in which the Professor goes Socratic to cover the whole platonic inventory, the material and the immaterial, soul, evil, beauty, demiurges, and more -- whew!
in which the Professor goes Socratic to cover the whole platonic inventory,
the material and the immaterial, soul, evil, beauty, demiurges, and more -- whew!
Dialog # 2
It’s spring in our park again, lovely spring, the bursting buds, O the vibrant redbuds and ear buds, and my senses are again categorically attacked by the same susurrous summer background hum of bees busy pollinating, dog-fighting dragonflies, and – what’s this? I cock my head and turn up my hearing aids to max – some sort of strange emanation, as tactile as acoustic, sensed if not perceived. Anyway, everybody, mallards, geckos, grad students, professors, is back at their pond, pads, and benches.
I see Professor Plagno at our bench, where we first chanced to meet a few months ago. At our last session The professor treated me to his introductory university lecture, an overview of the impact Plato has made on Western Civilization -- complete with brie but no PowerPoint. At the moment he is wiping bird crap from our shiny new brass plaque, that says, “Dedicated to Platonic Friendship.”
“Greetings, greetings, my dear professor!" says I, in a mood to give the huggable professor a hug.. "Do you sense something in the air? Beautiful day, isn’t it? I see that a pigeon or some big bird has again just naturally emanated a lesser substance upon our new plaque, like Plato’s One emanates?”
“I detect sarcasm in that question," says the professor, terminating my mood to hug him and his to be hugged. "But thanks anyway, for it happens to be a good opening for today’s scheduled lecture, ‘Platonic Emanation,’” beamed the professor as he folded and pocketed his polishing cloth, cocking his head attentively as though tuning in to something. “Why, Of course I do sense something in the air, something platonic, of course, empowering my urge to open your narrow Adventist mind. Will today be the day when Dr. Wes joins his academic SDA brethren and me in platonic oneness? Yes, beautiful day!”
“Yes, beautiful day – for platonic oneness? Will yours truly cave, is that your question? You want to give away the denouement of this whole series? Meanwhile, one thing is settled. I have gone all the way iPlatonic. You do remember at our last meeting you asked me to bring my iPlato next time? Your platonic ideal has been transformed into an Aristotelian experiential reality, thanks to Amazon 1-click, and here it is, show and tell." Actually, it's an iPhone. Having been at the keyboard for over 70 years I’m familiar with PCs, but as to iPhones a noob. So as to exaggerate my ignorance, I ask, as a timid kind of Socratic question: "You’re supposed to massage the screen, aren’t you? Tapotment, pettrisage, effleurage, the classical medical massage maneuvers, as I learned in medical school in physical therapy class 65 years ago. (Is that in a medical school curriculum nowadays?) But maybe iPlato needs a good ‘salt glow’ to be primed and moving and receptive to your PowerPointed emanations.”
“No," says the professor, gesticulating. "you’re supposed to gesture it, dude. Massage will kill it. The way you’re going at it, iPlato will stay insensate forever. [Sure enough, my new iPlato remains dead blank.] A platonist is nothing if not flexible, so I shall proceed lecturing, live, as I would at the podium. Please welcome our guest participant, Socrates, and his pet dog, Method! [Applause, applause.] So, dude, do you know what the Socratic Method is?”
“Yes I do, professor. It’s everybody asking questions, in a dialog. That is to say, it's an art form, a shtick. It’s Socrates’ personal style of teaching, as recorded famously by Plato in his Dialogs, circa 300BC, available at Amazon, used paperback $0.88. A quantum improvement over sophistry, which originated around 600BC, which featured rhetoric, to which you just sat and listened. The Socratic Method, the original interaction device. It’s also called maieutics. Is that right, professor?”
“How in the name of Zeus do you know all that, dude? MDs are ignorant of that kind of stuff, especially Adventist MDs, trained only in medicine and evangelism.”
“Aw shucks and thanks, prof. Would it surprise you to know that the art of the question has become a pet scholarly study of mine?
