Showing posts with label Thales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thales. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2018

Qur'an al Kerim is a truthfinders' supreme linguistic challenge; Greek Philosophy Of Nature is a philosophical theory

The idea of a realistic and systematic plan and purpose for creation was familiar to the ancient Greeks; much of their philosophical effort to find logical explanation behind the regular forces of nature are inspired by the need to understand a universal cause behind it all. They found that much of their effort stranded on its unreachable quality. In their days, the modern tools for scientific research lacked. Yet, it didn't stop the Greeks from developing a mathematical language and methodology, and systematic philosophy, some of which are still in use today. They made educated guesses based on philosophical thinking, but, also based on their everyday life and social and religious environment. That led to theories that sometimes make us smile, today, and sometimes compel us to deep respect for their forwardness.

Earlier, we saw, Anaximander assume the Earth was a flat barrel floating in space, with people living on its top. Anaximander must have seen enough wine barrels in his days to make his thought plausibel and natural, but we know now, that it isn't true. It also led to efforts to gain correct knowledge of nature. But, today, we still use Thales' theorems of triangles and diameters. Another example, Demokritos' Atomism, can be seen as an early precursor to chemistry.

Diogenes of Apollonia, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, were among those who had formed theories about matter, particles, and the elements (water, air, earth, and fire were seen as the most prominent ones), but also here, disagreement was an issue.

Not to forget, Pythagoras and other mathematicians.

We won't find mathematical methodology in Qur'an al Kerim. Qur'an al Kerim has a different, more verbal approach to mathemetical phenomenons. Qur'anic verses below show the importance of knowledge in general and how knowledge may lead to thinking and eventually to faith; they are incentives to gather knowledge, even to personal growth in science and arts, rather than scientific treatises. Verses 55:17 and 70:40 can be seen as references to goniometry, but they lack the terminology and abbreviations. Yet, the thought behind them, is mathematically correct. Indeed we can conclude, the Earth has two permanent rotations: one around its own axis, and other as a larger circle in space. Also can we conclude, that East and West are infinite -- which very well may refer to the Earth being a ball. Qur'an is very consistent about this topic, too -- contrarily to Greek philosophers of nature, who disagreed. This, and the fact, that not very much of the oldest Greek philosophy of nature has been preserved in texts, makes it unlikely, that Qur'an al Kerim is just a blind copy of Greek philosophy.

The Greeks had noticed, that some things are naturally and logically impossible and Qur’an appears to support this idea. Optimization of proportion, goals, time plan, is essential in creation. Not without reason, Qur’an says: ‘but most of them do not know’; ‘no want of proportion in creation, seest thou any flaw?’; 'Not without authority shall ye be able to pass'; 'We created [...] them but for just ends, and for a term appointed'. The idea of duality in creation is mentioned in Qur’an in several verses, sometimes referring to gender; sometimes, like in verse 36:36, also to other opposing or complementing forces. Humans may certainly go search for knowledge, but there's no guarantee they will receive it.

As I've said earlier, many efforts have been made to prove, that Qur'an al Kerim is a book of scientific correctness. I'm familiar with Maurice Bucaille's book 'The Bible The Koran and Science'; I'll give an example that, in my opinion, shows, how careful we should be, looking at Qur'an al Kerim as such. Dr Bucaille says, in his comment to Qur'anic verse 16:66, page 130 and 131 at a pdf by, and I think he's right, that many translators are inclined to give too specific translations of Arabic homonyms, such as the words batn and baini. Batn means both 'belly' and 'center'; baini means 'in the middle of', and 'within'. Some translators said: 'We give you to drink of that is within their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood'; Bucaille said 'We give you to drink of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood' This is no doubt utterly true -- but, would it have been understood by Rasulullah and the sahabah? Not likely. And, they might have dismissed it -- if I may assume like that.

Good translators know their place. Modesty, honesty and precision, is their role; anything else, is interpretation. And not translation. They must stick to the most original, indisputable, and obvious solution, without filling in what they 'think' is 'meant' with a word. If the Arabic homonym has no same homonym in another language, then why not stick to a brief, ambiguous description, that leaves the homonym intact? In other words, a description that is multi-interpretable. If they don't know the true meaning, then why do they fill in their own, too specific assumption, no matter how well-educated and honest it may be? It is, as it is. Don't make more of it, than that is actually said. In this case, I, personally, would give this translation:

'We give you to drink from what is inside their bodies, from what's among their bowels and their blood' (16:66)

'Among' is a word that may catch precisely this ambiguous, both abstract and very literal, situational meaning, that we also may find in the word 'baini'.

Another, much simpler example: Qur'anic verse 13:4 mentions the palmtree. Some translations talk about palmtrees, sec; others about date-palmtrees. Dear translators, why are coconut palms not included in your words? Are you sure, here? We can spot many differences between translations, alas, that shouldn't be there.

Main issue, perhaps, is not even translation; it's honest, clean, undecorated, and uncoloured interpretation. That really is enough to appreciate the scientific correctness, or at least non-incorrectness, of the content. I mention translation, because, like Greek philosophy, most people must appreciate Qur'an al Kerim, in its full meanings, from a translation.

