Plato Remains “Enigmatic”

Plato’s work was unknown to Western Europe for most of its history. The full body of Plato’s writings first became available to Latin language readers in 1484 A.D. – 1,831 years after Plato’s death. From the time of Cicero until the 12th century only half of the Timaeus was available in Latin, then around 1160 A.D. the Phaedo and the Meno were translated.

Plato started becoming available in modern languages in 1804 A.D. – 2,151 years after his death, almost a quarter century after Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and almost two centuries after Descartes’s Discourse on Method. Other than mystical Neo-Platonic interpretive claims and a bit of somewhat benign gossip from Aristotle, absolutely nothing of Plato’s own thought was known in the West until almost two millennia after his death.

Two millennia later! Let this sink in, then consider if you want to lend credence to Alfred Whitehead’s celebrated quip that “the European philosophical tradition … consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”. Continue reading

A note on Space: Plato and Quantum Physics

Plato argues that space is a consequence, a byproduct of “substance” (Parmenides 145b3-e6): space depends on “substance”.

Immediately afterward, he advances the argument that substance not only generates space but that the space that substance generates is a nested manifold (Parmenides 148d5-149d7).

Subsequently in the Timaeus dialogue he attempts to elaborate the character of this substance-dependent space by employing the following descriptive expressions: imprint-bearer, container, winnowing basket, receptacle, all-recipient, and nurse, nurturer, mother, space, and seat.

(What Plato means by being, substance, the one, or eidos (words that Plato uses interchangeably as signifiers for his usually misunderstood ontological order of incorporeal causes) is another controversial issue to be discussed separately).

Plato’s ontological generation of space is diametrically opposed to the logical construction of the mathematical concept of Hilbert space whose validity depends not on any ontological facts but on the logical consistency of its own a priori axiomatic structure.

It is remarkable that the employment of Hilbert space mathematics by quantum physics appears to have led to certain (still untested) descriptions of the physical world that are more consistent with Plato’s view of reality than they are with Immanuel Kant’s Weltanschauung on which Hilbert’s mathematical achievement is based (here, here, here, here and here). In other words, the mathematical-physics consequences of Hilbert’s mathematics vindicate the ontological suppositions of Plato and not the critical-rational view of Kant, even though Hilbert’s mathematics depend on Kant’s critical rationalism and not on Plato’s ontological realism.

You can read here the relevant passages from Plato in the original Greek side-by-side with my English translations.

Taking the long view of geopolitical developments

In the two and a half years of silence that passed since my last post, I engaged with two colleagues (Marielle Kronberg and my wife Vivian Freyre Zoakos) in a comprehensive, ongoing study of what we believe to be certain critical philosophical problems on whose eventual treatment will hinge the future evolution of Western civilization.  We decided to begin with those of Plato’s dialogues that ought to be regarded, for reasons that will be elaborated in future posts, as the founding documents of western science: the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist and Timaeus. The result of our work thus far has been a new translation of the Parmenides, to be made available on these pages as soon as the supporting footnotes and commentary are completed.

Physics not Political Philosophy drive long-term political evolution

The day to day developments in world politics during these two and a half years of silence validate the view that a colossal civilizational transition is in progress, or rather has been in progress for quite a while and has now reached a critical phase with the processes that have been unleashed in the United States since the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Contrary to the dominant views and practices of modern academia, what drives the longterm political and cultural behavior of a civilization is not the ideological narrative or the political philosophy behind it. Instead, the ultimate driver is that mental image of the physical world that the physical sciences of the civilization impart – by teaching and by osmosis – to that civilization’s general population. Populations understand their lives by situating themselves in a physical world, but they understand that physical world according to what physical science teaches about it. Their judgments and their actions are based on these understandings. Continue reading