March 6, 2014

Consciousness and so on


Prometheus was a Titan who managed to avoid being in the direct confrontational cosmic battle between Zeus and his followers against theother Titans. Prometheus, thus, was not eternally banished by Zeus to the chthonic depths of Tartarus. After the gods made humans and others critters from clay and fire two brothers Epimentheus ("after-thinker") and Prometheus (from the Greek pro (before) + manthano (intelligence) and the suffix -eus, thus meaning "Forethinker") were called in to distribute natural qualities. Epimetheus distributed all the gifts of nature among the animals, leaving men naked and unable to survive in a hostile world. Prometheus decided to steal the fire of creative power from the workshop of Athena and Hephaistos and gives it to mankind. This creative power allowed men to develop the arts of civilization, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture,  medicine, and science.

 Plato in his  Protagoras  makes a distinction between creative power (techne) which is presented as superior to merely natural instincts (physis). For Plato, only the virtues of "reverence and justice can provide for the maintenance of a civilized society -- and these virtues are the highest gift finally bestowed on men in equal measure."

 What the great thinkers seem to be telling us is that we must first have consciousness, then understanding, then wisdom, then reverence, then holy wisdom. These are not separate categories, but a life long progression - what some call the spiritual journey.  So let me attempt to walk through the progression, if I stumble have patience:

1. Consciousness

And he has found his way
to the resonance of the word,
and to wind-swift all-understanding



 An illness renders infant Helen Keller blind, deaf, and consequently mute. Pitied and badly spoiled by her parents, Helen is taught no discipline and, by the age of six, grows into a wild, angry, tantrum-throwing child in control of the household.  Desperate, the Kellers hire Anne Sullivan  to serve as governess and teacher for their daughter. After several fierce battles with Helen, Anne convinces the Kellers that she needs two weeks alone with Helen in order to achieve any progress in the girl's education.  Annie teaches Helen discipline through persistence and consistency and language through hand signals, but the girls is little more than a trained animal until there is  breakthrough that changes Helen's life and has a direct effect on the lives of everyone in the family.

miracle worker

In the play and movie "The Miracle Worker" the breakthrough comes when the child connects the sensation of water on her hand to the one word she remembers before her illness, "water". At that moment she connects words to the sign language she had learned my rote and the miracle occurs - the world is suddenly alive.  The New York Times in its review of the play titled "Giver of Light" also praised the  performance of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke's performance as Helen.

With consciousness the world is alive, so what next? Next, the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are an enumeration of seven spiritual gifts originating from patristic authors, later elaborated by five
intellectual virtues and four other groups of ethical characteristics. They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

For this investigation I have reduced the seven gifts to only two: Understanding and Reverence.

2. Understanding

   From Antigone

Clever indeed, mastering
the ways of skill
(techne) beyond all hope,
he sometimes accomplishes evil,
sometimes achieves brave deeds.
He wends his way between the laws of the earth
and the adjured justice of the gods.
Rising high above his place,
he who for  the sake of adventure takes the nonessent for essent looses his place in the end.


Cosmology is concerned with the studies of the origin and evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang to today and on into the future. It is the scientific study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe. Physical cosmology is the scientific study of the universe's origin, its large-scale structures and dynamics, and its ultimate fate, as well as the laws of science that govern these areas. One scientist recent said we are three Albert Einsteins away from answering all the questions of Cosmology. After the fourth Einstein answers the last question we will still lack Understanding. The Metaphysical question,  "Why there is something rather than nothing" will remain a mystery.


                                       Book of Job

From where then comes wisdom? and where is the place of understanding?

21 Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air.

22 Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.

23 God understands the way thereof, and he knows the place thereof.

24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heaven;

25 To make the weight for the winds; and he weighs the waters by measure.

26 When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder:

27 Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yes, and searched it out.


3. Reverence ( O.E.D., re = expressing intensive force, vereri = to fear)

Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices by Nikiforos Lytras

Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.  -Plato 


Job (continued)

28. And he said to the human race, The fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.

 Perhaps fear of the Lord could be translated for moderns as reverence for sacred rituals and ceremonies, rather than shaking like a driven leaf before a terrifying Old Testament God. Where and how do we seek reverence?

 Plato in his  Protagoras  makes a distinction between creative power (techne) which is presented as superior to merely natural instincts (physis). For Plato, only the virtues of "reverence and justice can provide for the maintenance of a civilized society -- and these virtues are the highest gift finally bestowed on men in equal measure."

Paul Woodruff (Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin) in his book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, assesses our understanding of the emotion reverence. He thinks reverence is missing from both modern society and in our discussions of the ancient cultures, especially Greece that so prized it.   His  definition of Reverence is:  "The well-developed capacity to have the feelings of awe, respect, and shame when these are the right feelings to have"   (Woodruff, p. 8) That is, respect for other people, shame is over one's own shortcomings, and awe towards the transcendent.  Although Woodruff acknowledges the relationship between reverence and religion he argues that, "Reverence has more to do with politics than with religion" (Woodruff, p. 4). Woodruff  tries to separate a misunderstanding that reverent emotions can only be related to religion. Reverence  reminds us or our limitations; that human life is finite and that we recognize we cannot acquire absolute truth. Woodruff describes how reverence is often activated through music. He states the reverence cannot be expressed in a creed; its most apt expression is in music. He gives the analogy of a quartet playing a piece by Mozart. They embody reverence because: (1) The musicians have been engaged  harmoniously on a group project; (2) their project involved ceremony; (3) they have felt themselves largely without ego; (4) they have felt themselves to be part of a clearly defined hierarchy that was painless for all of them; and (5) they have achieved in the end a shared feeling of inarticulate awe. Thus art speaks the language of reverence better than philosophy does. Reverence is not dependent on religion, but true religious experience is dependent on the emotion reverence. For example in ancient Athens the people celebrated reverence in the belief that it is reverence above all that maintains social order and harmony. For the Greeks reverence was rooted in a religion that they lived every day. This foundation was critical because it motivated the people to act rightly, to be humble, and  to support society.  Thus reverence focuses on an ideal that transcends the scope of humankind. This ideal can vary from God, to unity, to anything else that transcends human capacity.  You must share a culture with others, and this must support a degree of ceremony. A reverent person listens to other people even when they are defective, as that is part of remembering that you are human together with them. Hubris is best understood simply as the opposite of reverence, in action or attitude.  In the play Antigone, Creon displays hubris by refusing to bury his dead nephew and this leads to tragedy.  In both plays (Oedipus Rex and Antigone) Oedipus and Creon interrupt religious ceremonies being conducted by women.  However, in Oedipus at Colonus, because Oedipus trespassed on the holy ground of the Eumenides, the villagers tell him that he must perform certain rites to appease them. Ismene volunteers to go perform them for him and departs, while Antigone remained with Oedipus. In this case Oedipus shows reverence for ritual and ceremony and is forgiven, perhaps, for his past transgressions.  


Eventually like Oedipus, we swallow our pride, realize Understanding is beyond human capacity, honor tradition and embrace Reverance..


Religious music can instill emotions of reverence and veneration in people, with what might be called devotional feelings. Kant thought reverence as our principal moral emotion without invoking any theological basis. Either way, to experience reverence though art just listen to a Requiem. Here are several to choose from.

 1. Mozart Requiem

 2. Verdi Requiem

3. Faure Requiem

4. Dvorak Requiem