A philosophical thought for the day: One of the central, most basic and ancient questions of philosophy is that of the one and the many. In my undergraduate days, I spent a lot of time focused on this question, and to some profit. This question even transcended cultural barriers and mysteriously appeared in both ancient Chinese and Hindu thought, which cannot be said of every philosophical speculation. A familiar issue to philosophers and mathematicians, it is surprisingly an obscure topic, now that philosophy has died in the West. Does the end of philosophy in the West signal an end of this question? I don’t believe it does. In fact, the problem for man in our age is still this perennial question and it is one of dialectics.
The question is perennial because the one and many are fundamental to man. We possess both an idea of unity, as well as diversity, that seem to present themselves to us in all phenomena. Whether in the mundane actions of daily life, or in the highest speculations of math theory, the fundamental principles at work involve the notions of one type of thing over against multiple. To further mystify the matter, the what exactly is the nature or essence of these principles, if they can even be called such? Are they merely sociological conventions, created for utility? Are they real, externally existing principles or ideological forms? In any case, man is ever confronted with this question in all areas of life.
Early Greek philosophy began with this question, but certainly there were earlier postulations, in both Indian and Hebrew thought, for example. The figure of Job’s ruminations on the nature of suffering and righteousness in respect to a just God’s permission also have their philosophical aspects, and may likely be dated prior to the Pre-Socratics. Modern man, in his hubris, believes himself a perfectly self-sufficient atomized meaningless unit, having simultaneously accepted two contradictory presuppositions. The first is that the universe is wholly irrational, chaotic and meaningless, apart from his self-imposed meaning. The second is that his “scientific” endeavors and technological meaning are still impelled by the fuzzy, inchoate concept of “progress.”
Both of these presuppositions are mutually exclusive, but humans do not always live out their assumptions consistently. Indeed, it often takes a lifetime, or even generations, for a certain idea or belief to germinate and come to full fruition. We are presently situated at the turning point – a pivot towards an entirely new epoch in which these two conflicting ideals will simultaneously collapse into, and devour one another. The universe cannot be both, as both are impossible to maintain, without a deep indoctrination into doublethink, which if course perfectly characterizes the psyche of modern man.
Implicit in this contradiction is the work of dialectics, which I have so often commented on. For ancient man (outside the biblical tradition), the norm appears to consistently be that the ultimate principles of the one and the many are in tension. Ultimate unity, the One or Monad, at some point experienced a schism, split, division, etc., what was an unintended scattering. In fact, we may even categorize the Big Bang into this idea, as it attempts to explicate a still ancient notion of multiplicity arising from a primordial, primeval Unity. Yet still, this expansion from a completely theoretical supremely dense “point” is nothing more than the placing of the older notion of the Monad’s division into the material plane.
Thus, even with the Big Bang we are still dealing with fundamental philosophical questions of unity, division and particularity. For that “theory,” the collapsing of the principles just mentioned is analogous to the western hermetic tradition’s collapsing of the divine One and Three, the Triad, into the material plane as a topological metaphor. Aristotle can be seen a father of this tendency, even though Platonism itself in its later forms might be considered as also placing the mirrored “fragments” as still a monist perspective – where all reality is still one kind of “stuff,” just in variegated levels of being.
The advantage of the platonic view here is that it maintains the ultimate rationality of all existence and the primacy of logic (and in Pythagorenism, geometrics and math) as the fundamental substructure of all reality. I have cited the Sherrard piece many times responding to this position, and I think its arguments still hold. We also cannot account for evil in that position as anything other than another manifestation of dialectical tensions, as well. This is proven by the many far eastern religions that have been heavily influenced by Platonism and its older Egyptian esoteric forebear. If evil is located in being itself, or in multiplicity or matter, or whatever existing thing possessed of ontological status, we are left without any reason to oppose it. Evil in this views is either illusory maya or identified with this plane of existence itself. Like Adam in the garden, blame for one’s own fault is placed on external factors – the serpent, woman and this garden are to blame!
However, these traditions do maintain bits, pieces and fragments of whatever the original Tradition was, and it is for this reason we can be amazed at the profound esoteric ideas that would become the secrets of technology. Understanding the secrets of Nature is what technology is, and this, in part, I believe has a direct relation to the Tree of Knowledge. We are told it was good to make one wise in Genesis, but was not permitted for man in his trial period to partake, due to his lack of perfection in virtue. Man was created good, but mutable. This mutability contained the potentiality for the turn away from virtue to vice, egoism, and self-destructive tendencies. Partaking of this tree led man to gain knowledge he would have later been given, were he perfected in virtue. In our day we are witnessing the discovery of those very secrets, as life will extend and fantastical inventions that hearken to a golden age of the gods become real.
That said, I am not advocating the popular “technology of the gods” notion so prevalent in alternative media and now, the History Channel. Most of that material is pure garbage, yet there is some truth to this. There is a hermetic groundwork found in traditions like Platonism, Pythagoreanism and the Quadrivium that provide the framework for discovering the technology of Nature itself. And, to make things worse, those in control of these ideas are intent on destroying man as he has traditionally existed. Works like James Kelley’s Anatomyzing Divinity have highlighted this pattern, particularly in the history of western hermeticism and science, where the “Augustinian Shield” of medieval Roman Catholicism was collapsed into this plane and identified with the triadic patterns found in nature. Since, as Augustinianism argued, little trinities are present everywhere in Nature, and man is defined primarily as his intellect/soul, it follows that the course of life is a mirror journey through all the phantasms of this world back to the Unity of the One.
Since western man decided God was an impersonal Absolute and distant watchmaker, it is easy to understand why his scientific revolutionaries dispensed of the Triad in the metaphysical plane, and kept only the blueprints present in the physical plane. With the rise of Aristotelian impulses in Thomism (and yes, I realize Aquinas was also very Platonic), the transition to empiricism was to win out, as Thomist realism, with its empirical theology assumptions, eventually caved to rank nominalism. However, despite man’s fascination with techne and his supposed divesting himself of superstition, the dominance of numeric, philosophical one and many dialectics plagues him more than ever. The specter of numbers themselves haunt man, as he has capitulated to the quantification of all things, as if this were rational. The dominance of quantification is the best image of this rational/irrational dialectic at work, especially in computer technology or virtual finance, for example.
The realm of virtual finance is extremely complex, dominated by numerics, and yet has as its telos a completely irrational end – the end of man himself, as the stepping stone into the cashless society, then into virtual realms. And yet in something as complex as virtual finance, the fundamental principles at work are still grounded in the one and the many. For modern political theory, too, the one and the many are in constant tension, as the struggles are believed to be some anarcho-capitalist maverick set against the collectivist tyranny, or the liberal progressive set against the power of Wall Street. These modern manifestation of dialectics are all piecemeal approaches to uninformed approaches that are all themselves premised on classical liberal ideas.
What is fascinating is that man is played like a fool, even by himself with the idea of creating a great A.I. central god system to run the SmartCities – do the builders not realize they, too, will be enslaved? At all points we are confronted with phony dialectics, which are essentially false paradigms of opposition, and they are almost all wrong, maintaining only a piece of the puzzle. The proper principle for true health and progress is balance in the one and the many, and in order for this to take place, most of western philosophy must be jettisoned. This includes classical Greek dialectics, as they are the chief source of western man’s ills. Dialectics is the metaphysical problem of man, and man’s desire to transcend through dividing ad inifinitum, down to particle zoo are manifestations of A futile quest for a “holy grail” full of corn syrup Grape Kool-Aid.