"I must confess, however, that all the way through grade school, even In med school, although there were questions galore, no end of questions, I’d never heard of the Socratic Method. Questions were simply to determine how much you knew. In retrospect, I have labeled the med-school question as the first, most primitive, most direct, most forthright specie of question. But after graduating I moved on to a research fellowship in a renal physiology lab under an MD from Harvard, where there’s a lot of Platonic reasoning (and more Aristotlean experimentation) and nothing but Socratic questions in the air. Ignorant of all such before, I was, in such an environment, stimulated to become a scholar not only of renal physiology but also of the the Socratic Method of enquiry, and have collected the various variants of which there are a surprising number, as Nabokov did butterflies. May I now, esteemed professor, present you a sort of lecture, like, but not as impressive, as your Plato 101, that you have presented to generations of university students, and to me on this very park bench? Sorry I don't have a PowerPoint. Here goes:
"As I see it, the Socratic Method is to teaching as the Strasberg Method is to acting. As my research chief exercised it, in the archetypal ideal Athenian-Harvardian way, the Socratic Method presumes student ignorance rather than knowledge, and is a way for the professor to shake awake that blank mind and ignite original thinking, thus evoking a reciprocal round of aroused, cogent student questions to the professor, to which the professor must always append 'that's a very penetrating question' thus plugging in the powerfully motivating element of schmooze, all together an academic rerun of the 'who's on First' shtick. However, in seminaries, seminars, and surveys, in polls and cable news interviews the Method seems to be used yet a third way: not so much to determine how much you already know, or to generate original thought, as to subtly ensure that your thinking unwittingly moves along concealed channels to a preset destination, no questions or deviation allowed. Ideally the questionee is not conscious of being manipulated. It's all subliminal, and rather pleasant, though thoroughly choreographed. But too often, as in a police 3-rd degree chamber, or cable news TV 'interview,' the magisterial questioner steps up upon some kind of spotlighted throne and performs as a medieval Church inquisitor, posing, gesticulating wildly or wafting long slinky fingers in a mesmerizing manner, shouting, cutting off the cowering questionee, obscured in the shadows, in mid-reply, an altogether unpleasant experience. Oh, and another variant, a way-out variant, of the Socratic question, actually more a vaudeville stooge shtick than a Socratic question, a setup, perfected most famously at political Town Meetings, where a previously paid and scripted questioner stationed in the audience asks a question, usually written out, only to serve as a lead-in for the candidate's ostensibly improvised spiel, introduced, of course, by 'that's a very penetrating question.' And there's a variant of the trick shtick question, the kind that Zeus himself would thunder from Mt. Olympus, especially cherished by a certain type of TV interviewer (Dan Rather and O-Reilly always come to mind). The trick is for the question to be totally and obviously unanswerable, and the questionee is expected to politely ignore it, which triggers Zeus-Rather's thundering, 'You didn't answer my question!' You, of course, can list other kinds, can you not, professor?
"Although the unschooled, or merely med-school-trained person may never have heard of it, the Socratic question is the famous kind of question, certainly in academia, increasingly so even in med schools, certainly in research seminars. But besides the Socratic question did even you, my dear professional platonized socratized questioner, know that the question is in a strange way even more characteristic, and overtly condescending, rhetorical, from the mouth of God, and Christ, the font of all wisdom, than from Socrates? No? Don't suppose you would. But that's OK, prof. Even the most devout and professional Bible Students don't seem to have picked up on it. But in my obsession with enquiry as a scholastic subject, I have. Take for example, starting at the beginning, after Adam and Eve had sinned and found they were naked, and in embarrassment as well as guilt hid from God, which they, upon being found by God, excused accordingly. Instead of instantly informing them of the gravity of what they had done and how they had changed the whole course of history and the universe, God simply asked, 'Who told you you were naked?' And the morning Christ was resurrected, Mary, consummately anxious, ran to His tomb and met Him walking outside, but, not yet comprehending His resurrection, didn't recognize Him. He ask her, apparently casually, 'Who are you looking for?' Assuming He was only the gardener she nevertheless didn't give -- praise be! -- the obvious reply, 'who on earth would I be looking for!' And when Peter and John rushed to the tomb they met a couple of angels who asked them the same question."
