Proclus, Einstein, & the Logos

Bird 17 Powers, Richard M. (1921 - 1996) - Abstract in Yellow (1960s)

Richard M. Powers (1921 – 1996): Paperback Cover (1963)
“Δέστε τη ζώνη ασφαλείας σας. Πρόκειται για μια ανώμαλη βόλτα.”
 – Συνταξιούχος καθηγητής

In the philosophical school of Neoplatonism, the Late-Pagan intellectual dispensation and its nascent Early-Christian counterpart find common ground.  Indeed – they converge.  They coexist miscibly for a while until the Pagan component seemingly disappears, leaving the Christian component as the sole public face of the movement.  This metamorphosis proceeds so smoothly, however, that in comparing a prose-sample from the one phase with a prose-sample from the other, with the author-names redacted, the reader might find himself hard-pressed to discern which of them leaned toward a fading polytheism and which toward the rising Trinitarian conviction.  But then the Pagan chapter of Neoplatonism hardly deserves the label of polytheism.  To the extent that the Late-Pagan thinkers recognize a multiplicity of divinities, they classify them as refracted manifestations of a single luminous principle; and when they insist on the primacy of “The One,” they tend to couch their discussion in the lexicon of a triple-hypostasis.  A Christian Neoplatonist like Pseudo-Dionysius borrows so much in his basic vocabulary and pivotal tropes from a Pagan Neoplatonist like Plotinus or Syrianus that a paragraph by the former will seem to parrot a paragraph by the latter, but it is in fact more a case of continuity than of parroting.  (To parroting – the reader must maintain his faith – the discussion will eventually come.)  Among the shared, interlocking premises on whose basis these thinkers operate are that the cosmos, by virtue of its perfection, must be the creation of a perfect being; that being good and true, the cosmos is also beautiful; and that the Demiurge or World-Creator, whereas he is apprehensible, is nevertheless not comprehensible.  As to the last, the Neoplatonists willingly expend thousands of words to argue that God, in his infinitude, infinitely exceeds the power of language to grapple with him.

Bird 10 Willmann, Michael (1630 - 1706) - Creation of the World (1668)

Michael Willman (1630 – 1706): Creation of the World (1668)

I. Paradox, whether deliberate or unintentional, charmingly insinuates itself into Neoplatonic discourse in other ways. The Neoplatonists, as their name would suggest, revere Plato, whose dialogues function not only at the level of philosophy, which they define, but also at the level of art. Neoplatonists exercise skepticism in reference to Aristotle because of that writer’s doubting attitude about Plato’s metaphysics, especially where it concerns the Ideas.  Few Neoplatonists, however, write on the artistic level or in the poetic style of Plato; none uses the literary framework of the dramatic dialogue.  Many Neoplatonists, if not quite all of them, write in an Aristotelian mode of academic, lecture-like prose.  They favor long trains of syllogisms.  The subject-matter relieves the propositional tedium, flashes of insight enliven the text, and the occasional metaphor or analogy tickles the fancy.  The impossibility of appreciating God in language acts as a challenge to the author so that the reader sometimes gets the impression that overcoming the foundational thesis furnishes the implicit goal of the exposition.  On the whole, and despite dull passages, the books of the Neoplatonists exert an unexpected fascination.  This is especially so in the Twenty-First Century’s Reign of Ugliness.  The Neoplatonists promote a kalontology as one might call it that roots the beauty of existence in the moral plenitude of God the Maker.  Given the historical situation of the last Pagan Neoplatonists – the failing political organization in the Western Empire, civil wars, the barbarian incursions, and an exhausted economy – this emphasis on the model of order, the visible cosmos, appears strongly motivated.  In this way, even the over-reliance on syllogism makes sense.  The Neoplatonism of the Fifth and Sixth Centuries, whether of the Pagan or Christian variety, corresponds to a late chapter of the Logos tradition, which began a thousand years earlier in the aphorisms of Heraclitus.

