Words of Wisdom #62

“<<Let me point out>> said Yuan Xian <<that being devoid of goods means only to be poor. Being miserable means not being able to put into practice one’s own knowledge. I am poor, but not miserable>>. Zi-gang moved back blushing. Yuan Xian added laughing: <<Behaving to please the world, being everyone’s friend, studying to become someone, teaching for selfish purposes, doing evil under the cover of goodness and equity, walking in sumptuous garments, these are the things that I will never accept to do>>”.

-Zhuangzi

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Le Besoin d’Impossible

The first book published by Marie Cachet, Le Besoin d’Impossible, is a purely philosophical work but at the same time multiform in its implications: in this article I’m going to indicate and expose the issues that have mostly caught my attention during the reading of the book.

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Let’s start from an assumption that, although discussed and deepened by the author in another context, is essential for a thorough understanding of the work that concerns us now: the modern European man is, fro ma biological point of view, a slightly hybridized Neanderthal man (today we are on average, genetically speaking, 99,7% Neanderthal): what does this have to do with questions of philosophical nature? According to Marie Cachet one of the consequences of this hybridization, even after its stabilization, was the birth or surfacing of a metaphysical vertigo, a disharmony and despair of the mind that manifested itself simultaneously with the dramatic transition to a temporal, and thus finite, perception of the Universe: a real “fall” that led us far from the possibility of fathom and living the concepts of eternity, intended as the atemporal point that we call instant, and infinity, intended as spatial infinity.

At that point our ancestors, as well as us today, tried instinctively, unconsciously and obsessively to compensate this metaphysical despair without being overwhelmed by the “terror of time”; an explosion of human dynamism, individual and collective, led progressively to the birth and development of civilizations, arts, sciences, spiritualities, religions and philosophies, all attempts to recreate the lost harmony of the mind and extend one’s personality beyond the boundaries of the biological duration of existence, in an attempt to forge a sort of simulated eternity: the need for the impossible, as suggested by the title of the book.

Examples of materialization of the collective genetic memory of a people, in an attempt to be remembered in time:
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Examples of materialization of the genetic memory of an individual, the sculptor, in an attempt to be remembered in time:
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Therefore, according to Marie Cachet, every external creation as well as all forms of teaching are manifestation of a deep necessity of the human beings, namely the selfish need to go beyond the yoke of time, beyond the finitude, so as to preserve themselves in time, through other people, symbolic containers of their self, potential reincarnations of their self. Therefore creating and teaching (the equivalent Italian word is “insegnare”, “mark within”) are therefore a means to conquer eternity and defeat the illusion of a finite time: we project our self in the future, through an imaginary or real reincarnation, which in turn will transmit in the future the essence of our self, in an eventual endless chain.

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An essential distinction that emerges during the reading is that between the individuals conscious of their metaphysical despair, active and subjective individuals, and the vast majority of those who are not aware of it, passive and objective individuals, which unconsciously suffer the consequences of this disharmony. The religions – especially the organized religions – and spiritualities that give us dogmatic and established metaphysical responses, the daily repetitiveness, the social conventions and all the entertainments we create in our societies are, although we do not realise it, tools that distract us and allow us to flee from the metaphysical anguish inherent in us, from the sacred terror that we experience in front of the ultimate mysteries of the universe and of life. Only by getting rid of all this – especially of what provides us standardised metaphysical answers – and through boredom, certain men will fall into the metaphysical despair and find their authentic self (through the manifestation of the memories of their previous lives, memories engraved and latent in our blood), their true essence, undergoing a sort of awakening: achieved this superior spiritual state, a deep impulse will force them to find their subjective responses to the fundamental dilemmas that surround us.

You dare to face the metaphysical abyss?

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As I have previously explained, these are just some of the issues discussed in this book, a unique work of its kind, the ones that most involved me: I urge you to read it and give shape to your personal opinion.

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The Universe in Flames

Giordano Bruno was an Italian philosopher burned at the stake in 1600, declared guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition in consequence to his criticism of Christianity and the conclusions that, during his search for truth through philosophy, he reached and promulgated: now I will briefly describe his vision of the Universe.

