Husserl’s Rejection of Nominalistic Skepticism and Affirmation of Universals

Science presupposes logic.

By: Jay It was common in Husserl’s era to encounter not only the skeptical relativism as espoused by the empircists, but also their concomitant nominalism. Husserl viewed nominalism as equally destructive to the project of pure logic as a foundation of the sciences, as he did the skepticism he so vehemently railed against. This is due to the fact that in order for science to operate coherently, it must have a pure, a priori foundation based upon ideal entities. In other words, logic itself, as grounding scientific discourse, must be grounded theoretically in an a prioristic theory of meanings and universals. The purpose of this paper is to present and defend Husserl’s arguments for universals and his critique of nominalism—which appear just as relevant today as did his critique of skeptical relativism. Nominalism is the theory, arising in the Late Middle Ages, which opposed the ancient/traditional view that universals had some kind of “real” existence (whether mental or ontological). Nominalists posited instead that universals were merely names, arguing that only specific, individual things existed.1 Nominalism as an epistemic theory would achieve the upper hand following upon the Enlightenment and its philosophic notables Locke, Berkeley and Hume. By Husserl’s day (the early 20th century), nominalism was still the predominate view and, in Husserl’s estimation, called for a definitive refutation.


Husserl embarked upon this endeavor in “Investigation II” of his monumental 1901 Logical Investigations, by stating bluntly what the empiricists thought to be entirely untenable: that we are, in fact, conscious of universal objects.2 Husserl’s proof for this derived from linguistic analyses and would be “be self-evident.”3 Husserl begins by writing that when we intend to refer to an object with a meaningful content, or a meaning-fulfillment, the object intended is clearly not a mere collection of disparate qualities, as nominalism would have. For example, when I refer to a horse, I do not intend only the following list of qualities: 4 legs, brownish appearance, solidity, furriness, etc., all of which collected qualities collapse into the referent of the word or syllables, “horse.” As Husserl notes, what is meant is an “Idea,” with a certain content.4 The meaning-conferring act—the referring to a certain horse, sets before us the Species of ‘horse’ as a universal object.
Husserl explains his reasoning by making an important distinction between individual singulars and specific singulars. For example, number is a concept which, as has often been stressed, has 1, 2, 3…as its subordinate singulars. A number is, e.g., the number 2…”5 This distinction between the individual and specific singulars corresponds to the equally important distinction between individual and specific universals, “or, between individual and specific universality.”6 Here, individually universal judgments would be something like, All men are mortal, while specifically universal judgments, would be something like, All propositions of logic are a priori.7
This is of such vast import because these a priori facts “run through the whole of logic… [and] are quite irremovable.”8 Husserl believes these points are proven, as with his arguments against skeptical relativism, through reductio ad absurdam arguments. That is, analyses of the attempted empiricist theories of abstraction of general concepts from particular sensuous experiences or the radical empiricist theories which reject abstract concepts in any sense, will, inevitably, lead to various absurdities, showing that universals must, of necessity, exist.
Husserl believes that realists and nominalists have confused several ideas. Realists have “metaphysically hypostatized the universal” by assuming that “the Species really exists, externally to thought.”9 That is, the error of the realists has been that the Species has an existence beyond the purely ideational realm. Nominalists have erred in “psychologically hypostatizing” the universal by assuming that the universal “really exists in thought.”10 Husserl means by this that the universal, according to the nominalist, is only a collection abstracted ideas. Thirdly, nominalists have constantly erred in attempting to “transform the universal…into what is individual.”11 For Husserl, what is real is merely that which has the mark of temporality.
The nominalist explanation of how the mind forms concepts is basically psychological in its approach. Locke argued that so-called “universals” are merely about a particular kind of abstracted thought; a certain “horse” that happens to come to mind, in which differentiating qualities of several horses seen are removed, forming the idea of some one horse which is mistakenly attributed with the fictitious idea “universality.” In Berkeley’s view, the individual conceives a certain previously sensed horse which acquired representative status. Husserl thinks both of these explanations ultimately skirt the issue and are absurd.
In response, Husserl notes that what picks out similarities in objects is not and cannot be any particular aspect of a specific object. Using ‘Four’ as a devastating example, Husserl argues as follows:
It is accordingly evident that when I say ‘Four’ in the generic sense, as, e.g., the statement ‘Four’ is a prime number relatively to seven,’ I am meaning the Species Four, I have it as object before my logical regard, and am passing judgment upon it, and not on anything individual. I am not judging about any individual group of four things, nor about any constitutive movement, piece or side of such a group, for each part, qua part of what is individual, is itself likewise individual.12

