J’avais sept ans. Un matin humide d’octobre, marchant vers l’école, je fus soudain, dans une fulgurance, conscient de ma conscience. Jusqu’alors, de la conscience m’habitait certes, mais dans une sorte d’évidence vague, ouatée, sans pourquoi, ni comment. J’étais conscient d’exister, de vivre, pendant les premières années de la petite enfance, mais sans que je fusse pleinement conscient de la nature unique, du fait même de la conscience, du fait brut de l’existence de la conscience, et de toutes ses implications. Un voile brusquement se déchirait. En un instant, je me découvris singulièrement « présent » au monde, je me sus « là », considérant ma présence dans ce « là », cette présence à moi que jusqu’alors j’avais royalement ignorée. Je me vis pour la première fois consciemment « présent » à moi-même.
J’en déduisis aussitôt que, tout ce temps, j’avais été inconsciemment « conscient », « conscient » et inconscient de cette « conscience ». Un monde nouveau s’ouvrit. Je commençai à penser ceci : que je me sentais à la fois conscient de mon inconscience et de ma conscience.
Dès la conception, la conscience s’insinue lentement en elle-même, sous la forme d’infimes mais multiples événements de proto-conscience, au niveau des cellules de l’embryon, qui commencent aussitôt à se différencier, et à se singulariser. Embryons minuscules de conscience, dans les replis de l’embryon.
La conscience du « moi » proprement dit n’apparaît que bien plus tard, après la naissance, à l’âge dit « de raison ». Non pas lentement, mais soudainement.
L’idée du « moi » se présente à l’improviste, comme une fente, une fissure, une fêlure, dans le ciment de l’être. Fini l’uni. Terminée l’apnée. Un souffle, un vent d’inspiration écarte le voile. C’est comme si l’on faisait un pas de côté, et que l’on marchait dès lors à côté de soi-même, à quelque distance. Un dévoilement, et non un déchirement. Une révélation, et non un tourment. Une route, et non un doute.
J’ai très peu de rêves dont je suis conscient au réveil. Comme si la barrière entre le Soi et le Moi était opaque, étanche. Le Soi et le Moi, chacun pour soi. Chacun dans son monde propre, et rares, bien rares, les passerelles, les raccourcis, les sentes, les voies, les pistes, les liant.
Tout se passe comme si le Soi était excédé du Moi, et le Moi las du Soi.
Le Soi : un inconscient vide de toute conscience, – mais qui est plein de ce vide. Plein de la vérité de ce vide. Plein d’un éveil plénier au vide. Et à la liberté qui s’ensuit. Plus on approche du fond de ce vide, plus on se sent libre.
Le monde paraît avec la conscience, et disparaît avec elle. La conscience a donc une puissance d’être comparable à celle du monde. Une puissance complémentaire, duale, d’un poids métaphysique au moins équivalent, celui du sujet par rapport à l’objet. En mourant, nous emportons cette puissance, intacte.
Il y a trois sortes de consciences, parmi les créatures dites raisonnables.
Les consciences défaillantes, les conscientes désirantes, et les consciences secourables.
Les premières sont tombées en naissant dans les corps, par suite de « la défaillance de leur intelligence »i.
Les secondes y ont été entraînées par « le désir des réalités visibles »ii.
La troisième catégorie de consciences, les plus rares, sont descendues avec l’intention de porter secours aux deux premières.
Dans leur dévouement, leur altruisme, elles ont fait preuve, elles aussi, d’une certaine défaillance, et d’un grand désir.
Ne me séduit guère ce qui fut, et qui me précède. Le déjà né. Le déjà vu. Le déjà dit.
Me fascine bien plutôt la conscience de tout ce qui reste à venir.
Tout le non-né. Tout le non-vu. Tout le non-dit.
Qui peut-être restera, à jamais, non-dit, non-vu, non-né.
Ma conscience a la semblance des éthers et des nues, des confins et des nuits.
Je ne rêve pas de plonger dans le ciel, dont j’ai su jadis l’écorce et la sève.
« Amer savoir, celui qu’on tire du voyage ! » a dit le Poète.
Non ! Il faut repartir, sans cesse, et toujours encore.
Je dis pour ma part :
« Âpres extases, gloires liquides, vins si purs, mille chemins. »
Deux gouffres, l’un fort ancien, l’autre très nouveau.
La conscience, – accrochée au corps, comme à un clou aigu, perçant.
Tout comme la lumière atteint un jour l’horizon cosmologique, la conscience finit à la fin par se fatiguer d’elle-même. C’est la condition de son épigenèse.
Ne dure que ce qui se conçoit dans l’inconscience. La conscience a encore tout à apprendre.
Dès la conception, dans l’utérus, la conscience naît à elle-même, et quoique infime, minuscule, elle réalise alors un saut de l’ange, infini, un saltus indicible en proportion de son absolu néant un peu auparavant.
A la mort, un nouveau saltus métaphysique de la conscience est plus que probable. Mais vers quoi ? Le néant absolu ? L’abîme éternel ? Une lumière divine? Une vie nouvelle ? Personne n’en sait rien. Tout est possible. Y compris une plongée dans une forme d’être qui serait aussi éloignée de la vie terrestre que notre conscience actuelle l’est du néant originel dont elle a été brusquement tirée.
Systole. Diastole. De même, la conscience bat.
Entre sa nuit et son jour.
Pour irriguer de son sang lourd les éons vides.
Ce qu’on appelle l’« âme », et que raillent tant les matérialistes modernes, est absolument indestructible. Très fine pointe de l’être, diamant métaphysique, essence ultra-pure, quantum divin, elle sera appelée à franchir les sept premiers cieux, en quelques bonds précis, dès la nuit venue de l’être… Et alors… Accrochez vos ceintures… Personne n’a encore rien « vu ».
La naissance a projeté la conscience hors de l’abîme du néant. La mort projettera la conscience hors de l’abysse infini de l’inconscient, dans l’ultra-lumière. Exode saisissant pour elle, – qui fut poursuivie sans relâche toute la vie par les armées pharaonesques du réel, des sens, des illusions, des chimères et des fallaces.
Après la mort, projetée d’un seul coup dans ce nouveau monde, comme un bébé ébloui naît dans la lumière, la conscience nouvellement re-née à elle-même saura d’emblée trouver le sein palpitant, nourricier, nourrissant. Elle en saura alors, instantanément, bien plus que toutes les philosophies passées et à venir, tous les savoirs imaginés dans l’univers.
Elle en saura bien plus, c’est-à-dire bien peu…
« Naître c’est s’attacher ».i Mais l’essence de la conscience, c’est plutôt de se détacher toujours d’elle-même, un peu plus chaque jour. La mort alors sera comme la bride lâchée sur le cou d’un pur-sang, le mettant enfin au grand galop, dans les steppes, vastes et venteuses, de l’éternité.
Ce sont les maux, les malaises, les chutes, les rêves, les sommeils, les éveils et les silences qui façonnent peu à peu, ici-bas, la conscience. Vous avez aimé la saison 1 ?
A la demande générale, la saison 2 se prépare…
Conscience, – clinging to the body, like a sharp, piercing nail.
Just as light reaches the cosmological horizon one day, conscience eventually tires of herself. This is the condition of her epigenesis.
Only lasts what is conceived in the unconscious. Conscience still has everything to learn.
From the moment of conception, in the womb, conscience is born to herself, and even though it is tiny, minuscule, she then performs an angel’s leap, an infinite, unspeakable saltus, in proportion to her absolute nothingness a little earlier.
At death, a new metaphysical saltus of conscience is more than probable. But towards what? Absolute nothingness? The eternal abyss? A divine light? A new life? No one knows. Everything is possible. Including a plunge into a form of being that would be as distant from earthly life as our present conscience is from the original nothingness from which she was abruptly drawn.
Systole. Diastole. Likewise, conscience beats.
Between her night and her day.
To irrigate the empty eons with her heavy blood.
The so-called « soul, » which modern materialists mock so much, is absolutely indestructible. Very fine point of the being, metaphysical diamond, ultra-pure essence, divine quantum, she will be called to cross the first seven heavens, in a few precise jumps, as soon as the Death’s Night comes… And then… Hang up your belts… Nobody has yet « seen » anything.
Birth projected conscience out of the abyss of nothingness. Death will project conscience out of the infinite abyss of the unconscious into the ultra-light. A striking exodus for her, – which was relentlessly pursued all her terrestrial life by the pharaonic armies of the real, the senses, illusions, chimeras and fallacies.
After death, projected at once into this new world, like a dazzled baby born into the light, the newly born-again conscience will immediately know how to find the throbbing, nourishing breast. She will also instantly know more than all the past and future philosophies, all the knowledge imagined in the universe.
She will know much more, i.e. much less than there is yet to discover…
« To be born is to become attached. »(i) But the essence of conscience is rather to always detach herself from herself, a little more each day. Death then will be like the bridle dropped on the neck of a thoroughbred, finally putting him at full gallop, in the vast and windy steppes of eternity.
It is the evils, the uneasiness, the falls, the dreams, the sleeps, the awakenings and the silences that shape little by little, here below, the conscience. Did you like your life’s season 1?
By popular demand, season 2 is getting ready… Keep watching!
iCioran. De l’inconvénient d’être né. Œuvres. Éditions de la Pléiade. 2011, p. 746.
Prophetic projections or disenchanted salvos, the blows come from all sides. « Decadence » (Nietzsche). « Malaise in civilization » (Freud). « Decline of the West » (Spengler). « Mechanical petrifaction » (Max Weber). « Crisis of the mind » (Paul Valéry). « Spiritual sickness of humanity » (C.-G. Jung). « Absence of meaning » (Hannah Arendt). « Crisis of meaning » (John Paul II).
These judgments, recent on the scale of history, testify to the acceleration of a massive phenomenon, but we must go back further to understand its deepest sources.
One of the first signs of decomposition appeared more than a thousand years ago. The via moderna (the « modern way ») inaugurated the deconstruction of metaphysics in the Middle Ages. A few monks, tired of the scholastics, began to scatter to the wind the « chimeras » and « empty abstractions » of classical philosophies. « Truth » or the « universal » were now just empty words, fallacies. Only in facts was truth to be found. The only universals were now the singularities.
With nominalism was thus founded the first basis for modern ideas. It took several centuries to broaden and deepen it. Empiricism, relativism and positivism subsequently accompanied the progress of science and technology. At the same time, the nominalist lesson, coming out of philosophical circles, was adapted to politics, for the benefit of the Prince and the advantage of Leviathan.
We had finished with metaphysics, and with the classical age, but certainly not with religion. Shortly after the fall of Constantinople, the invention of printing, the discovery of America and the Copernican revolution, markers of the entry into « modern » times, a part of the West became religiously and lastingly infatuated with a core of ruthless and pessimistic ideas: universal reign of sin, absolute decay of man, assured perdition of the whole of humanity, – with the inexplicable exception of a few « saints ».
These singular, self-proclaimed « saints », imbued with an exceptional ethos, did not remain inert. Assuming their « manifest destiny, » they began to preach relentlessly, century after century, a corrosive despair, contempt for the weak, abandonment of the poor, while the « war of each against each » raged.
Nominalism and the Reformation had attacked, from two different angles, the old « Good News » that had once been offered to all. The Enlightenment came, also dominated by nominalism, in a resolutely more materialistic version. It was then possible to assert without detours that humanity is in reality only an « abstraction », and that there are only « concrete men » (Goethe). The idea made its mark, and just before the First World War it was declared that « natural law » and the idea of « humanity » had become « almost incomprehensible in Germany » (E. Troeltsch). The death of the word heralded the death of the thing. This misunderstood « abstraction » was soon to be given an appallingly concrete meaning.
After two world wars and several genocides, nominalism still occupies the top of the pavement. The philosophers who claim to be its advocates still seem incapable of defining the essence of « good, » « true » and « just ».
And now the end of the « great narratives » (les « grands récits »), announced by Foucault and Lyotard, adds a final touch to this millennial deconstruction.
From now on, the Dasein, alone and naked, without Idea and without Narrative, can be delivered to the games, without why and without hindrance, of the political and social forces, in the economic and technological immanence, and in the continuous confrontation with the resurgence, providential and reactionary, of tribalisms and identities.
Special groups, special interests, selfishness are exalted. The idea of a common world is moving further and further away.
The cleavages are getting worse and settling over time. Globalized capitalism produces an oligarchy of super-dominants and an infinite number of proletarians, enslaved in circles concentric to the Empire. On one side, a few masters of the world, on the other, all the « rest ». The future promises to be sectarian, oligarchic and mafia-like.
Clear, irrevocable signs of decay, poverty, weakness, servitude are, generation after generation, devolved to the immense mass of losers, condemned on earth and « reproved » in heaven.
In this planetary division of destinies, the faith of the « saints » of the day guides and energizes them beyond measure. Their religion is not opium for them, it is their cocaine.
They went to school. Metaphysical egoism and hatred of the common have been transposed far beyond the religious sphere, into a world that is already no longer common, but divided. Inclusion is reserved there to the few, general exclusion is for all the rest, and dissociation is universal.
The ancient battle of the Calvinist « saints » during the Wars of Religion and the Hobbesian War of All Against All in 17th century England has spread and extended beyond all expectations.
The Christian fundamentalists and the born again who today wage war on the « axis of evil » are the heirs of the Puritans who approached the shores of New England, to appropriate in blood a land that was « manifestly » intended for them.
Untouchable ideas (Manichaeism of good and evil, of the chosen and the fallen, of friend and foe) adapt to all times, all religions, all latitudes. Formerly Gnostic, yesterday Calvinistic, they can be summarized as follows: « After me, the Flood ».
In more formal style: God’s grace is reserved for the chosen few and nothingness is promised to the rest of the world.
These ideas have provoked countless wars over the centuries. Today, they serve as mantras in the worldwide « war of civilizations ». They are translated into all languages: « In God we trust », « Gott mit uns », « Dieu avec nous », « Allahu-akbar ».
