by the Editor, February, 2009
The Recompense of Life
The longer I ponder The Republic, particularly Chapter X, the more astonishing I find both its profound wisdom and the skill with which its wisdom is expressed. There can be no more difficult question than that attributed to Pontius Pilate: "What is truth?" [St John, 18:38]. I have long struggled with the meaning of truth and thought it might lie in the idea of Unity. Yet here, Plato provides a clear and, for me, satisfying answer: truth is whatever most perfectly satisfies the purpose for which it was intended. The question for me then becomes: "What is the purpose of my life?"
Plato further implies that justice concerns the discernment and assessment of truth by each of two parties: one who attempts to satisfy the purpose and the intended beneficiary who assesses the success of the attempt. One of his illustrative examples is the approach to truth by mutual co-operation between a flute-maker who translates his idea of a flute into a material instrument and a flute-player who assesses the quality of an actual instrument in use. This is to say that a kind of duality is essential in coming to a fair judgment of relative truth. As Socrates puts it, "The one knows and therefore speaks with authority about the goodness and badness of flutes, while the other, confiding in him, will do what he is told by him". It also suggests that subjective assessment is required in cases where objective measurement is either impracticable or insufficient, and implies that perfect or absolute truth may be unattainable.
Is this not the fundamental idea underlying the free market?
The artist who depicts the flute-maker at work or the flautist at play represents a lesser degree of truth in that his depiction is irrelevant to the production of musical sound which is the intended purpose of the flute. Of him, Socrates says: "And still he will go on imitating without knowing what makes a thing good or bad, and may be expected therefore to imitate only that which appears to be good to the ignorant multitude?" Later, he says, "The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and has inferior offspring".
I cannot refrain from reflecting that these words of Socrates succinctly summarise the status of the dishonest trader and the corrupt professional politician in a democracy.
Socrates recognises that "the beauty of the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing is that they come to the rescue of the human understanding. The apparent greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer have the mastery over us, but give way before calculation and measure and weight.... And the better part of the soul is likely to be that which trusts to measure and calculation."
Socrates also recognises the discomfort we feel when "part of the soul has an opinion contrary to measure" in other words, when conclusions based only on feelings or the fallible evidence of our senses is contradicted by objective measurement. It cannot be denied that accurate measurement combined with rational thought provide the best evidence of truth, or that objective measurement can in many cases provide better confirmation of truth than either the uncorroborated evidence of the senses or mere opinion. However, not everything is measurable, and such objective measurement as may be obtainable is not always sufficient. For example, as a former practising meteorologist, I am keenly aware that the fears of global warming and impending catastrophic climate change currently featuring so prominently in public opinion are founded more on ignorant political fomentation than on dispassionate interpretation of sparse physical measurements of dubious accuracy and even of relevance.
We must accept that we cannot hope to fully comprehend the ultimate Source of "life, the Universe, and everything" from objective evidence alone. We should also bear in mind that men and women down the ages have testified that when we turn our attention inwards, contemplate our own psychological make-up, and pay close attention to the thoughts that arise in the passive detachment of meditation, we may be granted subjective glimpses of universal truth that will enable us to discern a meaningful purpose in our personal lives.
The principal difficulty we encounter in arriving at a true opinion on anything, including ourselves, is the disunity we find in ourselves. Socrates asks, "In all this variety of circumstances, is the man at unity with himself? Or, rather, as in the instance of sight there were confusion and opposition in his opinions about the same things, so here also are there not strife and inconsistency in his life? I need hardly raise the question again, for I remember that all this has been already admitted; and the soul has been acknowledged by us to be full of these and ten thousand similar oppositions occurring at the same moment?"
This disunity is emphasised by Ouspensky.
Socrates reveals deep understanding of human psychology. Respecting loss or misfortune, he says, "There is a principle of law and reason in man which bids him resist, as well as a feeling of his misfortune which is forcing him to indulge his sorrow.
"The law would say that to be patient under suffering is best, and that we should not give way to impatience because there is no knowing whether such things are good or evil and nothing is gained by impatience; no human thing is of serious importance, and grief stands in the way of that which at the moment is most required.
"Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that from the evil of other men, something of evil is communicated to themselves. And so the feeling of sorrow, which has gathered strength at the sight of the misfortunes of others, is with difficulty repressed in our own.
"There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness.
"And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections: of desire, and pain, and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action."
Compare what Ouspensky says on the same subject.