Personally, I say, that Qur'an al Kerim touches the meaning of life here: That it's meant to be experienced, foremost. Life as a classroom, test field, and finally launch market, is part of this experience. It triggers those who find happiness in gaining knowledge. And nearly all of us enjoy gaining knowledge; it is part of human nature to inquire. And, it's made one of humanity's assignments during lifetime.

Some Qur'anic verses:
16:8; 16:66; 22:5; 30:30; 32:5-9; 36:36; 44:38; 46:3; 55:17; 55:33; 67:3; 70:40

'And (He has created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and as an adornment; and He has created things of which ye have no knowledge.' (16:8)

'And lo! in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood, pure milk palatable to the drinkers.' (16:66)

'O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth).' (22:5)

'So set thou thy face truly to the religion being upright, the nature in which Allah has made mankind: no change in the work by Allah: that is the true Religion. But most among mankind know not.' (30:30)

'He directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon. (5) Such is the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, the Mighty, the Merciful, (6) Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay; (7) Then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid; (8) Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit; and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye! (9)' (32:5-9)

'Glory to Allah, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own kind and things of which they have no knowledge.' (36:36)

'We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them merely in sport. We created them not except for just ends, but most of them do not know.' (44:38)

'We created not the heavens and the earth and all between them but for just ends, and for a term appointed. But those who reject Faith turn away from that whereof they are warned.' (46:3)

'Lord of the two Easts, and Lord of the two Wests!' (55:17)

'O ye assembly of Jinns and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!' (55:33)

'He Who created the seven heavens one above another, no want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of the Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw?' (67:3)

'But nay! I swear by the Lord of the rising-places and the setting-places of the planets' or 'Yet no, I swear by The Lord of the Easts and the Wests' (70:40)

Quran Explorer

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ancient Greece and Philosophy of Nature


The first Greek philosophers of nature, were Thales, Anaximander, his student Anaximenes (appr. 570 BC) and, in turn, the latter’s assumed students Anaxagoras (appr 500 – 428 BC) and Diogenes. They were the first to distance themselves from mythological thinking and enter theoretical thinking. They started the tradition of trying to explain the facts of the universe and general phenomena. Their school of thought is called the Miletan School.

Thales was, according to Aristotle, the first person to investigate the origin of substances from matter. His advice, "Know thyself," was engraved on the front facade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi. He was the first philosopher whose written texts were preserved -- as little as it was, though. Thales was the first philosopher to maintain immortality of the soul. Soul was the cause of all movement. Aristotle had commented on that, and, perhaps mistakenly, said, that, 'according to Thales', all objects and creatures possess a soul and a god, because they move. He probably was the founder of natural philosophy. Thales believed, that water had all the qualities necessary to change from water into any possible matter, and then back again. Water is the 'Primary Principle' to all else. Like a ship, the Earth must float on water, with certain buoyancy. Earth must have had a lighter substance, than water. Water causes earthquakes, too. Aristotle said, Thales must have observed evaporation and the nutritive qualities of mist. There's conflicting reports about Thales' further ideas about Earth; whether it was flat and round; a flat drum shape, or, indeed, a round, spherical shape. He was a reputed astronomer; could predict solar eclipses and fix the solstices. It's likely, Thales must have made series of observations of Sunrises around mid-winter and mid-summer. Flavius Philostratus had said, that '[Thales] observed the heavenly bodies . . . from [Mount] Mycale which was close by his home'. Seven centuries later, Ptolemy acknowledged difficulties of this issue, ie the Sun remains immobile during several days around June 21 and December 21. From Diogenes Laertius we have the report: '[Thales] is said to have discovered the seasons of the year and divided it into 365 days'. Thales may very well have understood, that a spherical Earth explains, why and how stars dissapear and reappear at the northern and southern horizons. Not many writings have been preserved. Thales may have written the 'Nautical Star Guide'. He believed in one material, water, being the first substance to everything else. Thales must have been one of the first to experiment with instruments to measure the size of Sun and Moon. He used a water-clock -- method which was rejected, later. Thales thought, there was a correlation between the Sun's and Moon's diameter and their respective orbit: The diameters must be one hundred 720th of their orbit. Probably, Thales must have learned from the Babylonians, a circle is made up of 360 slices. He doubled that number and thus thought to have arrived at the planet's orbit. But, also today, we use Thales' theorems for triangles and diameters. Thales was disciple of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy and math, and he probably traveled those countries.