It’s not that there is no alternative.
Famous thinkers have long been engaged in other or contrary utopias.
Leibniz proposed to build the « republic of the minds ». Rousseau believed in the expression of the « general will ». Kant philosophized about the « general interest of humanity ».
But have the peoples, crammed into the world’s jungle, heard them? The law of the powerful is always stronger than the law of the weak. What can « paper and words » do before « the sword and the hand of men »? i
The religion of global dissociation and disenchantment continues to grow. The once religious and moral schism has become secularized and trivialized. A ferocious schizophrenia gnaws at the global unconscious, psychically cracked, torn, mutilated.
It is necessary to analyze and anamnesis it, to understand the decomposition of the modern mind and the programmed end of the common. It is necessary to delve into the early days of the era, to find its Manichean and Gnostic preliminaries, to reveal its initial wounds, and their innumerable after-effects.
The ancient past also tells of a possible future. The « knowledge societies » take up the ancient Gnostic utopia in another way.
The new believers believe in other immanent gods: knowledge, technique, science, indefinite progress.
They love a new law, « convergence ».
They compose a neo-Genesis, where there is no longer evening or morning, no abyss or firmament, no divine wind, but the demiurgic fusion of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, neurosciences and artificial intelligence. Immanence emerges at the nanoscale, and universally spreads its Gospel, through the globalization of materials, materials and capital. Bits, atoms, neurons, and genes will be the unsuspecting heroes of the new Global Narrative.
A new Promised Land can be hoped for. Immense « free lands », with indefinite, putative borders, have already been appropriated by the pioneers of invention, the pilgrim fathers of appropriation.
A trans-humanity with « augmented » genes ii will tomorrow take exclusive possession of it. Homo Sapiens 2.0 will leave behind them an obsolete « remnant », humanity 1.0.
iiA report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) expressed alarm about this in the following terms: « In the long term, nanomedicine could lead to a radical transformation of the human species. Humanity’s efforts to change itself as and when it wants to could lead to a situation where it would no longer be possible to speak of a « human being » at all « . Cf. Bert Gordjin, « Les questions éthiques en nanomédecine« , in Nanotechnologies, éthique et politique, UNESCO Editions, Paris, 2008.
La Crítica de la Razón Neurobiológica, de C. Malabou, es una carga anti-Changeux. La neurobiología, con su joven arrogancia, ha procedido a una « captura de ideas metafísicas ». La neuroética se arroga el discurso sobre lo bueno, la neuroestética el discurso sobre lo bello. Todo esto puede ser preocupante para el filósofo profesional. La neurociencia se ha convertido en « un instrumento de fragmentación filosófica ».
Inmediatamente me viene a la mente la imagen de las bombas de racimo que destrozaban los cuerpos en Vietnam. Probablemente nos perdamos de nuevo.
Pero Malabou es inflexible: « La aparición de la neurociencia es una amenaza pura y simple a la libertad – la libertad de pensar, actuar, disfrutar o crear. » Es una especie de « Darwinismo mental ». La epigénesis selecciona las sinapsis. El volumen del cerebro aumenta cuatro veces y media después del nacimiento. La génesis de las sinapsis continúa hasta la pubertad, y durante todo este tiempo la educación, el entorno familiar, social y cultural, forman parte del sistema nervioso. Nuestro cerebro es por lo tanto en gran parte lo que hacemos de él, es el resultado de la vida misma, día tras día, con sus peligros, sus sorpresas y sus peligrosas andanzas.
Entonces, ¿el desarrollo de las sinapsis está determinado o no? Esta es la gran cuestión filosófica que atraviesa las épocas, simbolizada por la batalla de los Titanes. Einstein contra Planck. La última interpretación de la mecánica cuántica.
Malabou resume: « El objeto de la ciencia se ha convertido indiscutiblemente en la libertad ».
Este debate es en realidad bastante antiguo. Para mantenerlo moderno, comenzó con las enconadas diatribas entre Erasmo y Lutero. No salimos de eso.
El gen añade una nueva piedra al concreto del determinismo. El contenido del ADN es aparentemente invariable. De ahí la idea de un código, un programa. Tanto los ratones como los humanos están programados genéticamente. Pero entonces, ¿cómo podemos explicar las sorpresas encontradas durante la epigénesis, si sólo se trata del determinismo de un código y un programa? La plasticidad epigenética plantea cuestiones delicadas, que la imagen demasiado simple del « programa » de ADN es incapaz de abordar. Changeux propone abandonar la noción de programa genético en favor de la interacción entre células y las « comunicaciones celulares ».
Pero si salimos de un determinismo simplista, ¿hasta dónde puede llegar en teoría el campo cubierto por la neurobiología? Este campo cubre una vasta área, extendiéndose a la sociedad y la cultura. También son consecuencias de la plasticidad sináptica de las redes nerviosas de millones y miles de millones de personas. Por el contrario, las sociedades y culturas favorecen la epigénesis de los cerebros. Todo un programa de investigación podría basarse en la exploración de los fundamentos biológicos de la cultura. Por ejemplo, el juicio moral sería simplemente la traducción del cerebro del fenómeno neurobiológico de la empatía. Otro rasgo neurobiológico que es único en los humanos es la existencia de una sensibilidad a la « belleza de la parsimonia ». Este rasgo sería útil para la especie porque nos permite detectar formas, agrupaciones y distribuciones ordenadas. De esto, Malabou deduce una conclusión que nos acerca a nuestra pregunta inicial: « La libertad epigenética aparece precisamente hoy en día como el origen mismo de lo trascendental. »
La epigénesis es la condición de la libertad; y la libertad es el fundamento de la idea trascendental en sí misma. De ahí esta pregunta: ¿es la libertad una posible ventana a la trascendencia?
El cerebro libre es capaz de reflexionar sobre sí mismo, y de provocar acciones y experiencias que le afectan a cambio. En un futuro no muy lejano, es concebible que los cerebros humanos sean capaces de diseñar y llevar a cabo modificaciones estructurales en el cerebro humano, primero experimentalmente y luego a gran escala.
¿Podríamos considerar cambiar el nivel de conciencia, podríamos despertar a la gente a otras formas de experiencia a través de modificaciones neurobiológicas? Las prácticas de los chamanes de varias épocas y regiones del mundo durante las iniciaciones nos muestran que la ingestión de plantas sagradas puede causar tales resultados. Entonces, ¿por qué no un equivalente con drogas psicotrópicas, especialmente perfeccionadas para este propósito?
Si hay un « hombre neuronal », también hay, es obvio, un hombre social, un hombre cultural, un hombre espiritual, que no puede ser resumido como un hombre material, una masa de genes y neuronas. También hay un hombre libre, un hombre crítico, que puede y debe ejercer su espíritu para « criticar libremente » las condiciones de su propia evolución, material, neuronal y quizás psíquica.
What was it that Empedocles did refuse to reveal? Why didn’t he tell what he was « forbidden to say »? What was he afraid of, – this famous sage from Agrigento, this statesman, this gyrovague shaman and prophet? Why this pusillanimity on the part of someone who, according to legend, was not afraid to end up throwing himself alive into the furnace of Etna?
« I ask only what ephemeral humans are allowed to hear. Take over the reins of the chariot under the auspices of Piety. The desire for the brilliant flowers of glory, which I could gather from mortals, will not make me say what is forbidden… Have courage and climb the summits of science; consider with all your strength the manifest side of everything, but do not believe in your eyes more than in your ears.”i
Empedocles encourages us to « climb the summits of science » …
The Greek original text says: καὶ τὸτε δὴ σοφίης ἐπ’ ἄίκροισι θοάζειν, that translates literally: « to impetuously climb to the summits (ἐπ’ ἄίκροισι, ep’aikroisi) of wisdom (σοφίης sophias) ».
But what are really these « summits of wisdom »? Why this plural form? Shouldn’t there be just one and only one « summit of wisdom », in the proximity of the highest divinity?
In another fragment, Empedocles speaks again of « summits », using another Greek word, κορυφή, koruphe, which also means « summit, top »:
John Burnet and Auguste Reymond translated (in French):
« Marchant de sommet en sommet,
ne pas parcourir un sentier seulement jusqu’à la fin… »iv i.e.:
« Walking from summit to summit,
not to walk a path only to the end…”
Paul Tannery adopted another interpretation, translating Κορυφὰς as « beginnings »:
« Rattachant toujours différemment de nouveaux débuts de mes paroles,
et ne suivant pas dans mon discours une route unique… »v
« Always attaching new and different beginnings to my words,
and not following in my speech a single road…”
I wonder: does the apparent obscurity of this fragment justify so wide differences in its interpretation?
We are indeed invited to consider, to dig, to deepen the matter.
According to the Bailly Greek dictionary, κορυφή (koruphe), means « summit« , figuratively, the « zenith » (speaking of the sun), and metaphorically: « crowning« , or « completion« .
Chantraine’s etymological dictionary notes other, more abstract nuances of meaning for κορυφή : « the sum, the essential, the best« . The related verb, κορυφῶ koruphô, somewhat clarifies the range of meanings: « to complete, to accomplish; to rise, to lift, to inflate« .
The Liddell-Scott dictionary gives a quite complete review of possible meanings of κορυφή: « head, top; crown, top of the head [of a man or god], peak of a mountain, summit, top, the zenith; apex of a cone,extremity, tip; and metaphorically: the sum [of all his words], the true sense [of legends]; height, excellence of .., i.e. the choicest, best. »
Liddell-Scott also proposes this rather down-to earth and matter-of-fact interpretation of the fragment 24: « springing from peak to peak« , i.e. « treating a subject disconnectedly ».
But as we see, the word κορυφή may apply to human, geological, tectonic, solar or rhetorical issues…
What is be the right interpretation of κορυφή and the ‘movement’ it implies, for the fragment 24 of Empedocles?
Etymologically and originally, the word κορυφή relates to κόρυς, « helmet« . Chantraine notes incidentally that the toponym « Corinth » (Κόρινθος) also relates to this same etymology.
The primary meaning of κορυφή, therefore, has nothing to do with mountains or peaks. It refers etymologically to the « summit » of the body, the « head ». More precisely, it refers to the head when « helmeted », – the head of a man or a woman (or a God) equipped as a warrior. This etymology is well in accordance with the long, mythological memory of the Greeks. Pythagorasvi famously said that Athena was « begotten », all-armed, with her helmet, « from the head » of Zeus, in Greek: κορυφἆ-γενής (korupha-genes).
If we admit that the wise and deep Empedocles did not use metaphors lightly, in one of his most celebrated fragments, we may infer that the « summits », here, are not just mineral mountains that one would jump over, or subjects of conversation, which one would want to spring from.
In a Greek, philosophical context, the « summit » may well be understood as a metaphor for the « head of Zeus », the head of the Most High God. Since a plural is used (Κορυφὰς, ‘summits’), one may also assume that it is an allusion to another Godhead, that of the divine « Wisdom » (a.k.a. Athena), who was born from Zeus’ « head ».
Another important word in fragment 24 is the verb προσάπτω, prosapto.
Bollack translates this verb as « to join, » Burnet as « to walk, » Tannery as « to attach”, Liddell-Scott as « to spring »…
How diverse these scholars’ interpretations!… Joining the summits one to the other… Walking from summit to summit… Attaching new beginnings to a narration… Springing from peak to peak, as for changing subjects…
In my view, all these learned translations are either too literal or too metaphorical. And unsatisfactory.
It seems to me necessary to seek something else, more related to the crux of the philosophical matter, something related to a figurative « God Head », or a « Godhead »… The word koruphe refers metaphorically to something ‘extreme’, — also deemed the ‘best’ and the ‘essential’. The Heads (koruphas) could well allude to the two main Greek Godheads, — the Most High God (Zeus) and his divine Wisdom (Athena).
More precisely, I think the fragment may point to the decisive moment when Zeus begets his own Wisdom, springing from his head, all armed….
The verb προσάπτω has several meanings, which can guide our search: « to procure, to give; to attach oneself to; to join; to touch, to graze » (Bailly).
Based on these meanings, I propose this translation of the first line of fragment 24:
« Joining the [God] Heads, one to the other ».
The second verb used in fragment 24 (line 2) is τελέειν, teleein: « To accomplish, to perform, to realize; to cause, to produce, to procure; to complete, to finish; to pay; (and, in a religious context) to bring to perfection, to perform the ceremony of initiation, to initiate into the mysteries (of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom) » (Bailly).
Could the great Empedocles have been satisfied with just a banal idea such as « not following a single road », or « not following a path to the end », or even, in a more contorted way, something about « not saying a single path of words »?
I don’t think so. Neither Bollack, Burnet, nor Tannery seem, in their translations, to have imagined and even less captured a potential mystical or transcendent meaning.
I think, though, that there might lie the gist of this Fragment.
Let’s remember that Empedocles was a very original, very devout and quite deviant Pythagorean. He was also influenced by the Orphism then in full bloom in Agrigento .
This is why I prefer to believe that neither the ‘road’, nor the ‘path’ quoted in the Fragment 24, are thought to be ‘unique’.
For a thinker like Empedocles, there must be undoubtedly otherways, not just a ‘single path’…
The verb τελέειν also has, in fact, meanings oriented towards the mystical heights, such as: « to attain perfection, to accomplish initiation, to initiate to the mysteries (of divine Wisdom) ».
As for the word μύθων (the genitive of mythos), used in line 2 of Fragment 24, , it may mean « word, speech », but originally it meant: « legend, fable, myth ».
Hence this alternative translation of μύθων μὴ τελέειν ἀτραπὸν μίαν (mython mè teleein atrapon mian) :
« Not to be initiated in the one way of the myths »…
Here, it is quite ironic to recall that there was precisely no shortage of myths and legends about Empedocles… He was said to have been taken up directly to heaven by the Gods (his « ascension »), shortly after he had successfully called back to life a dead woman named Panthea (incidentally, this name means « All God »), as Diogenes of Laërtius reportedvii.