Socrates points out that in all emotions and affections, "poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up. She lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue".
Is it not the case that appeal to the emotions is the main stock in trade of most artistic expressions, whether on stage or screen or radio, whether from pulpits or the soap-boxes of rabble-rousers?
Hence we should endeavour to conduct ourselves as far as possible on the advice of Socrates and "remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse, whether in epic or lyric verse, to replace law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, then pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State."
Please consider at this point whether the State in which you reside is governed by appeal to pleasure, by the infliction of pain, by reason, or by a mixture of all three. To what extent do you agree with Socrates when he says: "...great is the issue at stake, greater than appears, whether a man is to be good or bad. And what will anyone be profited if under the influence of honour or money or power aye, or under the excitement of poetry he neglect justice and virtue?"
We should note also, however, that Socrates does not dismiss the arts out of hand. He says, "we shall surely be the gainers if there is a use in poetry as well as a delight".
When we take a detached view of human beings, can we fail to be impressed by the astonishing versatility displayed by homo sapiens as compared with other species? At one point, Socrates asks: "Do you see that there is a way in which you could make them all yourself?" By this he implies that the creative artist who conceives a new idea or mental form, the constructive artist who gives the idea material form for practical use, the user of the resulting material form for practical purposes, and the imitative artist who draws, paints, sculpts, or gives a linguistic description of the material form in poetry or prose, can all be comprised in one person.
What is it that enables human beings to display so many diverse talents? For the sake of discussion, let us call it "intelligence", and look around us for examples of intelligence in our environment. If we are sufficiently observant, we shall soon be overwhelmed by the vast number of examples of various kinds and degrees of intelligence displayed by the animals, plants, insects, and microscopic organisms found in Nature, many of which have been imitated by man in the technological applications of which we are so proud. Looking beyond the Earth, we can hardly fail to be impressed by the cosmological order we discover with the aid of telescopes which are themselves constructed by the intelligent application of principles found in Nature. We can hardly escape the conclusion that we live in an intelligent Universe which we can appreciate and understand only because we share the same kind of intelligence as the Universe itself.
In the first of his Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science, Thomas Troward distinguishes between living spirit and dead matter, and identifies gradation of intelligence as being the principal determinants of what he calls "livingness" or what we might today prefer to call liveliness or "fulness of life". A similar theme is pursued by Professor Reginald O Kapp in Science versus Materialism, Mind, Life, and Body; and Facts and Faith. Let us proceed on the assumption that intelligence is a property confined to living matter.
It is fifteen decades since Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in which he argued persuasively that many, perhaps all, species of living creature display a tendency to modification and thus gradually evolve apparently "new" species leading to the profusion of species now observable. But the book is misnamed because it contains no suggestion as to how the original "ancestral" species might have appeared on Earth. All he actually said was that existing species seem to have a natural tendency to vary in form and colouration, and that unsuccesful variations are naturally weeded out by death.
The more materialistic followers of Darwin, arguing backwards from the observed facts of apparently intelligent development in living creatures, seek a starting point in matter itself, and they lay great emphasis on the "selfish gene" as the engine of reproduction of the distinctive properties of living species even although the level of intelligence possessed by a gene must, like the gene itself, be vanishingly small. We note also that even they do not claim to find any tendency among material elements to transform themselves into new "species".
Going still futher back in search of the origin of matter itself, extreme materialists can find nothing more satisfying than a "Big Bang" without providing any idea as to who or what might have invented, contructed, and exploded the original cosmic bomb. Granted that human intelligence must have originated somehow, application of that same intelligence can hardly rest content with a bang which seems more like a desperate whimper.
At no point in these backward-looking speculations do the materialists claim to find any evidence that the matter in which they place their faith is conscious of its own behaviour or that the evolution claimed for it is in any sense deliberate. Hence it seems safe to say that the intelligence undoubtedly manifested in evolution, whether in origination, variation, or death, must be exterior to whatever is seen to evolve and that if any species is "endangered", Nature should be allowed to take its course. Yet in saying this, I shall undoubtedly be accused of "creationism" by the unimaginative followers of Darwin, many of whom inconsistently profess a "conservationist" tendency which merely tends to frustrate natural selection.
