. environment, or “nature vs. nurture”, is a false one – the extent to which an individual’s genes have an impact on a given characteristic is absolutely dependent on the environment: the two cannot be separated, and it is silly to try and do so.

                  The second major assumption of the sociobiologists, necessary for their biologically-reductionist, ultra-Darwinist outlook, is what has been termed “adaptationism” or “pan-adaptationism”. In Darwinian evolutionary theory an adaptation is a characteristic or feature of an organism that has been specifically favoured by natural selection. A common example is the opposable thumb in human beings, allowing precise gripping and leading to the development and use of tools. The pan-adaptationists start from the assumption that all the characteristics they observe in nature are likely to be adaptations, and will have conferred some kind of survival advantage in that organism’s evolutionary history.

                  This viewpoint was roundly criticised in a famous paper by Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and population geneticist R.C. Lewontin entitled The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme (1979). They drew an analogy with spandrels (or pendentives) in Renaissance architecture, which are curved structures above an arch, often decorated in beautiful detail. An adaptationist argument would seek to explain these panels as part of the architectural design, providing a surface for decoration or for conveyance of religious messages. But of course these structures are not optional, but are necessary components of a dome supported on arches. Gould and Lewontin argue that many presumed adaptations, rather than being selected for could instead be the necessary consequence of other features of the organism.

                  The title of the paper also referred to the Voltaire character Pangloss, alluding to his ridiculous optimism: “for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end”. Another common comparison is with Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories about “How the elephant got its trunk” and “How the camel got his hump”.

                  Of course Darwin himself understood that adaptation by natural selection, while a very important mechanism of evolution was not the only mechanism. Genetic drift (genes in a population changing in the absence of selective pressure), chance and historical contingency (what if that meteorite hadn’t killed off the dinosaurs?), structural limitations and “laws of form” also have a hugely significant role to play in shaping evolutionary history. British neuroscientist and popular science writer Steven Rose also emphasises the importance of considering the active role that organisms play in determining their own destiny, through the seeking out and transforming of their environments.

                  To return briefly to the subject of altruistic behaviour, kin selection as a mathematical model – if we are generous and grant the underlying assumption that living forms exist primarily for the perpetuation of their “selfish” genes – is theoretically quite compelling. However, as Steven Rose writes in his book Lifelines (1997, 2001), the experimental support for kin selection was lacking, and the empirical evidence has been very-much open to alternative explanations. As such, another evolutionary explanation for altruistic behaviour was proposed, known as reciprocal altruism.

                  A common example used to illustrate this idea by popularisers of sociobiology (and later evolutionary psychology) is that of the drowning man. If you see a man drowning and risk your own life to rescue him, then if you were ever in the same situation he would be obliged to do the same for you. But as Lewontin points out in his book The Doctrine of DNA (1993), the last person you’d want to rely on to rescue you is someone who themselves had themselves almost drowned before!

                  Together with individual advantage, sexual selection and kin selection, reciprocal altruism could potentially account for just about every type of behaviour imaginable. But only if we accept the reductionist, genes-eye-view conception of evolution on which it is based as an accurate depiction of reality and one which sufficiently accounts for the huge variety and complexity of human and animal behaviours that we observe in the world around us. Instead we can avoid assuming that altruistic behaviour must itself be a Darwinian adaptation encoded in an animal’s genes, and rather regard it as a consequence of a more general social and empathetic instinct, which allows for all sorts co-operative and social behaviour. Of course for no species is co-operative behaviour more important than human beings.

                  Evolutionary psychology – new name, same difference?

                  Sociobiology almost immediately faced strong opposition, particularly from the left (including Gould and Lewontin). Critics traced the intellectual lineage from Social Darwinism, and argued against the sociobiologists’ theories from both scientific and political perspectives. The sociobiologist discourse also had an emphasis on differences in behaviour – particularly relevant to the debate over IQ testing and difference between races.

                  Progress both political and scientific undermined the claims of racist biology. Lewontin (1973) noted that 85% of genetic diversity occurs within populations of one race, rather than between races, and as such the concept of race does not have any real biological meaning.

                  The association with these debates however led to sociobiology falling out of mainstream fashion by the 1980s – however the intellectual trend was soon re-captured in the new discipline of evolutionary psychology in the early 1990s.

                  Some proponents came from a background in various fields of psychology (rather than the animal behaviourists like Wilson, primarily responsible for sociobiology), however many of the researchers and popularisers were the same as before – particularly in the UK, where evolutionary psychology was very much an import from the United States (see Hilary Rose in Alas, Poor Darwin (1999)). [Rose and Rose also note that evolutionary psychology “is a particularly Anglo-American phenomenon” and that “other European countries, notably France, have been less overwhelmed by Darwinian evolutionary theory.”]

                  Richard Dawkins himself (as a highly-visible public supporter of both) in an interview with The Evolutionist stated that evolutionary psychology was “rebranded sociobiology” (cited, Ibid). For the most part he was right; however the new field did steer something of a new course.

                  Firstly there was a new focus on what evolutionary psychology theorists considered to be human “universals”. This departure was understandable, as the new discipline wanted to distance itself from the controversies such as those over race associated with earlier forms of biological-reductionist reasoning which tended to focus more on differences.

