EOPLATONISM IN SCIENCE PAST AND FUTURE BRUCE MACLENNAN Associate Professor Dept. of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science University of Tennessee I. Introduction In this article I argue that modern Neoplatonism can contribute to a revitalization of science and an improved human relationship to nature. I begin by considering the role of Neoplatonism in the history of science, considering both ideas that have contributed to the constitution of contemporary science, and those that have been abandoned by it. Then I mention two especially Pythagorean developments in contemporary science. Finally, I turn to the future, to the contributions that I believe Neoplatonic ideas can make toward the future of science. II. The Past Recall the alternative views of nature and science that competed in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.1 We may take as our starting point the Aristotelian-Thomistic cosmology, which resulted from Aquinas’ rehabilitation and Christianization of Aristotelian cosmology and Ptolemaic astronomy, and which dominated European thinking from the thirteenth century. A value system was implicit in this cosmology, which placed a stationary Earth at the center of the universe, in the center of which was Hell and the Devil (Easlea 1980, pp. 43, 57–8). In polar opposition was God in His heaven, the active force outside the circumference of the Primum Mobile. .............. As the weaknesses of the Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophy became apparent, two philosophical orientations presented themselves as the chief contenders for a new philosophy of nature (Easlea 1980, pp. 89–90). On one hand was the mechanical philosophy, as developed especially by Gassendi and Descartes, and on the other was the (socalled) magical philosophy, which was advocated in one form or another by Neoplatonists, alchemists, Hermeticists, adherents of the supposed prisca theologia, and so forth. A principal difference between the two was their view of nature. ................ One consequence of these differences was that mechanical philosophers were stronger advocates of using mechanistic principles to appropriate and exploit non-human nature for human benefit, a foundation of the industrial revolution (Easlea 1980, ch. 5). The magical philosophy, however, entailed a degree of reverence for Nature and implied circumspection in possessing and exploiting “her” (Easlea 1980, pp. 102–4, 111–12, 139). ................ Aside from its scientific impact, the eventual shift to a heliocentric cosmology was a development of enormous symbolic significance. The astronomical reasons for this change are familiar, but it is important not to forget the philosophical background. The Central Fire—often misinterpreted as the Central Sun—was an idea inherited from ancient Pythagoreanism, and Copernicus called his heliocentric model “the Pythagorean theory” and quoted the Hermetica in its defense (De revol. orb. cael., Thorn ed., 1873, p. 30; Yates 1964, p. 154). Heliocentrism was motivated as much by religious and philosophical considerations as by astronomical ones, for Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and related philosophies considered the Sun to be “the visible god,” associated with the Demiurge, and a potent symbol for the One and its power, irradiating the material world and bringing it life (Yates 1964, pp. 153– 4). From this perspective, the Sun belonged in the center of the universe, which thereby became the fountainhead of the Good rather than the central abyss. Giordano Bruno, in his defense of Copernicanism, referred back to the solar magic of Ficino’s book De vita coelitus comparanda, his most overtly magical work. .................. It was a tenet of the magical philosophy, which we find for example in Cornelius Agrippa (1651/1993, II.56), that the stars and planets are sources of vitality and motion, and therefore that they have souls and are alive themselves (Yates 1964, p. 243). Similarly Kepler, who was influenced by Agrippa, the Paracelsans, Proclus, and other Neoplatonists, said the earth is a living being with an anima terrae structured likethe anima hominis (Pauli 1955, pp. 156–77). ............................ There is a direct line of descent from the ideas of Leibniz and his contemporaries for formal knowledge-representation languages and mechanized reasoning, through the development of symbolic logic and formalized mathematics, to the computational models of knowledge and cognition used in artificial intelligence and cognitive science, but that is outside the scope of this paper. It suffices here to observe that the Lullian vision affected the pursuit of method, which occupied many seventeenth-century philosophers, including Descartes, Bacon, and Leibniz, for this pursuit was redirected toward a methodology of abstract relationships among monadic ideas (Ong 1958; Yates 1966, ch. 17; Rossi 2000, ch. 5). Although this drive reached its apex in the logical positivist philosophy of the early twentieth century, it still survives in the preference for mathematical abstraction in all scientific theories. ........................... Already in the Pythagorean revival of late antiquity memory was connected with spiritual practices, and biographers attributed a prodigious memory to such figures as Pythagoras and Apollonius of Tyana (Yates 1966, p. 56). Also beginning in antiquity was the use of cosmologically significant structures, such as the zodiac, decans, and planetary spheres, to organize ideas and their images (Yates 1966, p. 54). In this way the art of memory allowed the macrocosm to be reflected in the microcosm of the individual mind. ........................... In summary we may say that the new science took up the more formal, logical, and abstract aspects of Neoplatonism, but left the more concrete, imaginative, and symbolic aspects to the magi and their successors. ............................. Thus the reality we ordinarily experience