Take Proclus (412 – 485) – born in Lycia to the administrative upper class, trained in law, but active as a teacher and philanthropist in Athens for the latter part of his life.  Historians classify him as, more or less, the last of the Pagan philosophers.  He had a successor in his school, “The Friends of Plato,” one Marinus of Neapolis, whose work, including a biography of his precursor, survives only in a few small fragments.  A good deal of the Proclean oeuvre has, by contrast, come down to posterity.  The Proclean authorship consists largely in commentary on what he considered the outstanding Platonic dialogues – Parmenides, Phaedrus, and Philebus – to count only the pi’s and phi’s – and, centrally, Timaeus.  Neoplatonism in general, and Proclean Neoplatonism in particular, favors one side of a Platonic ambiguity: It vindicates the material or sensible aspect of Being, concerning which Plato himself could be somewhat dubious although not in Timaeus.  In his Arguments in Proof of the Eternity of the World, Proclus sets forth his anti-Gnostic case for the essential goodness, not to mention the beauty, of the physical cosmos.  The discussion of the Arguments should in account a detail of Timaeus.  Plato’s dialogue (it resembles, in fact, an extended monologue) makes the case for a created universe or the-world-as-artifact.  When the Timaean Demiurge fashions the cosmos, however, he uses a reservoir of unformed matter that renders itself conveniently available, just as the clay offers itself to the ceramicist so that he can throw the pot.  For Proclus the world-maker also conjures the matter from which he constructs his cosmic elaboration.  Proclus thus radicalizes the trope that he inherits from his Master, Plato.

Thomas Taylor (1758 – 1845), Proclus’ enthusiastic English translator, summarizes the basic assumption underlying the Arguments: “The artificer of the world being an eternally energizing being, and energizing essentially, the universe must be consubsistent with him, in the same manner as the sun, which produces light by its very being, has the light so produced consubsistent with itself, and neither is the light prior or posterior to the sun, not the sun to light; just as the shadow which proceeds from a body that is situated in the light, is always consubsistent with it.”  Thus, according to Proclus, “the paradigm of the world is eternal.”  By “paradigm” Proclus means two things, which, however, are one.  The Demiurge himself is the paradigm, in that he sculpts the world to mirror his perfection; but the paradigm also entails the vision in the demiurgic mind that precedes the fashioning.  “The world always,” Proclus writes, “is an image of an eternally existing paradigm.”  The concept of “eternity” fits importantly in the unfolding of the Arguments.  With time comes decay, and since the artifact of a perfect artificer cannot fall subject to decay, which would taint it with imperfection, the whole of the artifact cannot, itself, be in time.  Rather, temporality exists only as a transformative principle inside the cosmic whole so that its effects – as motion, priority, and posteriority – might inspire the idea of regularity in the sentience that observes it.  Regularity belongs to “arrangement” and “adornment,” two Proclean aesthetic qualities that contribute to the overall beauty of the cosmos, again for the sake of sentience, to which they appeal.  In all the details of his universe, the Demiurge wishes to communicate with the mentalities that he has called into existence.  Matter mediates the invisible intelligibility of the Maker to the human mind.

Bird 01 Emmons, Jeanne (born 1954) - Cosmogenesis (2010)

Jeanne Emmons (born 1954): Cosmogenesis (2010)

The cosmos, in this manner, amounts to a grand continuing dialogue of the Creator with his creations.  A paradigm is, after all, an item of grammar, which in turn is reflective of the Platonic Forms.  Earlier Neoplatonists such as Plotinus and Iamblichus incorporated the lexeme Logos in their prose.  Paradeigma serves Proclus as a substitute for Logos.  Why substitute for a tried and true word whose pedigree is purely Hellenic?  Proclus lived during the implementation of the repressive anti-Pagan policies of Theodosius II (regnant 408 – 450) and his successors, Marcian and Leo.  In preferring Paradeigma over Logos, Proclus might have sought to distinguish his personal convictions from those of the imperial faith.  That faith had assumed the character of a government mandate and in doing so had betrayed its claim to fideism, which can only be voluntarist.  Robert Lamberton suggests in an article (2016) that the brutal lynching of the Alexandrian Platonist Hypatia in 415 etched itself in Proclus’ sense of the historical drift and undermined any friendliness that he might otherwise have felt toward the Church, even though he would have understood the closeness of the Christian Platonists to his own intellectual position.  Hypatia’s fate, to be torn to pieces by a putatively Christian mob, compared in its quintessential ugliness to any instance of actual Christian martyrdom.  Society, stirred by its leaders, as the cases of Socrates and Hypatia showed, could react with homicidal malice against philosophy.  At one point, Proclus went into exile for a year because the official anti-Pagan animosity in Athens had reached what he perceived as a dangerous level.