Elena Soldatkina, a contributor to the Ardue Mailing List, provides a helpful example of external influence. One day, she was intrigued by the sight of an obviously driverless petrol-driven toy car performing complicated manoeuvres in a school playground at the behest of a boy who was controlling it "remotely" by means of a radio transmitter. She noted that the "intelligence" operating the toy was governed by the external intelligence of the boy. She made a further leap in consciousness by reflecting that the "intelligence" operating the boy himself was subordinate to a still higher "Intelligence" transmitted by some means of which he was almost certainly not consciously aware.
We are so dependent on our physical senses that we tend to overlook the importance of the invisible and intangible processes which are so important in Nature. Yet no one in his or her "senses" will deny the reality of the intangible and invisible process by which water from salty seas and poisonous pools is purified and re-distributed as raindrops, snowflakes, or hailstones a process which we can picture only in imagination.
When we study what is known of the lives of great inventors such as, for instance, Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), we find that their inventions were created in mind before they made any attempt at fabrication for practical use in a material world. Hence we feel that the ultimate Source of the Universe must have been a Cosmic Mind with which our own minds have at least an affinity and possibly even a shared identity.
This is the interior mental process to which Thomas Troward refers as involution. See, for example, The Great Affirmative and Man's Place in the Creative Order.
Quoting from the latter: "According to all teaching, then, both ancient and modern, all life and energy have their source in a Primary Life and Energy, of which we can only say that IT IS. We cannot conceive of any time when it was not for, if there was a time when no such Primary Energising Life existed, what was there to energise it? So we are landed in a reductio ad absurdum [an absurd conclusion Ed.] which leaves no alternative but to predicate the Eternal Existence of an All-Originating Living Spirit."
The concrete and calculable is never the whole truth. Origination in mind is like a seed. A healthy idea, like a healthy seed, released into the Cosmic "mind" and set free from individual limitations may, if it chances to fall in congenial "soil", undergo a miraculous transformation and manifest as a material form. Should the "Living Spirit" depart from such a form, it "dies" and begins to disintegrate.
We should bear this in mind as we go on to consider what Socrates has to say about the soul.
Socrates insists that there is only One Soul in the Universe and that the soul in man is a manifestation of the eternally-existing all-originating Living Spirit to which Troward refers. The soul is therefore immortal and remains unaffected by the ills and accidents which affect the body. Socrates says: "unless some bodily evil can produce an evil of the soul, must we not suppose that the soul, which is one thing, cannnot be dissolved by any merely external evil which belongs to another? ... That the soul or anything else, if not destroyed by an internal evil, can be destroyed by an external one is not to be affirmed by any man."
Another analogy may help here. Every reader of these Web pages is familiar with that marvellous invention, the computer. The computer itself is merely a complex material machine. What enables it to work as it does is an invisible, intangible, "operating system" which may be common to innumerable individual computers. Might we not say that the operating system is "the soul" of the computer which exists independently of the machine and "lives on" long after the machine breaks down or wears out?
Might we not go further and suggest that what is referred to as "artificial intelligence" is merely an imitatation of the natural intelligence which exists throughout the Universe and which, through the intermediate agency of human intelligence, makes it possible to devise increasingly powerful "imitation intelligence" in the form of ever-more-refined computer "software"? With respect to the materialistic advocates of artificial intelligence, we might once again echo Socrates: "Have they come across imitators and been deceived by them?"
It is obvious that all physical actions are performed through motion in space and time. Einstein realised that space and time were intimately associated and he thereby discovered spacetime. Scientists and philosophers are now gradually becoming aware that spacetime harbours hitherto unsuspected properties which the limitations of human senses compel us to perceive as matter and motion influenced by various kinds of "radiations" in the spacetime in which we live, move, and have our being, and which penetrates all bodies, including those we think of as exclusively "ours". We may then reasonably think of spacetime as the unifying principle of the Universe.
If we can now make the imaginative mental effort to recognise that spacetime is the "All-Originating Living Spirit" of which Troward speaks, we shall ascend to a higher plane of consciousness and greatly increase our potential for better understanding of the mysteries in Nature.
On getting out of bed yesterday morning, I happened to look out of the window and saw a cat pawing the ground containing some of my wife's treasured crocus bulbs. As I concentrated my gaze on the cat, the cat became aware of my gaze, was clearly discomfited, desisted, and ran away. What form of communication took place between me and the cat?
Fundamentalist adherents to the materialistic faith scoff at phenomena they do not understand and they would consign all mystics to a lunatic asylum. People of higher consciousness cannot force people of lower consciousness, no matter how "clever" or "educated" they may be, to accept as facts phenomena for which they have no theoretical explanation. This makes it all the more important for those of us who can open our minds for reception of a wider spectrum of "influences" to make ourselves more proficient in the arts of communication through sustained efforts at practical application. Then we may, like Einstein, construct a body of theory that can stand up to examination by sceptics.