Anaximander, probaby Anaximenes' teacher, believed in the infinite, boundlessness, apeiron, as the primary substance. This primary substance, which was a boundless matter, had a cylinder-shape, and Earth and the other celestial bodies, originated from it. Anaximander, assumed that the Earth had the shape of a flat barrel floating in space, and people live on top of this barrel. Delphi was the very center of the Earth; surrounded by the Mediterranean sea. Earth was divided in two by a line. The northern  half of Earth was called Europe; the southern half, Asia. The habitable world consisted of two rather small strips of land at the Mediterranean's northern and southern shores: respectively the Northern and Southern Mediterranean countries. 'Asia' included the Middle East with Persia and Arabia. Further to Earth's peripheries, live, respectively, mythical peoples in cold, nordic countries, and black, Sunburnt peoples.  A question must have arisen: Why doesn't the Earth fall? Aristotle probably quoted Anaximander's argument like this: "But there are some who say that it (namely, the Earth) stays where it is because of equality, such as among the ancients Anaximander. For that which is situated in the center and at equal distances from the extremes, has no inclination whatsoever to move up rather than down or sideways; and since it is impossible to move in opposite directions at the same time, it necessarily stays where it is." Anaximander actually believed in the cosmos as space, instead of a celestial vault, with celestial bodies projected or nailed on it. He believed, that celestial bodies move in circles around the Earth, each in it's own lane, also under the Earth, and Earth is center of the universe. Earth floats unsupported in heaven. Anaximander believed, that the celestial bodies lie behind each other: First the stars; then the Moon, and finally, the Sun. Celestial bodies are wheels, filled with fire, that roll their circle in space around the Earth. They occasionally open and close their inner with doors. Their fire then becomes visible to man on Earth, as stars, the Sun, or the Moon. When the Sun door closes, that can be observed on Earth as an eclipse. The Moon door opens and closes according its monthly cycle. Earth started in a fluid state; then, in the Sunlight, dried into solid state. During this process, first fish emerged from water, and from them, other species and man emerged, in an evolutionary process. Man's helpless, lengthy childhood proves, that man must have originated from simpler, other species.

believed that air was the primary substance to everything in the cosmos. Air has divine attributes. Fire had to be thin air; water was thickened air. From a felting process, further thickening, earth emerged, and finally, earth must have become stone, like felt emerging from wool. This must have been a gradual, two way process, depending on dominance of cold or heat. Also the human soul, was made of air. Planet Earth must have come into existence the same fashion, as a flat, round disk, floating on air currents encircling her. The Sun would circle around Earth, as did the Moon. Earth, the Sun, and the Moon, and perhaps other celestial bodies too, rest on air cushions, floating in heaven. Some reports suggest, that Anaximenes believed, that heaven was a cap or ceiling, with the stars as nails to keep it in place. Change was an important element in Anaximenes' theory, and air played a big role in changing matter and objects from one creature into another, but there's no scientifice explanation. This theory may be called material monism. Anaximenes proclaimed ‘like our soul, consisting of air, keeping us together, thus breath and air keeps the entire world in place’. Similar condensations of air should have led to the birth of the Sun and stars. These bodies’ fiery nature would be caused by the speed of their motion. Planet Earth had to be centre of the cosmos, with the stars as its most remote objects. The Moon was Earth’s most proximate object, then came the Sun, then the other planets. The Sun would not circle around the Earth. The Sun would disappear every night behind the horizon and return every morning at the usual point of rising. Anaximenes thought that the Moon itself casts no light; it reflects light rays from the Sun.

Anaxagoras believed that everything is infinitely divisible and that even the smallest portion of matter contains some of each element. The differences in form result from different portions of the elements and their seemingly endless numbers of possible combinations. Unlike Democritus, he apparently did not believe in smallest particles, atoms, that form a material. Both the big and the small are infinite. Anaxagoras believed that the mind is the supreme ordering principle, it is infinite and self-controlling, it is mixed with nothing, and is itself by itself. Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to introduce an abstract philosophical concept: Nous. Nous is the thinking, omnipotent, but impersonal Spirit or Mind. Thanks to this mind a well-ordered cosmos arose from the original chaos. This Nous seems to have been a first mover that left the universe to its own devices after initial creation, in Anaxagoras’ view. In everything, there is a share of everything, except mind, and mind is present in some things too. Everything is in everything, all qualities are present in even the smallest core and this enables a smooth transition from one material into another and makes birth and destruction of matter just false appearance. Living creatures possess, unlike dead creatures, Nous. This same Nous gives men and animals their soul. Men seem superior to animals, because they have hands. Visible differences in intellect are consequence of physical differences. Being an astronomer, Anaxagoras observed vortexes and spiral phenomena in nature. He believed, that the universe was created through the rotary motion of a spiral, where initially all mass was united in the center and driven by a centrifugal force driven by ‘mind’, celestial bodies and other things came into being through seperation of mass. Today, some say, that if the mass of a galaxy was concentrated at its center, it would have created a black hole and gravitation would be too strong for anything to escape from it. Stars and the Sun are fiery stones, but we can’t feel the heat, because of their distance, according to Anaxagoras. The heavenly bodies were fiery masses of rock whirling around the earth in ether. He thought to recognize mountains and living creatures on the Moon and the Sun had to be bigger than the Peloponnesos. Anaxagoras proved, that air was no vacuum, but material substance by blowing up utters, and a pipet that enclosed air by water. He concluded that sound had to be movement of air. Anaxagoras was highly respected in Athens, not in the least by statesman Pericles. But, later Anaxagoras was accused of Persian sympathies and heresy, when he taught the Sun was a fiery stone and the Moon only earth, and denied both divinity. He was initially sentenced to death, but instead, he was exiled from Athens. He had to leave Athens, in spite of Pericles’ protection, and return to Asia Minor, Lapsakis (now Lapseki, Turkey). Other records state, that Anaxagoras' exile didn't stop him :) from starting another influential school, where he taught at least twenty more years. Anaxagoras has written one book, according Simplicius and Aristotle, that may have survived until as far as the sixth century EC.