“Ok then, Li’l Platola, now that you have Socratized us to death, and informed us of more than we ever wanted to know about Christic questions, will you do us the honor of defining ‘emanation’?”
“Me? Define ‘emanation’? Li’l ole MD me define that? The ‘Socratic method’ I can define three ways, four, I've lost track. But emanation? That’s a job for a pro. Frankly, I doubt if even Plato could define it so's I could understand it. I defer to you – please! I'm ready for today's lecture.”
“Since you asked so nicely, of course. But, sorry, no lecture -- your iPlato is dead, so I'll give it live, like last time. ‘Emanation’ is Latin for ‘flowing from, the act of.’ The term is on loan to Madame Curie and radioactivity, although in that context ‘radiation’ is the more familiar term. But originally and forever the founder and rightful owner and domain of the word is Plato and philosophy, where it has a tight technical definition underpinned by two particulars, to wit, first, The flowing is automatic and without ado, by nature and not by deliberation or intent or will, nor in response either to extrinsic circumstance or intrinsic cognizance or will. Emanation is a property, not, strictly speaking, an activity. Does a camel not poop? A coyote not howl? A cat not caterwaul? Baby not bawl? Does not a brow sweat? A Tesla coil not spark? A door not squeak? Does not Google spew, stupidly, twenty billion hits a nanosecond? Does not radium radiate alpha and beta particles and gamma rays? Do you now not see how emanation is passive and altogether unlike Creation willed and spoken into existence?"
Now, that is obviously another kind of rhetorical question, actually more of a dialect, technically the "Valley Girl" terminal inflexion, than a real question. Functionally a declaration, It has the intonation of a question. Any answer somehow would ruin the effect (certainly the one I would give). Anyway the professor was already driving on.
“Emanation thus described requires faith, but let's keep that part our little secret. Anyway, emanation is the property and nature exclusively of The One – the One And Only emanator – also known, perhaps better known, as the Form, a superficially pointless designation that will require a whole lecture to begin to explain, maybe we can work it in next time -- plus a string of other names most students can't remember, including The Ultimate, hen, Monad, the Prime Mover (thank Aristotle for that one), and others even I can't remember off hand (need my PowerPoint), -- call it anything you want but it must be generic, abstract, evasive, un-heroic. Suffice it to say at this point that The One Form exists, so to speak (Plato says ‘so to speak ’ a lot, in Greek), in some sort of antecedent parallel intangible universe, so to speak, wherein resides the templates and codes for our own universe of tangibles. Within the One, the Form, everything is immanent, imminent, and already emanating – everything, whether visible or invisible, matter or idea, sensible or insensible, everything that can be felt or perceived by the senses or merely imagined by the brain, from ideas to iodine, or beyond imagination, like metaphysics; everything timeless, permanent, eternal, endless, without beginning or end, like mathematics and perfection, and everything temporary whether existing for eons or for the lifespan of a light wave, like the Himalayas or a boson, or all things not dwelling within time at all. Everything corporeal or extracorporeal, temporal or extratemporal, imagined or unimaginable, everything is emanated – emanated! -- in sequence and in order, in idea, form or fact, from the One, who does not, yea cannot thereby become depleted.”
“Whew! Is not a deflated balloon breathless? So, is this the way it works? Our God willfully designs and creates (spoke and it was so), and our God begets His son in whom He is well pleased and says so for the universe to hear, and God creates man in His image, while a long time ago in another galaxy far, far away the Form One Emanates, simply overflows, so to speak, and whudja know, there’s man, and so what, so to speak. Is that the way it works?"
"Pretty much, so to speak," replies the professor, "although put that way it doesn’t sound properly magisterially platonic. But I’ll let it pass. Shall we move on? What do you think of the Form's intellect, so to speak?”
