The Intelligence of the Ancient Greeks

     In Bruce Charlton's recent post "Christians cannot 'Be Good' in 2021 - but Can avoid being corrupted by evil", he writes in a comment 

    "In the early Eastern Roman Empire, apparently everybody argued about theology on every street corner and across the dinner table."

    This is interesting for two reasons.  One is that it shows the degree to which Christianity was a part of daily life in the Eastern Roman Empire.  The other reason is that the Christian theology of those days was highly abstract and intellectual.  The fact that it was discussed by the general population is evidence for Bruce Charlton and Michael Woodley's idea that general intelligence has declined since the industrial revolution.  

    But in addition to general intelligence, special intelligence has also changed.  In particular, there is reason to believe that the ancient Greeks had a special talent for understanding abstractions.  

    A good example of the ancient Greek approach to abstractions versus the modern is geometry versus algebra.  In its heyday, ancient Greek mathematics was primarily concerned with geometry, while modern mathematics, especially since the development of Calculus in the mid to late 17th century, has been highly algebraic.  

    The strength of algebra is that if you can manipulate an equation according to certain steps, then it is not necessary to think.  Just follow the steps to the end and you have your result.  Not just in mathematics, but much modern thinking, especially abstract thinking follows this procedure.  Develop a model and manipulate the model.  The goal is not to take the whole system into one's mind, but to follow each step and what is at the last step is the result.  

    Whereas in geometry, even when aided by diagrams, it is necessary to visualize and visualizing allows one to be able to hold the problem in one's mind as a whole.  Furthermore, the Greeks studied 3 dimensional geometry (for example, the Platonic Solids) yet without many of our technological means of visualizing, such as with computers.  They probably did carve models, maybe out of wood, but it is necessary to hold the shape in one's mind before carving.    

    I believe that the Greeks viewed abstractions in this way.  Similar to visualizing a shape or an interaction in geometry, they had a special talent for taking the whole abstraction into their mind and viewing it almost in a concrete way.  Of course, modern people still have the capability, but imagine an entire culture where this special ability to take up abstractions was widespread.  The Eastern Roman Empire was culturally and linguistically Greek and, in fact, everyone arguing about theology is exactly what you would expect in such a civilization.   

Don't believe polls

    Polls are quoted as if self-evidently valid (without considering the source or methodology), but in fact, I have come to believe that polls and opinion surveys are almost entirely worthless.  

    The biggest reason is that with the disppearance of landlines, there is now no easy way to randomly select from the population.  In addition, there has been a proliferation of polls on everything under the sun while the surveys themselve have become increasingly long and tedious.  So even if there was a way to select a random sample of the population, most of the initial sample may not respond to the survey.

    For these reasons, even though pollsters can analyze their data very precisely, the results may be entirely unrepresentative with respect to the population as a whole.  Indeed, those who respond to surveys, particularly phone surveys are probably not evenly distributed among the population as a whole.  Many of them may be high-conscientiousness members of the generations who grew up instinctively trusting people who call them on the phone and instinctively trusting polls.  On the other hand, there are probably very few people under 35 who answer surveys at all, especially phone surveys.  Futhermore, I suspect that most young children or teengers who answer polls are probably bribed in some way (free food, for example) and so for that reason their responses should be taken with a grain of salt.    

    But it is even worse than that because often surveys are badly designed: the meaning of a particular question to the designer may be entirely different from how the responders view the question.  Also, frequently surveys are not able to capture the nuance of individuals' views because most surveys are not open ended, all possible responses are proscribed in advance.  

    And those considerations do not even take into account fake surveys.  At worst, the survey may be entirely fraudulent, with numbers made up on the spot.  But even if that is not the case, it may be designed so that only certain responses are possible, or interpreted in a disingenuous way, or presented to a deliberately nonrepresentative sample of the population.  