Diogenes of Apollonia, born 500 BC, who was a doctor, believed as well that air was the source of all that exists, from which all substances can be produced; the only difference between air and other beings, is its thickness. Diogenes, however, accredited air intelligence, being the first matter. ‘The air swirling within him (the first Being, and living creatures) not only supported, but directed also. Air as source of all things is necessary as perpetual and indestructible matter, but as a soul it is also equipped with a conscience’. Air is the soul. Diogenes also believed in an indefinite number of worlds and supported the idea that the Earth is a round ball supported by air. Diogenes did not follow dualism (ie thinking there's a counterposition between, for instance, mind and matter, or between being and non-being.) Diogenes probably had atheist sympathies, which may be reason why he strongly lost popularity in Athens.

Fragments and quotes of the ancient philosophers’ works, nothing more, have been preserved and quoted by later authors, such as passages from Diogenes’ most important work ‘De natura’. Other works from his hand are possibly ‘Against the sophists’, ‘Against the philosophists of nature’, ‘On Meteorology’ and ‘On the nature of man’. Anaxagoras has written one book, of which quotes have been preserved by Simplicius. Pythagoras left us no writings. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) was the first author to use the name ‘Presocratic’ philosophy for the ancient Greek philosophers before Socrates. Orpheus' lyrics have been preserved, however, Aristotle denied their originality. Diogenes Laertius, 3rd Cent AD, wrote an extended biography on Greek philosophers. The work of these philosophers, however, meant a turning point from mythical and traditional religious thinking towards theoretical thinking and observation, even though many philosophers suffered disapproval or downright persecution in Athens. Not just devine explanations behind the universe were narrated and taught; from now on, thought was given to processes and characteristics in nature and man themselves.

Relevant to my study is, however, that these thinkers didn't agree among each other. They all had different philosophies about the origin of substance, and they weren't yet based on scientific tests. We musn't forget, ancient Greece didn't possess the equipment for scientific, empirical tests. They had no microscopes, nor telescopes. They really didn't know, what stars and other celestial bodies were, whether they were bodies at all, nor their size. Nor could the ancient Greeks know what matter was, or very small species, like bacteria. Is that good enough to serve as content for the holy Qur'an? Their philosophy, however, investigates causality, without copying mythological tradition. Some of their ideas reflect, perhaps, wishful thinking. Their ideas are quite creative and forward, and also today, largely still valid. I've read them with a smile and with admiration. Philosophers took big risks, too, since their ideas sometimes clearly contradicted compulsory religious worship. It led to their expulsion from Athens -- or worse. This has been good inspiration to scientists and thinkers in later days. But, not enough first hand writings has been preserved. It's not plausible to assume, that Rasullullah saws had copied them. Furthermore, the Quran stopped, where Greek philosophers started: They developed scholastic methods of causal thinking with its terminology and concepts, where Quran stuck to general first observations. This is especially valid for philosophy of nature. In the teachings of scepticism, we may find some more resemblances with Quran -- but, there's also many differences. All-in, we can say, Greek philosophy had two main branches: Metaphysics, and morality -- respectively philosophy of nature, and philosophy of virtue with the schools of scepticism and cynicism. My study will follow these two lines. Further, I won't spend too much time on Greek religion, as it doesn't involve this topic. Greek philosophers, however, frequently clashed with the temple, when their words were considered blasphemous.

Sources & Further Reading:
'From Orphism to Gnosticism' 
The Philosophy of Anaxagoras
Wolfram MathWorld
Thales of Miletus
'Beacon Lights of History' Volume I
Ancient Greek Religion

And thus comes a comparison with Qur'anic texts. And, then, a comparison with a man who was among the first to introduce religious skepticism, and who gained unrivaled status in philosophy when sophism was at its height of popularity: Socrates.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Seven Sages, Orphism, Dionysianism, Epicurus, Scepticism, Cynicism


Twenty-two philosophers have been mentioned as probable members of this legendary group of seven founders of Greek philosophy: Cleobulus (whose daughter Cleobulina was a well-known philosopher with a political cloud), Chilon, Periander, Miso, Aristodemus, Epimenides, Leophantus, Pythagoras, Anacharsis, Epicharmus, Acusilaus, Orpheus, Pisistratus, Pherecydes, Hermioneus, Lasus, Pamphilus and Anaxagoras. However, classical sources are unanimous about four thinkers: Thales from Milete, Bias from Priene, Solon from Athens and Pittakos from Mytilene. The latter three are known for their statesmanship, legislation and poetry. The Seven Sages had high status in their society. Wise maxims were, according to Plato criterium for admittance; they were selected from all over Greece. They probably assembled in Delphi. Some of the best known maxims were featured in Delphi to honor Apollo. Well-known, also today, are 'Know Thyself' (Thales) and 'Nothing Overmuch'. It's not sure, whether Plato's words are true. The dates make such gathering just about possible. The Seven Sages, all living in the 6th century BC, probably were:

Cleobulos of Lindos (the tyranical governor at the Isle of Rhodes); Solon of Athens (legislator and founder of democratic reform); Chilon of Sparta (military governor of Sparta); Bias of Priene (politician and legislator); Thales of Milete (the first famous philosopher, mathematician, astronomer); Pittacus of Mytilene (governor of Mytilene); Periander of Corinth (governor of Corinth.)