Five centuries B.C., Empedocles resurrected “Panthea” (« All God »), and shortly afterwards he ‘ascended’ to Heaven.
One can then assume that the Fragment 24 was in fact quite premonitory, revealing in advance the nature of Empedocles’ vision, the essence of his personal wisdom.
The Fragment 24 announces an alternative to the traditional « way of initiation » by the myths:
« Joining the [God] Heads, one to the other,
Not to be initiated in the only way of the myths. »
Empedocles did not seem to believe that the myths of his time implied a unique way to initiation. There was maybe another « way » to initiation: « joining the Most High Godhead and his Wisdom …
The biblical Genesis puts the beginning of creation at the « beginning ». It is simple, natural, effective, perhaps even logical.
In contrast, one of the deepest hymns of the Rig Veda does not begin with the beginning, but with what was before the beginning itself.
The first verse of the Nasadiya Sukta (« Hymn to Creation », Rig Veda, X, 129, 1) contemplates what was before being and before non-being:
Which reads: nāsadāsīno sadāsītadānīṃ
The Vedic text links words in a fluid, psalmodized diction, preserved orally for more than six thousand years, before being transcribed, relatively recently, in the Brāhmī writing system of Sanskrit.
For a better understanding, the sentence ‘nāsadāsīno sadāsītadānīṃ’ can be broken down as follows:
na āsad āsī no sad āsīt tadānīṃ
The translations of this enigmatic formula are legion.
« There was no being, there was no non-being at that time. « (Renou)
« Nothing existed then, neither the being nor the non-being. « (Müller)
« Nothing existed then, neither visible nor invisible. « (Langlois)
« Then even nothingness was not, nor existence. « (Basham)
« Not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent then » (Art. Nasadiya Sukta of Wikipedia).
« Nicht das nicht seiende war, nicht das seiende damals. « (Ludwig)
« Zu jener Zeit war weder Sein, noch Nichtsein. « (Grassmann)
« Weder Nichtsein noch Sein war damals. « (Geldner)
The grammar of the modern languages does not seem to be well adapted to the translation of this grammatically subversive hymn. Moreover, how can one render with ´words´ what was before words, how can one say what ´was´ before being and before non-being, how can we make people ´see´ what existed before existence and non-existence?
And besides, where does the knowledge of the speaker come from? On what is this revelation based? Since it reports of a time when all knowledge and all non-knowledge did not exist?
One begins to think: what thinker can ´think´ what is obviously beyond what is thinkable? How, in spite of everything, does a volley of insolent words come, from beyond the millennia, to brighten our dark nights?
Fragile footbridges, labile traces, short quatrains, the first two verses of the Nasadiya Sukta weave words slightly, above the void, far from the common, between worlds.
Es atmete nach seinem Eigengesetz ohne Windzug dieses Eine.
Irgend ein Anderes als dieses war weiter nicht vorhanden. »vi
The comparison of these translations shows several elements of ‘consensus’.
Before there was anything, there was « Him », the « Unique Being ».
Before Everything was, this Being was One, alone, and He breathed without breath.
The One was, – long before a « wind of God » could even « begin » to « blow on the waters », according to what says the Bible, written some three thousand years after the oral revelation of the Veda…
After the two initial verses just mentioned, the Vedic creation story takes off, using words and images that may awaken some biblical memories.
Here is how Louis Renou, Max Müller and Alexandre Langlois account for this.
« Originally darkness covered darkness, everything we see was just an indistinct wave. Enclosed in the void, the One, accessing the being, was then born by the power of heat.
Desire developed first, which was the first seed of thought; searching thoughtfully in their souls, the wise men found in non-being the bond of being.
Their line was stretched diagonally: what was the top, what was the bottom? There were seed bearers, there were virtues: below was spontaneous Energy, above was the Gift. »vii
« The seed, which was still hidden in its envelope, suddenly sprang up in the intense heat.
Then love, the new source of the spirit, joined it for the first time.
Yes, the poets, meditating in their hearts, discovered this link between created things and what was uncreated. Does this spark that springs up everywhere, that penetrates everything, come from the earth or the sky?
Then the seeds of life were sown, and great forces appeared, nature below, power and will above. »viii
« In the beginning the darkness was shrouded in darkness; the water was without impulse. Everything was confused. The Being rested in the midst of this chaos, and this great All was born by the force of his piety.
In the beginning Love was in him, and from his spirit sprang the first seed. The sages (of creation), through the work of intelligence, succeeded in forming the union of the real being and the apparent being.
The ray of these (wise men) departed, extending upwards and downwards. They were great, (these wise men); they were full of a fruitful seed, (such as a fire whose flame) rises above the hearth that feeds it. »ix
Some translators say that in the beginning, « darkness envelops the darkness ». Others prefer to read here a metaphor, that of the « seed » hidden in its « envelope ». Is it necessary to give a meaning, an interpretation, to the « darkness », or is it better to let it bathe in its mystery?
It is amusing to see some explain the birth of the Whole by the role of « heat », while others understand that the origin of the world must be attributed to « piety » (of the One). Material spirits! Abstract minds! How difficult it is to reconcile them!
Let’s take a closer look at this point. The Sanskrit text uses here the word tapas, तपस्.
Huet’s Dictionary translates tapas as « heat, ardor; suffering, torment, mortification, austerities, penances, asceticism », and by extension, « the strength of soul acquired through asceticism ».
Monier-Williams indicates that the verbal root tap- has several meanings: « to burn, to shine, to give heat », but also « to consume, to destroy by fire » or « to suffer, to repent, to torment, to practice austerity, to purify oneself by austerity ».
There are clearly, here again, two semantic universes taking shape, that of nature (fire, heat, burning) and that of the spirit (suffering, repentance, austerity, purification).
What is the correct meaning of this hymn from the Rig Veda?
Taking into account the intrinsic dualism attached to the creation of the Whole by the One, both meanings fit simultaneously, in my opinion, without contradiction. An original brilliance and warmth probably accompanied the creation of some inchoate Big Bang.
This being conceded, the Vedic text underlines, it seems to me, the true cause, not physical, but metaphysical, by opening up to the figurative meaning of the word tapas, by evoking the « suffering », or the « repentance », or the « asceticism » or even the « sacrifice » that the One would have chosen, in His solitude, to impose on Himself, in order to give the world its initial impulse.
One cannot help but find there a kind of Christic dimension to this Vedic vision, when the One consents to asceticism, to suffering, to give life to the Whole.
One cannot deny that the Veda is fundamentally a « monotheism », since it stages, even before the beginning, the One, the One who is « alone », who breathes « without breath ».
But soon this One is transformed into a kind of trinity. What emerges from these verses are, dominating darkness, water, emptiness, confusion and chaos, the two figures of the Being (the Creator) and the Whole (the created world).
The Whole is born of the Being by His « desire » (or by His « Love »), which grows within His « Spirit » (or His « Intelligence »).
A Trinitarian reading is possible, if one adds, intimately, to the idea of the One, the idea of His Spirit and that of His Desire (or His Love).
The last two verses of the Nasadiya Sukta tackle head-on the question of mystery, the question of origin, the « why all this »?
« Who knows in truth, who could announce it here: where does this creation come from? The gods are beyond this creative act. Who knows where it emanates from?
This creation, from where it emanates, whether it was made or not, – He who watches over it in the highest heaven probably knows it, or maybe He did not know it? »x
« Who knows the secret? Who here tells us where this varied creation came from? The Gods themselves came into existence later: who knows where this vast world came from?
Whoever was the author of all this great creation, whether His will commanded it or whether His will was silent, the Most High « Seer » who resides in the highest heaven, He knows it – or perhaps He himself does not know it? »xi
« Who knows these things? Who can say them? Where do beings come from? What is this creation? The Gods were also produced by Him. But He, who knows how He exists?
He who is the first author of this creation, supports it. And who else but Him could do so? He who from heaven has his eyes on all this world, knows it alone. Who else would have this science? »xii
It is obviously the final point (« Perhaps he doesn’t know it himself? ») that carries the essence of the meaning.
That the Gods, as a whole, are only a part of the creation of the Most High, again confirms the pre-eminence of the One.
But how can we understand that the « Seer » may not know whether He Himself is the author of creation, and how can He not know whether it was made – or not made?
One possible interpretation would be that the Whole received the initial impulse. But this is not enough. The Whole, though « created », is not a determined mechanics. The Seer is not « Almighty » or « Omniscient ». His asceticism, His suffering can only be understood as the testimony of a « sacrifice » given for the freedom of the world, an essential freedom created and given freely by the will of the One.
This essential, ontological freedom implies that the Whole is, in a sense, in the image of the One, in terms of freedom and therefore of ontological dignity.
This also implies that the future of the Whole depends on the Spirit, and whether the Whole will be able to render the Spirit fecund from Desire.
iRig Veda, X, 129, 1-2. Louis Renou, La poésie religieuse de l’Inde antique. 1942
iiRig Veda, X, 129, 1-2. Max Müller. Histoire des religions. 1879
Milk is like the soul, says one Upaniṣad.i How come?
In milk, butter is hidden… As in potency… It must be churned and it appears.
In the soul, knowledge also is hidden… As in potency… When the spirit searches, it increases its strength, makes it grow, and knowledge comes.
Another metaphor: from two sticks rubbed together, fire springs forth. From the soul and the spirit rubbing together, comes the Brahman.
The word Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) is neutral. It designates a principle: « growth, increase, strengthening ». It comes from the verbal root BṚH- , to strengthen, to increase, to augment, to enlarge.
In the Bhagavad-Gītā, the Lord defines Brahman as his own Self:
« The universe is entirely pervaded by Me, invisible, formless. All beings are in Me, but nothing that is created is in Me, and I am not in them. Behold My supernatural power! I sustain all beings. I am everywhere present. I remain the source of all creation. Just as in space the power of the wind is established, and everywhere its breath, in Me stand all beings. »ii
The Lord, transcendent, descends incognito to earth, and He does not mince His words:
« The fools denigrate Me when in human form I come down to this world. They know nothing of my spiritual, absolute nature, nor of my supremacy. Ignorant, they go astray. They believe in demons, not in Me. Vain are their hopes, vain are their interests, vain are their aspirations, vain is their knowledge. « iii
Neither fools nor vain, are the « great souls », the mahatmah.
« Those who are ignorant of ignorance, the mahatmah, are under the protection of the divine nature. Knowing Me as God, the Supreme, original, inexhaustible Person, they absorb themselves, they devote themselves. Unceasingly singing my glory, they prostrate themselves before Me. Determined in their effort, these spirits, these magnanimous souls love Me.” iv
What happens then?
« Those who know, look at me: I am the Unique Being. They see Me in the multitude of beings and things; My form is in the universe.”v
If the Self is the Whole, it is also in each one of the forms in it, in their infinite variety, their total sum, and their common nature.
« But it is I who am the rite and the sacrifice, the oblation to the ancestors, the grass and the mantra. I am the butter and the fire, and the offering. Of this universe, I am the father, the mother, the support and the grandfather, I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable OM. I am also the Rig, the Sâma and the Yajur. I am the goal, the support, the teacher, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the dearest friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of all things, the resting place and the eternal seed. I am heat, rain and drought, I am immortality and death personified. Being and non-being, both are in Me, O Arjuna.”vi
But the Veda itself is not enough, nor the rites. The most important thing is yet to attain knowledge, the only necessary knowledge. Where is it hidden?
« It is indirectly that they worship Me, the men who study the Vedas and drink soma, looking for delicious heavens. They are reborn on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy the pleasures of the devas. When they have enjoyed these celestial pleasures, when their merits have been exhausted, they return to this mortal Earth. A fragile happiness, such is the only fruit they reap, after having followed the principles of the Vedas. But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My absolute Form, I fill their lacks and preserve what they are. Every oblation that man with faith sacrifices to the devas is destined for Me alone, O son of Kunti. For I am the sole beneficiary and the sole object of the sacrifice. Those who ignore My true, absolute nature, fall back. Those who worship the Devas will be reborn among the Devas, among the ghosts and other spirits those who live in their worship, among the ancestors the worshippers of the ancestors: likewise, those who are devoted to Me will live with Me.”vii
Following that logic, let’s wonder: from all the « whited sepulchres » of the world, what will really be reborn? New whited, sepulchral worlds? New whited, sepulchral galaxies?
The poet said: « the Milky Way, – luminous sister of the white streams of Chanaan, and of the white bodies of the lovers ».viii
But it seems to me that the Milky Way, with all its grandeur, has less milk and less light than one living soul… As for the streams of Chanaan and the bodies of the lovers, that’s still an open discussion, to compare their ´milk´ to the soul.
There are cultures that value prose, argument, dialectics, in the search for truth. Others praise the hymn, the psalm, the enigma. Some have pushed far the love of wisdom, or maieutic. Others have preferred prophecy or mystery.
The ways forward are multiple. Variations are legion.
Hard climates, short summers, open landscapes, undoubtedly influence the view, life, and everything else. Scattered archipelagos, high valleys, alluvial plains, tawny deserts, wet basins, all these eclectic places hardly resemble each other. They have had, in their time, in their turn, respective affinities, sudden impulses, for thoughts coming from elsewhere, or born within them. Greece has its light. On the Indus flows a heavy and sweet air. The Nile is not the Oxus. The Rhine is not the Tigris.
Each people has their own way of seeing the sea and the stars, of following the sun and the course of the mountains, of telling the fire and the milk, the cow and the night.
Their languages sometimes bear witness to this, beyond the centuries.
Images, which have become seemingly banal, yesterday founded grandiose metaphors, and for millennia have nourished original intuitions. The arid stone of the desert gave birth to a mineral monotheism. The laughing myriads of the sea waves are of a more pantheistic nature – they diffract the solar unit abundantly into billions of labile shards.