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According to Giordano Bruno the Universe is eternal (indeed in order for something to have a beginning there must already be a space in which such a beginning can manifest itself) and infinitely extended (if instead it was spatially finite in what would it be contained? Keep in mind that all that is spatially finite must inevitably be contained in a larger space), whereby motionless and without a center, a 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 understood in its unity (therefore 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, in all its parts. Everything is matter, i.e. energy and life, and the Universe consists in infinite matter that changes perennially, able to transform and renew itself constantly in an incessant becoming marked by cyclic rhythms, passing from an opposite to its contrary: the universal matter consists thus in infinite energy provided with intellect, a metaphysical reality in which unity and multiplicity coexist harmoniously and reflect each other.

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

-Giordano Bruno

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

Seneca: about Life, Destiny, Adversity, Willpower and Virtue

“Gold is tried by fire, brave men by adversity”.

“It doesn’t matter what you have to endure, but how you endure it”.

“To know yourself is necessary to test yourself; only in this way a man can know what is his worth”.

“The safe road is followed by the weak and cowards; virtue seeks high and steep trails”.

“Is it any wonder if those who have faced an arduous climb don’t reach the top? If you are a man, however, admire he who attempts great feats, even if you see him falling”.

“The well-being can happen even to the common and modest people; to dominate adversity and tragedies is instead typical of great men. To always be happy and pass life without the bite of pain means to ignore half of life”.

“Therefore we accept with serenity all that for law of the universe we have to bear. We have committed ourselves to this, to tolerate our mortal condition and not be upset for what is not in our power to avoid”.

-Seneca

The best men are tested by destiny and consequently their life is studded by adversities, so that they can manifest their virtues before the eyes of ordinary people, so that they can become role models. They are born to serve as examples, to become archetypes and teach to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. From the best we demand more and destiny acts in the same way!

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Related post: About Stoicism

Words of Wisdom #54, #55 & #56

“But this man was convinced of knowing while he did not knew, and instead I, as I did not knew, neither I thought of knowing. Anyway, I seemed to be wiser than this man, at least in this little thing, namely for the fact that what I don’t know, I don’t think of knowing it”.

-Socrates

“Knowing of not knowing is the supreme knowledge.
Not knowing believing of knowing is the disease”.

-Daodejing

“Nevertheless man is still too much mortal to conquer the knowledge of immortal things”.

-Seneca

We don’t really know the mystery of the universe, of time and eternity, of life and death. We can only aspire to get closer to the truth, and at best we will be able to discern something that is merely similar to it. Ultimately, we’ll have to accept of not knowing, and give up the presumption of owning a metaphysical knowledge that gives definitive answers to the fundamental questions. The best among us are those who know of not knowing!

The Harmony of Opposites in Daoism

Daoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition whose doctrinal foundations are found in three texts: the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some passages chosen from these works, which reveal a doctrine of opposites similar to that of Heraclitus also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):

“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when ugliness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.

Therefore being and non-being generate each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low lean one towards the other,
before and after follow each other”.

-Daodejing

“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strengthen,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give”.

-Daodejing

“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”.

-Zhuangzi

“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perishing”.

-Zhuangzi

“Everything disappears and reappears, full and empty alternate, every end is also a beginning”.

-Zhuangzi

“Growth and decline, fullness and emptiness, end and beginning, here is the cycle of the world. In this way must be understood the great task that looms to each one, and the universal order that presides over all beings”.

-Zhuangzi

“Life transforms into death, death is the beginning of life. Life and death transform each into the other: why then should we be upset about them?”.

-Zhuangzi

“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand beings (a peculiar daoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of living forms that exist in the universe) and I are one single thing”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand creatures are one single thing, but what they find beautiful is vitality and individuality, what they find ugly is stench and putrefaction. But stench and putrefaction transform into vitality and individuality, vitality and individuality transform into stench and putrefaction”.

-Zhuangzi

“The ten thousand things transform incessantly and we don’t know what presides over the change. How can we know what is an end? How can we know what is a beginning?”.

-Zhuangzi

“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.

-Liezi

“What is born returns to the unborn, what has form returns to the formless. What lives must necessarily die and what dies cannot help but die, as well as what is born cannot help but be born. So the yin and the yang alternate, so the four seasons follow each other”.

-Liezi

Finally I would like to talk about the Taijitu, a well known daoist symbol:

The Taijitu:
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In this symbol Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic dualism [whose primal manifestation is identifiable in the “first couple” composed by Earth and Sky] is ascribed to the observation of the shadowed side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Becoming and Being, which, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Dao [the word “dao” is represented by an ideographic character that unites the signs of the head and the foots, i.e. unites the complementary opposites in an undifferentiated totality], the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), and their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other: light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy, Yang, reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy, Yin, and vice versa, they transform constantly one into the other: the opposites generate themselves reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow.

