The Universe in Flames

Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher, burned at the stake in 1600 after being declared guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition, in consequence of his criticism of Christianity and the cosmological conclusions he had reached in his search for truth through philosophy. Bruno considered Christianity as a degenerative process that reached its climax during the Counter-Reformation, however what actually interests me is to expose briefly his cosmology, because it makes sense and is very similar to the vision of the cosmos that the Europeans had during Prehistory and Classical Antiquity.

Bruno’s Universe is eternal and infinitely extended (if it was finite, in what would be contained?), whereby motionless and without a center. It consists of a single and vast living organism, animated and endowed with intellect, a homogeneous and indivisible whole governed by the interdependence of all its parts, which are in relation to the organism in its unity (i.e. an organism made up of organisms), unity that coincides with the concept of divinity: consequently the divine resides in the multiplicity that exists in the Universe, throughout Nature and, therefore, also in ourselves. For Bruno everything is matter, that is life, and the Universe consists in infinite matter that changes perennially, able to transform itself continuously in an incessant becoming, passing from one extreme to the other, from an opposite to the other. The universal matter is infinite energy provided with intellect, unity in which lies a multiplicity, multiplicity in which lies a unity!

“Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it”.

-Giordano Bruno

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Related posts: Words of Wisdom #51Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)The Harmony of Opposites

Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)

“What is eternal is circular, what is circular is eternal”.

-Aristotle

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The traditional European vision of life and of time is circular, without a beginning and without an end: a circle that completes its course eternally. An example in support of this: for the ancient Romans the particle “an” meant “circum” (“around”) and from “an” derive both the Latin “annus” (“year”), with the meaning of circle, and “annulus” (“ring”), symbol of eternity for both its circularity and the metal with which it is identified, that is gold. The year was therefore seen as an infinite circle and not as a finite line, it represented a temporal cycle destined to repeat itself without end.

The Sun, the Moon, the Seasons, the Ice Ages and even the Civilizations: their manifestations are marked by cyclical rhythms. Also men and animals, thanks to their offspring, fall into this universal cyclicity. Everything that is animated in the Universe moves in circular and eternal cycles, this being also the meaning of the swastica/hooked cross (the “wheel of time”) in all its forms and depictions: the four branches symbolize the eternal ciclicity and rebirth of all the powers in the Universe.

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-Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn and again Winter.
-Night, Morning, Day, Evening and again Night.
-New Moon, Rising Moon, Full Moon, Waning Moon and again New Moon.
-Spiritual Life, Rebirth, Life, Death and again Spiritual Life.

“The archaic time is the universe, and as the universe it is circular and definite. Classical antiquity didn’t believed in progress, but in the eternal returns”.

-Giorgio De Santillana

“The conception of time of our ancestors was very different from the modern, linear and monotonous. They had done of time a structure, a cyclical time, where past and future called each other”.

-Giorgio De Santillana

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Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle saw this as the state of Becoming (state to which belong our body and identifiable with the moon and the four arms/branches of the swastica), characterized by mobility, mutability, temporality and multiplicity. Its inevitable opposite was the state of Being (state to which belong our spirit and identifiable with the sun and the central point of the swastica), characterized by immobility, immutability, eternity and uniqueness. According to them the Becoming is the opposite and reflection of the Being and vice versa, whereby one can not exist without the other, they are two faces of the same reality, they are one, just like the waves and the sea are a single water: there are no waves without sea, and there is no sea without waves. The waves are only sea but despite this live their existence as waves, likewise we are only part of a single living organism (the Universe) but despite this we live our existence as human beings. The Being is the One (indefinable, because each definition includes an opposite/contrary and is therefore included in the context of multiplicity) of Plato and the Unmoved Mover (“that which moves without being moved”) of Aristotle.

Listening not to me, but to the lógos, it is wise to agree that all things are one“.

-Heraclitus

“And from all things the one and from the one all things”.

-Heraclitus

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Two faces of the same coin but what was the real meaning of those concepts? Maybe they saw the Universe both as container and content, both as matrix of all that exists and all that exists? Space and Matter being synonyms, the exact same thing, two names for the same reality, each one existing to the extent that the other exists? But in this case it would not really exist only the state of Becoming, independent and unbegotten? Or, on the other hand, exists only the state of Being, past and future (i.e. the Becoming) being nothing but illusory representations of the mind, the present instant being the only true reality?

As Plato understood: time/becoming is the moving image of eternity/being. This seems to be the answer.

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The Neanderthal man (i.e. the Proto-European) was originally able to deeply understand and fathom eternity and infinity, and the concept of “year”, for example, was alien to him and as a consequence that of a beginning and an end of a year, because he only lived the instant, the true present, elusive for us today. In his perspective “past” and “future” don’t exist, both being born from the finite perspective in which today we found ourselves involved. If you think well about it, past and future really don’t exist except in our minds as a consequence of the fact that we are trapped in a linear and finite time. The concept of “past” (i.e. imaginary replica/representation) exists but not the past itself, the concept of “future” (i.e. future projection) exists but not the future itself. Only the “present” exists, the eternal and immutable instant.

However, we can discuss about these concepts but we can’t really understand and grasp their essence: we are stuck with a past, an elusive present and a future as we all intend them (i.e. time, that is history, because history as we intend it started together with the birth of time, with our transition/fall into a temporal perspective). We are able to briefly experience eternity, I think, only when we remain enthralled by what I would define as platonic ideas. Plato’s ideas are forms/elements having an immutable, eternal, out of time, archetypical existence (therefore the deities fall into this category, when are seen/interpreted as archetypes, role models, stages of life, ideals, etc.) in opposition to beings and objects that are mutable, finite/linear, within time, vectors/manifestations of every particular idea. Platonic ideas as ideas in itself, separated from the beings/things where the ideas manifest themselves, are also expressed in this example of Chinese sophism: “Wanting to prove, starting from the idea [in itself] that the ideas [in things] are not at all ideas [in itself], is worth less than wanting to prove starting from the non-idea that the ideas [in things] are not the idea [in itself]. Wanting to prove starting from the horse [in general] that [a white] horse is not [a] horse [in general] is worth less than wanting to prove starting from the non-horse that [a white] horse is not [a] horse [in general].

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If you’ve ever been in a temporary condition of astonishment, enchantment, metaphysical joy and serenity, characterized by the sensation of being out of time and followed by a sort of awakening that leaves you with a particular melancholy and regret for having lost that condition, then you probably have experienced a platonic idea, a particular astonishment due to a metaphysical intuition (“metaphysics” means “the science [i.e. knowledge] of what goes beyond the physical”, in philosophy “the meaning and ultimate principle of the ideas”) and thus eternity. It’s something that happens briefly and quite unconsciously, without really realizing it, often while you are looking intensely at something or someone. I’m not able to explain it in a better way!

Part 1: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)