The strength of this argument cannot be overstated. The empiricist can and must hold that the unity found amongst an object over time can only be based on past or present experience of the object in question. However, when an ideal entity such as ‘Four’ is spoken of in the sense of the Species, Husserl’s argument becomes clear: there is no experiential reference for the claim that ‘Four is a prime number,’ since it refers to no object of experience, yet is certainly true. It is rather a Specific and Ideal Unity that is posited.13 Husserl explains, “no geometrical [or mathematical] proposition holds for a drawn figure as a physical object, since the latter is not really rectilinear, nor a geometrical figure at all [nor numerical].”14 Along these same lines, certainly a complex object such as a chiliagon can be spoken of, yet there is no object of abstraction that presents itself “floating” before our mind, as the nominalist must hold.
Husserl goes on to demonstrate that the radical nominalist argment that individuals only and always experience particular objects, which denies even the Lockean doctrine of concepts, devolves into further difficulties. In this view, only individual intuitions exist, which never extend beyond the sphere of what is individual.15 There is, then, on this view, no ideal unity between experiences. Meaning, then, ceases to have continuity from one experience to the next. Nothing could be predicated at all, were this the case. If nothing can be predicated sensibly of any object, then clearly all possibility of meaning and intercommunication between individuals is rendered impossible. Radical nominalism is thereby refuted by its own absurdity.
An experience of a tree, for example, from one minute to the next, from the radical nominalist perspective, would not be the same tree, as each momentary experienced ‘tree’ has its own independent proper greenness, solidity, etc. As Husserl taunts, this yields “complete nonsense.”16 In other words, the nominalist view cannot account for meaning and identity over time, or, by extension, from one mind to the next. These arguments demonstrate the necessity of universal entities as the foundation for meaning and identity over time and beyond individuating experiences.
In conclusion, Husserl proceeds to criticize nominalism along the same lines as he critiqued skeptical relativism: by turning the position in on itself and showing it to be self-destructive, leading to various absurdities. These arguments, Husserl believes, demonstrate that the human mind can conceive of universal entities and render nominalism and impossible theory. Once again, as with skepticism, nominalism is still prevalent in our day and Husserl’s hundred-year-old critique is as vital to academia and the sciences as it was in his era.

Works Cited

Blackburn, Simon. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford University Press:
New York, NY, 1994).

Husserl, Edmund. Logical Investigations, Vol. I (Routledge: London & New York,
2005).

McKim, Donald. Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Westminster
John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1996).

25 Comments on Husserl’s Rejection of Nominalistic Skepticism and Affirmation of Universals

  1. Great paper. Am I correct recalling this one being on your old site? I like his beat down of the nominalists. The only thing I don’t get though is this:

    Realists have “metaphysically hypostatized the universal” by assuming that “the Species really exists, externally to thought.”

    Isn’t that what Husserl basically proves? That universals are in a sense a phenomenon transcendent of their particular manifestations and not mere opinions or phantasmal constructs of individual minds? Is it just that he thinks some realists have over emphasized universals to a fault, undermining the values of particulars, as is perhaps the case with more radical Platonism or does he just think “external” is an improper term because universals relationship to reality shouldn’t be defined in spacial terms? Or is there something else at play?