Be that as it may – and back to the Paradigm.  In a fragment translated by Taylor, from the Defence of the Timaeus of Plato against Objections made to it by Aristotle, Proclus uses heliotic imagery to explain how the emanations of the Demiurge endow matter with arrangement or adornment.  “For the celestial fire,” he writes, “is not caustic, but, as I should say, is vivific, in the same manner as the heat which is naturally inherent in us.”  The Demiurge worked up the universe and man to be like halves of a symbolon.  When the heavens illuminate and warm the minded entity, they draw forth his sympathy.  He feels moved to contemplate that which lies outside him but which resembles him.  Subject and object resonate with one another; but it is also the case that every object is also a subject.  In the Commentary on the Timaeus, Book I, again in Taylor’s Translation, Proclus writes: “Hence, when the sensible man is assimilated to the universe, he also imitates his paradigm after an appropriate manner, becoming a world through similitude to the world, and happy through resemblance to that blessed god [the universe].”  In any communication between entities, whether man and the universe, man and god, or man and fellow man, this mystical or transcendental vivification is active.  The Proclean assimilation refers to the effect of theoria, the highest degree of contemplation, when the unity implicit in the universe becomes a conscious theme and, as it were, impresses its veracity by an overwhelming intuition.  Given the consanguinity of Pagan, especially Proclean, and Christian Neoplatonism, it is not impossible to hear echoes of these metaphors in as remote an item of Christian piety as the hymn of St. Francis of Assisi in praise of “Sir Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” and even the vivifying and confraternal “Fire.”

II. The reader is here advised to heed the words of Syntaxiouchos – that obscure Neoplatonist known by a single surviving sentence. This essay, in drawing on Syntaxiouchos for its epigraph, necessarily draws on that sentence. Be that as it may — and on to other matters.  Or not quite.  The previous paragraph invoked the topic of “communication between entities.”  A previous essay at The Orthosphere, Notes for an Anthropoetics of the Flying Saucers, sought to explain, and even to some extent to justify, the putative craziness of the UFO rumor; it dealt with “communication between entities,” and did so by alluding to Neoplatonism.  Flying saucer enthusiasts and Neoplatonists share a penchant for transcendence.  Both Plotinus and Proclus record their experiences of union with the One.  Augustine too, during his time as a Platonist, which followed his time as a Manichaean, had such an experience.  He records it in his Confessions.  St. Francis appears to have sensed the siblinghood of the celestial orbs and the elements, but he also corresponded with animals, to extent once of preaching a sermon to the birds.  The feathered ones, after all, sing hymns to dawn at the beginning of the day-cycle.  St. Francis so intently solicited the attention of “mute” beasts that the Church declared him Patron of Animals.  Since the Cartesian Revolution, however, every educated person has known that animals partake not in consciousness and thus never self-identify or exercise reason; animals operate as biological algorithms so that even when it seems that they respond, say, to language, as directed at them by their human masters, what those masters observe amounts to nothing but a Pavlovian sequence.  If the masters think it anything else, they delude themselves.  As for the avians singing to the colors of the heliotic prelude, as though issuing praise for its splendor and beauty – that is so much medieval superstition.  The mind must rid itself of anthropomorphism.

Bird 03 Koets, Roelof (1592 - 1654) - Still Life with Parrot (1640)

Roelof Koets (1592 – 1664):  Still Life with Parrot (1640)