    Therefore, the burden of proof is on the polls.  A survey can only be trusted when it has been shown that those who design and implement it are both honest and competent.  And even then, it may be that a representative sample is so difficult to find that a honest and competent surveyor has to conclude that no conclusion can be drawn.      

    If we wan to understand the modern world, let us base our analyses on something more substantial than polls.

The symbolic truth of Medieval Cosmology

    In this post, I want to discuss how medieval cosmology is symbolically true.  This post will be highly speculative and outlandish, but none of the ideas discussed are original to this post; they all have been around for a long time.  Indeed, I think that they show that ancient and medieval people had insights into the nature of reality that have been lost in modern times.

    I have become increasingly convinced that the medieval world system is true, but symbolically, not physically.  They did not have our physical science so they did not know as much about the physical universe.  In addition, one of Owen Barfield's ideas about the evolution of consciousness is that as consciousness has developed through time, thought has become more separated.  For instance, the word "pneuma" meant both "spirit" and "wind."  So, the people of the Middle Ages might not have distinguished between the physical and symbolic interpretations to the same extent we would have.  

    The following picture, from Peter Apian's Cosmographia shows the medieval universe: 


Here is another picture in color, from the luminarium website: 

    In the medieval world system, the Earth is situated at the center of the universe, then above the Earth are concentric spheres, which form the Heavens.  The boundary between the Earth and the Heavens is the sphere of the Moon.  Then above the moon we have the spheres of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the stars.  

    Everything above the sphere of the Moon was believed to be unchanging, while in the air, between the surface of Earth and the Moon there lived "airy beings," subtle creatures, neither angels nor demons but perhaps kin to fairies or such legendary creatures.  

    In his post "We Are Not Alone", William Wildblood writes: 

    "The physical world we are aware of is something like the outermost crust of  sphere of being which has many levels corresponding, no doubt, to the many mansions that Jesus told us were in his Father's house.  There is this difference though.  Whereas in, say, the case of an orange the outer skin is the largest part of the whole, the exact opposite is the case with this order of reality.  Every inner section or plane is greater than the one external to it, and, not only that, but it includes further dimensions beyond he three we know as well.  Langugae fails here or, at least mine certainly does, but the idea that the inner is greater than the outer should not be so difficult to grasp if we think of the outer as essentially projected from the inner or a more limited version of it."

    This corresponds with the medieval model, except in that model the higher levels are outer rather than inner.  For example, the sphere of the Moon contains the sphere of Earth and the sphere of Mercury contains the spheres of both the Moon and the Earth.  But in both cases we are using a spatial metaphor to describe something that goes beyond the spatial, so both ways are helpful.  

    According to this idea, we should think of the spheres not as physical expanses, but as levels of reality.  Each higher level is less restrictive in terms of consciousness and other aspects than the preceeding level.  

    But, perhaps there is a distinct break corresponding to the boundary between the Heavens and the Earth at the sphere of the Moon.  In his book The Discarded Image (which is about the Medieval cosmology), C.S. Lewis writes that below the sphere of the Moon was the world of Nature, the physical world of change with which we are familiar.  I believe that the people of the Middle Ages were basically correct in this.  But rather than viewing the world of Nature as simply the Earth, we should consider it to be the entire physical universe.  

    In all the levels of reality above the physical universe, there is no entropy.  Rather it is what Bruce Charlton has called "open-ended creation."  So all change is positive, adding to what exists rather than taking away.  The people of the Middle Ages made a mistake in equating change with degeneration, but their insight is correct if we substitute change for entropy. 

    I believe that entropy is just the tendency of the universe to return to its original state of chaos.  The alchemists and Aristotelians were right to envision matter as pure potentiality, the ability to take on any form.  This form comes from the spiritual realms, the levels of reality above the material universe.    This undifferentiated matter naturally shapes itself to take on whatever qualities are presented to it, but after a period of time, the qualities leave to go somewhere else.    