    BTW, I’m in the early phases of putting together a podcast with a friend of mine. He’s skeptical towards conspiracy theory but, knowing I’m into it, he suggested we start doing segments where I discuss various theories with him, basically trying to convince him of their validity. We just recorded some stuff on gnosticism in cinema. We have to bank a few episodes before we can start posting them on itunes but that’s the plan. If we get it up and running proper, we should get you on via skype some time if your interested.

  2. Thanks. I don’t recall if this was on the old site – may have been. I ran across it (it’s an old paper), and it still holds up, I think.

    Yes, I think some form of exemplarism is true, and Husserl skirts it here. We need some kind of existence of universals and essences in some ontological “realm,” namely, the divine mind. But he is not wanting to open that can of worms here, although someone at the university was arguing to me the other day that Husserl actually did hold to it, and not only that, but supposedly all along he held to a kind of Berkeleyian view that all that truly exists are minds and God. The supposed world is a phenomenological idea directly experienced as a solid external world. I dont know on that, whether he did think this early on. I’d have to read more.

    I’d love to get in on that kind of a discussion,

  3. Also, I dont know if you’ve read John Fowles’ “The Magus,” but it’s a pretty wild illuminist-gnostic-philosophico-psychologico-existentialist massive novel, in the vein of Umberto Eco. I’m in the midst of a lenghty indepth analysis, which should be pretty good. Beware of the movie, which sounds cool with Michael Caine, but is unfortunately cheepy cheesy.

    • The Magus is awesome, I read it in one go throughout the whole day on the island of Mykonos several years back, totally great read. There is a lot there to be mused on for sure! BTW Eco is one of my favorite authors!

  4. Interesting, I’ll have to check it out. I recently borrowed Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Trilogy from a friend but my brother took it to read before I even got a chance to sit down with it. As soon as he finishes I plan to pick it up.
    Can’t remember if I’ve asked before but have you ever read any of the Larouche movement stuff? Webster Tarpley came from their ranks but broke with them more over a clash of personalities than anything else. I feel that ultimately they slide into gnosticism but their critiques of empiricism and “sense certainty” are quite good.

  5. I haven’t read Illuminatus, but several friends have, and I’ve heard all about it. I’ve meant to get to it myself. In reagards to Larouche and Tarpley, I think Tarpley is a genius and I always love his analysis. I knew who Larouche was, but had never really listened to him until he had been on Alex Jones the past few days, and some of what he said was sensible, but some of it I think was unclear. I’ve read the EIR stuff online before, and what I’ve read looked to be accurate.

  6. Larouche is a difficult guy to pin down but if I were to try I’d say slap the neo-Platonic theology of the “Inner Light” Quaker Socialist onto Trotskite Utopianism and you have Larouche. Near as I can figure, he asserts history can be understood as a struggle between the good forces of Platonism, that honour human creativity and imagination and the evil forces of materialism, atomism and empiricism that reduce man to a mere protoplasm.

    His view of God is a bit pantheistic and he rejects certain parts of the old testament (basically, as far as I can see, anything that affirms original sin) For example he accepts the so called first Genesis account that man is made in the image of God because it enforces his assertion that man is a creative being or co-creator with God but he rejects the so-called second Genesis account of the Fall, believing it to be a Babylonian insertion meant to perpetuate what he calls “The Cult of Olympian Zeus.”

    In this sense he reveals his Marxist pedigree. Though he isn’t an atheistic materialist he portrays the idea that God is exterior to the creative process of the universe as being a controlling meme of the ruling oligarchy. For this reason he, like Marx before him, is especially fond of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.

    He seems to eschew both materialism and a totally transcendent creator for something that is most comparable to the emanationism of Plotinus. He thinks Space/Time as it is understood is a false construct of mind’s that worship sense perception.

    I would argue his theology is essentially psychological gnosticism, where the adept must rise above the internal demiurge of their own worldview to the bythos of their imagination. He, however consider himself anti-gnostic because he represents gnosticism’s essential flaw as the idea that God is radically separate from the world, approachable only through irrational magic.

