sententiae antiquae…

An admission of a bias in thinking due to the near-total immersion in Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy must be made. There is the concept of (Abraham) Maslow’s hammer, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Recently, the question arose in two parts of whether writers in this modern zeitgeist are consciously using elements of the philosophy of Plato (et alia) in their works of fiction. Parallels seem strongly evident; are they always intentional? Are the tropes of ancient thought strong and pervasive enough that even those who are not aware of their origins – or seeking them out – are almost destined to use them?

George Lucas is known to have based Star Wars on his study of Joseph Campbell’s work, which was in turn a summary of many others, Plato included. Similarly, Lana and Andy Wachowski may have based their Matrix (at least, in part) on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

IDEA

The reimagining of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2012) probably could not avoid using Greek myth as source material with many of the characters named after the Olympians. BSG also paralleled Ecclesiastes 1:9 and Peter Pan when Six and President Laura Roslin (among several others) presented variations of “All of this has happened before, and it all will happen again.” The verse in the Bible goes on to postulate “…and there is no new thing under the Sun.” – an idea about which I’ve previously railed.

The past week’s musing has given me a series of ideas that may cause me to adjust my perspective for A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress set 3.5 millennia ago.

Some scholars of myth believe that Teiresias was a well-known character before he was written into the tragedies of nearly all kings of Thebes, including the trilogy of Oedipus’ life. Of the dozen or so tales that include Teiresias and still exist only a small percentage of them could be said to feature him as the main character.

Hesiod is said to have written about the famous seer almost 2700 years ago but that story has been lost. At roughly the same time Homer also included Teiresias but as a shade in the Asphodel Meadows neighborhood of Hades. The intent in Song is giving Teiresias back the lost story of his life.

If an author’s themes are preordained, if there truly is nothing new, the task at hand is to make the best of it. To craft the best from it. If Song is reimagined based on last week, there’s a very good chance the book will be better. Oddly, it will also take a few steps closer to the reason for researching Teiresias in the first place. Psychic abilities have always fascinated me whether they exist or not. (And I blame Spock for it.)

A leap to someone in Ancient Greece who could see the future seems obvious but the road was not quite that direct. During my middle school years, I sometimes would construct fantasy timelines of reincarnations I might have had. My birthday was in mid-December of 1964; who died earlier that year that I might have been? And who just prior to their date of death? And so on… This fabrication of an uninterrupted line of past lives would extend as far as my knowledge of history would permit.

Something very like this led to Teiresias but I allowed the tracking and musing to move into legend and then myth, as records grew less authoritative. To my mind, the jury is still out on the details of reincarnation. I’m not sure we can be certain who we may once have been. Here the innumerable ex-Cleopatras have to be discounted.

In psychical research there is a term “anomalous cognition” that is meant to describe having knowledge without learning it. The best example of this may be the understanding some aspect of a dream without the establishing that would be required if the same plot were presented in fiction. Psychic studies go beyond that point but it means knowledge without a source or explanation. There had to be a word for the idea that we can retain knowledge from past lives, if any.

In the field of psychology (if I have this right), anomalous cognition is used to describe specific exaggerated reactions. As both science and paranormal research employ AC and with neither usage hitting the nail on the head, there had to be a more precise word. With all due respect to reverse dictionaries, they nearly always far short. Finding a new word is simple. Read more. Talk to smart people. Finding an extant but unknown word that precisely fits a specific concept is not so easy.

Just yesterday, while exploring Plato’s ideas, I discovered the word anamnesis. This is precisely what I find fascinating in anomalous cognition while not preferring the term. What you knew in a past life is something your education may serve to remind you of that past knowledge.

Plato suggested that we are reincarnated based on what we know. Ultimately, aisa (“αἶσα” meaning “destiny”) doesn’t matter in our thinking and work. It is how we think and work that remains our own.

Maybe there is nothing new under the Sun. When Song is published, however, I’ll invite you to curl up against a tree and read it in sunlight. If it surprises you – that may disprove predestination. If not, welcome back.


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But Thinking Makes It So…

As part of his forward for the 16ᵗʰ topic treated by The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Harmony/Crown Books, US; Pan Books, UK – 1977) Larry Niven stated that telepathy, psionics, and the like could result in poor writing and suggested that it is the limitations an author sets on such fantastic powers that makes them interesting. His caution was one of avoiding wish fulfillment.