One people alone does not create the idea of the divine; the climate also exudes it, the landscape cherishes it, and the language welcomes it.
Besides, the One has too many names. Prajāpati, El, Adonaï, Eloh, Baal, Elion, El Shaddaï, YHVH, Deus, Allah.
The Elohim themselves testify that the One hides in the plural …
All these names are one. These so many names all say that the One is, but they are very many to proclaim it.
It is inferred that all these names and even the number “one” are but veils.
One, one, one, … One, only one, not two, not three, not a thousand or billions.
How could the One rub shoulders with the Two? Or engender the Three? Or breathe the Infinite?
No, no, no. One, One, One…
Only One, there is only the One!
One is one. The Divine is infinite. How to limit the infinite by the One? Idle question. The world is larger than all the deserts, deeper than all the cosmos: no matter the quarrels of hackneyed words…
There, for millennia, towards the Indus, beyond the Oxus, ancient peoples saw the Divine everywhere they looked. They drank it with their eyes, when the light set its dazzling wing, and offered this very light as a sacrifice.
Grammar, words, style, rhythm, liberty, criticism, were other wings for them, making other prisms glimmer in their unbounded intelligence.
The mind then became aware of its destiny, unique and colorful.
The north still lives in the south of itself. East and west close together at the ends of the day. The one and the infinite make two… and they open the way to the possible and to the unity of being.
Today, it is time to think about the unification of the human, after so much blood has been shed just to claim the “oneness” of the divine.
Renan provoked: « Who will dare to say that by revealing the divine unity and definitively suppressing the local religions, the Semitic race has not laid the foundation stone for the unity and progress of humanity?”i
The Semitic God is far from man, immensely distant. But occasionally He comes near. He chooses a Nabi, an Anointed One, a prophet, a chosen one, or a pure soul, and He reveals Himself, absolutely elevated, infinitely unspeakable, all “Other”.
Next door, close by, elsewhere, the multiple, the diverse, the lowly, the “Other”, are neither « one » nor « far ».
One day, the man of the future will link the One and the Multiple, the distant and the near, the earth and the sky.
Deserts, seas, mountains and valleys will blow various winds, unique and shadowy geniuses, inaudible wisdoms, thoughts yet to be born.
iErnest Renan. Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques. (1863)
All human languages are animated by a secret spirit, an immanent soul. Over the millennia, they have developed within them their own potency, even without the participating knowledge of the fleeting peoples who speak them. In the case of ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Hebrew (biblical), Greek (Homeric), Latin, or Arabic, this spirit, soul, and other powers are still at work, many centuries after their apogee, albeit often in a hidden form. The keen, patient observer can still try to find the breath, the strength, the fire, well in evidence in ancient, famous pages or left buried in neglected works. One may sometimes succeed, unexpectedly, to find pearls, and then contemplate their special aura, their glowing, sui generis energy.
The innumerable speakers of these languages, all of them appearing late and disappearing early in their long history, could be compared to ephemeral insects, foraging briefly in the forest of fragrant, independent and fertile language flowers, before disappearing, some without having produced the slightest verbal honey, others having been able by chance to distill some rare juice, some suave sense, from time to time.
From this follows, quite logically, what must be called the phenomenal independence of languages in relation to the men who speak and think them.
Men often seem to be only parasites of their language. It is the languages that « speak » the people, more than the people speak them. Turgot said: « Languages are not the work of a reason present to itself.”
The uncertain origin and the intrinsic ‘mystery’ of languages go back to the most ancient ages, far beyond the limited horizon that history, anthropology and even linguistics are generally content with.
Languages are some kind of angels of history. They haunt the unconscious of men, and like zealous messengers, they help them to become aware of a profound mystery, that of the manifestation of the spirit in the world and in man.
The essence of a language, its DNA, is its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language, and it structures its spirit, without being able to understand its own genius. Grammatical DNA is not enough to explain the origin of the genius of language. It is also necessary to take the full measure of the slow work of epigenesis, and the sculpture of time.
Semitic languages, to take one example, are organized around verbal roots, which are called « triliters » because they are composed of three radical letters. But in fact, these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect,…) are not really « triliters ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan saidi. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical letters, with the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.
In Hebrew, the biliteral root פר (PR) carries the idea of separation, cut, break. The addition of a third radical letter following פר modifies this primary meaning, and brings like a bouquet of nuances.
Thus, the verbs : פּרד (parada, to divide), פּרה (paraa, to bear fruit), פּרח (paraha, to bloom, to bud, to burst),ּ פּרט (paratha, to break, to divide), פּרך (parakha, to crumble, to pulverize), פּרם (parama, to tear, to unravel), פּרס (paraça, to break, to divide), פּרע (para’a, to detach from, to excel), פּרץ (paratsa, to break, to shatter), פּרק (paraqa, to tear, to fragment), פּרר (parara, to break, to rape, to tear, to divide), פּרשׂ (parassa, to spread, to unfold), פּרשׁ (parasha, to distinguish, to declare).
The two letters פּ et ר also form a word, פּר, par, a substantive meaning: « young bull, sacrificial victim ». There is here, in my view, an unconscious meaning associated with the idea of separation. A very ancient, original, symbolic meaning, is still remembered in the language: the sacrificial victim is the one which is ‘separated’ from the herd, who is ‘set apart’.
There is more…
Hebrew willingly agrees to swap certain letters that are phonetically close. Thus, פּ (P) may be transmuted with other labials, such as בּ (B) or מ (M). After transmutation, the word פּר, ‘par’, is then transformed into בּר, ‘bar’, by substituting בּ for פּ. Now בּר, ‘bar‘, means ‘son’. The Hebrew thus makes it possible to associate with the idea of ‘son’ another idea, phonetically close, that of ‘sacrificial victim’. This may seem counter-intuitive, or, on the contrary, well correlated with certain very ancient customs (the ‘first born son sacrifice’). This adds another level of understanding to what was almost the fate of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom the God YHVH asked to be sacrificed.
Just as פּ (P) permuted with בּ (B), so the first sacrificial victim (the son, ‘bar‘) permuted with another sacrificial victim (‘par‘), in this case a ram.
The biliteral root בּר, BR, ‘bar‘, gave several verbs. They are: בּרא (bara‘, ‘to create, to form’; ‘to be fat’), בּרה (baraa, ‘to eat’), בּרח (baraha, ‘to pass through, to flee’), בּרך (barakha, ‘to kneel, to bless’), בּרק (baraq, ‘lightning’), בּרר (barara, ‘to purify, to choose’).
The spectrum of these meanings, while opening the mind to other dimensions, broadens the symbolic understanding of the sacrificial context. Thus the verb bara‘, ‘he created’, is used at the beginning of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim, « In the beginning created God…. ». The act of ‘creating’ (bara‘) the Earth is assimilated to the begetting of a ‘son’ (bar), but also, in a derivative sense, to the act of fattening an animal (‘the fatted calf’) for its future sacrifice. After repetition of the final R, we have the verb barara, which connotes the ideas of election and purification, which correspond to the initial justification of the sacrifice (election) and its final aim (purification). The same root, slightly modified, barakha, denotes the fact of bringing the animal to its knees before slaughtering it, a more practical position for the butcher. Hence, no doubt, the unconscious reason for the late, metonymic shift to the word ‘bless’. Kneeling, a position of humility, awaiting the blessing, evokes the position taken by the animal on the altar of sacrifice.
Hebrew allows yet other permutations with the second radical letter of the word, for example in the case cited, by substituting ר with צ. This gives: פּצה (patsaa, ‘to split, to open wide’), פּצח (patsaha, ‘to burst, to make heard’), פּצל (patsala, ‘to remove the bark, to peel’), פּצם (patsama, ‘to split’), פצע (patsa’a, ‘to wound, to bruise’). All these meanings have some connotation with the slaughter that the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrew religion requires, in marked contrast to the sacrifice of the Vedic religion, which is initiated by the grinding of plants and their mixing with clarified butter.
Lovers of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Arabic dictionaries can easily make a thousand discoveries of this nature. They contemplate curiously, then stunned, the shimmering of these ancient languages, sedimenting old meanings by subtle shifts, and feeding on multiple metaphors, for thousands of years.
Unlike Semitic languages, the semantic roots of Chinese or the ancient language of Egypt are monosyllabic, but the rules of agglutination and coagulation of these roots also produce, though in another way, myriads of variations. Other subtleties, other nuances are discovered and unfold in an entirely different grammatical context.
These questions of grammar, roots and settled variations are fascinating, but it must be said that by confining ourselves to them, we never remain but on the surface of things.
We need to go deeper, to understand the very texture of words, their fundamental origin, whose etymology can never be enough. The time travel that etymology allows, always stops too early, in some ‘original’ sense, but that does not exhaust curiosity. Beyond that, only dense mists reign.
It has been rightly pointed out that Arabic is, in essence, a desert language, a language of nomads. All the roots bear witness to this in a lively, raw, poetic way.
In the same way, one should be able to understand why and how the Vedic language, Sanskrit, which is perhaps the richest, most elaborate language that man has ever conceived, is a language that has been almost entirely constructed from roots and philosophical and religious (Vedic) concepts. One only has to consult a dictionary such as Monier-Williams’ to see that the vast majority of Sanskrit words are metaphorically or metonymically linked to what was once a religious, Vedic image, symbol or intuition.
It is necessary to imagine these people, living six, twelve, twenty or forty thousand years ago, some of them possessing an intelligence and a wisdom as penetrating and powerful as those of Homer, Plato, Dante or Kant, but confronted to a very different ‘cultural’ environment.
These enlightened men of Prehistory were the first dreamers, the first thinkers of language. Their brains, avid, deep and slow, wove dense cocoons, from which were born eternal and brief butterflies, still flying in the light of origin, carefree, drawing arabesques, above the abyss, where the unconscious of the world never ceases to move.
The fables that people tell, the myths that they create, the stories that they invent, help them to shape identity, to manufacture memory, to distinguish themselves from other peoples.
Fables, myths, narratives, produce an abundance of « barbarians » and « pagans, » « unbelievers » and « idolaters », distill multiple kinds of “strangeness” – all in order to strengthen the illusion of unity, the cohesion of the group, the persuasion of exception, the arrogance of election.
For those with a taste for history and anthropology, it is easy to find resemblances, analogies, cross-borrowings, in the diverse beliefs of peoples who believe themselves to be unique.
But peoples are more alike than they are dissimilar. In particular, they resemble each other in that they believe they are the only ones to believe what they believe, that they think they are the only ones to think what they think.
Monotheism, for example, has not appeared in a single culture, it is not the prerogative of one single people. In the West, the original monotheistic worship is readily associated with the ancient religion of the Hebrews. But another form of monotheism had been invented in Egypt, even before the pre-dynastic period, more than five thousand five hundred years ago. Funerary rituals and numerous hieroglyphic inscriptions bear witness to this, of which an impressive compilation was in its time collected and translated by the Egyptologist Emmanuel de Rougéi. Numerous secondary gods were able to coexist without any real contradiction with the idea of a unique and supreme God, all the more so as many of these gods were in reality only « names » embodying this or that attribute of the unique God. The fact that after a period of decadence of the idea, it was possible for Pharaoh Amenophis IV (Akhenaten) to forcefully reintroduce it several centuries before the time of Abraham, only shows that the passage of time produces variations and interpretations about forceful ideas once conceived in their first evidence, at a very early stage in human consciousness. Before Abraham and Melchisedech, the Bible testifies that other patriarchs such as Noah, believed in the unique God.
Freud famously asserted that Moses would have been a defrocked priest of the cult of the God Aten. Moses initiated a new form of monotheism allegedly ‘different’ from the ancient monotheistic idea still latent in the Egyptian soul. He added to it various tribal laws and customs, however, in reaction to what he no doubt judged to be a form of decadence in the Egyptian politico-religious power of the time.
Before Moses, the « monotheistic » idea, far from being confined to the Nile Valley, had already traveled far and wide in time and space. Traces of it may be easily found in other ancient cultures, such as that of the Veda and the Avesta.
Reading Max Müller’s Essay on the History of Religions (1879), which devotes a chapter to the study of the Zend Avesta, and Martin Haug’s Essays on the Sacred Language, Scriptures and Religion of the Parsis (Bombay, 1862), provides examples of the curious and striking similarities between certain avestic and biblical formulas.
In the Zend Avesta, Zarathustra prays to Ahura Mazda to reveal his hidden names. The God accepts and gave him twenty of them.
The first of these names is Ahmi, « I am ».
The fourth is Asha-Vahista, « the Best Purity ».
The sixth means « I am Wisdom ».
The eighth translates as « I am Knowledge ».
The twelfth is Ahura, « the Living One ».
The twentieth is Mazdao, which means « I am the One who Is ».
These formulas are found almost word for word in different passages of the Bible. Is it pure chance, an unexpected encounter with great minds, or is it deliberate borrowing? Perhaps the most notable equivalence of formulation is « I am He who Is », which is found in the text of Exodus (Ex. 3:14).
Max Müller concludes, with a rather neutral tone: « We find a perfect identity between certain articles of the Zoroastrian religion and some important doctrines of Mosaism and Christianity.”
There are also analogies between the Genesis writers’ conception of the « creation » of the world and the ideas of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and Indians. These analogies are reflected in the choice of words for « creation”.
For example, in the first verse of Genesis (« In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth »), the English verb « to create » is translated from the Hebrew בר, which does not mean « to create » in the sense of « to create from nothingness, » but rather « to cut, to carve, to flatten, to polish, » which implies a “creation” made out of pre-existing substance. Similarly, the Sanskrit verb tvaksh, which is used to describe the creation of the world in the Vedic context, means « to shape, to arrange », as does the Greek poiein, which will be used in the Septuagint version.
Even more troubling, some proper names evoke borrowings across language barriers. The name Asmodeus, the evil spirit found in the late biblical book of Tobit, was certainly borrowed from Persia. It comes from the Parsi name Eshem-dev , which is the demon of concupiscence, and which is itself borrowed from the demon Aeshma-daeva, mentioned several times in the Zend Avesta.