    Despite his unorthodox theology (which he usually underplays) he butters up to Catholics over Protestants as a whole. This is because in most struggles he favours centralized authority over autonomous self government. Except when the centralized authority is an empire, like Rome or Britain (as opposed to a natural state.)

    He holds free market capitalism, malthusianism and darwinism to be philosophical offshoots of Newton’s notion of a self governing cosmos of independent, entirely isolated atoms. He believes this philosophy was transported from Venice to Britain and Holland along with the corrupt Venetian banking system. He doesn’t reject evolution but differs from Darwin in so much as he believes it is process guided towards an end by a creative power or mind and not by random chaos or a struggle for survival between competing species. He also believes their is a scientific objective difference between, inanimate matter, life, and sentient human life that is undermined by materialism.

    He holds that Venetian intriguers were responsible for fomenting the Protestant revolution so they could exploit the infighting. Also he believes faith alone undermines Christian unity and discourages infrastructure projects.

    He virtually worships FDR and blames pretty much all the ills of the universe for the last 300 years on Britain. He portrays FDR, Lincoln style centralist government as the True “American System.” He is also way too much of an apologist for the Soviets and Red Chinese, presumably because he admires their strong central governments. Though much of his critique is true his utopianism (powered by his disbelief in original sin) coupled with his cult of personality and small m Manichian view of history make him potentially dangerous if he were to ever achieve real political power, though that’ll probably never happen so for now he is a useful ally against the elite.

    He’s also pro-nuclear power and pro-abortion which doesn’t seem compatible with his anti-malthusianism. You could say he believes in “freedom of choice” but he’s pretty okay with the state taking away people’s choice on a lot of issues (drugs and such) so I don’t quite get it.

    F.W Engdahl was formerly part of his organization but left, I think over the fact that he didn’t share their worship of FDR’s New Deal policies.

    Despite my above criticisms much of his groups analysis is really good and is a sort of refreshing alternative point of view from the usual libertarian critique of the establishment. You can see all their videos for free in high quality at http://www.larouchepac.com also you can read a great break down of the Venetian Banking Conspiracy in Webster Tarpley’s “Against Oligarchy” on http://www.Tarpley.net

  7. Well, well, well, that just ties in everything for me in regard to the last 12 years of my academic and personal life.

    From evangelicalism and Calvinism and “conspiracy” to university philosophical and historical studies, to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaistic, racial, gender and economic studies, and then to the intertwining of all of it at at the crossroads of the “perrennial philosophy.”

    Interesting how all of this extends back to Plato, Moses and Egypt.

    A lot of the above I agree with. I’ve listened intently to Tarpley for years now on Alex’s show, and I’ve never been a libertarian, nor into libertarian philosophy, mainly because during the period in my life when I would have been susceptible to that, I was under the influence of Rushdoony and read his massive tomes, and became particularly enmeshed in biblical law and theology.

    The goofy dialectic of “establishment elites” versus “libertarian freedomzerz” is lame, and anyone who knows a little bit of the history of ideology knows “libertarianizmz” is Enlightenment nonsense that isn’t true.

    Interestingly, one crucial element both the perrennialists and Judaists have in common is exemplarism. I recently read (a version of) the Hermetica, and it bears this out, considering that Plato says his doctrines are those of Egypt (in the Timaeus). Both the Jewish conception in versions of the kabballah and the Egyptian theology hold that there is no divide between word, symbol, essence, form and thing. All of these are united in a totality religious scheme. There is no “secular” realm, as all things are directly held in subsistence by the divine meaning they have. Eastern Christianity, too, stresses this in Maximus with its logoi doctrine.

    Anyway, this has been on my mind a lot lately, particularly in regard to the book “Goedel, Escher and Bach” by: Hofstadter. Amazingly this dude is still an atheist after offering the most un-atheistic book ever. Also shows how naive classical empiricism (and Thomism) don’t work as foundationalist epistemologies.

  8. It makes no sense to espouse all this and end up with the ultimate principle or Being or mind as *impersonal*. Such is the difference between the biblical conception and the perrennial philosophy’s conception. If ultimate reality is irrational, then all reality is ultimately irrational.