                  However what this has invariably led to is a focus on one particular, supposedly “universal” difference – the difference between men and women – and so all the complex aspects of sex and gender relations. So we have evolutionary psychologists Thornhill and Palmer claiming in a popular book that rape is an evolutionary strategy designed to make sure the male’s genes survive to the next generation. Their case is based largely on examples of “forced sex” in other species – ignoring the fact that in a great proportion of rape cases in the human world, the victim is not a fertile female.

                  A second demarcation, related to the first, is that evolutionary psychologists don’t attempt to explain modern behaviour as necessarily of current evolutionary advantage – rather they postulate that most of the universal traits of human behaviour evolved in the Pleistocene (that is from ~1.8 million to ~12,000 years ago) and that they may persist despite having outlived their usefulness. While theoretically plausible, there is little evidence to support this theory. We simply do not know whether significant evolutionary change might have occurred in the human species since that time. What it does allow for however is for what is fundamentally biased guesswork taking on the mantle of science. So we have evolutionary psychologists telling us that women prefer pink or red shaded colours because they had to be good at foraging for berries while the men were out hunting, or that in general we all prefer art to be landscape paintings that include prominent bodies of water, as it was useful for us to live near water as our brains were evolving in the African savannah. Such “explanations” rely entirely on their own, internal, circular logic – and just simply ignore any contradictory evidence (such as our knowledge from history that red and pink have only recently become associated with women and femininity, and that this change in culture will influence the results of any survey) or more sensible cultural or social explanations for phenomena.

                  Another change is that unlike earlier genetic determinists, evolutionary psychologists tend not to argue that observed behaviours can be traced directly to specific gene products, but rather insist that a “mental architecture”, itself encoded by gene expression, gives rise to certain types of behaviour and mental function. It is this idea that is pushed most heavily by Steven Pinker, one of the most prominent exponents and popularisers of evolutionary psychology. He likens the “mind” (Note: distinct from the brain in Pinker’s description) to a Swiss-army knife, with various different modules for speech, face-recognition, “cheat-detection”, etc. – all having evolved semi-independently in order to endow us with these various functions. It is through this mechanism that evolutionary psychology continues the narrative of linking human behaviours and social phenomena directly to Darwinian impulses. However there isn’t any real evidence to support this idea of evolved modularity in our understanding of how the brain works. Rather neuroscientists’ understanding of localisation of different types of brain activity is dependent on its development, and stresses the complexity of the brain as an integrated organ.

                  Biology as Ideology

                  The general lack of empirical evidence and the obvious cultural and contemporary-historical biases of the Just So theories of evolutionary psychology have made it something of a comedic bête noir amongst philosophers of science, and their individual proclamations have little impact on the day-to-day practice of the biological sciences in general (though the reductionist ideology is very much in the mainstream of evolutionary theory, and the popular conception of genes as all-important Master Molecules has had profound effects on the direction of research and funding).

                  However in the realms of popular science writing and science reporting in the mainstream media, biological reductionism undoubtedly holds sway. The dramatic and simplistic claims of evolutionary psychology make for good news stories, and authors like Dawkins, Pinker and Matt Ridley are amongst the most widely-read pop-science writers after Stephen Hawking. Similarly the reductionist concept of the gene has taken on a powerful cultural role through film, television and the popular press – escaping the confines of popular science and news.

                  For the increasingly secular modern society, religion has lost its power as a force of social legitimation. Science in general has come to take the place of religion as a source of transcendent truth, something external to ourselves that we can believe in unquestioningly. But science is in fact very much a social institution, created by people living and working within the broader society and economy, and as such reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of the society that creates it. The bastardised, reductionist, mainstream understanding of genetics and evolution has taken on part of the role once occupied by religion, that of an ideological weapon, legitimising the current social order and undermining those whose interests it is in to challenge and struggle against it.

                  Every time we read a story in the newspaper telling us an “evolutionary” explanation for some behaviour, or watch a TV documentary about how scientists have discovered a “gene for” homosexuality, or aggression, or criminality, or read a book about how “it’s all in the genes”, our conception of ourselves as passive recipients of our genetically-encoded fates is reinforced. The idea that genes cause behaviours, and that society is the collection of all our individual sets of behaviours, lead inextricably to the conclusion that the structures of society are just the indirect consequence (or extended phenotype, as Dawkins might term it) of the human genome – that we have the society we deserve, and there’s no point in trying to do anything to change it. It robs us of our agency, and inspires inaction.

                  Of course our genes do matter in determining how we are. Most importantly they allow us to develop large, complicated brains – capable of all sorts of different behaviours. It is this plasticity that has made human beings able to adapt to so many different circumstances, and has allowed us to come so far.

                  As Lewontin concludes in The Doctrine of DNA (1993):

                  “History far transcends any narrow limitations that are claimed for either the power of genes or the power of the environment to circumscribe us. Like the House of Lords that destroyed its own power in order to limit the political development of Britain in the successive Reform Acts to which it assented, so the genes, in making possible the development of human consciousness, have surrendered their power both to determine the individual and its environment. They have been replaced by an entirely new level of causation, that of social interaction with its own laws and its own nature that can be understood and explored only through that unique form of experience, social action.”