Modernity nevertheless acts against itself via technological innovation.  Since the advent of the Internet and the insertion of cameras into all devices people have impulsively filmed everything and uploaded it to the World Wide Web.  Videos of flying saucers proliferate on the web.  So do animal videos.  These videos, in their bulk, favor the Franciscan more than the Cartesian view of humanity’s mammalian cousins.  It turns out that there is much “communication between entities.”  Consider those Ratatósks of the urban forest, the squirrels.  People regard their antics with no little amusement, and their cleverness with nodding appreciation, but they nevertheless carry the reputation of pests.  Given the opportunity, as it turns out, squirrels will bond with their bipedal counterparts.  The generous rescuer of Gibby the squirrel expresses her epistemological modesty when she opines, near the end of the video, that “there is just so much that we don’t know.”  Gibby shows powerful affection for the young woman.  He plays “chase” with his rescuer’s pet rabbit who appears to enjoy it.   Lucy the squirrel has likewise established herself in domesticity.  Whereas dogs instinctively hunt squirrels, with human mediation dog-squirrel relations can take on the color of friendship.  This is the case with Zachary the squirrel.  Of Mossy the squirrel’s leaps, her owner says, “She looks beautiful when she flies through the air.”  Sentimentality pervades these videos, to be sure, but only a white-smocked know-it-all would deny the fact of mutual recognition and amity among different species – including Homo sapiens.  That furred creatures of different sorts play with one another, and that their protectors find their gymnastics beautiful, hints at something gracious.

These same phenomena reveal themselves in avian-human relations.  A particularly moving instance comes in the case of an Australian woman who, while sitting one day on her porch, received the petition of a wild lorikeet who was exhausted from fleeing the clutches of a predator.  “He literally came from – wherever he came from – straight to me,” the kindly lady says of Elvis, as she named her pteryxated supplicant.  Elvis exhibited no mistrust whatever toward the woman, but welcomed her asylum and instantly adopted her.  The woman hoped to reintroduce Elvis to the forest behind her house whence he emerged.  He assented to the project and absented himself for a number of days.  When Elvis returned – he brought his friends with him.  They exhibited the same ease in accommodating themselves to a human environment as he.  Later he brought his mate.  Readapted to the wild, Elvis went there to live, but he continued to visit.  As they do with dogs, people make pets of birds.  Dogs cannot speak, but they show remarkable sensitivity to language.  Birds charm by their linguistic talent.  Unlike dogs birds can achieve a high level of articulate volubility.  The evidence increases that avian language-use exceeds mere mimicry.  The corvids, for example, can count; they can solve complicated problems; and, by a cumulus of evidence, they recognize the principle of reciprocity.  They bring gifts to people who feed them.  They bond with humans.  Fable the raven has learned to vocalize in a minimal way.  Fable demonstrates her intellectual prowess, on the other hand, not so much in speech as in problem-solving.  Crows, the closest relatives of the ravens, show equal capacity in finding solutions to puzzles.

It is at this point in the discussion that the second element of the essay-title, “Proclus, Einstein, & the Logos,” claims its relevancy.  To Einstein goes the credit for that literally earth-shattering equation: E = mc Squirrel [.]  The reference implicates Einstein the African Grey (born 1997), a twenty-three-year-old parrot who has lived with his foster-parents, Marcia and Jeff, in Texas, since shortly after he hatched.  Marcia and Jeff began video-graphing Einstein when, in his third year, the bird began to speak.  To date, some hundreds of these videos have gone up at YouTube.  Marcia and Jeff estimate that Einstein possesses a vocabulary of some two hundred and fifty words.  He also speaks in phrases and sentences.  He knows several tunes – like the theme of The Andy Griffith Show – and enjoys whistling or singing them.  Among Einstein’s phrases and sentences are: “Let’s go outside – see squirrels,” “let’s go see Jeff,” “eat your corn,” and “come and see me.”  According to the video questions and answers about Einstein, the parrot uses these verbalisms in context although he also likes to rehearse his words and phrases with or without context.  Einstein combines words.  He calls Marcia, “Marcia Mouse” and “Marcia Melon,” as though the alliteration delighted him, but again as if he were coining an endearment.  Einstein, among whose best-loved foods are broccoli and corn, has made up the word broc-corn.  He also invokes carrot chicken, a dish served only in posh restaurants in Napa County where the nomenklatura constitute the patronage.  When Einstein learned the season’s greetings, “Merry Christmas,” he modified it to “Merry Corn.”  In a ritual exchange, either Marcia or Jeff will ask Einstein what sound a dog, a monkey, a cat, a turkey, or a rooster makes.  Einstein sometimes – and, it seems, intentionally – gives the wrong answer.  One wants to interpret the error as the bird’s version of a joke.  What does a dog say, Einstein?  “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