is not the true, or most fundamental reality; it is rather an image, shadow, or reflection, in fact, an illusion. True reality is an immaterial abstract structure, imperceptible to our senses, accessible only through reason and indirect experimentation. This reductionist perspective is already apparent in Newton’s explanation of color as wavelength. His division, on the basis of wavelength, of the continuous spectrum into seven colors, explicitly analogized with the seven tones of the diatonic scale, is just one example of Newton’s intentionally Pythagorean approach, in which the hidden quantities are real, and the manifest qualities, illusions (Bortoft 1996, pp. 38–40, 192–212; Gage 1993, ch. 13, esp. p. 232). Indeed, the reduction of experiential qualities to imperceptible quantities has been typical in physics ever since the development of atomic theory. However, modern science understands the hidden causes to be abstract and mathematical, whereas Neoplatonism and the magical philosophy understood them to be living, psychical, and divine actions of the World Soul (a contrast already apparent in the Kepler-Fludd controversy; see Yates 1964, pp. 440–4; Pauli 1955). The Renaissance magi understood that different material objects might be irradiated by the same archetypal idea, and that this hidden connection was the cause of sympathies and antipathies between material objects (Easlea 1980, pp. 92–4). .......................... Although the notion that there might be occult affinities between objects was anathema to the mechanical philosophers, it was essential to the theory of gravity. Newton protested hypotheses non fingo, but his acceptance of occult forces no doubt facilitated his mathematical description of gravitational force in the absence of mechanical interactions (Easlea 1980, pp. 90, 111, 164–83); in fact, he thought Pythagoras had already discovered the inverse-square law by means of his harmonic theory (White 1997, pp. 348–9). As a closet alchemist and Hermetic philosopher, Newton believed that universal gravity demonstrated the active presence of God in the world, whereas the mechanical philosophers generally believed that God had left the physical world alone since the end of the Age of Miracles (Easlea 1980, pp. 22, 182). However, due to the hidden nature of the causes, these sympathetic relations were difficult to determine by reason alone (Easlea 1980, p. 93). Therefore, practicing magi, such as Paracelsus, that is, those who, among other things, were actually trying to cure the physical and mental ills of humankind, were forced to resort to experiment to discover the occult sympathies in the material world (Easlea 1980, pp. 100–3; see also Webster, 1982). As the limitations of a purely rationalistic approach to the mechanical philosophy became apparent, some philosophers, such as Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle, began to adopt these empirical methods (Easlea 1980, pp. 90, 126–9, 194–5, 202). Boyle, of course, had been an alchemist and Hermetic philosopher with Rosicrucian sympathies (Easlea 1980, pp. 136–9). However, he abandoned, along with his Hermetic ideas, the notion that the natural world is divine, saying (Inq. Vulg. Rec. Notion Nature), “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call Nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God” (Easlea 1980, p. 139). Thus he enunciated an attitude that has contributed to our environmental crisis. Similarly Bacon, with metaphors that would have warmed the cockles of Freud’s heart, enthused that the experimental method would allow men to “penetrate further,” through “the outer courts of nature,” to “find a way at length into her inner chamber,” in order to find the “secrets still locked in Nature’s bosom” (Easlea 1980, p. 129). By the “trials and vexations” of experiment, Nature would be put on the rack and compelled to answer (Easlea 1980, p. 128). Nature and all her children would be men’s slaves, Bacon promised (Easlea 1980, p. 129). Nor was he alone. Many of the adherents of the new “Masculine Philosophy” (as they called it) saw Dame Nature as a subject of torture, domination, and exploitation (Easlea 1980, pp. 128–9, 213–14, 236, 241–52). Surely it is not coincidental that these remarks were made during the culmination of the witchcraze (see also Merchant 1980). Of course, like the mechanical philosophers, the magical philosophers were also interested in practical results, but their understanding of nature as having a soul and being divine led them to take a more cooperative and less dominating stance toward her (Easlea 1980, pp. 94, 103, 112). Also, the magical philosophers understood themselves to be a part of this same nature, a unified emanation of the One, whereas Descartes had taught the mechanical philosophers that human souls were essentially separate from a soulless nonhuman world. So also, the magical philosophers understood themselves as participants in nature (Yates 1964, pp. 31–2), whereas the mechanical philosophers took the stance of observers separate from the object of their observation, a view that has interfered with scientific understanding in areas as disparate as quantum mechanics, ecology, psychology, and sociology. ......................... Against the development of modern science, I must mention a notable dissenting voice.6 Goethe’s well-known campaign against Newtonian science (Sepper 1988) was rooted in a different conception of the proper role of science in human life (Heisenberg 1974b). His view has much in common with Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy, which is not unexpected since he was influenced by Neoplatonic ideas, by alchemy, by Boehmist mysticism, and so forth (Gray 1952, Pt. I; Raphael 1965, Pt. I).7 Whereas modern science can be characterized as analytic, observational, and reductive, Goethe’s approach is empathetic, participatory, and holistic (Barnes 2000; Bortoft 1996, pp. 3–26, 49–76, 321–30; Goethe 1995, pp. 12, 22, 28, 41, 48; Pauli 1955, pp. 205–6). In essence it recognizes our kinship with the rest of the natural world, and accesses the universal archetypes within our minds to facilitate our assimilation to, and our empathetic understanding of, nature (Bortoft 1996; Goethe 1995, pp. 22–4, 103–109). In more Platonic terms, “like knows like” and intuitive understanding comes with participation in the energeia of the archetypal forms. ........................ Another example of Pythagoreanism in contemporary science is complex systems theory, which attempts to find mathematical laws of emergence and self-organization throughout nature (e.g., Solé & Goodwin 2000).9 The same laws are found to operate at many different levels, from atoms, to neurons, to embryological development, to social behavior and communication, to evolution, both cosmic and terrestrial. To put it differently, we find the same archetypal forms actualized in many different natural systems, and these archetypes govern the formation and transformation of these systems in space and time. These are laws dealing with the dynamics of opposites: expansion and contraction, cooperation and competition, uniformity and diversity, randomness and order, definiteness and indefiniteness, discreteness and continuity, and so forth. That is, Pythagorean ideas of unity, duality, conjunction and mediation, balance and equilibrium, and so forth, are found to be the fundamental principles at all levels of the cosmos, and so the structure of these Pythagorean archetypes is the structure of the universe, at least insofar as we can understand it. ..................... Since contemporary science is essentially mathematical, such an enriched understanding of mathematics can help us to understand the unconscious cognitive-emotional structures that condition all of our scientific enterprises (Pauli 1955, pp. 208–9). It may help us to understand criteria of symmetry, beauty, and elegance by which mathematical and scientific theories are judged, which contribute to their acceptance, and which motivate the search for confirming evidence (Curtin 1982; Heisenberg 1974c). It may help explain the, essentially non-scientific, sources of scientific hypotheses and models, especially when they are mathematical in form. Thus, in a previously unpublished paper, Pauli argues for “a future description of nature that uniformly comprises physis and psyche,” and that to achieve such “it appears to be essential to have recourse to the archetypal background of scientific terms and concepts” (Meier 2001, p. 180). At a more fundamental level, this unified description may deepen our understanding of the psychological components of scientists’ preference for quantification, clear and distinct mathematical structures, definite standards of proof, abstraction and formalism, and other features of contemporary scientific practice that are familiar but not inevitable. Therefore Pauli (1955, p. 208) argues that henceforth the only acceptable scientific view will be “the one that recognizes both sides of reality—the quantitative and the qualitative, the physical and the psychical—as compatible with each other, and can embrace them simultaneously.”12 .............................. V. Conclusions As modern science emerged in the seventeenth century and displaced the magical philosophy, it incorporated a number of ideas from the Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean tradition, including the notion that there is a hidden structure of abstract, and especially mathematical, ideas underlying reality and giving rise to visible phenomena. However, these notions were imported into a dualist framework in which an inanimate, or soulless, mechanical world is opposed to man—and I use the gendered term intentionally—as observer and exploiter. Over the past four hundred years, the self-reinforcing processes of science and society have widened this gap, and an increasingly remote and abstract relation to physical reality has led scientists, technologists, and consumers to withdraw from empathetic participation in living nature. Further, with the advance of materialist, quantitative science the human soul has, of course, been pushed further and further into the margins, alienating many people from science. I think that some of these disharmonies among ourselves, and between humans and the rest of nature, may be eliminated by returning to the Neoplatonic well, which has already nourished science, and by drinking deeply from it again. For Neoplatonism can unite with evolutionary Jungian psychology to reveal the objective archetypal Ideas, which inform our relations to each other, to the natural world, and to the spiritual realm, but which also underlie our scientific concepts and our most abstract theories. In particular, by acknowledging the psychological and phenomenological reality of our experience of these archetypal Ideas, we transcend the Cartesian gap, not by reducing all phenomena to inert matter, but by recognizing the equally objective psychical and physical aspects of a unitary reality. For these archetypal Ideas are not abstract, inert quantities, but qualities full of the richness of human experience, living and dynamic, brimming with symbolic meaning, emotional and spiritual as well as intellectual. From this perspective, even the most materialist of issues are understood to have an equally valid and objective spiritual aspect, accessible to empirical investigation, in the broad sense. Materialist values are not complete in themselves, but must be complemented by nonmaterialist, but nevertheless objective, values. Certainly, the goal of such a Neoplatonic renewal of science and technology is not to replace current approaches to science, but to expand the human relation to nature in ways that will enrich our understanding, and to lay a foundation for an environmentally sensitive technology. As a consequence we may also anticipate the continued evolution of Neoplatonism as a living philosophy.