    And if we view the physical universe as a level of reality, then that might make sense of the multiverse.  I am not sure whether to attribute this statement to William James Tychonievich or not, since he heard it in a dream, but it is a sensible assessment of the idea of a multiverse:

     "This has convinced me that there is no such thing as a parallel universe.  The universe we are in is in fact the only universe.  And that means it is real -- fully real."

    Two parallel universe theories, the quantum multiverse and the string theory landscape both consider the universe as merely an instantiation of one of many possibilities.  The fundamental reality is the spectrum of possibilities.  On the contrary, if there is a single universe, then it comes from some deeper reason, something more real and more meaningful.  

    Just for the sake of interest, I include this quote from Plato in the Timaeus, where Timaeus raises and rejects the possibility of a multiverse (the word used is world, but since later in the dialogue different planets and stars are discussed, it is clear that in this case world means the entire cosmos): 

    "Are we right in saying that there is one world, or that they are many and infinite?  There must be one only, if the created copy is to accord with the original.  For that which includes all other intelligible creatures cannot have a second or companion; in that case there would be need of another living being which would include both, and of which they would be parts, and the likeness would be more truly said to resemble not them, but that other which included them.  In order then that the world might be solitary, like the perfect animal, the creator made not two worlds or an infinite number of them; but there is and ever will be one only-begotten and created heaven."

    But suppose there are other intelligent beings?  Where would they be?  Rather than thinking of multiple cosmoi, multiple planets makes sense.  Since this level of reality is physical, then it makes sense that the realms of these beings would be separated by a physical means.  The universe is so vast and there are so many stars that I do believe some have planets which are inhabited.  However, the inhabitants of any planet seem to be prohibited by vast distances from visiting any other planet.  One reason might be to prevent beings from one planet from destroying or corrupting others from another planet.  

    Also, suppose we interpret the air between the Moon and the Earth symbolically, as subtle realms between the physical and the spiritual?  William Wildblood has written about this, referring to it as the psychic plane:

    "The psychic plane is higher than the physicla (higher meaning freer and more expansive) and relates to it as the mind does to the body.  But still it is the plane of subjectivity, being comprised of our thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs and experiences, both individual and collective.  This gives us the clue that it is largely a creation of the created.  Spirit and matter are divine realities but the psychic plane is the product of human and non-human thinking and imaging.  (Non-human as it contains entities that are of a different order to ourselves, entities known in folklore and myth).  It is both formed of and contains the psychic impressions and experiences of all created life."

    What about the level directly above ours?  I think Dante had insight into this when he put the Garden of Eden directly atop the mountain of Purgatory, right below Heaven.  Indeed, I believe the level directly above ours is indeed the Garden of Eden.  That would mean the Fall of Man was indeed a fall, from a higher level of reality to a lower one.  If there are beings on other planets, they may have their own Edens, different realms from ours but in the same level of reality.  

    If that is true, then that level may be very similar to the Earth as we know it, while others may be much difficult to imagine, not because they are alien but because they are richer and more expansive than the physical universe.  For example, someone hearing the word hippopotamus, which literally means "water horse" may think that a hippo is just some exotic type of horse, when it is really a qualitatively different animal.  It's not that a hippo is alien; it is just difficult to imagine some things without experiencing them.  For example, in 2 Corinthians 12: 2-4, Paul spoke about seeing the Third Heaven, which I would interpret as the level of reality three levels above this one.  There may be some connection between the levels of the spiritual realms and the 9 choirs of angels, where each choir of angels qualitatively differs from the preceeding level.  If there is any truth to this traditional classification, then perhaps each choir lives on a different level.

    A natural question is, is there a level of reality below the physical universe, one more restrictive?  Yes, I think so.  That is the level that is called Sheol or Hades, the underworld depicted in mythology, which Bruce Charlton has written about.  I would distinguish Hades from Hell.  Hell is not a level because the levels of reality are not evil in themselves, they are just states of being.  Hell is parasitic on Creation.  It is using the power of wicked souls to corrupt Creation, to carve out a space of concentrated evil, excluding good.  