    However, panentheism I think is correct – not pantheism, and in the Hermetica, the author stresses the divine energeia immanent within creation as its ‘logoi’ yet makes the summation of all those things into fullblown pantheism.

    But there is a key difference between pantheism and panentheism.

    • “If ultimate reality is irrational, then all reality is ultimately irrational”. What do you mean by irrational ?
      Do you mean inconsistent ? It is at least **possible** for a larger system (“ultimate reality”) to be inconsistent and yet to possess a subsystem which is in fact consistent. This is why logicians felt they needed to prove
      that if a weaker version of set theory is consistent then the larger complete system which includes the Axiom of Choice is also consistent (this was done by Gödel).
      Your site is interesting, but it would be nice if you left the gnostics, platonists and freemasons to concentrate more on the real “bad guys”:

      Darwinism, Psychoanalysis (Frankfurt school) and Analytic(al) “Philosophy” (Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein).

  9. As a side note, the professor says it took him 7 years to finish this book..? lol. WEAK. I read like 100 pages in two nights. Maybe later on it will become super hard.

  10. And I’ve thought several times about hitting up Tarpley for an interview.

  11. Yeah, I’ve never been able to fully embrace libertarianism either. It’s at best a useful tool to curtail the progress of NWO types by limiting the power of the current governmental system. Sort of the political equivalent of burning your own fields to prevent your enemy from taking your lands. I think the art that adorns Rockefeller centre tells it all; you have two Titans, Prometheus (Socialism) and Atlas (Libertarianism) and the Mural of Blake’s Urizen. Both Titans are ultimately bound by the Demiurge. This to me summarizes the religion of the elite. I think they see themselves as a breed apart, who have ascended above Urizen, (the controlling moral paradigm). Those who fight them generally come from either the Promethean or Atlantian camps, both of which are based on the Enlightenment myth of the Noble Savage. Commies, Anarchists and Libertarians all fantasize about the withering away of the state, they just pursue it along different paths. The Rockefellers and their ilk know that they ultimately control both sides. Typical dialectic b.s. I even wonder if the so-called elite plan on sacrificing themselves to usher in their final plan. It seems the opposition against them has been directed along the lines of a gnostic narrative for some time now, with the Matrix, V for Vendeta and similar works being some of the key symbols of the resistance. Perhaps a gnostic “saviour” is being prepared who will depose the ostensible NWO only to set up the real NWO.

    Hard to say if Plato’s doctrines were really Egyptian in origin or if he was just talking shit. I’d have to read more translated Egyptian texts before I say for sure. I know the Egyptians believed in a universal principle called Ma’at, that implies balance or Justice, which is sort of like a Platonic Form. Modern scholars like to dismiss the Hermetica as a forgery from late antiquity, with little philosophical continuity with ancient Egypt but there is some resemblance between the experience of pansophia in the Hermetica to a similar experience in 3000 year old Egyptian text about The Book of Thoth.

    Yeah, I never get why a personal God is such a challenge for certain believers in exemplarism. If a particular personality is the entity that can realize universals amongst particulars, and there exists a universal for every particular, then mustn’t there be a universal personality? If our particular minds sift universal from particulars, perhaps the universal mind sifts (or actualizes) particulars from universals. Ultimately, I think one must believe in the incarnation to fully accept a personal God.

    I’ll have to watch this lecture. Seems like it might be interesting. Does the lecture make any mention of Roger Penrose? He is probably the number 2 Physicist in the world after Hawking and he is a die hard Platonist.

    If you could score an interview with Tarpley that would be awesome. As you say he’s brilliant. It’s a shame Alex Jones didn’t put Tarpley and Steve Pieczenik on together. As I understand it Pieczenik claims he helped run the Red Brigade false flag op in Italy back 30 years ago. Tarpley was the guy who uncovered the fact that this was Western run. Maybe you could ask him about that if you land him as a guest.