Another curious coincidence: Zoroaster was born in Arran (in avestic Airayana Vaêga, « Seed of the Aryan »), a place identified as Haran in Chaldea, the region of departure of the Hebrew people. Haran also became, much later, the capital of Sabaism (a Judeo-Christian current attested in the Koran).
In the 3rd century BC, the famous translation of the Bible into Greek (Septuagint) was carried out in Alexandria. In the same city, at the same time, the text of the Zend Avesta was also translated into Greek. This proves that at that time there was a lively intellectual exchange between Iran, Babylonia, and Judeo-Hellenistic Egypt.
It seems obvious that several millennia earlier, a continuous stream of influences and exchanges already bathed peoples and cultures, circulating ideas, images and myths between India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Judea and Egypt.
This prestigious litany of famous names testifies moreover that even more ancient cultures, coming from earlier, more original, « pre-historic » ages, have precisely left little trace, since they have been forgotten.
I believe that it is of the utmost philosophical and anthropological importance to consider, today, in the face of this cluster of clues, that the thinkers, prophets and magi of the Palaeolithic, already had an intuition of the One, and of the Whole.
The only traces of these extremely ancient beliefs can be found in the formulas of Egyptian rituals and Vedic hymns dating back more than two millennia before Abraham, i.e. at least more than three millenia BC.
One must realize that the monotheistic idea originated even earlier. It is part of the most ancient heritage of all mankind.
But today, sadly, and contrary to its very essence, this same idea has become one of the most subversive and explosive factors of human division, on the face of a narrow and overpopulated planet.
iRituel funéraire des anciens égyptiens (1861-1863). Recherches sur les monuments qu’on peut attribuer aux six premières dynasties de Manéthon (1865). Œuvres diverses (6 volumes, 1907-1918)
The Hebrew word temounah has three meanings, says Maimonides.
Firstly, it refers to the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. For example: « If you make a carved image of the figure (temounah) of anything, etc., you are making an image of the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. « (Deut. 4:25)
Secondly, this word may be used to refer to figures, thoughts or visions that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of nocturnal visions (temounah), etc.”, (Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using a second time this word: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, according to Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes while he was sleeping.
Finally, this word may mean the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense that one can use temounah when speaking of God: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord. « (Num. 12:8). Maimonides comments: « That is to say, he contemplates God in his reality.” It is Moses, here, who ‘contemplates’ the reality of God. In another passage, again about Moses, God Himself says: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear appearance and without riddles. It is the image (temounah) of God himself that he contemplates. » (Numbers 12:8).
Maimonides explains: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ». Indeed, one text says: « Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God.” (Ex. 3:6)
It is difficult to bring anything new after Maimonides and the doctors. But this word, whose image, vision and idea can be understood through its very amphibology, deserves a special effort.
The word temounah is written תְּמוּנָה (root מוּן ).
The letter taw, the initial of temounah, can be swapped with the other ‘t’ in the Hebrew alphabet, the teth ט, as is allowed in the Hebrew language, which is very lax in this respect. This gives a new word, which can be transcribed as follows: themounah. Curiously enough, the word thamana טָמַן, which is very close to it, means « to hide, to bury ».
One may argue that it’s just a play on words. But the salt of the matter, if one lends any virtue to the implicit evocations of the meaning of the words, is that Moses « hides » (thamana) his face so as not to see the temounah of God.
By hiding (thamana) his own face (temounah), Moses contemplates the figure (temounah) of God, which remains hidden from him (thamana).
What does this teach us?
It teaches us that the divine figure does not show itself, even to a prophet of the calibre of Moses. Rather, it shows that the divine figure stays hidden. But by hiding, it also shows that one can contemplate its absence, which is in fact the beginning of the vision (temounah) of its very essence (temounah).
By renouncing to see a temounah (an image), one gains access to the temounah of the temounah (the understanding of the essence).
Through this riddle, hopefully, one may start to get access to God’s temounah.
It is also a further indication that God is indeed a hidden God. No wonder it is difficult to talk about His existence (and even more so about His essence) to ‘modern’ people who only want to « see » what is visible.
Man is an « intermediary being » between the mortal and the immortal, says Plato. This enigmatic phrase, rather inaudible to modern people, can be understood in several senses,.
One of these is the following. « Intermediary » means that man is in constant motion. He goes up and down, in the same breath. He ascends towards ideas that he does not really understand, and he descends towards matter that he does not understand at all. Inhaling, exhaling. Systole of the spirit, diastole of the soul.
Ancient words still testify to these outward movements of the soul. « Ecstasy », from the Greek ἒκστασις (ekstasis), means firstly « coming out of oneself ». The spirit comes out of the body, and then it is caught up in a movement that takes it beyond the world.
Ekstasis is the opposite of stasis, ‘contemplation’, — which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria). The meaning of θεωρία as ‘contemplation, consideration’ is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, this word took on the meaning of ‘theory, speculation’ as opposed to ‘practice’.
But originally, θεωρία meant ‘sending delegates to a religious festival, religious embassy, being a theorist’. The ‘theorist’ was the person going on a trip to consult the oracle, or to attend a religious festival. A ‘theory’ was a religious delegation going to a holy place.
The words ekstasis and theoria have something in common, a certain movement towards the divine. Ekstasis is an exit from the body. Theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi.
These are images of the free movement of the soul, in the vertical or horizontal direction. Unlike the theoria, which is a journey in the true sense of the word, ekstasis takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, crossed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which goes far beyond its capacities, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, few means of fixing it and sharing it on its return.
The word ekstasis seems to keep the trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. When the soul moves to higher lands, generally inaccessible, it encounters phenomena quite different from those of the usual life, life on earth. Above all, it runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is constantly ahead of it, that draws it ever further away, to an ever-changing elsewhere, which probably stands at an infinite distance.
Human life cannot know the end of this race. The soul, at least the one that is given the experience of ekstasis, can nevertheless intuitively grasp the possibility of a perpetual search, a striking race towards an elusive reality.
In his commentaries on the experience of ecstasyi, Philo considers that Moses, despite what his famous visionii, reported in the Bible, did not actually have access to a complete understanding of the divine powers.
But Jeremiah, on the other hand, would testify to a much greater penetration of these powers, according to Philo. However, despite all his talent, Philo has difficulty in consolidating this delicate thesis. The texts are difficult and resistant to interpretation.
Philo cautiously suggests extrapolating certain lines from Jeremiah’s text to make it an indication of what may have been an ecstasy. « This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iii. This is rather thin, admittedly. But another line allows us to guess God’s hold, God’s domination over Jeremiah: « Dominated by your power, I have lived in isolation »iv.
Other prophets have also declared to have lived in ecstasy, using other metaphors. Ezekiel, for example, says that « the hand of God came »v upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed »vi.
When the ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual: « And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sad, in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”vii
In a cynical, materialistic and disillusioned time, like our time, one cannot be content with just words, even prophetic ones, to interest the reader. Facts, experiments, science, rationality are needed.
Let’s start with a ‘technical’ definition of ecstasy according to the CNRTL :
« A particular state in which a person, finding herself as if transported out of herself, is removed from the modalities of the sensible world by discovering through a kind of illumination certain revelations of the intelligible world, or by participating in the experience of an identification, of a union with a transcendent, essential reality. »
This definition evokes enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. This vocabulary is hardly less obscure than the biblical expressions ‘dominion by power’, or ‘hand of God’.
Moreover, this definition cautiously employs what appears to be a series of euphemisms: ‘to be as if transported’, ‘to be removed from the sensitive world’, ‘to discover a kind of enlightenment’, ‘to participate in an experience’.
If we return to the memories of ecstasy bequeathed to us by the prophets, the true ‘experience’ of ecstasy seems infinitely more dynamic, more overwhelming, ‘dominated’ by the immediate, irrefutable intuition of an infinite, transcendent ‘power’.
Bergson, a true modernist, if ever there was one, and philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static image of ecstasy: « The soul ceases to turn on itself (…). It stops, as if it were listening to a voice calling out to it. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which it is absorbed or a rapture it experiences: God is there, and it is in him. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”viii
Can ecstasy only be associated with a moment when the soul ‘stops’, when it ‘stops spinning’? Is it not rather carried away without recourse by a fiery power, which suddenly sweeps away all certainty, all security? Bergson certainly falls far short of any essential understanding of ecstasy, perhaps because he has never experienced one.
Who will report today in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite and gentle violence of ecstasy? Who will say in raw terms the light that invades the intelligence, as in love the whole body? Who will explain the narrow bank from which the pulse of death is measured? Who will tell us how to kiss the lips of infinity? Who will grasp in one stroke the face of which time is but a slice, and the world, but a shadow?
The first kind of nudity: the head uncovered, the face unveiled, or the body dressed in torn clothing.
Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons: « Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes, unless you want to die and bring divine wrath upon the whole community. « (Lev. 10:6)
In this episode, sadness and mourning take hold of Aaron and his sons because a divine fire has just fatally burned two other sons. But Moses does not allow them to express their sorrow in the agreed forms (uncovered head, torn clothes).
In another episode, it is the unveiled face of Abraham’s wife that poses a problem, not as such, but because it arouses the Pharaoh’s desire, and incites Abraham to lie to him about his wife whom he presents as his sister.
« When he was about to arrive in Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife: « I know that you are a woman with a gracious face. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will kill me and keep you alive. « (Gen. 12:11-12)
Second kind of nudity: that of the drunk man, who does not have his full conscience. Thus Noah: « He drank of his wine and became drunk, and laid himself bare in the midst of his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and went outside to tell his two brothers. « (Gen. 9:21-22)
Third kind of nudity, the proud nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. « Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. « (Gen. 2:25).
The fourth kind of nakedness is that of the shameful body. « And the LORD God called the man and said to him, « Where are you? » He answered, « I heard your voice in the garden; I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself. » Then he said, « Who told you that you were naked? » (Gen. 3:9-11)
These different sort of nakedness can be interpreted, it seems to me, as various allegories of the Mystery, as various ways of being confronted with it, partially or totally, seeing it without understanding it, or somewhat understanding it, but then being excluded from it.
Not everyone is allowed to “see” the mysteries of heaven and earth. There are several levels of unveiling, reserved for those who have the capacity to face them face to face, according to their own merits.
“Seeing” the nakedness of the mystery is in principle excluded. But there are cases where this is more or less possible, with certain consequences.
If the mystery is laid bare, if it is looked at without a veil, without precaution, this implies taking risks.
The first kind of nudity is an image of the risk taken. Uncovering one’s head or tearing off one’s clothes against time, like Aaron did, can arouse divine anger.
Noah’s nakedness is another parable. One is sometimes led to surreptitiously discover a hidden aspect of the Mystery. Ham accidentally saw his father’s nudity (nudity which is admittedly a figure, a metaphor, of the Mystery). Ham will be punished above all for having immediately ‘revealed’ it to his brothers Shem and Japheth instead of having taken the necessary measures (covering the nudity, protecting the nakedness of the Mystery). It was the latter brothers who then carefully covered it, walking backwards and turning their face, not taking any glance at the scene.
They were to be rewarded later on for having preserved the invisible aura of the Mystery.
The third nudity, the happy nudity of Adam and Eve, is that of the origin. One may see the entire Mystery, without any veil, but the paradox is that one is not aware of its real nature. The whole Mystery is fully disclosed, but everything happens as if there was no awareness of it, as if there was nothing special to see, to understand, as is there was nothing mysterious in fact. Trap of the visible. Laces of un-exercised intelligence. Adam and Eve do not “see” and even less understand the Mystery that surrounds them, and they are not even aware of their own mystery, the mystery of their existence, their own consciousness. The Mystery is present in them, around them, but they know nothing of it.
The fourth kind of nudity is shameful nudity. Adam finally knows and sees his own nakedness as it is. The mystery is revealed to the consciousness. The consciousness has knowledge of the existence of the Mystery, but to no avail. The presence of the Mystery is immediately covered, buried in the unconscious, by the consciousness.
Four kind of nudity, four ways of perceiving the Mystery, and four ways blinding oneself to its true nature.
The biblical nudity carries four lessons about the veil and its unveiling.
One has to make an effort to understand the true nature, the true nudity, the true essence of the Mystery.
The Greek word logos means « reason » or « discourse, speech ».
In Plato’s philosophy, the Logos is the Principle and the Word. It is also the Whole of all the Intelligible, as well as the link between the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it is the « intermediary » between man and God.
For Philo of Alexandria, a Neo-Platonist Jew, the Logos takes two forms. In God, the Logos is the divine Intelligence, the Eternal Thought, the Thoughtful Thought. In its second form, the Logos resides in the world, it is the Thought in action, the Thought realized outside God.
Written shortly after Philo’s active years, the Gospel of John says that « in the beginning » there was the Logos who was God, and the Logos who was with God i. There was also the Logos who was made fleshii.
Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who became flesh?
In Christian theology, there is only one Logos. Yet the three divine ‘instances’ of the Logos quoted by John have also been personified as Father, Son, Spirit.
For the structuralist philosopher, it is possible to sum up these difficult theses in a pragmatic way. The Logos comes in three forms or aspects: Being, Thinking, Speaking. That what is, that what thinks and that what speaks. These three forms are, moreover, fundamental states, from which everything derives, and with which anybody can find an analogy pointing to the fundamental human condition (existence, intelligence, expression).
Philo, who is both a Jew and a Neoplatonist, goes quite far with the theory of the Logos, despite the inherent difficulty of reconciling the unity of God and the multiplication of His ‘instances’ (that the Kabbalah, much later on, called ‘sefirot‘). For Philo, the Logos is the totality of God’s Ideas. These Ideas act “like seals, which when approached to the wax produce countless imprints without being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”iii
All things that exist in the universe derive from an Idea, a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is the entire universe.iv
Philo’s Logos is not « personified ». The Logos is the Organ of God (both His Reason and His Word) playing a role in the Creation. Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, drawing from divine, human and natural images. The Logos is creation, engendering, speech, conception, or flow, radiation, dilatation. Using a political image, God « reigns », the Logos « governs ».