Prince Orpheus, probably son of a Thracian king, early 6th century BC, gained a mythical status for his singing and poetic skills; he was said to be a son of the Greek god Apollo. Even lions laid down at his feet to listen to his voice, according to tradition. Orpheus’ philosophical teachings, Orphism, had little influence on mainstream beliefs, but he appears to have had a great influence on later philosophers as Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Plato; even on Christianity. Orphism emphasized human nature in man, and his immortality and continuance after death. Postmortem punishment may be expected. Therefore, a proper life and sobriety are necessary: An ascetic, sternly disciplined way of life. Orphism believed in re-incarnation and, according tradition, Orpheus had released the mysteries of Egypt to the Greeks. In the 6th century BC, Orphism separated from an even older mystic cult: Dionysianism. Religion in ancient Greece was polytheistic, and Dionysianism mainly revolved around the illusive god of wine, madness, theater, and vegetation: Dionysos. Both mystic movements are anti-dogmatic, esoteric, strongly personalized and, last but not least, festive. Some groups knew violent rites, some others sexual and transcendental rituals. Dionysianism believed, contrary to Orphism, in one Cosmos, without dualism or ranking. Female figures were important in Dionysianism. Orphism had a rational, speculative nature and was more popular among philosophers; Pythagoras modified it into a form of Logical Mysticism. The Orphic theories of Cosmic Law, Harmony and Sympathy can be traced in Pythagorism. Pythagorism never became a proper or mainstream Orphic sect.

Greek mysticism has ancient roots, perhaps in the Bronze Age, and is influenced by ancient Buddhist thinkers in India, Thracian and Minoan traditions. Judaism and Nazareanism also left their strong traces on Orphism, also in the later Roman Mystery tradition. Various deities from different creeds appear in Orphism: the Egyptian gods Sakla (of the Dead), Ptah, Seraph, and even the Jewish deity Iao (Yah) and Kabbalistic concepts like Jehovah Tzabaoth. It was a complicated and heterogeneous mixture of concepts and characters. Empedocles, an Orphic philosopher may have held concepts resembling those of Tantric Bodhisattva with its reincarnation concept of ‘conscious incarnation of the illuminated’. He also thought, that matter consisted of four elements, or 'roots': Fire, water, earth, and air, which can't change, nor come into or dissapear from existence. Empedocles said he had passed through successive incarnations from fish to man into a living god. To prove his immortality, Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna, never to be seen again. The final stage of Orphism was Platonic, from the 4th Cent BC, with two main currents; one being libertarian, spiritual and moderately hedonistic; the other unworldly mystical, logical, paternalistically authoritarian, and ascetic. Orphism remained intelligent, ethical, and progressive, until its final phase, when corruption and elitism entered. This corrupt elitism led to the successful rise of the modern Judeo-Christian current. The Roman Empire made an end to the mainstream Millennium of Mystery cults, though Orphism was one of the last of the ‘Pagan’ Mysteries to survive in the West until the late 5th Cent AD, as were Mithracism, Iseanism, Serapeanism and some others. It had its influence on especially the isolated Celtic cultures on the British islands. Some say, that Pauline Christianity was a rewriting of later Orphism, and that Gnosticism was even more so. In Asia Minor, sects existed around the 3rd, 2nd Cent AD, that combine Orphic and Christian imagery.

Logic was an important focus of ancient Greek philosophy. An example is Epimenides’ Paradox, Epimenides of Knossos being Cretan, 6th Cent BC: ‘All Cretans are liars… One of their own poets has said so’. This is not a true paradox, since the poet may know, that at least one Cretan is honest and so be lying, when he says that all Cretans are liars. There may, therefore, be no contradiction in a possibly false statement by a lying person. Epimenides was a poet and was considered a prophet. He was, perhaps, of Central Asian shamanic descent. In ancient Greece, this kind of philosophic reasoning brought respected status in the public debate. It shows, that a thinker understands, how certain relations may be stronger interconnected, in several ways, than that meets the eye. And, that deductive thinking leads to the proper solution to a puzzle or problem with unusual or unexpected starting positions. The liar paradox disappeared from the public eye, until the twelfth century AD, when its variations were studied under the name of insolubilia.