    Although, the story of the rebel angels being cast out of Heaven probably means that Hell can only exist in the physical universe, in Hades, or on the psychic plane.  There may well be parts of Hades that have been taken over and are what we refer to as Hell, but I do not believe that this is true for all of Hades.

    Interestingly enough, the spirits of the dead in mythology are depicted as demented and witless, which corresponds with a level of reality where consciousness is so restricted, that it is almost impossible to think.  Also, it seems that the higher levels can give "energy" to the lower levels.  One example would be a miracle.  If matter naturally shapes itself according to the spiritual, then an angel who wanted to heal someone would have no need to make use of such crude methods as surgery.  The angel could simply tell the matter what to do and it would shape itself according to the form presented to it.  The ancient Greeks also seemed to have a similar belief with regard to our world and Hades.  This is recorded in the story of the Odyssey, where Odysseus kills a sheep so that the shades of the dead can drink its blood and speak to him.  In other words, they are dependent on the energy within the blood of the sheep in order to speak.  

    This also relates to the tradition that between His death and Resurrection, Jesus descended to Hades, referred to in 1 Peter 3:19, where it is said that Jesus spoke to the "spirits in prison."  No one but Jesus had the capability to leave Hades under their own power.  

    I will close with a quote from The Discarded Image

    "a medieval man on a nocturnal walk was 'looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonont with music.'  The modern man looking at a night sky feels he is looing out; medieval man was looking in

Tacking between virtue sets

    In Wiliam James Tychonievich's post "Satan divided against himself", he uses a metaphor of a boat tacking against the wind to describe the progression of evil from Luciferic to Ahrimanic to Sorathic.  Tychonievich also makes use of the idea of Virtue Sets from G. at the Junior Ganymede blog in this post to describe two goods: Devic Good and Ahuric Good.  In the "Satan divided against himself" post, William James Tychonievich describes human nature as to "Pursue good, avoid evil"  From this, he then describes Ahrimanic Evil as "Sacrifice the pursuit of good in order to avoid evil" and Luciferic Evil as "Sacrifice the avoidance of evil in order to pursue good (e.g. to seek pleasure)."  From this, Tychonievich describes Ahuric Good as the type of good that seeks further good and Devic Good as the type of good that avoids evil.  
    I have a somewhat different attitude towards Luciferic and Ahrimanic Evil than that expressed in Tychonievich's post.  But the focus of this post is not Ahrimanic and Luciferic Evil as such but the tacking metaphor and the concepts of Ahuric and Devic Good, both of which are valuable insights.  So, why not combine the two?       
    In this diagram, evil is above the line in the middle and good is below the line.  The left is associated with seeking good and the right with avoiding evil, so Devic Good and Ahrimanic Evil are on the same side, while Luciferic Evil and Ahuric Good are on the same side.  Also, since in the tacking metaphor Sorathic, purely destructive evil is the endpoint of evil, there needs to be something on the opposite pole of good.  According to Rudolf Steiner's cosmology, Sorath will incarnate in several thousand years and will be the Biblical Antichrist.  So, Christ is naturally the opposite of Sorath.  (I do not personally believe in this idea of Steiner's about the Antichrist but since Rudolf Steiner's ideas of Lucifer, Sorath and Ahrimanic Evils are the original source of this model, it makes sense to consider these ideas). 