                  Darwin, Charles. Origin of Species (1859)

                  Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene (1976)

                  Gould, S.J.; Lewontin, R.C. The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 21;205 (1161), 581-98 (1979)

                  Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid: A factor of evolution (1902)

                  Lewontin, R.C. The Apportionment of Human Diversity, Evolutionary Biology 6:381-397 (1973)

                  Lewontin, R.C. The Doctrine of DNA – Biology as Ideology (1993)

                  Lewontin, R.C.; Rose, Steven; Kamin, Leon J. Not in Our Genes (1985)

                  Nelkin, Dorothy; Lindee, M. Susan. The DNA Mystique – The Gene as a Cultural Icon (1995)

                  Pannekoek, Anton. Marxism & Darwinism (1912)

                  Rose, Hilary & Rose, Steven (Eds.). Alas, Poor Darwin – Arguments against Evolutionary Psychology (2000)

                  Rose, Steven. Lifelines – Life beyond the genes (1997, 2001)

                  Thornhill, Randy; Palmer, Craig T. A Natural History of Rape (2000)

                  Wilson, E.O. Sociobiology – The New Synthesis (1975)







For those of you who watched the movie Odysseus you might like to know how the story ends.  Here is a summary:
The legendary Greek hero, Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, a small island in the Ionian sea, where he lived with his wife Penelope. He was known to Romans as Ulysses. After fighting the war against the city of Troy with the Greeks, he started his journey home. His sailing journey was obstructed by the sea god Poseidon.
During his journey he had many incredible adventures, but his renowned intelligence helped him to survive the numerous difficulties, although his crew wasn’t so lucky. After ten years of wandering, he finally reached his home.

During his long absence, many of his enemies tried to convince his wife Penelope to get married again. When Odysseus arrived, he disguised himself as a beggar. Only his old dog recognized him. Until that moment, Penelope remained faithful.

She had not seen her husband since the beginning of the war of Troy, twenty years before. After so many years, she was presumed to be a widow. Pressured by her suitors, she declared that she would marry only the man who could bend an extremely hard bow that belonged to Odysseus. All suitors attempted this, but only Odysseus succeeded.



Famed for his courage, intelligence, and leadership, Odysseus (Roman name: Ulysses) was one of the great pan-Hellenic heroes of Greek mythology. His resourcefulness and oratory skills were instrumental in the Greek victory in the Trojan War and following the conflict, he was the protagonist in many fantastic adventures on his long voyage back home to Ithaka (or Ithaca).

In Greek mythology, Odysseus was the son of Laertes and Antikleia (or Anticlea) and the King of Ithaca, leader of the Kephallenians. Married to Penelope, he also had a son, Telemachos (or Telemachus). The hero was also fortunate enough to regularly receive the special aid and protection of the goddess Athena. Hesiod describes Odysseus as “patient-minded”, and Homer most often describes him as “godlike”, also as “Zeus’ equal in his mind’s resource” and a truly great speaker, whose persuasive words “flocked down like snowflakes in winter”. However, the hero was not just a thinker but also a warrior, and his courage and fighting prowess are referenced in the Homeric epithet “sacker of cities”. Homer also states that the name Odysseus means “victim of enmity”, no doubt in reference to the ill-feeling which Poseidon directed against the hero.

The first rich source of information on Odysseus was Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad in which our hero is a protagonist. Odysseus was involved in several important episodes and his intelligence, wise counsel, and wits proved crucial to the eventual Greek success in the war. However, Odysseus very nearly avoided the conflict altogether for when he was called upon by Palamedes (an emissary of Menelaos), the King of Ithaca was loathe to leave his wife and family and so pretended to be insane. This he convincingly did by ploughing a field with an ox and an ass yoked together and scattering salt in the furrows. Palamedes was not to be tricked though and by laying the young Telemachos in the path of the plough, Odysseus was forced to swerve and so demonstrate he was not so mad after all.

It was Odysseus who persuaded the reluctant Achilles to join the Greek expedition to Troy. Hidden away by his mother Thetis (who knew his fate should he participate in the War), Achilles was brought up by the royal family of Lykomedes on the island of Skyros. However, Nestor, the wise king of Pylos, predicted that only with the help of the great warrior Achilles could the Greeks hope to conquer the great walled city of Troy. Accordingly, the wily Odysseus was sent to persuade the greatest fighter in Greece to leave his wife and son and fight alongside the forces led by King Agamemnon. Disguised as a rich salesman, the King of Ithaca tempted Achilles to drop his disguise as one of the daughters of Skyros and reveal his true identity by presenting an assortment of fine weapons for which the great warrior was unable to hide his interest. With Achilles also came his formidable private army, the Myrmidons of Thessaly.

In the trojan war Odysseus came up with the brilliant idea of the wooden horse.

Odysseus was once again chosen as envoy in order to persuade Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigeneia to join the Greek forces at Aulis. Whilst hunting, Agamemnon mistakenly killed a deer sacred to Artemis and according to the seer Kalchas, only the sacrifice of the king’s daughter would appease the goddess and allow the Greeks safe voyage to Troy. Odysseus then travelled to Mycenae and promised Iphigeneia’s mother Klytaimestra that the girl could marry Achilles. Pleased at the prospect of such a prestigious son-in-law, the queen readily agreed. When arriving at Aulis, however, preparations had already been made for the sacrifice and the poor girl was immediately set upon an altar. Fortunately though, just as Agamemnon let fall his sword, Artemis took pity on the girl, replaced her with a deer, and spirited off Iphigeneia to become a priestess at Tauris in one of the goddess’ sanctuaries.