Philo’s thinking about the Logos is complex and confusing. A 19th century commentator judged that « a tremendous confusion is at the basis of Philo’s system »v. Allegedly, Philo seems to mix up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Epistemus (Knowledge).
Wisdom seems to play the same role in relation to the Logos as the thinking Thought (Spirit) of God plays in relation to the world of the Intelligible. Wisdom is the deep source of this world of the Intelligible, and at the same time it is identical with it.
There is no logical quirk in this paradox. Everything comes from the nature of the divine Spirit, in which no distinction can be made between « container » and « content ».
The Logos is thus both the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the spirit and the letter of its content. The Logos is the Law, and the Logos is also its enunciator, its revelator.vi
The Logos is, in the universe, the Divine brought back to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God. Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.
These ideas, as has been said, have been sometimes described as a « philosophical hodgepodge »; they seem to demonstrate a « lack of rigor »vii on the part of Philo, according to certain harsh judgments.
However, what strikes me is that Philo and John, at about the same historical period, the one immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and independently of each other, specified the contours of a theophany of the Logos, with clear differences but also deep common structures.
What is even more striking is that, over the centuries, the Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Biblical Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, or the ‘Word made flesh‘, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, have succeeded one another. All these figures offer their analogies and differences.
As already said, the main difficulty, however, for a thinker like Philo, was to reconcile the fundamental unity of God, the founding dogma of Judaism, and His multiple, divine emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (Hokhma).
On a more philosophical level, the difficulty was to think a Thought that exists as a Being, that also unfolds as a living, free, creative entity, and that finally ´reveals´ herself as the Word — in the world.
There would certainly be an easy (negative) solution to this problem, a solution that « modern » and « nominalist » thinkers, cut off from these philosophical roots, would willingly employ: it would be to simply send the Logos and the Noos, the Angel and the incarnate Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel back into the dustbin of empty abstractions, of idealistic chimera.
I do not opt for such an easy solution. It seems to me contrary to all the clues accumulated by History.
I believe that the Spirit, as it manifests itself at a very modest level in each one of us, does not come from biochemical mechanisms, from synaptic connections. I believe it is precisely the opposite.
Our brain multiplies cellular and neuronal networks, in order to try to grasp, to capture at our own level, what the Spirit can let us see of its true, inner nature, its fundamental essence.
The brain, the human body, the peoples of different nations and, as such, the whole of humanity are, in their own unique way, immense collective ´antennae´, whose primary mission is to capture the diffuse signs of a creative Intelligence, and build a consciousness out of it.
The greatest human geniuses do not find their founding ideas at the unexpected crossroads of a few synapses, or thanks to haphazard ionic exchanges. Rather, they are « inspired » by a web of thoughtful Thoughts, in which all living things have been immersed since the beginning.
As a clue, I propose this image : When I think, I think that I am; then I think that this thought is part of a Thought that lives, and endless becomes; and I think of this Thought, which never stops thinking, never ceases to think, eternally, the Thought that continues « to be », and that never stops being without thinking, and that never stops thinking without being.
Can God have an ‘image’ or a ‘shadow’? According to the Torah, the answer to this question is doubly positive. The idea that God can have an ‘image’ is recorded in Genesis. The text associates ‘image’ (‘tselem‘) and ‘likeness’ (‘demut‘) with Genesis 1:26: בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ , b-tsalmenou ki-demutenou (‘in our image and likeness’), and repeats the word ‘image’ in Genesis 1:27 in two other ways: בְּצַלְמוֹ b-tsalmou (‘in his image’) and בְּצֶם אֱלֹהִים b-tselem elohim (‘in the image of Elohim’).
As for the fact that God may also have a ‘shadow’, this is alluded to in a verse from Exodusi, which quotes the name Betsalel, which literally means ‘in the shadow of God’1. The word צֵל tsel means ‘shadow’. This word has the same root as the word צֶלֶם tselem, which we have just seen means ‘image’. Moreover, tselem also has as its primary meaning: ‘shadow, darkness’, as in this verse: ‘Yes, man walks in darkness’, or ‘he passes like a shadow’ii.
One could therefore, theoretically, question the usual translation of Gen 1:26, and translate it as follows: « Let us make man in our shadow », or « in our darkness ». What is important here is, above all, to see that in Hebrew ‘image’, ‘shadow’ and ‘darkness’ have the same root (צֵל ).
This lexical fact seems highly significant, and when these words are used in relation to God, it is obvious that they cry out: « Interpret us! ».
Philo, the Jewish and Hellenophone philosopher from Alexandria, proposes this interpretation: « The shadow of God is the Logos. Just as God is the model of His image, which is here called shadow, so the image becomes the model of other things, as is showed at the beginning of the Law (Gen. 1:27) (…) The image was reproduced after God and man after the image, who thus took the role of model.”iii
Philo, through the use of the Greek word logos, through the role of mediator and model that the Logos plays between God and man, seems to prefigure in some way the Christian thesis of the existence of the divine Logos, as introduced by John: « In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.”iv
Man is therefore only the shadow of a shadow, the image of an image, or the dream of a dream. For the word shadow can evoke a dream, according to Philo. He quotes the verse: « God will make himself known to him in a vision, that is, in a shadow, and not in all light » (Num. 12:6).
In the original Hebrew of this verse, we read not ‘shadow’ (tsal), but ‘dream’ (halom). Philo, in his commentary, therefore changed the word ‘dream’ for ‘shadow’. But what is important for us is that Philo establishes that the words ‘vision’, ‘dream’ and ‘shadow’ have similar connotations.
The text, a little further on, reveals a clear opposition between these words (‘vision’, ‘dream’) and the words ‘face-to-face’, ‘appearance’, ‘without riddles’, and ‘image’.
« Listen carefully to my words. If he were only your prophet, I, the Lord, would manifest myself to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream. But no: Moses is my servant; he is the most devoted of all my household. I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition and without riddles; it is the very image of God that he contemplates. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses? » v
God manifests Himself to a simple prophet in ambiguous and fragile ways, through a vision (ba-mar’ah בַבַּמַּרְאָה ) or a dream (ba–halom בַּחֲלוֹם ).
But to Moses, God appears ‘face to face’ (pêh el-pêh), ‘in a clear appearance and without riddles’ (v-mar’êh v-lo b-hidot וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת ). In short, Moses contemplates ‘the image of God himself’ (temounah תְּמוּנָה).
Note here the curious repetition of the word mar’ah מַּרְאָה, ‘vision’, with a complete change in its meaning from negative to positive… God says in verse 6: « If he were only your prophet, I, the Lord, would manifest Myself to him in a vision (ba-mar’ah בַּמַּרְאָה ) ». And it is the same word (מַרְאֶה), with another vocalization, which he uses in verse 8: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition (ou-mar’êh וּמַרְאֶה ) ». The online version of Sefarim translates the same word as ‘vision’ in verse 6 and ‘clear appearance’ in verse 8. The ‘vision’ is reserved for the simple prophets, and the ‘clear appearance’ for Moses.
How can this be explained?
Verse 6 says: ba-mar’ah, ‘in a vision’. Verse 8 says: ou-mar’eh, ‘and a vision’. In the first case God manifests himself ‘in‘ a vision. In the second case, God speaks with Moses, not ‘through’ a vision, but making Himself as « a vision ».
Moses has the great privilege of seeing God face to face, he sees the image of God. This image is not simply an image, or a ‘shadow’, because it ‘speaks’, and it is the very Logos of God, according to Philo.
Rashi is somewhat consistent with Philo’s point of view, it seems to me. He comments on this delicate passage as follows: « A vision and not in riddles. ‘Vision’ here means ‘clarity of speech’. I explain my words clearly to him and I don’t hide them in riddles like the ones Ye’hezqèl talks about: ‘Propose a riddle…’. (Ye’hezqèl 17, 2). I might have thought that the ‘vision’ is that of the shekhina. So it is written: ‘You cannot see my face’ (Shemoth 33:20) (Sifri). And he will contemplate the image of Hashem. It is the vision from behind, as it is written: ‘You will see me from behind’ (Shimot 33:23) (Sifri). »
If God only manifests Himself ‘in a vision’, it is because He does not ‘speak’. The important thing is not the vision, the image or the shadow of God, but His word, His Logos, the fact that God « speaks ». Read: פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה אֲדַבֶ-בּוֹ, וּמַרְאֶה pêh al-pêh adaber bo, ou-mar’êh: ‘I speak to him face to face, – a vision’.
It is necessary to understand: ‘I speak to him and I make him see clearly my word (my Logos, my Dabar)’…
Philo, a Hellenophone, probably gives the word Logos some Platonic connotations, which are not a priori present in the Hebrew word Dabar (דָּבָר). But Philo makes the strong gesture of identifying the Logos, the Image (of God) and Dabar.
Philo is also a contemporary of Jesus, whom his disciple John will call a few years later Logos and « Image » of God.
Between the Dabar of Moses and the Logos as Philo, John and Rashi understand it, how can we not see continuities and differences?
The Spirit (or the Word) is more or less incarnated. As in the ‘image’ and the ‘clear appearance’ of the Logos. Or as in being the Logos itself.
1In Hebrew, tsal means « shadow » and Tsalel : « shadow of God »
Under Tiberius, in the year 16, soothsayers, astrologers and magi were expelled from Italy. Divination had become a capital crime that one would pay with one’s life. A new millennium had begun, but no one suspected it. Times were changing faster than people’s minds. And the Roman religion had to defend itself foot to foot against barbaric ideas from elsewhere.
Long gone was then the time of Moses, who saw in the light what thought could not embrace. Long gone, the time of the prophets, who received dreams and visions, images and words.
Long gone also, was the time of the Chaldean magi and the Avestic and Vedic priests. Possessed of a divine madness, they could, it is said, predict the future by their power of enthusiasm, their capacity for ecstasy.
The words ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘ecstasy’ translate by means of Greek words and roots experiences of a probably universal nature. But do these words adequately reflect the variety of ‘visions’ and the diversity of ‘seers’ throughout the world and throughout history? How can this be ascertained? How can we organize the timeless archaeology of enthusiasm, launch the worldwide excavations of the ecstatic states?
When the divine penetrates the human, it overturns all that is known, all that is acquired, all that can be expressed, all that can be dictated. Everything is overturned, but it also seems that the mind receives, if we believe the testimonies, a capacity for understanding, comprehension and conviction, without any possible comparison. The prophet ‘hears’ or ‘sees’ in an instant thoughts which he considers ‘divine’ but which he makes his own, and to a certain extent he can communicate them to others and find attentive ears. This is where the true prophet is revealed.
After God breathed thoughts and laws into Moses’ mind, Moses in turn repeated them to Aaron. This double operation (first through divine breath, then through human speech) can be understood as an allegory. Moses is above all God’s interpreter. Firstly, he represents His Intelligence, then His Word. The Intelligence first grasps Moses entirely. What can be said of this? The texts are opaque, difficult to interpret. As for the Word that Moses repeated to Aaron, it represented the prophetic act itself, the decisive leap out of the sanctuary of ecstasy into freedom.
Free, the prophet is also bound, from above and below, – bound to heaven by Intelligence, bound to earth by the Word. Philo sums up: « The soul has an earthly base, but it has its summit in pure Intelligence.”i
For my part, I would add that the most important thing is not in fact to be found in Intelligence, which assails the soul entirely and subjugates it, nor in the Word, whose task is to give meaning to the unspeakable and then bring the worlds together.
What is really important, for the rest of the ages, and for its truly unspeakable implications, is the absolute freedom of the soul (here the soul of Moses) which has been able to free itself from ecstasy, then to transcend the innumerable constraints of the human word, and finally to launch a bridge over unfathomable chasms.
Emmanuel Lévinas, in a short autobiographyi, briefly recounts his childhood in Lithuania and Ukraine, his arrival in Strasbourg in 1923, his university career culminating in a professorship at the Sorbonne in 1973. This « disparate inventory » is dominated, he stresses, « by the presentiment and memory of Nazi horror ».
He then evokes, without any transition, the work of Husserl, whose method, he explains, consists of « respecting the intentions that animate the psyche », and seeing how it appears.
Surprising angel leap. Coagulation of extremes. From one line to the other, an unexpected change of subject – the passage from « Nazi horror » to « phenomenology ». Levinas links the pain of History, the praise of intention and the putting into perspective of what he calls « the unsuspected horizons where the real lies ».
Calm style of thought, through a succession of powerful jolts.
Time abounds in intimate fractures, in a thousand vacillations, constantly « presented » and « represented ». In each of them, the consciousness can decide to display its own will, a desire for rupture, or a refusal.1
From this capacity for rupture, from this refusal of abstraction, from this reflex of negation, from this scathing feeling of imminence, Levinas deduces the existence of beings of consciousness, who tear themselves away from the totality, who do not associate themselves with it, do not encompass it.
From these consciousnesses, from the pluralism of subjectivities and the myriad of experiences – he infers the necessity of the « other », the necessity of the relation of the being with other beings, and with the Other.
From the same premises, however, a much more pessimistic lesson could be drawn.
The rupture with the present, the gaping of the imminent, the uprooting from nature, the refusal of the principle, the execution of the impersonal and the negation of the totality do not necessarily lead to the apotheosis of the relation, the revelation of the being in front of the being.
Why would the refusal of the Whole certainly open the way to the Other?
The refusal of the Whole could rather imply a certain, absolute, assured solitude. The observation of Hegelian failure, the flight from totalizations, are not sufficient conditions for a new Exodus. Moreover, if there were a new Exodus, who would be its Moses, and to what Earth, with what people?