Bird 11 Srijemac, Jovan (born 1961) - Abstract Portrait, Einstein

Jovan Srijemac (born 1961): Abstract Portrait, Einstein (2000)

Such speculations concerning Einstein acquire greater plausibility when checked against animal-investigator Irene Pepperberg’s account of her decades-long research project involving another parrot, Alex (1976 – 2007).  Pepperberg’s African Grey gave voluble evidence of his linguistic proficiency, to the extent of indicating his grasp of concepts.  Offered a section of boiled corn-on-the-cob from the refrigerator Alex volunteered that it was, “soft corn – cold.”  Offered an unshelled almond, he called it a “cork-nut,” due to its appearance.  He commented on things and situations without prompting.    Alex learned to count, to add, to identify colors; he could recognize by texture different materials such as wool, wood, or metal.  Alex could answer questions involving up to three of these categories at once, as viewers will witness in the videos of his lab-sessions.  On one occasion, when Pepperberg asked a question sloppily, he invented the concept of “none.”  As for the notion that Einstein might offer erroneous replies to Marcia and Jeff as a joke: In her book, Alex & Me (2009), Pepperberg writes how Alex “was playful, not just with toys but intellectually, when,” as he often did, “he deliberately gave wrong answers.”  Jokes belong to the realm of play, which reveals itself ubiquitously in mammals – so why not in the avians?  At one point in Alex & Me, Pepperberg’s meditation on the miracle of bird-brains facilitates an inrush of Neoplatonic wisdom: “Brains may look different, and there may be a spectrum of ability that is determined by anatomical details, but brains and intelligence are a universally shared trait in nature – the capacity varies, but the building blocks are the same.”

The white-smocked know-it-alls respond algorithmically to Pepperberg’s claims about Alex by uttering the phrase “operant conditioning.”  Ring a bell and the white-smocked know-it-alls will utter the phrase “operant conditioning.”  The assumptions of behaviorism include the error that consciousness must make itself amenable to experimental verification, like everything else in the physical universe.  Consciousness, however, never bubbles up from the cauldron of the brain.  Consciousness exceeds the quantum foam in its subtlety so that no instrument will ever detect it.  Consciousness can only ever be inferred by another consciousness.  Acknowledgment of consciousness lies thus closer to faith than to science.  One consciousness intuits another by long exposure to a paradoxical pattern of consistency and spontaneity.  Einstein exhibits and Alex exhibited such a pattern.  They exhibit it precisely in their dislike of always providing the same answer to the same question.  The routine bores them.  That a respondent gives an absurdly erroneous come-back to the same old question powerfully attests consciousness, which operates according to intention or will.  Non-consciousness – the white-smocked know-it-all’s operant conditioning – on the other hand has no sense of humor and never jokes.  Witticism, in the form of the verbal fillip, deliberately displaces and thus also mocks and alters the expected course of events.  As Pepperberg writes, “Alex taught us how little we know about animal minds and how much more there is to discover.”  She adds, “This insight has profound implications, philosophically, sociologically, and practically.”  Pepperberg’s first person plural needs specification: It is the modern mind particularly that knows little, not only about animal minds, but about mind per se.

III. Modernity could use a good dose of Neoplatonism, which has a mentally stabilizing effect, along with its usual measure of Xanax, which inhibits tantrums.  René de Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848) came to this very conclusion (absent the Xanax) in his Genius of Christianity (1802), where he mentions Plato, Porphyry, and Iamblichus in the section on cosmology.  He argues for the cosmogonic theory of Timaeus as being consonant with that of Genesis.  He accepts the Platonic and Neoplatonic dogma that the universe is good and that the Good constitutes its First Principle.  The Good, the same as God, can be none other than orderly, both in itself and in its effects; and if orderly, then beautiful.  Wherever the senses probe, indeed, they encounter the evidence of orderliness.  Chateaubriand dedicates several pages of The Genius, Book V, to birdsong, which strikes him as an expression of the vivifying Word or Logos.  “Nature has her seasons of festivity,” Chateaubriand writes, “for which she assembles musicians from all regions of the globe.”  These comprise “skilful performers with their wondrous sonatas, itinerant minstrels who can only sing short ballads, pilgrims who repeat a thousand and a thousand times the couplets of their long solemn songs, [who] are beheld flocking together from all quarters.”  Thinking of the Positivism that already gathered force in the year of The Genius, Chateaubriand remarks that “it would be gratifying to those who seek to disinherit man and to snatch from him the empire of nature, if they could prove that nothing has been made for him.”  For the Viscomte, the response is obvious: “The song of birds, for example, is ordained so expressly for our ears, that in vain we persecute these tenants of the woods, in vain we rob them of their nests, pursue, and would entangle them in snares.”  Birdsong might better articulate the godhead than the lexicon of theology – to the necessary ineptness of which Pseudo-Dionysius repeatedly calls attention.