The Greeks duly received fair winds and landed at Troy. Apart from a minor incident where Odysseus and Diomedes ambushed the youth Dolon in a forest, Odysseus had little to do until the final stages of the war. Following the death of Achilles, there was something of a squabble over who should inherit the hero’s magnificent armour. Odysseus and Telamonian Ajax both forwarded claims but the matter was finally decided in a vote and with Athena influencing proceedings, Odysseus was given the weapons and armour made by Hephaistos.

Odysseus and the Sirens (NAM, Athens, 1130)

Odysseus and the Sirens (NAM, Athens, 1130)

Notwithstanding the loss of their talismanic warrior, the war ran on, but at this point the Greeks began to employ a little more strategic thinking to the problem of overcoming the walls of Troy. The seer Kalchas predicted victory only if the Greeks could somehow ensure three things. These were: the involvement of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos in the war; Hercules’ fabled weapons, then in the hands of Philoktetes (or Philoctetes), had to be used; and finally, the Greeks had to capture the Palladion. The latter was a sacred wooden statue of Athena which was believed to have fallen from heaven and been found by Troas, the founder of Troy. The Trojans believed that this statue gave them protection and power so that by stealing it the Greeks would gain a great advantage in the war.

Odysseus was the man to accomplish all three of these difficult tasks. First, he went back to Syros and persuaded Neoptolemos to join him. Then he went to Lemnos to pick up Philoktetes and the weapons of Hercules. The latter was, though, more than a little peeved at having been abandoned on the island in the first place, but it turned out to be worth all the persuasive efforts of Odysseus, as Philoktetes managed to kill Paris with his deadly arrows pretty much as soon as he entered the battle at Troy.

This left task three to be accomplished – to take the sacred Palladion from the heart of the city. To find the exact location of the statue, Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar and entered the city undetected. One person did recognise the infiltrator though, and that was Helen, by now forcibly remarried to another of Priam’s sons and anxious to return to Greece. It was she who guided Odysseus to the location of the Palladion. Returning to the Greek camp with this knowledge, Odysseus enlisted the help of Diomedes and the next night, the pair once more stole into the city and made off with the statue.

Despite the theft of the Palladion, the war rumbled on and it became clear a more ambitious strategy was required if the Greeks were ever going to win the conflict. With divine inspiration from Athena, Odysseus came up with the brilliant idea of the wooden horse. He had carpenters build a huge horse in which could hide a number of Greek soldiers. The trick was how to persuade the Trojans to take the horse inside the city walls. Odysseus first had all of the Greeks abandon their camp and sail away out of view, anchoring off the island of Tenedos. This left only the horse standing alone on the plain with one man left behind, Sinon. He pretended to have been hunted by the Greeks as an enemy and potential sacrificial victim. Gaining their confidence, he then proceeded to tell the gullible Trojans a cock and bull story about Athena being outraged at the theft of her statue, her punishing the Greeks and telling them the only way back into her good books was to build a gigantic wooden horse in her honour and sail back home. Falling hook, line, and sinker for the story, the Trojans duly dragged the horse into the city to stand outside the temple of Athena. With the exception of Laokoon and Aeneas, the Trojans then set about partying the night away in celebration of finally winning the war.

When the party finally ended and the Trojans were sleeping in a drunken stupor, Sinon fired a signal to the waiting Greek ships and they promptly returned to the shores of Troy. Odysseus and his fellow warriors then descended from within the horse, opened the city gates, and the Greek army routed the Trojans, defiling temples and mercilessly slaughtering all and sundry.

One unfortunate consequence of the Greek’s ungallant behaviour at Troy was that the gods punished them by ensuring many of their ships met with disaster on the return voyage home. One of the few survivors was Odysseus but only after an incredibly protracted voyage of detours and misadventures which are recounted in Homer’s Odyssey.

Lasting ten years, on his odyssey home the hero stopped in many ports, few of which were friendly. The first stop was the island of Kikones where amongst other things, the god Apollo gave the hero twelve flasks of wine. Then, hit by a storm, Odysseus and his flotilla were washed up on the shores of the Lotus Eaters. Eating the plant made one forget one’s homeland so the hero turned down their offer of hospitality and quickly pushed on with his voyage.
Odysseus Blinding the Cyclops

Next stop was the island of the Cyclopes – the one-eyed giants – who lived peacefully tending their sheep. As luck would have it, though, Odysseus bumped into the man-eating Cyclops Polyphemos, the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. The giant took a fancy to the travelling Greeks and trapped them in his cave, swiftly eating two as an appetizer. Seeing the gravity of the situation, Odysseus immediately forged a cunning plan of escape. Tempting Polyphemos with wine until the Cyclops was drunk, the hero ordered his men to turn Polyphemos’ olive-wood staff into a spike, this they then hardened in a fire and used to blind the Cyclops while he slept. Unable to see and understandably livid at his treatment, Polyphemos tried to catch the travelling Greeks by feeling his sheep as they left the cave for their grazing. Odysseus then instructed his men to tie themselves to the bellies of the sheep whilst he chose a ram for the purpose, and thus they escaped to continue their voyage. However, the Cyclops cursed Odysseus, predicting the loss of his men, a wearisome voyage home, and disaster when he finally arrived there. Calling on the help of his father Poseidon, Polyphemos ensured that it would be many a storm and ten long years before Odysseus reached Ithaca.

Further adventures followed. Amongst them was a stop in Aiolia (or Aeolia) where the god of the winds, Aiolos (or Aeolus), gave Odysseus a flask which contained all the winds except the one which would take him home but, unfortunately, some members of Odysseus’ crew allowed curiosity to get the better of them and, within sight of Ithaca, they opened the bottle. As a result, the contrary winds escaped and Odysseus’ storm-tossed ships were swept all the way back to Aiolia.