Anacharsis, early 6th Cent BC, Scythian philosopher to be become the first ‘foreigner’ to receive Athens citizenship, is seen by some as the very first Sceptic and Cynic. Not many writings of his hand have been preserved; mainly colorful and humorist anecdotes have been recorded by Plutarch. An impression of Anarcharsis' philosophy appears, however. He must have had a combination of Atomist and Sceptical views: He believed in many worlds, yet, as humans, we see them as nothing but particles, grains, objects, like paintbrush on even the most skillfull paintings. Therefore, no matter at all, can ever have a moral value, or be a source of truth. Standards of right and wrong are merely conventional. Perception and observation are all we have, but both are imperfect and are no more or less than projections of objects; never objects themselves. Truth is, therefore, not only non-existent and indistinguishable -- it's irrelevant -- because truth is highly personalized. Atomist and Scepticist views had great influence on later Western philosophists, such as Descartes.

Scepticism as a school of thought, was founded by Pyrrho -- not to be confused with Greek general and statesman Pyrrhus. Pyrrho founded a new school in which he taught fallibilism, namely that every object of human knowledge involves uncertainty. Thus, he argued, it is impossible ever to arrive at the knowledge of truth. Pyrrho founded his school as a reply to the Dogmatists, who claimed to possess knowledge. Pyrrho was a highly respected scholast in Greece. But, he left no writings. His disciple Timon of Plius, left quotations, among which this one: 'The proper course of the sage, is to ask himself three questions. Firstly we must ask what things are and how they are constituted. Secondly, we ask how we are related to these things. Thirdly, we ask what ought to be our attitude towards them. As to what things are, we can only answer that we know nothing. We only know how things appear to us, but of their inner substance we are ignorant. The same thing appears differently to different people, and therefore it is impossible to know which opinion is right. The diversity of opinion among the wise, as well as among the vulgar, proves this. To every assertion the contradictory assertion can be opposed with equally good grounds, and whatever my opinion, the contrary opinion is believed by somebody else who is quite as clever and competent to judge as I am. Opinion we may have, but certainty and knowledge are impossible. Hence our attitude to things (the third question), ought to be complete suspense of judgment. ... ', attitude we should practice for both practical and theoretical matters. Hence: Nothing is in itself true or false. It only appears so. In the same way, nothing is in itself good or evil. It is only opinion, custom, law, which makes it so. When the sage realizes this, he will cease to prefer one course of action to another, and the result will be apathy (ataraxia). All action is the result of preference, and preference is the belief that one thing is better than another. If I go to the north, it is because, for one reason or another, I believe that it is better than going to the south. Suppress this belief, learn that the one is not in reality better than the other, but only appears so, and one would go in no direction at all. Complete suppression of opinion would mean complete suppression of action. Therefore, Pyrrho aimed for suppression of opinion. Scepticism, is about abstinence of opinions. Having opinions, would lead to preference and loss of objectivity. All of this, would lead to apathy, but, apathy is the best way for a sage. Having no preference, means having no greed and no preference and struggle for matters, that in themselves hold no value to us, to begin with. Another leading personality in Greek skepticism, was Diogenes of Sinope ( appr 400 BC). He must have led an extreme, colorful life; even have lived in slavery, as a home teacher. He was a strong opponent of Sophism and conventionalism. He was a disciple of Socrates. Diogenes' main belief was: If a behavior is appropriate in private, it's also appropriate in public, even if convention says otherwise. In this line of thought, Diogenes rejected the convention of eating in the market place. He ate at the marktet place, because coming there, made him feel hungry, and there's nothing wrong with eating to begin with.

Philosophical skepticism is searching wheather one may find truth from one’s own convictions. Scientific skepticism is searching wheather other people’s sayings have a scientific value that is falsifiable and reliable, based on hypotheses and critical thinking. Philosophical skepticism says, the human mind is naturally uncapable of certain knowledge. Scientific skepticism is part of empirism: it says, observation leads to forming and testing a theoretical model. No theory can have a truth claim without systematic observation.

Cynicism appeared only after Socrates and was, probably, founded by one of his students and closest friends, Antisthenes, teacher to Diogenes of Sinope. It taught, that virtue; a life in accord with nature; freedom; reason; ascetism and denial of luxury and property were the only way towards true wisdom. In cynics' eyes, theoretical philosophy wasn't only unnecessary for happiness and virtue; it was useless. Cynicism denies convention and law as a necessary way to virtue. In cynic's eye, it isn't wrong either to have a bad reputation in the public's eye, because convention is only molded by the political and temple establishment, with all their corruption and hunger for power. Nature itself; self-reliance (autarkeia); ascetism; and the proper spouse and companions, lead to virtue and, hence, to wisdom. Genuine love, is part of that. As did Socrates, Antisthenes thought, that virtue is equal for men and women. Virtue can be taught, too. All in, cynicism is a moral philosophy rather than a knowledge, science or theory oriented philosophy. It persisted until late in the Roman period. Within political philosophy, cynicism may be seen as origin of Anarchism.