  12. Just looking up GEB on wikipedia and wow, how quickly things come back to “conspiracy theory.” Check this out if you don’t already know (maybe this is mentioned in the lecture I dunno)

    “In its February 19, 2010 investigative summary on the 2001 anthrax attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that Bruce Edwards Ivins was inspired by GEB to hide secret codes based upon nucleotide sequences in the anthrax-laced letters he allegedly sent in September and October 2001.[6] He used bold letters, as suggested on page 404 of the book.[7][8] He attempted to hide the book from investigators by throwing it in the trash.”

    Good thing Ivins “killed himself” before he was sued for plagiarism.

  13. Funny, I had just flipped through that section in Rockefeller’s Memoirs where he mentions the artwork in front of the Center. I saw it when I was 18 when I went to New York, and even then, not knowing anything it had a creepy element to it. According to his Memoirs, the brothers actually didn’t like the murals that were done because they were totally communistic and portrayed the capitalists as happy bourgiousie enslaving the poor communists, or something to that effect. I wonder if the murals were the same guy….they have that same “look.”

    Anyway, yes, it’s quite clear that mastering all sides (not just two) is the name of the game. One should be aware of the mindset of capitalist versus communist, for sure, but even beyond that, to the international power blocs and thinkers that are beyond those either/or modes of thought. 3-d and 4-d modes of thinking work best in geo-politics especially. In fact, that is what Hofstadter’s book is about, and it’s full of gnosis, if you will (not all bad, of course). The book revolves around transcending the dialectics that are all around us everywhere in nature and in set theory. So, he seeks that same pattern of duality revoling in itself (ourobouros), and looks for ways to interject transcendence into a higher synthesis – the classic plan of the Platonists and the western esotericists. Since Hofstadter works in AI programming now, he discusses how this will be relevant in possibly making AI become more conscious like humans.

    I think the elite mindset in overcoming dialectics and understanding both sides of a paradigm is correct – that is what is to be done. However, the answer is always some gnostic formula of some sort, which, in my estimation, does go back to Egypt. And understandably so, since it’s Egyptian math that was based on binary coding, as I understand. (But now you’re forcing me to spill the beans on a speculative article I was going to write…)

    And also relevant is this, since he is on the right track, I think, in noticing how the mathematical “codes” have to have some relation to the essence of a thing, if you will, though he espouses a kind of platonic exemplarism which sounds, at then end, like he thinks man can achieve some kind of virtual omniscience. But he may also mean that in principle, since all things are rational being based in a rational ideal, they are potentially so, and not that men will actually be omniscient.

    I had been working on a specualtive article incorporating these, because I think the KEY (masonic code! j/k) is somewhere here, where there is a fusing of thing, symbol and essence, grounded in the Divine Mind. I tink the ‘coded’ nature of DNA points to this, and I think the ability we have to create entire virtual worlds that can mirror our world shows this. I was also going to incorporate an interview with Ray Kurzweil where he discusses that very thing. If you look at what Leibniz says, there is a connect there too, since Kurzweil discusses how we CAN mirror reality into symbols and re-translate them into another (virtual) setting. This is also what Hofstadter discusses. Kurzweil’s discussion of how reality can be translated into patterns of symbols that work in a computer program is exactly what Hofstadter discusses.

    Also relevant is the fact that Leibniz thought that every “monad” mirrored and contained the essential relations to all other ‘monads.’ I think this is correct, too, in some way. I tried to hint at this in the paper I wrote for phenomenology using transcendental arguments. What this raises is the interesting question Leibniz raised as to the essences of things would appear to also contain ALL the historical relations a thing bears to all other things. Fascinating topic, and no easy answer arises, but Hofstadter has a section where he mentions this point from some Buddhist poem, making the same point Leibniz did, and even tying in the panentheism of the divine energies (or Sephiroth in kabballah), although of course the Buddhist poem then turned around (like the so-called Hermetica) and made it all ultimately an irrational, impersonal principle of “Absolute Being.”