There are similar arguments made about souls and any sort of after life. Devising a series of tests for the existence souls and what fates may await them could be more difficult than scientific analysis of psychic prowess. Nikola Tesla performed an experiment to do just that. Would Mr. Niven make a similar argument about wish fulfillment here too?

The wish made manifest is one of the components of achievement. Isn’t what we do and make how we craft our sense of meaning and value? What tests may show often matter less than the results of having some belief in something eternal, particularly in conjunction with those crucial senses.

I look upon death to be as necessary to the constitution as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning. Finding myself to exist in the world, I believe I shall, in some shape or other always exist.”
Benjamin Franklin

In an interview in the San Francisco Examiner (26 August 1928), Henry Ford said the following:
I adopted the theory of Reincarnation when I was twenty six. Religion offered nothing to the point. Even work could not give me complete satisfaction. Work is futile if we cannot utilize the experience we collect in one life in the next. When I discovered Reincarnation it was as if I had found a universal plan I realized that there was a chance to work out my ideas. Time was no longer limited. I was no longer a slave to the hands of the clock. Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more. The discovery of Reincarnation put my mind at ease. If you preserve a record of this conversation, write it so that it puts men’s minds at ease. I would like to communicate to others the calmness that the long view of life gives to us.”

KarmikPrinciple2Franklin and Ford were both (arguably) great. Both the lightning rod and automobile are still in use. These views very likely helped both inventors in being able to accomplish their work. It seems to have reassured them and helped them recharge.

It might matter less who we have been in past lives than who we may be in future iterations. Imagine a reliable method of access to what we’ve learned so we can always hit the ground running. I could put it on my perpetual calendar that I had an appointment with Dr. was-Franklin and Mr. was-Ford on 17 June 2373 in a little pub called The Silver Lining, deep in the Oort cloud . Imagine We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the Nᵗʰ degree.

“I’ll get back to this.” Scheduled.

There is no Reincarnation Axiom. Tesla’s experiment did not substantiate transubstantiation. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; there was no proof either way.

Be diligent in what you wish for. Anything can happen.

infinity sergeant copy

The Laws of Magic…

got-magicIs it fair to suggest that we each have an innate desire for life to be worthwhile? The possibility that we might waste our finite time with something inconsequential is irritating. To find ourselves so considered is infuriating. Are we born to the search for meaning or do we learn to seek it?

Regardless of its source, that need may be the origin of the concept of fate. The idea of having a destiny (and presumably a good one) appeals to our sense of making some sort of difference. A fate simultaneously helps us feel more secure about our future and our mortality. Without specificity, however, it also can aggravate our fear of the unknown. We want to be optimistic and so we hunt for data.

Our collective sense that the Cosmos can be known – or, at least, better understood – leads us to communication and quests for experience. It’s a far better motivation than merely alleviating boredom. And whether the alchemy that transforms experience into wisdom results from quiet contemplation or by a more public affinity, it is that magic that matters. How we share with a community, and it with us, is less important than the sharing itself – the act and the content.

Some believe that anything described by the term magic is evil. To an extent this view can be understandable (but not justifiable). Magic can both hearten and unnerve us. Emphasis on the latter, particularly when combined with ideology, can lead to book- and witch-burnings. The burning of a book that is believed to “teach” magic is in and of itself a ritual practice.

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet: Act II, Scene II. William Shakespeare

Others dismiss magic as being a primitive or irrational belief. Science, in effect, sides with religion in wanting to drive away the magical.

But what magic is and does depends on what we think. If I were going to propose that there be Three Laws of Magic, the first would be “Magic is a personal force.”

In my fiction, fate and magic play key roles. I have been wondering why. Having been a scientist, the answer is suddenly obvious only as I write this post: it is part metaphor and part escapism. Magic in my fiction has nothing to do with what I really believe and practice day to day. Outside of writing, were I to actually define my magic, it would probably be closer to the following:

that which contributes to understanding and/or ameliorates negative emotions (including fear of the unknown) especially if sudden inspiration is a factor.

Hey Presto!

Do I believe in magic? I do in mine.

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