Influenced by and resembling Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurianism, and Cynicism, around 300 BC, Stoicism appeared, founded, in Athens, probably, by Zeno of Citium (Cyprus). Stoicism was influential on Roman emperors; Marcus Aurelius was one of them who attempted to live by it. It even influenced Christianity, as well as a number of major philosophical figures throughout the ages (for example, Thomas More, Descartes, Spinoza), and in the early 21st century saw a revival as a practical philosophy associated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and similar approaches. Rome became main center for the Stoic school of thought under emperor Augustus, around 88 BC. Stoicism has had, both in Greece and in Rome, several rivalrous schools. Other big Greek names among Stoicism, are Epicurus, Epictetus, ... Stoicism is a type of eudaimonic virtue ethics, asserting that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve happiness (in the eudaimonic sense). However, the Stoics also recognized the existence of “indifferents” (to eudaimonia) that could nevertheless be preferred (for example, health, wealth, education) or dispreferred (for example, sickness, poverty, ignorance), because they had (respectively, positive or negative) planning value with respect to the ability to practice virtue. Stoicism was very much a philosophy meant to be applied to everyday living, focused on ethics (understood as the study of how to live one’s life), which was in turn informed by what the Stoics called “physics” (nowadays, a combination of natural science and metaphysics) and what they called “logic” (a combination of modern logic, epistemology, philosophy of language, and cognitive science). There was strong debate among philosophers and school on how many virtues were needed to achieve happiness. Socrates thought, that we need only four key virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Aristotle listed at least twelve virtues, but added to effort also a bit of luck, such as good health, education and even good looks.

There was strong rivalty, also, between Epicurus and Stoics guided by Epictetus. Epicurians said, that pleasure and pain on the human body have important impact on tranquillity of mind (ataraxia). Epicurus is one of the major philosophers in the Hellenistic period, the three centuries following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. (and of Aristotle in 322 B.C.E.). Epicurus developed an unsparingly materialistic metaphysics, empiricist epistemology, and hedonistic ethics. Epicurus taught that the basic constituents of the world are atoms, uncuttable bits of matter, flying through empty space, and he tried to explain all natural phenomena in atomic terms. Epicurus rejected the existence of Platonic forms and an immaterial soul, and he said that the gods have no influence on our lives. Epicurus also thought skepticism was untenable, and that we could gain knowledge of the world relying upon the senses. He taught that the point of all one's actions was to attain pleasure (conceived of as tranquility) for oneself, and that this could be done by limiting one's desires and by banishing the fear of the gods and of death. Epicurus' gospel of freedom from fear proved to be quite popular, and communities of Epicureans flourished for centuries after his death. Epictetus attacked this view in strong polemics and said, that pleasure and pain cannot in themselves lead to a virtuous life, and thus to happiness; also moral choices are needed.

Generally, philosophers were free to debate among each other and as competing academies, but they could, and did, run into serious trouble with established powers of temple and political leadership. Blasphemy charges did lead to persecution or exile of philosophers. Until approximately 88 BC, Athens was Europe's main center of philosophy; from then, it moved to Rome and elsewhere in the Mediterranean area, after political developments.

Sources and further reading:
Cosmic Sympathy 
Thales and the Seven Sages
Diogenes of Sinope

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reputed Names of Greek Scientists and Philosophers Known in the Prophet’s Era


The realms of knowledge and science necessary to understand Islam, are not only traditional and historic knowledge. In my view, philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science are perhaps more important. History and tradition are the background to the rise of Islam; philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science, deal with the content of the message itself. First three aspects are more important than the latter, natural science, to everyday worhip. But, in the modern era, scientific findings on natural phenomena have been successfully used to prove the truthfulness of Islam. The message of Islam covers many fields. For a better understanding, it's helpful, to have at least some knowledge of philosophy, law, linguistics, and science.

The very first Greek philosophers

Greece was an early starter in scientific development. Thales, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are leading names. Natural science was approached through the perspective of philosophy and its deductive methods. However, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) introduced induction in the sense of observation of visible reality. Experimentation played no role yet; also Aristotle’s approach remained within the boundaries of philosophy. Thales (624 – 546 BC) was perhaps the first and founding Greek philosopher. He was interested in water and could predict sun eclipses by calculation. In his view, water was the most elementary principle of the universe and everything originates from water. Thales was famous for his arithmetic skills. According to Greek tradition, he had visited Egypt and re-taught the Egyptians to calculate the height of their pyramids by the size of their shadows. Other big names are Anaximandros (585 – 525 BC) who thought of the indefinite (apeiron), the one elementary substance out of which everything has come forth, without beginning, end or time and producing hot and cold, dry, humid and any other polarity or contradistinction; and Demokritos (app. 460 – 380/370 BC). Demokritos who was the first to think of a theory on atomic particles in which a fabric’s structure was determined by differences in ranking, shape and size of these atoms. His theory is named Atomism: The theory that says, that all materials are made of innumerable indivisable particles: a-tomos (‘indivisable’). Indian Buddhists have largely contributed to Atomism. They thought, that atoms flash into and out of existence; teachings that seem to be confirmed in western science (Heisenberg’s probability principle). An important axiom in atomism is metaphysical nihilism: If only atoms exist, discriminate objects don’t really exist, or they are not vital. Everything is one coherent set of particles. Therefore, objects themselves don't interact with us; we only observe their effects on us. We perceive honey as sweet, but sweetness itself, doesn't exis, and our senses aren't reliable enough to genuinely and objectively observe sweetness. Democritus said: 'By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and the void.'