    On the other hand, since Sorathic evil is destruction, the opposite is creation.  Further, the two goods Ahuric and Devic Good can be thought of as both coming together to form Creation.  We need both to pursue good and to avoid evil to have Creation.  If there is no pursuit of good, then nothing will happen but if there is no avoidance of evil, then creation will degenerate.  
    In Tychonievich's original tacking metaphor, human beings can start one of two ways.   Either by being enticed into evil by Luciferic means, then overcorrecting to avoid evil leading to the Ahrimanic, then destructively raging against the Ahrimanic, leading to Sorathic.  Or, by pursuing Ahrimanic Evil for safety through control or for desire for power, then moving towards the Luciferic in reaction against the dehumanization of the Ahrimanic.  Then, trying to manage the Luciferic, making it even more destructive, leading to the Sorathic.  
    When I first had the idea of this diagram, I just tried to make a mirror image of the above pathway towards Sorath.  But it turns out that it works with the model.  For instance, in order to tack away from the Luciferic, one moves towards Devic Good, (in other words, one avoids the evil one is pursuing).  On the other hand, to move away from the Ahrimanic, we move towards Ahuric.  In other words, we bring forth some new good to push past the constricting mechanization of Ahriman.  And this actually fits with Steiner's idea, that in the modern world we were supposed to bring forth a new development, that we have to combat the Ahrimanic by moving through it.  
    The other important thing is that since this model is two-dimensional, to escape from evil it is not enough to move away from the evil in question, we also have to move towards good, towards Christ and Creation.  For instance, it appears that those who are most susceptible towards Luciferic evil are often not susceptible to Ahrimanic and conversely, the Ahrimanic are less susceptible towards Luciferic evil.  
    New Age types correctly deplore the evils of the Ahrimanic: the mechanistic dehumanization of the modern world.  However, they are also more vulnerable to the Luciferic - all the usual cultural subversions.  
    On the other hand, many of those who are resistant to the Luciferic are most vulnerable to the Ahrimanic.  This can be seen in individuals, but is also seen in countries.  The most Ahrimanic countries in the world are not particularly Luciferic, but it's a mistake to think that their Ahrimanic tendencies are thereby a good thing.  Ahrimanic Evil is still evil and for that reason, Ahriman won't save us from Lucifer.  Indeed, it's no coincidence that almost all of the worst cultural subversions, particularly those associated with the Sexual Revolution come from Ahrimanic and Luciferic conditions working together, from using technology to strengthen subversion.  

    The way to escape from the Luciferic is by cultivating Devic Good, virtue and discipline.  To flee one evil by moving towards another is no real escape.  The two-dimensional model of virtue sets is helpful for this reason because it reminds us that to move away from evil, we must move towards good.  

The Logic of Freedom

    This is the follow up post to "The logic of the system."  In the first post, I wrote that there is no room for freedom in the System.  But what is this freedom?  

    There are two big ways to think about freedom: negative freedom and positive freedom.  Francis Berger has referred to these as "freedom from" and "freedom for," respectively in several posts, such as this one.  These terms are useful because they clearly express the nature of each of these freedoms.  Freedom from is an absence of restrictions.  This is the most obvious type of freedom.  Indeed, most discussions of freedom only consider freedom from, particularly from a political point of view.  On the other hand, freedom for is more subtle.  Freedom for is internal; it is acting from within, from what Bruce Charlton has called the "true self."  

    Ultimately, freedom for only makes sense from a spiritual perspective.  If there is no spiritual aspect to human beings, then any action can only come from arbitrary desires with no deeper meaning.  On the other hand, if human beings are fundamentally spiritual, then freedom for means acting (however imperfectly) from the spiritual.

    These are the background concepts, but in this post, rather than the metaphysical issues, I want to discuss at a more specific level what freedom from would look like.  

    Both types of freedom are most fundamentally concerned with consciousness.  Political descriptions of freedom are incomplete.  Frequently, freedom from is described as something that is given to people by governments.  It is envisioned as a matter of choosing a system of governance that will provide freedom.  But this kind of description is incomplete because it doesn't go deep enough.  

    An example that highlights these issues is the Constitution of the United States.  The Constitution did not gift freedom to the citizens of the United States.  Indeed, if the consciousness of Americans at the time was contrary to the principles underlying the Constitution, then the new government would have been entirely unsuccessful.  It would have had to be imposed by force and would quickly have fragmented.  The Constitution was a crystallization of the consciousness of a particular time and place.