Words of Wisdom #51

“Remember that you are an actor who plays a part in a drama that is like the playwright wants it to be. A short part, if he wants it to be short, long if he wants it to be long. If he wants you to interpret the part of a beggar, try to interpret this role with skill: or that of a lame, or of a magistrate, or of a private citizen. Indeed this is your task: to interpret well the role that has been assigned to you. But the choice of this role is up to someone else”.

-Epictetus

Maybe it will be useful to remember that the “playwright” to which Epictetus refers is nothing else than the Logos, the divine essence that flows through all energy and matter of the Universe, the order, harmony, reason, logic and necessity that govern the Cosmos (from Greek “kósmos”, “order”, in reference to an orderly and harmonic system): there is no randomness, everything is in its right place, as in heaven so on earth, as in the macrocosm so in the microcosm, though apparently it may seem the opposite is true. It is not the first time that I propose such a vision of destiny, according to which literally everything that happens during our individual existences has been predisposed and “sewn” for us, without there being any real free will and any real possibility of forging our own destiny in the meaning that we usually give to this potentiality. However, even if we assume that predestination exists, we cannot but acknowledge that we live inside a sort of cosmic illusion, of such a power that we can’t live even a day without acting and thinking as if we were the real masters of our destiny. In this perspective the best thing to do would be to see our individual being, our external appearance and the way in which we tend to think and act, as the result of our previous lives, of our conduct in a previous existence: so we start with a basis, a shape that comes to us from the past, but we can choose in which way we should live our lives and act accordingly, affecting in this way what will be our future existences.

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Other posts about Epictetus: About Stoicism, Words of Wisdom #32

Marcus Aurelius: about Destiny, Time and the Cyclicality and Metamorphosis of the Universal Nature

“Love only what happens to you and that is woven in the great plot of life: there is nothing that suits you best”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you was predisposed for you since the time of times, and an impenetrable intertwinement of causes, starting from then, has bound your life to that particular event”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t live as if you had still thousands of years ahead of you: it chases you, fast, destiny. As long as you live, as long as you can, become virtuous”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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“Many are the superfluous and annoying things that you can eliminate, because they exist only in the opinion that you create about them: so as to be able to give a wider space to your mind, to embrace with the thought the entire universe, to reflect on infinity and eternity, to verify how rapid is the transformation of every single thing, how short is the time that flows from birth to death and what infinite abyss is that which precedes birth and that which follows death”.

-Marcus Aurelius

“All the things you see will soon be transformed by the universal nature, that from their substance will give birth to other ones, which in turn will transform into still other ones and so on, and this in order for the universe to remain forever young”.

-Marcus Aurelius

Observe the course of the stars and participate of their movement, then think intensely about the continuous and mutual change of the elements: you will feel purified by the filth of earthly life”.

-Marcus Aurelius

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About Destiny: Words of Wisdom #12
About Time: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2), Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)
Quotes by Marcus Aurelius (and Epictetus) about Stoicism: About Stoicism

Words of Wisdom #42 & #43

“The Being is, and can’t not be…the Non-Being is not, and can’t be”.

-Parmenides

“Nothing can be born from nothing nor end in nothing. The universal substance therefore has always existed and is imperishable”.

-Zeno

With this sentences Parmenides and Zeno affirmed that nothing is created from nothing and nothing can be destroyed into nothing. Everything in the Universe is eternal, has always been (how the opposite would be possible, if nothingness doesn’t exist?), will never cease to be (how the opposite would be possible, if nothingness doesn’t exist?) and has never come into being (how the opposite would be possible, if nothingness doesn’t exist?).

Try to tell this to the religious fanatics of Creationism and of the Big Bang…

Related posts: Eternal Regret (Part 1 of 2)Eternal Regret (Part 2 of 2)

Words of Wisdom #32

“These reasonings are not conclusive: <<I am richer than you, so I am better than you>>, <<I am more eloquent than you, so I am better than you>>. These are more conclusive: <<I am richer than you, so my possessions are superior to yours>>, <<I am more eloquent than you, so my way of speaking is better than your>>. But you are neither a possession, nor a way of speaking”.

-Epictetus

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Related post: About Stoicism