Atomism, has a natural and a philosophical dimension. In those days, like in the Prophet’s era, the philosophical aspect was the focus of interest. Topics that may be of interest to science were part of religious considerations. But, experiments in the realm of natural science were not yet practised. Cosmology was perhaps the most important focus of interest during the Antiquity. Trying to explain the mechanism of the cosmos was to be done through reason mainly. However, observation also played a big role to some thinkers. Observation of celestial bodies had led to outstanding knowledge on astronomy in several parts of the known world, and this knowledge had become a solid fundament to many religious practices.

These first Greek philosophers defined many of our present notions on being and motion. The Elea-School, Eleatism, developed the idea of reality as 'being in space': nothing cannot be; any substance or idea exists in feasible, tangible space. Its main representant was Parmenides (540 or 515 BC – ca 450 BC?); his main axiom was ‘For never shall this prevail, that things that are not, are’, meaning that the opposite between being and non-being is non-existent. There is no nothingness and everything exists in the spatial sphere, even ideas originate from tangible substance. Even thinking is part of being and Parmenides said ‘thinking and being are one and the same’. Another school of thought was the theory that ‘everything streams and nothing lasts’, ‘panta rhei kai ouden menei’. The Eleatists believed in a permanent static being, Heraclitus believed more or less the opposite; he believed in perpetual change and movement. ‘The world is the same for everyone, it was not created by men or gods, it is and will be an everlasting fire, flaming up or damping down. Heraclitus saw fire as the basic element, Parmenides water, Anaximenes air and Xenophanes earth and water.

A third important school of philosophy was Sophism. The sophists were the first professional philosophers; they made philosophy a paid teaching job, trying to teach others the art of argumentation and discussion. Every person has his own opinions, no one can decide which opinion is true, there are no absolute fundamentals in the universe that can be found or discovered, and the effort to do so, is basically waste of time. Knowledge comes to us through observation, and worldly success and satifaction are the best achievement human beings may reach -- not truth.

A famous fourth school of thought, inspiration to philosophers as Parmenides, Empedocles, Philolaus and Plato, was Pythagorism. Pythagoras was a mystic thinker and a mathematician, but left no writings. Pythagoras and his companions were a small and close knit community with their own way of life, which even fell victim to persecution. Their theory was, says Aristoteles, ‘that numbers constitute the true nature of things and numbers have borders, the same way as objects have. Emptiness is the border between things or numbers. Emptiness exists and pervades heaven from an indefinite breath – it breathes, as it were, into the emptiness. Emptiness differentiates the nature of things; it differentiates and distinguishes successive names and terminology in a series. This, firstly, happens for numbers, as emptiness distinguishes their nature’. Emptiness, ‘apeiron‘, is indefinite and perpetual and inspires reality: The definite and finite, ‘peiron‘, the cosmos, its nature and distinguishes it from other definites and finites, other objects, forms, ‘things’. This inspiration of apeiron into peiron, makes the world a mathematical place. Purely in a mathematical way, the continuum of numbers and the domain of reality, the cosmos, are a play of form and emptiness and its rules are, that it must happen in a harmonious fashion. This harmony-principle distinguishes Pythagorism from the older theory by Anaximandros and the Elea School. Pythagoras has also, in the same line of thinking, commented on sound and tone height. Pythagoras is famous for his calculation method of triangle line lengths, the Pythagoras axiom, which some say was derived from ancient Egyptian calculations used for the construction of their pyramids, but no proof of such do we have. Others say, he may have derive his theorem on right-angled triangles, a2+b2=c2, from the Indian mathematician Baudhayana (800 BC). One of Pythagoras’ students, Alcmaeon, a philosopher and medical thinker, said that ‘we don’t think with our blood, the air or fire -- it is our brain that enables us to think, smell and see. From there, we form our thinking and opinion, and then our knowledge. As long as the brain isn’t damaged, man has his senses and herewith, I confirm that it is our brain that makes the mind speak’.

Even the evolution theory had its predecessor in ancient Greece: Empedocles (ca 492 BC – ca 432 BC). Empedocles was, among others, a doctor, poet, teacher in philosophy, and statesman, born in Sicily. He held the strong belief, that everything has emerged from the four elements earth, air, water and fire, through the two opposing elemental powers he called love and hatred, in a random perpetual flow of mixture and seperation, like mixing colors of paint. Love is the building power and hatred the destructive power. Only the strongest combinations could survive. Empedocles also believed, like Parmenides, that the cosmos is eternal; has always been present, and that no material goes missing. Empedocles called God ‘a circle the middle of which is everywhere and its periphery nowhere’. Aristotle later adopted most of Empedocles’ theory.

Sources and further reading:
Anacharsis, Demokritos, Scepticism, Atomism