Bird 09 Van Kessel, Jan (1626 - 1679) - A Concert of Birds (1660)

Jan van Kessel (1626 – 1679): Concert of Birds (1660)

Chateaubriand’s prose anticipates the project of another French artist, this one of the Twentieth Century, the composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992), who based his music on birdsong and composed an opera (1983) about the life of St. Francis.  Among Messiaen’s productions are a Catalogue des oiseaux (1958), an immense suite for solo piano requiring two-and-a-half hours in a complete performance; Réveil des oiseaux (1953) for piano, chamber orchestra, and percussion, depicting the consort of birds greeting the sun at dawn; and Oiseaux éxotiques (1956), which brings into simultaneity birds of different continents that would not naturally sing together.  Almost all Messiaen’s compositions after 1950 incorporate birdsong, whether or not they celebrate the avian hymnology in their titles.  Messiaen held the post of Titulaire at l’Église de Sainte-Trinité, Paris, from 1931 until his death.  The relation of Messiaen to the birds is reversible.  Messiaen identified in birdsong a natural reflection of the Logos.  The mimetic birds – Alex and Einstein being exemplars among them – find the speech of their human keepers as fascinating as Messiaen found the vocalizations of the Alpine Chough, the Tawny Owl, and the Eurasian Curlew.  Messiaen developed a field-shorthand technique for notating birdsong on his walking expeditions in the countryside.  Alex and Einstein listened carefully to Pepperberg, on the one hand, and Marcia and Jeff, on the other, rehearsing what they heard in private and then adding it to their public repertory.  Birds must take pleasure in their imitations of the human tongue.  Video footage of Einstein depicts him practicing his phrases.  He takes care to get the pronunciations right.  How can that not be from a sense of aesthetics?

Alex, when in company of other birds who were learning what he had already learned, would criticize their pronunciation with the imperative, “say better!”  How to interpret that except as the application of an aesthetic criterion?  What to make of a beluga whale in an aquarium, who swims to a spot where he or she can better hear a man play a fiddle?  The whale listens and watches with impressive intentness.  (Not incidentally, the Microsoft grammar-check program challenges the use of who as the relative pronoun in a sentence about a whale; the algorithm would prefer the inanimate that.)   Yorkshire native and classically trained pianist Paul Barton (born 1961) dropped out of the concert circuit in 1996 during a visit to Thailand, where he met and married a Thai woman.  He has since made a reputation as a purveyor of music to animals, primarily to elephants.  In an interview Barton explains that: “Almost all elephants react to music in a visible way.”  For example, “There’s a sudden movement when the music begins.”  He adds that, “If they didn’t like the music, then they could simply wander off.”  Instead they “get very close to the piano”; some “hold their trunk in their mouth when listening,” while “some start to sway with the rhythm of the music.”  One video shows Barton pounding out a boogie-woogie tune for two male elephants, one of whom enthusiastically joins him on the keyboard.  When the elephant participates, he enters a pattern, one that he has discerned and of which he approves.  Like Alex and the beluga whale, he exteriorizes an inward judgment: This is good.