Resuming the voyage once again, more unfortunate stopovers occurred in Laistrygonia where the gigantic locals, led by Antiphates, attacked and killed many of the party by pelting them with huge rocks. The few survivors then made it in a single ship to Aiaia (or Aeaea), an island belonging to the sorceress Circe (or Kirke), where more trouble awaited the beleaguered voyagers. The goddess turned a group of the travellers into swine and Odysseus was only able to resolve the situation with a gift from Hermes. The messenger god gave the hero moly, a plant which made him immune to Circe’s spells. However, the two got on rather well and became lovers, resulting in Odysseus extending his sojourn to a whole year. Eventually, resolving to continue his journey home, Odysseus was advised by Circe to visit the underworld and seek the advice of the Theban seer Teiresias who would give him travel directions. On his journey there, the hero met his mother, Antikleia, who had died from grief at her son’s continued absence. He also met many fallen heroes such as Hercules, Achilles, and Agamemnon. On returning to the world of the living, Circe gave Odysseus one final piece of advice. This was to beware of the Sirens – bird creatures with women’s heads – who ensnared passers-by with their beautiful and enchanting singing. Accordingly, when the hero’s ship passed the Siren’s island, he instructed his crew to block their ears with wax whilst he himself was strapped to the ship’s mast so that he might hear the divine singing yet not be entrapped by it.

Successfully getting past the Sirens, the hero and his few remaining crew then had to negotiate the terrible seas between two rocks inhabited by the monsters Skylla (who had twelve feet, six heads and ate mariners for fun) and Charybdis (who swallowed the seas three times and spat them out three times to create fearsome whirlpools). Six more of the crew were lost here but the ship survived to continue its voyage home.

A brief stop at Thrinikia (or Thrinacie) turned into a month-long stay due to bad weather and the Greeks ran out of food. Despite the earlier advice of Teiresias not to touch the herds of Helios, some of the starving crew, led by Eurylochus, slaughtered several of the animals for food. Outraged, Helios caused the ship to capsize when it left Thrinikia and the only survivor of the disaster was Odysseus, who, after nine days adrift, washed up on the shores of Ogygia. Here the hero spent five years imprisoned by, but also enjoying the charms of, the Nymph Calypso and with her having a son, Nausithous. However, credit to our hero, despite the offer of immortality and eternal youth, Odysseus decided he must try once more to return to his homeland. Calypso, prompted by divine intervention, helped the hero build a raft on which he set off for Ithaca once more. Poseidon, however, once more spitefully intervened and caused a fearful storm to smash the raft to pieces. Odysseus then washed up battered and naked on the island of Scheria, home of the Phaeacians, straight into the sympathetic care of Nausikaa, the daughter of King Alkinoos (or Alcinous). Restored to full health and vigour, the hero was given one of the magic Phaiacian ships which needed no captain to steer. With this vessel Odysseus finally made it back to Ithaca. However, just as Polyphemos had promised, all was not well in the king’s palace.

Head of Penelope

Head of Penelope

After ten years away, Odysseus had been all but forgotten, only his wife Penelope kept faith with the long-missed king. Athena gave the hero an update on all that had passed in his absence. Considered long-dead, many a suitor sought the hand of Penelope and the would-be kings (all 108 of them) had taken residence in the palace itself. Penelope constantly put off a decision of re-marriage though and hoped against hope that her husband was still alive somewhere. Consequently, to push the situation to a crisis, the suitors planned to kill her son Telemachos at the soonest opportunity. On the advice of Athena, and exercising his famously nimble wits, Odysseus dressed as a beggar and visited the palace in person to assess the situation. Only Odysseus’ old maid Eurykleia recognised the hero (from a distinctive scar on his leg) and so too his faithful old dog, Argos, knew his old master but rather tragically died as soon as the two were reunited. Revealing himself to his son Telemachos (just back from Pylos), Odysseus planned a strategy to free the palace of all the hangers-on and reclaim his rightful authority. The hero, still in his beggar disguise, was badly treated by the palace suitors and was the butt of many a cruel jest but revenge was soon to be had.

Penelope challenged the suitors that if one of them could string the huge bow that had belonged to the old king and then shoot an arrow through twelve axe-heads, she would marry him. Of course, none of the hapless suitors had the necessary strength to string the bow, never mind shoot with it. Then, up stepped the beggar and to a chorus of sceptical jeers, unbelievably, strung the bow with ease and fired an arrow dead-straight through the axe-heads. Flinging off his disguise, Odysseus revealed his true identity and spread panic amongst the suitors. There was to be no escape for the interlopers, though, because, as planned, Telemachos had closed all the doors and removed the weapons mounted on the walls. Odysseus then casually picked off the suitors one by one with his fearsome bow and so reclaimed his long abandoned kingdom.

The royal couple, together again after ten long years of separation, lived happily ever after, or not quite. For in a tragic final twist, an aged Odysseus was killed by Telegonos, his son by Circe, when he landed on Ithaca and in battle, unknowingly killed his own father.