“Hmmm..." I sigh, anticipating Plagno's displeasure with my answer, to wit, "Not much. Your Form's formlessness sounds like gormlessness to me. The Form, sounds like a wooden hugeness, like Jabba or Buddha, only Jabba is latex and talkative, Buddha is granite with a discernible grin. A fluke of translation, and maybe even an evidence of divine humor, but St. Paul could be speaking of the Form: 'a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.' (2 Timothy 3:5 KJV). Less Biblically put, the Form's form of intelligence is best demonstrated by Sargent Schulz of the old TV show 'Hogan’s Heroes.' He knows 'nuuuu-zing.'"
But the professor is delighted! “Exactly the correct answer, dude! Penetrating and beyond. Emanating away, like a queen bee spitting out eggs by nature, the One / Form may appear to you as spaced out. The One (read Form) possesses within itself, and emanates, all knowledge and wisdom, but does not express it, rather like all knowledge reposes in, and is spit from, Google, but on-screen Google is itself hardly wise. Logically, teleologically, there’s no need for the One to be perceived as cognizant because the One is beyond it. Every known preposition and many adverbs apply to the One’s wisdom – ‘inside,’ ‘within,’ ‘before,’ ‘beside’ and ‘besides,’ ‘beyond’ – but not ‘manifest’ which is an adjective anyway. Beyond -- that’s the keyword.”
“Yes, beyond wisdom and beyond being manifestly cognizant. And, anticipating your next question, what else is the One beyond."
Hmmm... the professor anticipates my question? What kind of Socratic question is that? More classically rhetorical than Socratic. I give what I expect to be the expected answer to the anticipated question: “’Good,’ ‘evil,’ ‘right and wrong,’ ‘pious and sinful’; ‘virtues,’ ‘values,’ ‘ethics,’ ‘morals’; ‘superior,’ ‘inferior,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘degraded’; ‘pure,’ ‘corrupt’; ‘beautiful,’ ‘ugly.’”
“Whooa!" [I gather he's indeed heard this answer many times.] "You’re talking about two distinct sets of qualities. I know, I know that in practice all these are jumbled together but technically, so to speak, they’re not. I won’t allow it. ‘Good,’ ‘best,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘superior,’ ‘ethics,’ also ‘bad,’ ‘worst,’ ‘degraded,’ ‘inferior’ etc. – are, strictly speaking, from the platonic vocabulary and should not be spoken in the same breath as ‘evil,’ ‘sin,’ ‘piety,’ ‘morality.’ Platonic and Christian qualities must be separated. Christian values are written by the hand of God on stone; platonic values are conjured from the humanoid brain, in seminars or blogs, through dialectic, debate, questions.”
“OK, then, will you and Plato please perorate ‘good,’ ‘best,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘superior,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘really cool’ vs. ‘bad,’ ‘worst,’ ‘ghastly,’ ‘cruddy,’ etc.? I sure tried to keep the list platonically pure for you.”
“And you did, so to speak. Very simply, as in the way Plato first laid it out, those specific qualities are endued in the process of emanation according to three, yea four, determinants, to wit: Firstly, the distance or location along the emanatory scale, according to the formula: I (intensity of the quality) ∝ 1/D2 (reciprocal of distance to the second power). The closer to the One the better, the more superior and awesome. For tangible things, the farther away (further away, for the intangible), the more inferior and regrettable.
“Secondly, tangibility and permanence, which somehow are integral and fixed. The tangible, that is to say ‘matter,’ like humans and the Himalayas, buffaloes and bosons, are manifestly and obligatorily momentary and mortal, therefore inferior and the verdict cannot be appealed. The intangible, like geometry and language, are of consummate merit and occupy preferred status simply because they are eternal.
“Thirdly, whatever works best for the most citizens. Bet on beauty and politics to work better than piety or honesty.
“Fourthly and last, a parameter rather like craftsmanship, so to speak. Because it is perfect, Chateauneuf du Pape (Pope’s new château, as it happens) is platonically better than a Château du Listerine. The platonic ideal is not holiness but beauty, which, in the platonic vocabulary is equivalent to ‘divine.’ A fully muscled Olympian athlete or exaggeratedly muscled marble statue, or Venus de Milo even though armless, are the most beautiful things possible, therefore the best, the most divine. These qualities are eternal, ergo, superior. Any questions?”