    Also, I know the Hermetica is generally thought to be a redacted document with varying influences, but it also seems to claim some lineage to Egypt, at least insofar as there does appear to be commonality in terms of exemplarism and Atum. This is similar to Plato. I had planned on looking into the Egyptian Book of the Dead next.

    Yes, actually, I had skipped ahead in several sections and had read some in the section on amino acids and DNA code you are mentioning. What I’ve already noticed is that in several places, JUST LIKE LISA RANDALL’S book, he writes certain fictional dialogues using characters like Achilles and the Tortoise. Randall writes her book the same way, with fictional dialogues with an owl named Athena, discussing going down the “rabbit hole” in reference to Alice in Wonderland, replete with Alice references. Both books have this structure, and both are MIT folks. If I’m not mistaken, I think I’ve also seen old emails online of Assange’s exchanges with MIT folks utilizing the gods as namesakes. Also, after the index, Hofstadter has a blatant code that looks like either runes or perhaps sanskrit, or even something he made up. He also speaks cryptically about how GEB was written by a younger man and is his “true religion,” which is tongue in cheek, but what it shows is that it is a kind of gnosis in replacement of religion. She also writes about how these things can be translated into music and musical theory.

    In regard to that Ivins dude, didn’t the History Channel do an expose on how that was an ‘inside job’? It followed upon the 9/11 incident and was part two of staged terror, insofar as the anti-NWO crowd describes it.

  14. I don’t know if Tarpley would do an interview, but it’s crossed my mind.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, both Randall’s and Hofstadter’s books are references to Lewis Carroll.

    I emailed Lisa Randall a few years ago, because I noticed how what she had been saying in her book matched up to a lot of what was said in different theological systems, and if that was of any interest to her, and I never heard back. I recognize, of course, that her book is not interested in religion, physics, but the commonalities are obviously there, and Hofstadter’s many references to religious philosophy in GEB show I’m not silly for making the connection (of course, Hofstadter’s references appear to favor Zen and making ultimate reality for some reason be “impersonal.’). I did, though, mysteriously get hits one day from Randall’s Ted.com page, just like from CNN’s blog, when there were no links on the pages to my blog in either case.

  15. Oh, and I defiinitely want to be in on your film discussion podcast…

    Next up for analysis is Quantum of Solace and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” …speaking of Alice…

  16. And, I don’t see why it would be strange that the perrennial philosophy predates Plato and arises from Egypt (or an older civilization). It’s the same cacophany of the ancient myths in different garb. The perennial philosophy is paganism is gnosticism is Greek philosophy in essence. The essence of it is a dialectical world that dissolves either into dualism as absolutized principles, or monism as a single principle. It ALWAYS divinizes the creation (or rejects it as “evil”) and blends all things into either dualism or monism. Put in whatever names of whatever gods you want, it’s the same “tradition” that comes from the “gods,” or the fallen hierarchy.

  17. There are also references to the tortoise in Malachi Martin’s exorcism book in regard to one of the exorcisees who thinks he is astrally travelling back to an ancient gnostic sect that regarded the tortoise as having a special place in their myth. The tortoise Morla in Never Ending story also comes to mind, and I left out analyzing his meaning because I was tired, and also unsure of what to make of it. Perhaps the tortoise represents “time,” in regard to its slow, sluggish plodding. Perhaps some sort of animal spirit or devil. The tortoise also appears several times in MC Escher’s drawings, and in the religion of certain island tribes, the patterns of the shells of the tortoises mirror their view of the labyrinth of the afterlife that the dead soul must travel. I’ve also read that the Chinese noticed certain mathematical patterns that were unique to tortoise shells…Any insights on the esoteric reading of the turtle?