Odysseus is a popular subject in ancient Greek art, appearing on vases, coins, sculpture, tripods, and shield bands from all over Greece and he is often identified by his pilos – a conical felt hat. Scenes on red- and black-figure pottery from the 7th to the 5th century BCE depicting Odysseus include the mission to Achilles, the quarrel with Ajax over the armour of Achilles, the theft of the Palladion, blinding the Cyclops, washing up on the shores of Scheria, and taking revenge on Penelope’s suitors. The subject of the wooden horse is surprisingly uncommon in Greek art but it is famously represented on a clay relief pithos from Mykonos c. 670 BCE. A celebrated representation of Odysseus and the Sirens is found on an Attic red-figure stamnos from Vulci c. 450 BCE.

by Mark Cartwright
published on 31 December 2012
Odysseus ()




Saturnalia: The best end of year philosophy class.

The year of Jesus’s birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk and abbot of a Roman monastery.

     In the Roman, pre-Christian era, years were counted from “the founding of the City” (Rome).  Ah, all the pilgrim roads lead to Rome!    

Saturn: God of life death and soul.

     The Romans identified Saturn with the Greek Cronus, whose myths were adapted for Latin literature and Roman art. In particular, Cronus’s role in the genealogy of the Greek gods was transferred to Saturn.  As early as Livius Andronicus (3rd century BC), Jupiter was called the son of Saturn.

How  did Christmas come to be celebrated on December 25th ?

Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17th -25th . During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration.

  The celebration still takes place today in Rome.

The Victims.

The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.”  Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.

Gingerbread Men.

The ancient Greek writer poet and historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival.    Human sacrifice, rape, intoxication and going from house to house while singing naked and consuming human-shaped biscuits (still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season).


Christianity’s Pagan Origins.

In the 4th century AD, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to incorporate the pagan masses within it.  Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.

No Puritan Christmas.

Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681.

Anti -Semitism.

   In 1466 when Pope Paul II forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city.  An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators.

The Origin of Christmas Tree.

Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were recruited by the Church sanctioning “Christmas Trees”.  Pagans had long worshipped trees in the forest, or brought them into their homes and decorated them, and this observance was adopted and painted with a Christian veneer by the Church.

The Origin of Mistletoe.

Norse mythology recounts how the god Balder was killed using a mistletoe arrow by his rival god Hoder while fighting for the female Nanna.  Druid rituals use mistletoe to poison their human sacrificial victim.  The Christian custom of “kissing under the mistletoe” is a later synthesis of the sexual license of Saturnalia within the Druidic sacrificial cult.


The Origin of Christmas Presents.

In pre-Christian Rome, the emperors compelled their most despised citizens to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia (in December) and Kalends (in January).  Later, this ritual expanded to include gift-giving among the general populace.  The Catholic Church gave this custom a Christian flavour by re-rooting it in the supposed gift-giving of Saint Nicholas.

The Origin of Santa Claus.

Nicholas was born in Parara, Turkey in 270 CE and later became Bishop of Myra.  He died in 345 CE on December 6th.  He was only named a saint in the 19th century. Nicholas was among the most senior bishops who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and created the New Testament.  The text they produced portrayed Jews as “the children of the devil” who sentenced Jesus to death.

The Nicholas Cult.

In 1087, a group of sailors who idolised Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy.  There Nicholas supplanted a female boon-giving deity called The Grandmother, or Pasqua Epiphania, who used to fill the children’s stockings with her gifts.  The Grandmother was ousted from her shrine at Bari, which became the centre of the Nicholas cult.  Members of this group gave each other gifts during a pageant they conducted annually on the anniversary of Nicholas’s death, December 6th.

From flying broomstick to flying horse.

•    The Nicholas cult spread north until it was adopted by German and Celtic pagans.  These groups worshipped a pantheon led by Woden –their chief god and the father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw.  Woden had a long, white beard and rode a horse through the heavens one evening each Autumn.  When Nicholas merged with Woden, he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing.

Paganism versus Monotheism.

Paganism is a wide group of  polytheistic beliefs primarily those of cultures known to the ancient classical world.  Paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic , folk or ethic religion. Modern paganism is a group of  new spiritual movements influenced by, or claiming to be derived from, the various beliefs of pre-modern Europe.

The difference between Polytheism and Buddhism.

The Four Noble Truths, which comprise the foundation of Buddhism, are:

This world is suffering.

The cause of suffering is desire.

The cessation of suffering is the cessation of  desire.  [Middle path].

 The cessation of desire is achieved through practicing the Noble Eight-fold Path, which includes right speech, right action, right livelihood, etc.

Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Superior right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Superior right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Life After Life.

The goal of Buddhism is to escape the wheel of birth and death. Since suicide leads only to reincarnation, the only effective way to escape this world is by attaining nirvana, a transcendental state of consciousness which serves as an exit pass from the wheel of birth and death.

As Tenzin Josh asserted in explaining his personal transition from a punk lifestyle in London to becoming a Buddhist monk: “Whether a punk nihilist or a Buddhist hermit, you just don’t see a point in life and want to find a way out.”


The purpose of the other religions is to transcend this world.

The purpose of Judaism is to elevate this world, and in so doing, perfect oneself.


The purpose of meditation—in which Bhu-Jews spend many long hours—is to clearly perceive ultimate Truth, in the universe and in one’s own life. Unfortunately, one can be an adept in meditation, and still commit adultery, lose one’s temper, and be bloated with pride. I have known great masters of meditation who succumbed to all three. Spiritual consciousness, in and of itself, does not lead to proper action.

Bhu and Hassidim Jews.