     From about 1740, consciousness in the West changed.  Among the changes was incresed individualism which meant (among other things) the gradual weakening of cohesion within groups.  But this was meant to be transitional.  We were supposed to move towards ..., well something that we can't quite imagine becuse it is qualitatively new, which hasn't been seen before.  Since the new has not been brought forth fully and the old has weakened, we have deteriorated.    

    The good thing is that since the Constitution was framed towards the beginning of this period, the spirit in which it was written is more aligned with common sense and truth that our current consciousness.  But, because it is a snapshop of what was meant to be a transitional stage, the Constitution no longer has the force it once did: most people simply cannot properly respond to it with their current consciousness.  But the solution is not to go back because we cannot.  It just doesn't work that way.  We were supposed to move forward towards a different kind of consciousness.  That is why originalism (the doctrine of trying to understand how the framers thought of the Constitution), though well-motivated is not a long-term solution.  Even though an individual person can, through study and imaginative engagement come closer to the consciousness of the framers, as the consciousness of the general public moves farther and farther away, the originalist will be increasingly less able to explain to others what he has learned and to persuade them based on this knowledge.  

    This is a specific example, but the increased political freedom that emerged starting from the Renasisance and increasingly from the 18th century is the consequence of changes in consciousness.  That is the only way to make sense of multiple changes that all built upon each other, the only way to make sense of things that seem to "just happen."  They don't just happen, rather, a subtle change that is not directly observable (except within each individual's mind) explains them.  

    Likewise, freedom for, positive freedom also takes place in consciousness.  It is internal.  It is possessed by each person individually and is not given by governments.  To try to envision what a world with this kind of freedom might look like, we want to consider the System and then take the opposite.  

     In the System, everything is impersonal.  Each individual is assigned a role, but it is the role that is primary, not the person.  The role could, in principle, (at least according to the logic of the System) be assigned to anyone else who satisfies whatever qualities are determined to be necessary.  On the contrary, with freedom for everything is personal.  A job is based on personal knowledge and personal capabilities.  We can imagine this as similar to apprenticeship.  Apprenticeship is fundamentally personal.  The apprentice learns from an individual master.  The master will be part of a broader tradition but it is the master who personally communicates both tradition and his own knowledge to the student.   

    Also, in the System, everything is abstract.  The System is run according to abstract, bureaucratic categories.  On the other hand, in a world of freedom for, no one is "running" anything.  People interact with each other based on their concrete, individual circumstances.  Also, because the System is abstract, all qualities not recognized by the System are declared non-existent.  Not only that, the System works by means both subtle and overt to diminish and eliminate any qualities it does not recognize.  With freedom for, all real and good qualities would have room to be expressed.  There would be no abstract, overarching categories that define what qualities are real and which are not.

    In the System, the goal is for everything to be mechanized and hence predictable.  Everything must happen according to predefined rules and there can be no deviation from these rules.  A world of freedom for would be entirely unmechanical.  That doesn't mean it would be chaotic.  It is possible to predict the behaviour of someone whom one knows well.  But this is an entirely different kind of prediction than prediction by abstract modeling.  Similar to miracles.  Miracles are fundamentally personal, not mechanical and that is one reason why the modern worldview cannot accomodate them.   

    Thus, although we cannot fully imagine a world of freedom for, we can get a better idea by thinking about these issues.  This post by Amo Boden also discusses some of the same issues, considering a civilization based on individuality.  Another good reason to think about freedom for is because if it is indeed true that this is what we are supposed to move toward, then freedom for provides the long-term goal for us.  But, by the very nature of freedom for, there is no formula; it isn't another abstract program with "freedom" stamped on it, but something qualitatively different.  It can therefore be approached in different ways for different individuals.  Let us move towards this freedom, in whatever way we may.


The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...