A Promised Land, where one could meet Angeli Novi, à la Klee? Or a wounded land, traversed in all directions by angels of Death, furious demons, incubi and succubi, — a land of Hell?
A disputed, bruised, bloodless land, where black clouds, funeral mounds, mass graves, and putrid smells spread out?
Which new prophet will tell us what the future Promised Lands still in the making will be?
For the addicts to phenomenology, the name of one of these putative prophets would be: Intention !…
Following this lesson, we should listen to the « intention » lurking in the depths, we should watch out for the « psyche » at work in ourselves. We must not stop being even more attentive to what could, coming unexpectedly, « appear » in the world, or in our consciousness, at any moment.
We must give consciousness this unique credit: to be able to sense in due time the imminence of disaster.
1« Le temps ne doit pas être vu comme »image » et approximation d’une éternité immobile, comme mode déficient de la plénitude ontologique. Il articule un mode d’existence où tout est toujours révocable, où rien n’est définitif, mais est à venir – où le présent même n’est pas une simple coïncidence avec soi, mais encore imminence. Ce qui est la situation de la conscience. Avoir conscience, c’est avoir du temps, c’est être en deçà de la nature, dans un certain sens ne pas être encore né. Un tel arrachement n’est pas un moindre être, mais la façon du sujet. Elle est pouvoir de rupture, refus de principes neutres et impersonnels, refus de la totalité hégélienne et de la politique, refus de rythmes ensorceleurs de l’art. » E. Lévinas. Difficile liberté, 1976, p.375
Les paramécies sont des organismes composés d’une seule cellule. Elles peuvent nager, trouver de la nourriture, s’accoupler, se reproduire, se souvenir de leurs expériences passées, en tirer des schémas de conduite, et donc « apprendre », – tout cela sans disposer de système nerveux, n’ayant ni neurones, ni synapses… Comment de tels comportements nécessitant une forme de conscience et même d’intelligence sont-ils possibles dans un organisme monocellulaire sans réseaux neuronaux ?
La question est importante, car elle ouvre des perspectives nouvelles sur la nature de la « conscience ». En effet, on pourrait inférer de ces observations qu’une partie de nos propres capacités cognitives ne sont pas d’origine neuronale, mais se basent sur d’autres phénomènes biologiques, plus fondamentaux, se situant en deçà du niveau des réseaux neuronaux.
Selon l’hypothèse de Stuart Hameroff et Roger Penrosei, la faculté d’apprendre des organismes monocellulaires et l’émergence de formes de conscience élémentaires au sein de nos propres cellules neuronales pourraient prendre leur source dans les microtubules qui en forment le cytosquelette, au niveau des dendrites et du corps cellulaire (soma).
Les microtubules seraient le lieu de l’éclosion de moments infimes de « proto-conscience », – moments infimes mais constamment répétés, des millions de fois par seconde, et dont l’agrégation et l’intégration à un niveau supérieur par les réseaux neuronaux constitueraient la « conscience » proprement dite.
On pourrait tout aussi supputer que ces moments de « proto-conscience » qui émergent en permanence dans les milliards de microtubules des dendrites de chacun de nos neurones forment non seulement la source de la conscience mais aussi la base de notre inconscient (ou du moins de son substrat biologique).
On a montré que les ondes du cerveau détectées par l’électro-encéphalographie (EEG) dérivent en fait des vibrations profondes qui sont produites au niveau des microtubules composant le cytosquelette des dendrites et des corps cellulaires des neurones.
Les activités des membranes neuronales peuvent aussi entrer en résonance à travers les diverses régions du cerveau, selon les fréquences des ondes gamma qui peuvent varier entre 30 et 90 Hz.ii
Les phénomènes vibratoires qui s’initient au sein des microtubules (plus précisément au niveau des « tubulines » qui les composent) modifient les réactions et les potentiels d’action des neurones et des synapses. Ils participent à l’émergence initiale des processus neurobiologiques conduisant à la conscience.
Or ces phénomènes de résonance, considérés du point de vue de leur nature profonde, sont essentiellement de nature quantique, selon la thèse présentée par Roger Penrose et Stuart Hameroffiii.
Les molécules des membranes des cellules neuronales possèdent un moment dipolaire et se comportent comme des oscillateurs avec des quanta d’excitations. Par ailleurs, selon les lois de la mécanique quantique, elles peuvent donner lieu à des phénomènes d’intrication quantique liant et corrélant de cette manière les particules des microtubules de plusieurs neurones adjacents, permettant une intégration croissante de réseaux à l’échelle neuronale.
Hameroff et Penrose affirment que les événements de proto-conscience sont donc en quelque sorte le résultat de « calculs quantiques » effectués dans les microtubules (ce terme de ‘calcul quantique’ est associé à l’image de la microtubule comme ordinateur quantique). Les résultats de ces ‘calculs’ sont ‘objectivés’ après leur ‘réduction’ quantique (d’où le terme employé de ‘réduction objective’, ou « Objective Reduction », dite de Diósi–Penrose, notée O.R., pour qualifier cette théorie).
Mais cela a-t-il un sens de parler de « moments de proto-conscience » ? La conscience n’est-elle pas précisément d’abord le sentiment d’une unité subsumant un tout, un tout fait de myriades de possibles continuellement intégrés ?
La conscience est décrite par ces théoriciens de la neurologie quantique comme une séquence de micro-moments discontinus, des quanta de conscience émergente.
Or la conscience se définit aussi, macroscopiquement, comme présence à soi, comme intuition de la réalité du soi, comme capacité de faire des choix, de disposer d’une mémoire fondant la persistance du sentiment du soi, et comme ‘pensée’, capable de préparer et de projeter l’expression d’une volonté.
Les deux positions, celle de la succession de moments discontinus, quantiques, de proto-conscience et celle de la conscience unitive du Soi sont-elles compatibles ?
L’école Sarvāstivāda, l’un des courants majeurs du bouddhisme ancien, va dans ce sens, puisqu’elle affirme qu’adviennent 6.480.000 « moments » de conscience en 24h, soit une micro-salve de conscience toutes les 13,3 ms (fréquence de 75 Hz). D’autres écoles bouddhistes décrivent pour leur part l’apparition d’une pensée toutes les 20ms (50 Hz)iv.
La conscience consisterait donc en une succession d’événements discontinus, synchronisant différentes parties du cerveau, selon des fréquences variées.
Du point de vue philosophique, on peut distinguer trois grandes classes de théories de l’origine et de la place de la conscience dans l’univers, comme le font Penrose et Hameroff :
A. La conscience n’est pas un phénomène indépendant, mais apparaît comme une conséquence naturelle, évolutive, de l’adaptation biologique du cerveau et du système nerveux. Selon cette vue, prévalente en sciences, la conscience émerge comme une propriété de combinaisons biologiques complexes, et comme un épiphénomène, un effet secondaire, sans existence indépendante. Elle est donc fondamentalement illusoire, c’est-à-dire qu’elle construit sa propre réalité plutôt qu’elle ne la perçoit effectivement. Elle a pu surgir spontanément, puis ensuite être conservée car elle apporte un avantage comparatif aux espèces qui en bénéficient. Dans cette vue, la conscience n’est pas une caractéristique intrinsèque de l’univers, mais résulte d’un simple hasard de l’évolution.
B. La conscience est un phénomène séparé, elle est distincte du monde physique, non contrôlée par lui, et elle a toujours été présente dans l’univers. L’idéalisme de Platon, le dualisme de Descartes, les points de vue religieux et autres approches spirituelles posent que la conscience a toujours été présente dans l’univers, comme le support de l’être, comme entité créatrice, ou encore comme attribut d’un « Dieu » omniprésent. Dans cette vue la conscience peut influencer causalement la matière physique, et le comportement humain, mais n’a pas (pour le moment) de base scientifique. Dans une autre approche le ‘panpsychisme’ attribue une forme de conscience à la matière, mais sans identité scientifique ni influence causale. L’idéalisme affirme que la conscience est tout ce qui existe, le monde matériel (et la science) n’étant qu’une illusion. Dans cette vue, la conscience est en dehors et au-delà des capacités cognitives des ‘scientifiques’ (mais pas des philosophes, des mystiques ou des poètes).
C. La conscience résulte d’événements physiques distincts, qui ont toujours existé dans l’univers, et qui ont toujours donné lieu à des formes de ‘proto-conscience’, résultant de lois physiques précises, mais qui ne sont pas encore pleinement comprises. La biologie a évolué pour tirer avantage de ces événements en les « orchestrant » et en les couplant à l’activité neuronale. Il en résulte des « moments » de conscience, capables de faire émerger du ‘sens’. Ces événements de conscience sont aussi porteurs de ‘cognition’, et donc capables de contrôler causalement le comportement. Ces moments sont associés à la réduction d’états quantiques. Cette position a été présentée de façon générale par A.N. Whiteheadv et est maintenant explicitement défendue dans la théorie de Roger Penrose et Stuart Hameroff, par eux baptisée de théorie « Orch O.R. » (acronyme pour « orchestrated objective reduction »).
Les trois grandes classes de théorie sur la conscience que l’on vient de décrire peuvent se résumer ainsi :
A. Science/Matérialisme. La conscience ne joue aucun rôle distinct, indépendant de la matière.
B. Dualisme/Spiritualité. La conscience reste au-delà des capacités cognitives de la science.
C. Science/Conscience. La conscience joue en fait un rôle essentiel dans les lois physiques, bien que ce rôle ne soit pas (encore) élucidé.
On pourrait leur ajouter une théorie D, qui reprendrait certains aspects saillants des trois théories précédentes, mais pour en tirer une synthèse originale, en trouvant le moyen d’éliminer les incompatibilités apparemment dirimantes qui semblent les éloigner radicalement les unes des autres.
Personnellement, c’est la voie qui me semble la plus prometteuse pour l’avenir.
La théorie Orch O.R. représente d’ailleurs un premier pas sur la voie de l’intégration des théories A, B et C.
Elle tente d’expliquer comment la conscience peut émerger de ce que Penrose et Hameroff appellent la ‘computation’ neuronale.
Mais comment des événements de proto-conscience peuvent-ils surgir spontanément d’une complexité computationnelle synchronisée par ‘éclairs’ successifs, et réunissant de façon coopérative des régions diverses du cerveau?
L’observation montre que les EEG des ondes gamma (au-dessus de 30 Hz) sont le meilleur corrélat avec les faits de conscience, en ce qu’ils dénotent un synchronisme avec les potentiels intégrés des dendrites et des corps cellulaires des cellules neuronales.
Les protéines associées aux microtubules (MAPs) interconnectent les microtubules des cellules neuronales en réseaux récursifs. Elles facilitent l’« intégration » de l’activité des dendrites et du soma de ces cellules.
La théorie Orch OR innove en posant que cette intégration complexe, dans le temps et dans l’espace, est en fait rendue possible par des phénomènes d’intrication quantique des particules des tubulines des microtubules appartenant à des neurones adjacents.
Par ces phénomènes quantiques d’intrication, les réseaux de dendrites intègrent donc collectivement leurs capacités propres de computation. Cette intégration n’est pas déterministe, passive. Elle implique des traitements computationnels complexes qui utilisent les connections latérales entre neurones et la synchronisation différenciée de la polarisation de leurs membranes.
Les neurones connectés par leurs dendrites synchronisent en effet leurs potentiels de champs locaux (LFPs) en phase d’intégration, mais ils ne synchronisent pas nécessairement ensuite leurs décharges électriques dans les axones. D’autres facteurs sont donc à l’oeuvre
On peut observer d’ailleurs que les molécules utilisées en anesthésie ‘effacent’ sélectivement la conscience en s’associant à certains sites spécifiques dans les dendrites et le soma post-synaptiques.
Ce qui est établi, c’est que l’intégration dendritique et somatique est donc étroitement en relation avec la conscience, et c’est elle qui est à l’origine des salves électriques des axones qui ‘convoient’ les processus porteurs de « proto-conscience », lesquels seront finalement intégrés par le cerveau pour permettre le contrôle « conscient » du comportement.
Descartes considérait la glande pinéale comme le siège possible de la conscience ; Penrose et Hameroff estiment que ce siège est en fait délocalisé dans l’ensemble des microtubules.
Cette théorie a aussi l’avantage d’expliquer comment le traitement intracellulaire dans les cyto-squelettes des organismes unicellulaires est le moyen par lequel ceux-ci peuvent disposer de fonctions cognitives alors qu’ils sont dépourvus de synapses…
Cependant cette théorie n’explique absolument pas la nature même de la « proto-conscience ». Elle ne fait que décrire la conjonction de deux phénomènes, la réduction des états quantiques liant par intrication des ensembles de microtubules, et l’apparition de moments supposés de proto-conscience.
Mais la relation causale entre la « réduction objective orchestrée » et la proto-conscience n’est pas prouvée. Il n’y a aucune preuve de la « production » de proto-conscience à l’occasion de cette « réduction ».
Il se pourrait tout aussi bien qu’il y ait à cette occasion une « transmission » d’éléments de proto-conscience, venant d’une sphère d’une autre nature que matérielle.
C’est là que la théorie D me paraît propre à venir à la rescousse, en proposant une synthèse active entre les théories A, B et C.
Comme le pose la théorie B, on peut considérer la conscience comme une « nappe » pré-existante dans tout l’univers, et environnant de toutes parts la matière.
La conscience universelle peut être représentée comme étant une « nappe » de points d’existence, de quanta de conscience connectés.
La matière peut s’interpréter quant à elle comme une « nappe » de points d’existence énergétique.
Ces diverses sortes d’existences (spirituelle/consciente, et matérielle/énergétique) ont en commun le fait d’« être ».
La réalité du fait d’« être » serait alors leur socle fondamental, leur essence « ontique » commune, et par conséquent, aussi, le cadre de leurs potentielles interactions mutuelles.
Dans certains cas, par exemple lors du changement instantané d’état (comme lors de la réduction quantique intervenant dans les microtubules des cellules neuronales), les nappes de conscience et de matière interagissent au sein de ce que j’appellerais un « qubit d’existence ».