The Ardue site takes as its fundamental assumption that the human operating system has reached a degree of refinement which makes it self-evolving. As suggested by Gurdjieff in his lecture on Human Evolution, there is no longer any evidence of automatic unconscious evolution for human beings, but we may evolve spiritually if we work long and hard at making ourselves better people.
Both the Masonic and the "Hermetic System" lectures offered in The Ardue University constitute carefully constructed courses designed to help us in our task of personal evolution. Together with the other material published on the Ardue site, they constitute an attempt to bring thought-provoking ideas to the notice of individuals whose minds may be open to the possibility of self-development and who desire to test the validity of these ideas in their own lives.
Our computers tend to be adapted for particular uses by the incorporation of specialised software which may, like an operating system, be carried forward and refined as it goes from one mechanical realisation to another. We might say that each individual combination of machine and software constitutes an "imitation personality".
The key unifying concept in these pages is acceptance of the truth of the assertion that there is only One Soul in the Universe and the consequent deduction that the soul is immortal. Each and every living body is a toolkit for the worldly expression of an unseparated segment of the One Soul. Our task as human beings is to apply our bodily experience to the further refinement of our soul personality so as to express as faithfully as possible whatever we are inspired to express by the influences we recognise as originating from the Absolute Source. In this respect, each of us is like a spiritual "software developer". Lest we deceive ourselves, our first priority must be to develop our consciousness to the highest and widest extent possible within whatever limitations we may have been born with, whether genetically inherited from our parents or carried forward from previous soul personalities [See Categories of Man Ed.], so that our development may accord as closely as possible with the requirements of the Absolute Cosmic Soul.
This task requires us to be open to the subtle influences transmitted through our psychological as well as our intellectual faculties, and to learn how to interpret their messages correctly. As Socrates points out, this task can occupy us for many lifetimes, but we are also at liberty to neglect it completely if we so choose.
Please test the following suggestions for yourself:
Ideas such as these are not easily grasped by people who have been reared and educated in a culture which recognises nothing beyond the material, and so they are unlikely to be taken up by more than a small minority of the human population of Earth.
A humorous story from Scotland may be appropriate here. An elderly Scotsman died, and the local Presbyterian minister called at the house to comfort the bereaved. His opening words to the grieving widow were, "Ah well, so John has gone to join the great majority". The widow replied: "Oh no, minister! He wasn't as bad as that!"
We should bear in mind that the theme running throughout the ten Books of The Republic is the search for justice.
Now that we have arrived at the grand concept of an All-Originating Living Spirit that sustains the Universe and animates all living species within it, we must revise our deeply imbedded ideas about our individual separateness and try to realise that death need not be the absolute end of the individual entity but only its separation from an outworn bodily toolkit. Hence we would be wise to follow the example of Socrates himself as recounted in the Phaedo and, if we have conscientiously tried to make ourselves better people, we may confidently go forward to meet death optimistically as to a further living adventure in which we may continue our self-evolution in new circumstances.
We should in this be encouraged by some more words of Socrates himself: "Look at things as they really are, and you will see that the clever unjust are in the case of runners who run well from the starting-place but not back again from the goal [i.e. they "did not finish". Ed.]. They go off at a great pace, but in the end only look foolish, slinking away with their ears draggling on their shoulders, and without a crown, whereas the true runner reaches the finish and receives the prize and is crowned. This last is the way with the just. He endures to the end of every action and occasion of his entire life; he has a good report and carries off the prize which men have to bestow."
Justice implies judgment. The Story of Er which concludes Plato's great work is an imaginative, but not necessarily irrational, speculation on the dispensation of justice by means of the circulation of soul personalities throughout the Solar System. Read it for yourself and form your own opinion.
Recalling Darwin's theory of "natural selection", we remember that unsuccesful species are weeded out by death as, indeed, are commercially unsuccessful software packages. Could the same fate await spiritually unsuccessful soul personalities?
On the other hand, if you have succeeded in improving your mortal soul personality, you may have fitted yourself for higher things and have some choice over your next incarnation:
"Mortal soul personalities, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you will choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honours or dishonours her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser God is justified.
"Even for the last comer, if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence. Let not him who chooses first be careless, and let not the last despair".