Fun and philosophy: Community education.

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of  the 450s and 420s BC, it reached its height in the 5th Century BC.

Ancient Greece was a  period that lasted from the Archaic period  of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity ( AD 600) and the Early Middle Ages.   Classical Greece flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC .   Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great the  Hellenistic civilisation stretched from Central Asia to the Western end of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The story of philosophy and geometry.

The story of philosophy has close links with ancient geometry, its axioms and theorems.  The word geometry means “measurement” and it comes from the Ancient Greek and arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers; arithmetic, both of which are rooted in Egyptian, Babylonian and Indo-Grecian migratory civilisations.  The earliest recorded beginnings of geometry can be traced to ancient communities of the Indus Valley [see map above] and ancient Babylonia from around 3000 BC.   These people discovered the obtuse triangle about 1500 years before Pythagoras expounded his theorem; that is if he did expound Pythagoras theorem?

Egyptian Rope Stretchers and the beginning of Geometry.

Geometry spread in Egypt when rope stretchers were sent out to put back the boundary markers washed away by the Nile. Today we call it surveying. [Tompkins, Peter. Secrets of the Great Pyramid. NY: Harper, 1971. p. 22].

 The introduction of the Egyptian triangle and the squaring of the circle.

      The pyramids are believed to be to models of the earth and its relationship to the cosmos.  Pyramids form part of an enormous star chart, whereby their shafts are aligned with certain stars. Further, pyramids are said to be part of a navigational system to help travellers in the desert to find their way.  They also represented the tombs that would help the occupants find their way to the afterlife.  Importantly, in Egyptian myth the square represented humans and the circle represented the sun.  The squaring of the circle was aimed at blending both entities.

 Meaning of the Square and circle.

‘A tower of strength that stood. Four square to all the winds that blow.’ TENNYSON.

The Papyrus of Ani is a  manuscript with hieroglyphs  and colour illustrations created  1250 BC and housed in the British Museum.

Interestingly, the world in ancient Egypt was perceived as a square or a cube. “When the world has become circular and spherical, the squareness is retained almost universally as a characteristic of the celestial earth. Holy temples faced east to the sunrise”.  The sun sustained life even after death according to the Ancient Egyptians. Nowhere in antiquity are the dead facing the west or the setting sun, they remain in the sunlight for reincarnation.  [Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, 1892].

Buddhist and Christian Antecedents.

In the Egyptian burial chamber the guardians of the corners of the world stand at the four angles of the Egyptian sepulchral chamber . This idea was adopted by other religions.


 Edward II

British nursery rhyme.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on,
Two to foot, and two to head,
Four to carry me when I’m dead.’

The square and the circle thus formed an important basis for spiritual belief.

The Golden Ratio: Euclid and Sacred Geometry.   [The Hellenistic Age  323-31BC.]

     The number π [pi] is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Also called the Golden Ratio or Mean Ratio. A ratio is the quotient of two quantities.  A proportion results when two ratios are set equal to each other .

Example of proportions:

1. The musical intervals

2. The Human Body

3. The Golden Ratio.

“Pi” lies at the heart of Sacred Geometry.

In numerical terms, the Golden Ratio was first popularised by Leonardo Bigollo Fibonacci, the founder of the  Fibonacci sequence, a numerical series which simply follows the rule that the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers.. as follows:

•1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 etc…

Leonardo da Vinci illustrated both the mathematical proportions of the human body  and the concept of squaring the circle with his famous drawing Vitruvian Man.

Mathematics and Euclid’s paradox [235-265 BC]: Squaring the Circle.

Squaring the circle  is the challenge of constructing a square  with the same ratio as a given circle  by using only a finite number of steps with  compass and straightedge.  More  precisely, it was aimed at proving the existence of such a square. [Euclid’s Elements].

Examples of the constant.

Pi appears regularly in the realms of nature and things that grow generally unfold in steps such as the Nautilus shell which grows larger on each spiral by pi.

The Flower of life and the Platonic Solids.

The Greeks believed that distinct repetitive patterns were behind the four primary elements, earth, air, fire and water the fifth was the life force itself. These shapes are now known to be related to the arrangement of protons and neutrons in the elements of the periodic table.  In Thus Aristotle gave us the concept of a scientific method for examining phenomena.  Kepler would later attempt to calculate the distance between planets using the harmonic ratios.

The galaxy in an expanding box.

The ration of the expanding galaxy parallels the expansion of the cube.

The sun at the centre of the galaxy.

Who was Pythagoras?

Pythagoras is familiar to us via the mathematical Pythagorean theorem he is said to have invented. However, there is much more to Pythagoras.

        Evidence shows, that while Pythagoras was famous in his own day and even 150 years later in the time of Plato and Aristotle, it was not mathematics or science upon which his fame rested.  Pythagoras was  an exponent of the Orphic mysteries or Orphism, which had a very large following.

        Pythagoras was concerned with the fate of the soul after death, he believed that the soul was immortal and went through a series of reincarnations often involving rebirth in the form of animals. The ultimate aim for Pythagoras was to defeat reincarnation, in much the same way as Buddhism advocates the pure spirit beyond form.

       Pythagoras was also the founder of dietary restrictions, religious ritual and rigorous self-discipline all of which were required to fulfil the spiritual life.   []

Pythagoras and the transmigrating souls.

