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Posts Tagged ‘Plato’

I took a calculus class when I was 18 years old.  It was hard.  I remember studying what I was taught on Monday then being scandalized that something new was being taught on Tuesday before I was really sure I knew how to do Monday’s problems.  I finally figured out how to work Monday’s problems on Friday, but that meant I didn’t catch any of Tuesday – Thursday’s lessons.  Then came the Friday exam.  I got 25% correct.  Monday’s lesson.  This was what the whole semester was like for me.  I had to take Calculus again.

The second time through, I was able to keep up a little better (after all, I knew all the Monday lessons).  But what I remember the most about that course, and what flashes before my eyes every time I hear the word “calculus” after 30 years … is what happened one evening while doing homework in a little cold dorm room at midnight.

The homework that night was one question.  I was already 3 pages into solving that one question.  It had to do with a huge cylinder of water.  Some water was flowing in, but the cylinder had a leak that got bigger as more and more water leaked out of it.  The question was about the volume of water left in the cylinder after a specific period of time.

My pages of work looked something like the illustration above.  At the end was an answer to three decimal places.  Anyone who has done this work knows you are only half done at this point.  I turned back to the beginning and started going over my work to check all the steps and all the math.

As I was doing this, something magical happened.  My brain stopped looking at little numbers and symbols and started to read the math.  The comprehension had nothing to do with the squiggles on the page…and everything to do with it.  My brain was not thinking in words.  It was thinking in numbers and the concepts behind the formulae.  I grokked calculus fully.  *angelic choir sound*

The best analogy will be trying to remember being a child and sounding out each letter of the alphabet in order to read your first word.  Can you remember that transition from a phonetic reading to sight reading?

I was deep deep into that cylinder and that flowing water when my roommate came in and broke the spell.  I was never able to go back there again.  I know that scientists and mathematicians do this every day.  It is not special to them.  It was to me, though.  Very special.  A whole world opened up to me that night.  I got a glimpse of magic that came and went.

I think this happens to artists and musicians as well.  I have found myself lost in that world when painting, when listening to Wagner and Beethoven, and when writing.  There is a creative part of the brain that takes your consciousness and puts it in a timeless place where language only gets in the way of meaning.

Plato called this place the world of forms.  I have been there.

 

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This is an example of the fractal Mandelbrot Set.  Giving the image a name isn’t really important, but some folks might see this and think it is an inkblot, similar to what Dr Rorschach flashed at patients to get inside their minds.  It is, and it isn’t.     If you took a magnifying glass and looked at one of the edges you would find a smaller copy of the image.  You could do that forever.

An inkblot test might get 99 people to “see” a butterfly, but the 100th might “see” a pig.  Uhm.  OK.  Is that person wrong?  Crazy?  Who is to say?  Experts?  Psychologists?  Psychiatrists?  a Judge?  In a complex society like ours the answer is ‘yes’.  Someone has to make that judgment.  But let’s step away from the social aspect and look at the blot from an existential aspect.  The pig-seeing person differs from the norm, but that does not make him wrong.

How about the wild rhetoric flying about America today?  You would think there was only one right way to run a country and if you do not agree, you are in league with Satan.  Why do people say, “My way or the Highway” or descend to ad hominem attacks if you do not agree?

So WHY do people get so hot when others disagree with them?  It is because they really really believe that there is only one way or one thought or one true and correct answer.   If you disagree you imply that they are wrong, and that feels like an attack on their fragile egos.

The most vociferous folks will battle to the death to MAKE you see it their way.   But why do they care?

(Read more in a related study here)

The first step in being able to navigate beyond physical reality is to understand how fluid physical reality really is.  Your ego is important.  It is there to focus your consciousness in this particular physical reality.  If you did not have an ego, you would find it difficult to steer.  The ego is like a lens, or the rudder of a ship.  When YOU use it for your own purposes, you have smooth sailing.  When you allow your ego to stomp around reality uncontrolled, you will be in for heavy seas.

You accept that everyone sees the world through the lens of their own egos.  The clearer you grind that lens, the more you will see.  If it is curved or flawed or colored, then everything seen through it will be distorted.  It will seem REAL to you, however.  “What do you MEAN that tree is red?  Of course it is GREEN!”  But if you are looking through a red filter you are just as correct as your friend.  Touch the tree, then.  Does it FEEL red?  You see where I am going with this.  It is foolish to argue with anyone holding on firmly to beliefs they will not release.  You cannot use reason to convince someone something isn’t “true” when they didn’t use reason to place that idea in their minds in the first place.  Just let it go.  It has nothing to do with you.

(an aside:  I am not suggesting that folks should not be activists, merely that shouting at your friend is not the way to share ideas)

When you poke your head through the veil of physical reality, you toss that ego lens back to earth.  Its comforting images will no longer be there to guide you.  The Landmarks will be different.  For example.  You may drift through your living room.  There is your grandfather’s old recliner.  You “blink” and now it looks new, another “blink” and it is not quite the same color.  Now it has an extra cushion.  What is “there” is the idea of your grandfather’s recliner, not the chair you see when you are awake and walking around the physical room.  Plato went into some detail on this idea, so I suppose he traveled the ether himself.  If he participated in the Elysian Mysteries, I am sure he did.

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