It is said that Proclus, the last of the pagans, leaned devotionally toward Athene, in whose cult he held office.  Already in Homer the Greek theological tradition identifies Athene with nous or reason or intelligence.  In Homer, Athene functions as a restorer of lost order.  She fulfills this role by aiding Telemachus in his effort to take back a stolen kingdom, his father’s, in Ithaca.  She later helps Odysseus directly and hurls her spear in support of his arrows at those monsters of socio-political de-patterning, the suitors.  Proclus likely favored Athene for several other reasons.  In the Proclean cosmotheology, the world emerges “unbegotten” from the demiurgic mind.  Athene sprang to life unbegotten, famously from the forehead of Zeus, thereby aptly symbolizing the universal order.  Athene inspires her human friends, such as Telemachus, to speak persuasively, exhibiting thus her embodiment (not quite the word) of the Logos and behaving as something of a muse.  When Athene accompanies the son of Odysseus to foreign courts, she reveals herself as the paradigm of diplomacy.  Athene possesses another striking character-trait.  When the goddess visits Telemachus in his father’s megaron, she extends her friendship, gives sage advice, and departs in an unusual way: “She flew away like a bird into the air… and [Telemachus] knew that the stranger had been a god,” as Samuel Butler translates Homer’s Greek.  Later when she departs the threshold of Nestor’s palace in Pylos, “she flew away in the form of an eagle, and all marvelled as they beheld it.”  Nestor tells Telemachus, “This can have been none other of those who dwell in heaven than Jove’s redoubtable daughter, the Trito-born, who shewed such favour towards your brave father among the Argives.”

Have the gods left the world of their own volition – out of disgust, perhaps – or has modernity meanly chased them away?  The question might be profitably modified.  Has modernity chased away the paradigm of consciousness because, in the received lore of that paradigm, consciousness takes the form of a gift bestowed and modernity refuses to be indebted by the model of all reciprocity, the gift?  Modernity circulates a number of inconsistent theses in respect of consciousness, that, for example, consciousness does not exist, but is an illusion.  Or that consciousness arises from and is an epiphenomenon of matter, but this differs only slightly from the first assertion, since, making consciousness determined, it obliterates consciousness.  When holding onto consciousness, modernity tends to minimize it, but also to hold onto it selfishly.  The petulant denial of consciousness in animals belongs to just that stinginess.  But Einstein – the E = mc Squirrel Einstein, not the German-Swiss one – has passed the mirror identity test.  When Alex commands another bird to “say better,” he has also passed a test of consciousness.  What he hears from an external source, he knows not to correspond to a silent model held, at the moment, only in his mind; he compares the two and admonishes the other bird to correct his articulation in the direction of the ideal.  Pepperberg in her book writes over and over again that her faith in Einstein’s possession of consciousness is finally just that – faith.  One might say the same of one’s beer-drinking friends, after all.  Consciousness is not susceptible to scientific proof.  It is a Gestalt.  We ken it when we see it.

Wiener Dog

5 thoughts on “Proclus, Einstein, & the Logos

  1. Thank you; this is beautiful — and one of the most moving things I’ve encountered in some time. What a wonderful set of videos — complementing, as they do, millions that people have shared in defiance to the “received wisdom.” How lonely modern man must be — alienated from fellow creatures, fellow men, and even himself. What a joy it is to live beyond that prison!

    My mother was and remains an animal lover — like the crazy bird ladies in the videos. I was raised with dogs and birds as siblings, and I remember finding it bizarre — really unbelievable — when I first encountered the opinion that beasts were simply complex machines, mere appetites, or projections of our own self image. Of course, these were crude articulations at first, among school children and family acquaintances, but the foolish talk continued through the years — better polished, I suppose, but still worthless coins all the same. It’s like these people never actually allowed themselves to meet a dog (properly). How sad.

    Thank you, again!

    • “It’s like these people never actually allowed themselves to meet a dog (properly).”

      We hear so much about prejudice. What impresses me is how unprejudiced the animals are. The crazy bird ladies are, in one way at least, more sane than most. They are receptive to the curiosity and friendliness of the birds and squirrels. My wife and I lost our dog back in February. We have not discussed adopting a new dog, but I intend to bring it up in Spring. In the meantime we have derived a good deal of pleasure from watching the YouTube videos of Einstein. I like the attentiveness with which he pronounces the S in squirrels.

      Thank you for your generous comment.

  2. Pingback: Proclus, Einstein, & the Logos | Reaction Times

    • Syntaxiouchos couldn’t understand it either; his prose was more gnomic than Heraclitus’s. It is said that demons moved his hand. Or metaphorically, his written statements took a lot of sharp turns — bewildering even to him.

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