  18. And…I’ve stumbled across this, which looks interesting. I’ve only read some of it, but it looks decently scholarly, and shows the commonalities…

    http://www.maat.sofiatopia.org/ten_keys.htm

  19. Wow, a lot of stuff here. I’ve got some serious watching/reading to do. Regarding the tortoise, I guess there’s the whole turtles upon turtles idea that comes up in debates about the first cause. This itself of course, references the numerous cultures the world over who believed the world was situated on the back of a giant turtle. I know that Chinese divination is said to have been created when the Chinese cultural hero Fuxi saw the eight trigram markings on the back of a mystic turtle or turtle like creature that emerged from the waters after the great flood. Fuxi was believed by Jesuit missionaries to be the biblical Enoch/Hermes Trismegistus. Interestingly Fuxi and his sister/wife Nuwa are often depicted with the lower bodies of snakes, the two of them intertwining like Hermes caduceus. They are also often shown holding the set square and compass.

    This story may be based on the fact that some of the earliest chinese divinations where written on turtle shells.

    I have a Vietnamese friend who’s very interested in conspiracy theory and the similarities in myths. I remember he told me that the Vietnamese have a story very similar to England’s King Arthur about a Vietnamese king who received a magic sword to repel Chinese invaders. After he won the war he had to throw the sword into a lake where a turtle god took it back to the divine realm.

  20. It is possible there was a legit influence of Egyptian religion on the Greek Philosophers. There was no shortage of claims made by philosophers themselves or later biographers, that the origins of their doctrines lay in Ancient Egypt and or India. A very strong case can be made for the East-West Indian origins of Greek Philosophy, through the conduit of the Persian Empire, since the earliest Philosophers appeared in Greek colonies on the Eastern side of the Aegean. At first glance the Egyptian origins might seem more mythical but there are some interesting potential influences. Thales said the universe, even the gods emerged from water, which is in keeping with the Egyptian origins of creation where a sacred mound arrises from the primal waters. Plato was familiar with the idea that Thoth invented writing. Even the idea of the Demiurge in the Timaeus, parallels the idea of that the universe was created by Ptah, the god of craftsmen, and Timaeus claimed his doctrines came from ancient Egypt.
    Stupid Question Time: Do you have any opinions on the whole question of Atlantis? This is very popular with new age kooks and even the aforementioned Larouche movement seem to have some opinions about ancient Maritime civilizations but they seem to remain a bit vague about this.

  21. Yes – if you google Ananda Coomaraswamy’s article Vedic Exemplarism, he shows it was the same principle in India-glad you mentioned that. Beware of the 4shared link-it’s a virus. Use the scribd version.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/23548286/Coomaraswamy-Vedic-Exemplarism

  22. Also relevant is the Memphis creation account, which that article mentions above, where the primordial deity creates all things by his logos-word. Also present is the notion of the waters of chaos or Tiamat giving birth to all creatures, as you mention, in the “maat” link above.

    http://www.kheper.net/topics/Egypt/Memphis.html

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some god-city like Atlantis, though that is highly speculative. Julius Evola (himself a gnostic) writes about the Hyporborean myth in one of his works, which matches up to the god-city-Atlantis-myth in certain ways. And, the ancient Sumerian/Mesopotamian stories have Tiamat-chaos as giving birth to creatures, as well.

    Plato mentions Atlantis in Critias and Timaeus, and elsewhere says that his republic IS BASED on Atlantis, which many people are unaware of. You are absolutely correct about the association of the demiurgic creation account in Timaeus with the Egyptian Ogdoad and Tetrad, etc. Fascinating stuff!

  23. Yeah, it’s all quite interesting. It becomes difficult to determine how much of the overlaps in myths, philosophy and religion are stemming from the same source and how many are just natural conclusions and human mind might come to independently. Many similarities once attributed to Indo-Aryan dissemination have since been shown to be far more universal than just nations in the I.A sphere of influence. The flood myth is everywhere on the planet, including the New World, Oceana and Australia, all places free from ancient Indo-Aryan migrations. There is also the universal story of a god struggling against some kind of serpent or dragon. The god is usually a lightning god, often the dragon has stolen a woman (King Koopa style) and or drunk up all the waters. The serpent usually causes a flood either by vomiting forth water or from water pouring from its ruptured body. Is this something human minds, separated by vast distances are able to tap on a psychic level or is it all coming from a common rout that goes back far earlier than mainstream history would care to admit.

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