It is likely that Pythagoras  used the Greek word psychê to refer to the transmigrating soul as the word psychê  in Greek means breath and it is the loss of breath that marks death.   The psychê is explicitly said by Philolaus to be shared with animals. Herodotus uses psychê in a similar way to refer to the seat of emotions. Thus it seems likely that Pythagoras too thought of the transmigrating psychê in this way as a Metempsychosis.

Pythagoras was interested in all forms of transmigration and especially in music.   He created the music-number scale which in turn could be translated into colour and vibrations.



Fun and Philosophy: Community Education.

[1] Philosophy means the Love of Wisdom.

In the West Philosophy has three major sub-categories that relate to human ideas.

[2]  Epistemology  which is concerned with the relationships between truth, belief, perceptions and how we justify things. 

[3]  Metaphysics which is concerned with being, time, reality, objects, causes, the mind body relationship, and cosmology.     

[4] Aesthetics which is concerned with art, beauty, taste and creativity. [The term aesthetics is post-eighteenth century; all forms of aestheticism were previously relegated to the realms of the Divine].

[5] Why is philosophy important?

Philosophy provides abstract ways of thinking about the world, it raises existential and “qualitative” questions and provides deeper insights and debates. In particular it seeks solutions for unintended consequences.

[6] What is meant by abstract?

Thoughts are subject to primary and secondary processes.

•The primary processes are abstract concepts that may or may not produce a conscious  thought. 

•Primary thoughts become secondary thoughts.

[7] Conscious thoughts are only the tip of the iceberg, they are not the whole story.

    [See Freud’s 1929 Iceberg metaphor].

[8]    Primary and secondary thoughts and concepts.

•Consciousness includes everything that we are aware of and that which can be argued rationally. 

Pre-consciousness represents ordinary memories which we often lose track of, but which can be retrieved and brought to consciousness .

The unconscious mind contains all feelings and emotions, thoughts, desires, urges, and memories that reside beyond our conscious awareness. 

[9]  Slips of the Tongue [parapraxis].

Sigmund Freud believed that all human behaviour and personality derive from constant contests between the governing psychological forces that operate at three different levels of awareness.  For example; a person might make a statement intending to convey one meaning, but the words are incoherent to the intention and mean something unintended.   Freud also argued that this is not an accident. Rather, it is the unconscious material [primary abstract concepts] that are being revealed to the external world.

[10] Abstract concepts need abstract theories for effective analysis.

• “Experience” is derived through abstract concepts, therefore we need abstract theories to comprehend the concepts.

•Hence, philosophy has more in common with the arts than the sciences, albeit  Modern Philosophy of the Mind  has links to the cognitive sciences.

[11] Abstract concepts in Ancient Greek philosophy.

Everything in Ancient Greek philosophy has a Divine origin.  Nothing is considered new or innovative.

[12] The Philosopher’s Maxims.

The Ancient philosopher spoke in Maxims [a kind of poetry]  For example  the stone mason Socrates, wrote the Hermaic maxim “Know Thyself” at the opening of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

[13] The  Gymnasium.

•The gymnasium [gymnos means naked]. Athletes competed nude supposedly to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and as tribute to the gods, in particular the Olympian God Hermes. [Pausanias [geographer] Guide to Greece, 4.32.1].

[14] Hermes.

•Hermes is a God who can travel freely between the mortal world and the Divine. 

•Hermes gathers together the souls.

[15]  Myths are philosophical metaphors.

•In Hindu mythology Hermes is represented by Sarama who is also referred to as  the bitch  of the gods, or Deva-shuni.   She first  appears in the Rig Veda in which she helps the god-king Indra   to recover divine cows stolen by the demon Panis .

[16] Goddess of Nature.

•The  Mahabharata   makes brief reference to Sarama. One scripture  describes Sarama as the mother of all wild animals who was Artemis in Greek mythology and Diana in Roman myths.

[17] Ancient Greek philosophy was predicated on closing the gap between the human and the Divine.

Philosophy  aimed at closing the gap between reality and the Divine and was  expressed in mythological creatures called  hybrids. 

[18] The known and the unknowable in the symbolic hybrid.

The two headed monster and Medusa.

[19] Human – animal wholeness in the hybrid creature.

Minotaur and Phoenix.

[20] Mythological Wholeness in Janus.

     According to Plato’s “Symposium”  Greek Mythology tells how humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.

[21] Unity of souls in homosexuality.

      Same-sex unions were a common feature in Ancient Greek and Roman societies as well as in Ancient Mesopotamia and regions of China such as the Fujian province and at certain times in European history.  They continued until the birth of Christianity.  The Christian emperors Constantius II  prohibited same sex marriage and ordered that those who were so married were to be executed.

[22]  Examples of same sex marriage in Ancient Greece.

     Emperor Nero married at least two males and the 4th Century Christian Martyrs Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus were united in ritual.

[23] As Above so Below.

    Plato for example believed there was nothing original about the world or life everything was copied from nature.  Hence, there was no word for “creativity”.  There was one exception poetry, which was linked with strange behaviour [madness] and a direct connection to primary causes or principles.

[24]  The story of nature was also the story of the conscious and the unconscious.

    Persephone was the goddess queen  abducted by the god Haides.  After eating the seeds of the pomegranate she travelled to and from the underworld in winter. 

[25] The greatest influences on Western society have come from the Ancient Greek philosophers.

Pythagoras:              Socrates:                      Plato:                           Aristotle

Astronomy               Democracy                Structure                        Science