“Yes, question. So where does that put Modernist Art on the emanation spectrum? Don’t answer that.” Then, all cool lost, I ask, “But what about ‘evil,’ ‘sin,’ ‘right and wrong,’ ‘morals’?”
“Did you not catch it? – Plato is aware of no such things. Plato is before and besides (not ‘beyond’ in this case) sin and all that. Pure, crystalline platonism sees no sin, hears no sin, so does no sin. In Plato-speak there is only best, beautiful, i.e. divine, or 'the right thing to do,' which alone and without ado nowadays seems the universal decision criterion of every politician (I first heard it from Buba Clinton), bureaucrat, columnist, judge or transgendered poker player whether in DC, Brussels, Beijing, or Cucamonga. Or the opposite: bad, abominable not otherwise specified, all lumped together, and dismissed, as, chuckle, ‘evil.’ ‘Love’? Plato may talk about it but he will always have to plug in ‘so to speak.’”
“But please, sin, love, morals, righteousness, they do exist, don’t they?
“There’s always been a popular clamor for those artificial things, yes, alas," sighed the professor. "And philosophy, platonism anyway, is nothing if not accommodating. Embodying all rational thought, and naturally superior, Plato’s basic scheme is beyond and besides doubt, while agnosticism is always aimed at Christianity and Genesis 1, not philosophy itself, maybe at science and political promises. That's what agnosticism was invented for: to doubt God, which is to delicately deny Him, but then the word 'atheism' is preferred by some radicals. It's more delicate, though not much different, to say 'agnosticism.' But of course platonism can be, unendingly is, sent back to committee, so to speak, back to the shop, back to congress for a PlatoCare fix. And so it has been over the centuries. Lovingly, respectfully, Hellenist and Harvard philosophers have minced, refined, parsed, and rephrased the details and organization chart but never the core. Around 300AD, platonism underwent a notable makeover, largely by Plotinus, emerging as neoplatonism, which proclaims that the One, itself possessed of famously flat affect, had actually emanated a special contingency constellation of necessarily decreasingly good entities, like a Disney magic wand waving a trail of glittery stars across the sky, technically termed daemons and demiurges, to whom are delegated all those things not directly forthcoming from the One. And two kinds of special functionaries, demiurges and daemons, come in handy. With demiurges – ta-dah! – creative power! The One emanates; demi-urges are the designated creators, who proceed according to the preexisting Forms the One emanates, of course. On the other hand daemons, especially the head daemon, The Devil (capitalized; aka Satan), are the agents of Evil (capitalized), the agents of sin, so to speak. Alas, after such an ingenious response to popular demand, the call for devils, especially The Devil, has cooled a helluva lot, they’re pretty much extinct nowadays. But our Plato doesn't miss them.
“So sin and moral things are adventitious, gratuitously tacked onto platonism as an after-market adaptation by early Christian scholars, like Origen, who recognized Plato as an icon superior to Paul et al. Corruption is what Plato, also politicians, decry, not sin. To be sin-free, be platonic. Next question … I know what you’re going to ask.”
“OK, I'll take my cue and ask it: But don’t Plato and Moses praise the same being? I've heard people make that assertion.”
“Very penetrating and perceptive question. We’re delighted if you and so many people think so, and we try hard for that spin. It takes some doing, because your God and the One could not be more different. Only after being dosed with draughts of Dr. Plato’s tonic was Moses’ God brought up to platonic levels of divinity, a service performed famously by Philo, that Jewish scholar in Hellenist Alexandria. But before being thus tweaked, your God and our One were hardly the same. Your God is all-knowing, the One is ineffable. Your God won’t go away. He is inescapable, demanding, redeeming. The One is oblivious. Your God says it is only through Him that perfection can be achieved. Without Him you can do nothing. Access to God is through prayer. The One is attained and accessed only through philosophy. Through the human mind, anything is possible, even philosophy. Need I go on?”
“Please don’t. But just to tidy up the pieces, where do ‘virtue’ and “ethics’ fit in?”
“Virtue is grounded in the platonic principle of what works best for society, or at least the gentry. In the 18th century, the heyday of virtue, honesty did. Doesn’t seem to in the 21st. As to ethics, so blockbuster popular in the 21st century, that’s what virtue was in olden times, so to speak. Close enough. But neither virtue nor ethics should be confused with Godly righteousness or morality. Please keep those terms separate – ethics and morality – even if most ethicists don’t bother. Shame on them. Next?”
“OK, The human soul, it fits somewhere into emanatory evolution?”
“Oh yes indeed! Philosophically, physiologically, topographically, demographically, and bureaucratically, and conveniently, the soul is separate from, is immiscible with, the temporal and therefore wicked soma (the body) in which it has somehow been evilly imprisoned, and where it pines yearning to be returned and be reabsorbed back into the One whence it came, which joyous reunion, upon the death of the mortal soma, does verily happen, by way of purgatory for Roman Catholic souls not quite meritorious enough to be reabsorbed directly, or serial reincarnations for Buddhist souls, a circuit that equates with what you call redemption. That's all clear to knowledgeable platonists, and even clearer to and cherished by our Catholic friends, but how the platonic anamnesis (a sort of awareness of previous existence) fits into the soul, or with or besides or beyond it, ... well, my lecture on that isn't ready yet.” The professor pauses, throws up his hands, and then slowly folds them and gives me what I’m pretty sure is a Buddha grin, and murmurs, “So, my dear friend, how’s your soul? Are you now ready to step forward into platonism with your fellow intellectuals? What do you think about all this?”
“Honestly? Which kind? 19th century virtuous honesty or 21st century postmodern honesty?”
“I hate to be retrogressive, but please go with 19th century let-it-hang-out virtue."
““Thank you, thank you! I'm more comfortable in the 19th century than the 21st.... For me Plato is pretty cloudy; ‘emanation’ in spite of your remarkable lecture, downright opaque.”
“I didn't mean that honest. The mark of an academic answer is calibration... Anyway, that may be true for you, dude, but not for thinking minds throughout civilized history," sighed the professor, collapsing onto the bench, his platonic emanations depleted. "I'm pretty sure I've said this before, and will again, and again, but you always seem to need me to repeat it: Those qualities so opaque to you are platonism’s most exportable, most marketable, most appealing and liberating ideas for the starved, waiting world of scholars and theologians and progressive emergent pastors, politicians, movie-makers. Platonism’s beyond-it-all harmlessly emanating One has always been the blessed undemanding alternative to a too personal, demanding God. It has percolated and perked up paganism, early if not original Christianity, early Islam, early Buddhism, Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, late academic Adventism; of course humanism, the renaissance, and the enlightenment all the way, no question, even the Reformation, a bit of a stretch even for Plato; but of course the whole of Western Civilization; in court taking over Corporate Intelligent Design. Plato matters! I feel sorry for you, sir.”
"Prove it, to employ a favorite agnostic emanation." I resume massaging my iPlato uneasily, then with a vengeance – whop-whop (tapotment), knead-knead (pettrisage). Always crash-crash. As exhausted as the professor, I apply fluttery effleurage, rather more lascivious than medical, and behold! Suddenly the screen is gloriously, hedonistically emanating: "Plato’s Retreat!" Whole lot of, er, emanating going on! "Goodness!" we both exclaim in unison," yours truly adding, "Any questions, professor?
"yes, ... where's Big Bird when we need him!"
If you never heard of Plato’s Retreat, you’d better fortify yourself with some brie and click Wikipedia. Keep your eyes closed! Leave your browser adult filter setting at high. But is not Plato’s Retreat the natural overflow of an undemanding harmless One, with a little technical input and marketing by Hellenestic epicureans and hedonists and pop pagans, targeting platonically liberated folks eagerly submissive to demi- and daemoniac urges? More fun than "Plato's Cave."
• Next Dialog: MAY THE FORM BE WITH YOU
You are at IesSAYTHERE.com, a cache (not a blog) of mostly essays.
Start clicking here