Ce qubit ne serait pas sans rapport avec certaines constantes fondamentales, comme la constante de Planck ou encore avec les rapports sans dimensions qui existent entre les phénomènes fondamentaux de l’univers (comme le rapport entre l’influence de la gravitation universelle et des champs électromagnétiques en tous points de l’univers).
Dans le qubit d’existence, ou qubit ontique, co-existeraient deux formes d’être, de l’« être » fondé sur une énergie associée à la conscience ou à l’esprit, et de l’« être » fondé sur l’énergie associée à la matière.
Ces deux formes d’énergie, qui sont sans doute aussi deux phases d’une même énergie plus fondamentale et plus originaire encore, peuvent interagir ou bien entrer en résonance dans certaines conditions.
Comme leur point commun est l’« être », selon les deux modalités énergétiques citées, l’une matérielle, l’autre spirituelle, il n’est pas inimaginable de supposer que ces deux modalités énergétiques peuvent s’intriquer mutuellement.
On connaît la fameuse formule d’Einstein, E=MC², où E est l’énergie, M la masse et c la vitesse de la lumière. Cette formule représente une sorte de quintessence d’un résultat de la science dure.
J’aimerais proposer une formule comparable, qui vaudrait comme une tentative de la science molle de transcender les séparations des mondes :
Si l’on continue l’analogie, un qubit d’énergie primordiale peut se moduler, en tous points de l’Univers, en un qubit spirituel et un qubit matériel, selon plusieurs phases, se combinant en proportions variées, et qui peuvent à l’occasion entrer en résonance, comme on l’a suggéré.
Les vibrations énergétiques (esprit/matière) sont le moyen de coupler les deux mondes matériels et spirituels par le biais de leurs vibrations « ontiques » (les vibrations associées à leur manière d’« être »).
Le lieu où s’opère ce couplage se trouve par exemple dans les microtubules qui concentrent une extraordinaire densité de molécules actives, et qui sont par le biais des forces de Van der Waals, en résonance, intriquées.
L’apparition de la conscience au sein des microtubules ne serait donc pas le résultat d’une production locale de proto-conscience, initiée par la réduction quantique, comme le posent Penrose et Hameroff.
Elle serait le résultat d’une transmission, entre le monde préexistant de la conscience et le monde matériel, ici interfacés au niveau des microtubules.
C’est l’hypothèse connue comme théorie de la transmission, qui a été formulée par William James en 1898vi…
« The brain is represented as a transmissive organ.
Matter is not that which produces Consciousness, but that which limits it, and confines its intensity within certain limits: material organization does not construct consciousness out of arrangements of atoms, but contracts its manifestation within the sphere which it permits.
One’s finite mundane consciousness would be an extract from one’s larger, truer personality, the latter having even now some sort of reality behind the scenes.
One’s brain would also leave effects upon the part remaining behind the veil; for when a thing is torn, both fragments feel the operation. »vii
« Le cerveau peut être représenté comme un organe de transmission.
La matière n’est pas ce qui produit la Conscience, mais ce qui la limite, et ce qui confine son intensité dans certaines limites : l’organisation matérielle ne construit pas la conscience à partir d’arrangements d’atomes, mais elle réduit sa manifestation à la sphère qu’elle construit.
La conscience de tout un chacun, finie, commune, ne serait qu’un extrait d’une conscience plus grande, d’une personnalité plus vraie, laquelle posséderait, même maintenant, une sorte de réalité derrière la scène. Notre cerveau pourrait produire des effets, laisser des traces, sur la partie [de la conscience] qui demeure derrière le voile ; car quand quelque chose est déchiré, les deux fragments subissent l’opération. »
La conscience dont nous disposons lorsque nous sommes éveillés, et à laquelle nous renonçons en dormant ou en mourant, n’est que l’une des faces, l’une des phases d’une conscience bien plus large à laquelle nous sommes liés en permanence (par exemple par le truchement de la réduction quantique des microtubules…).
Cette conscience bien plus large est encore la nôtre. Son nom est le Soi.
Elle prolonge notre conscience d’ici-bas, et en est peut-être aussi à l’origine. Elle se nourrit de notre conscience terrestre, et en retour nous nourrit aussi, en permanence, de façon subliminale, ou parfois, illuminante.
Elle ne doit pas être confondue avec un ‘océan’ infini de conscience indifférenciée dans laquelle nous ne serions que des ‘nageurs morts’ suivant son cours ‘vers d’autres nébuleuses’viii.
L’esprit peut donc ainsi interférer avec la matière sous forme d’ondes ou de chocs de proto-conscience, à l’occasion de la « réduction quantique ».
De quoi cette « réduction » est-elle la métaphore ?
J’avancerais volontiers que le spirituel influe sur le monde dit « réel » par le moyen de la « réduction » des possibles, et précisément leur « réduction » au réel, la « réduction » du potentiel à l’actuel.
Une «réduction» représente une certaine fermeture de l’indéterminisme quantique local, mais aussi l’ouverture infiniment rapide d’un immense champs de potentialités nouvelles, à venir…
ii« The best measurable correlate of consciousness through modern science is gamma synchrony electro-encephalography (EEG), 30 to 90Hz coherent neuronal membrane activities occurring across various synchronized brain regions ». Stuart Hameroff, Roger Penrose. Consciousness in the universe: A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory. Physics of Life Reviews, Volume 31, December 2019, Page 41
The sun was created on the fourth day of Genesis. Before the sun was created, what did the first « mornings » and « evenings » look like? In what sense was a “dawn” without a morning sunbeam? An “evening” without twilight?
Genesis speaks of « evenings » and « mornings »i, but not of « nights », except at the very beginning. « God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”ii
Why? Perhaps to suggest that the « Night » cannot be entirely given over to « Darkness ». Or because the Night, being absolutely devoid of any « light », cannot have an existence of its own. Nights = Darkness = Nothingness?
There is another possibility. The Night does exist, but the angels of light cannot have « knowledge » of it. Being made of light, they are incompatible with night. Therefore they cannot talk about it, let alone pass on its existence to posterity.
This is the reason why one passes, immediately, from evening to morning. « There was an evening, there was a morning”iii.
Another question arises, that of the nature of the « day ». Since the sun had not yet been created, perhaps we should imagine that « day » implied another source of light, for example an « intelligible light », or metaphorically, the presence of « angels of light », as opposed to « night », which would shelter the « angels of darkness »?
In any case, before the sun was born, there were three days – three mornings and three evenings – that benefited from a non-solar light and a quality of shadow that was intermediate and not at all nocturnal.
When the angels « knew » the creation (waters, heavens, lands, seas, trees, grasses…) in the first three days, they did not « see » it, nor did they get attached to it. They would have run the risk of sinking into the darkness of the night, which they did not « see », and for good reason.
In those evenings and mornings, they could also « know » the light of the spirit.
Only the “night angels” could remain in the night, this “night” which Genesis avoids naming six timesiv.
Nothing can be said about this night and this occultation of the spirit. Besides, the Bible does not even mention the word itself, as has already been said.
What is certain is that during the first three days there were no lights other than those of the spirit. Nor were there any nights other than those of the spirit.
During these three days and nights, creation received the original, founding memory of this pure light and this deep darkness.
We can also derive these words (mornings, evenings, days, nights) into other metaphors: the « mornings » of consciousness, the « nights » of the soul, – as S. Augustine who wrote about the « knowledge of the morning » and the « knowledge of the evening »v.
S. Thomas Aquinas also took up these expressions and applied them to the « knowledge of the angel »: « And as in a normal day morning is the beginning of the day, and evening is the end of the day, [St. Augustine] calls morning knowledge the knowledge of the primordial being of things, a knowledge which relates to things according to the way they are in the Word; whereas he calls evening knowledge the knowledge of the created being as existing in its own nature.” vi
Philosophically, according to Thomistic interpretation, ‘morning’ is a figurative way of designating the principle of things, their essential idea, their form. And the « evening » then represents what follows from this essence subjected to the vicissitudes of existence, which results from the interaction of the principle, the idea, the form, with the world, reality or matter.
“Morning knowledge” is a knowledge of the primordial being of things, a knowledge of their essence. “Evening knowledge” represents the knowledge of things as they exist in their own nature, in the consciousness of themselves.
Let us take an example. A tiger, an eagle or a tuna, live their own lives, in the forest, the sky or the sea. Perhaps one day we will be able to write about the unique experience of a particular tiger, a particular eagle or a particular tuna. We will have taken care to arm them with sensors from their birth, and to scrupulously record all the biological data and their encephalograms every millisecond of their existence. In a sense, we will be able to « know » their entire history with a luxury of detail. But what does « knowing » mean in this context? Over time, we will surely acquire the essence of their vision of the world, their grammars, their vocabularies, as a result of systematic, tedious and scholarly work. But will we ever discover the Dasein of a particular animal, the being of this tiger, this tuna or this eagle?
Since Plato, there has been this idea that the idea of the animal exists from all eternity, but also the idea of the lion, the idea of the dove or the idea of the oyster.
How can we effectively perceive and know the essence of the tiger, the tigerness? The life of a special tiger does not cover all the life possibilities of the animals of the genus Panthera of the Felidae family. In a sense, the special tiger represents a case in point. But in another sense, the individual remains enclosed in its singularity. It can never have lived the total sum of all the experiences of its congeners of all times past and future. It sums up the species, in one way, and it is overwhelmed on all sides by the infinity of possibilities, in another way.
To access the « morning knowledge », one must be able to penetrate the world of essences, of paradigms, of « Logos« . This is not given to everyone.
To access the « evening knowledge », one must be ready to dive into the deep night of creatures. It is not given to everyone either, because one cannot remain there without damage. This is why one must « immediately » arrive in the morning. S. Augustine comments: « But immediately there is a morning (as is true for each of the six days), for the knowledge of the angels does not remain in the ‘created’, but immediately brings it [the created] to the glory and love of the One in whom the creature is known, not as something done, but to be done.”vii
We can see that there are in fact three kinds of knowledge: diurnal knowledge, vesperal knowledge and morning knowledge.
The diurnal knowledge here is that of daylight, but one has yet to further distinguish between a daylight without the “sun” (like in the first three days of Creation), and a daylight bathing in sunlight.
As for the difference between vesperal and matutinal knowledge, it is the same as the difference between knowledge of things already done and knowledge of things yet to be accomplished.
iGn 1,5. Gn 1,8. Gn 1,13. Gn 1,19. Gn 1,23. Gn 1,31
According to Genesis, taken literally, man was created twice.
Genesis, in chapter 1, describes a first creation of « man » called ha-adam. The word ha-adam includes the definite article ha and literally means « the earth », metaphorically « the red » (for the earth is red), and by extension « man ».
In Chapter 2, Genesis describes a second creation of man (ish), accompanied by a creation of woman (isha). These two words are not preceded by the article ha.
The most immediately noticeable differences between the two creations are as follows.
First of all, the names given to the man differ, as we have just seen: ha-adam on the one hand, ish and isha on the other.
Secondly, the verbs used to describe the act of creation are not the same. In the first chapter of Genesis we read: « God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness' » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for ‘let us make’ is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה, ‘asah, to do, to act, to work. In the second chapter of Genesis we read: « And the Eternal God planted a garden in Eden toward the east, and there he placed the man whom he had fashioned. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for ‘fashioning’ is יָצָר , yatsara, to make, to form, to create.
Thirdly, in Genesis 1, God created man « male and female » (zakhar and nqebah). Man is apparently united in a kind of bi-sexual indifferentiation or created with « two faces », according to Rashi.
In contrast, in Genesis 2, the creation of woman is clearly differentiated. She is created in a specific way and receives the name ‘isha‘, which is given to her by the man. The man, ‘ha-adam‘, then calls himself ‘ish‘, and he calls his wife ‘isha‘, « because she was taken from ‘ish‘ ».
Rashi comments on this verse: « She shall be called isha, because she was taken from ish. Isha (‘woman’) is derived from ish (‘man’). From here we learn that the world was created with the holy language, [since only the Hebrew language connects the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with a common root]. (Berechith raba 18, 4).”
I don’t know if it can be said with impunity that only the Hebrew language connects the words « man » and « woman » to a common root. English, for example, displays such a link with « man » and « woman ». In Latin, « femina » (woman) would be the feminine counterpart of « homo » (« hemna« ).
But this is a secondary issue. However, it shows that Rashi’s interest is certainly not exercised here on the problem of double creation and on the triple difference between the stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2: two nouns (adam/ish), two verbs to describe creation (‘asah/yatsara), and two ways of evoking the difference between genders, in the form ‘male and female’ (zakhar/nqebah) and in the form ‘man and woman’ (ish/isha).
The double narrative of the creation of man and woman could be interpreted as the result of writing by independent authors at different times. These various versions were later collated to form the text of Genesis, which we have at our disposal, and which is traditionally attributed to Moses.
What is important here is not so much the identity of the writers as the possible interpretation of the differences between the two stories.
The two ‘ways’ of creating man are rendered, as has been said, by two Hebrew words, עֲשֶׂה ‘to make’ and יָצָר ‘to form’. What does this difference in vocabulary indicate?
The verb עֲשֶׂה ‘asah (to do) has a range of meanings that help to characterize it more precisely: to prepare, to arrange, to take care of, to establish, to institute, to accomplish, to practice, to observe. These verbs evoke a general idea of realization, accomplishment, with a nuance of perfection.
The verb יָצָר yatsara (to shape, to form) has a second, intransitive meaning: to be narrow, tight, embarrassed, afraid, tormented. It evokes an idea of constraint, that which could be imposed by a form applied to a malleable material.
By relying on lexicon and semantics, one can attempt a symbolic explanation. The first verb (עֲשֶׂה , to do) seems to translate God’s point of view when he created man. He « makes » man, as if he was in his mind a finished, perfect, accomplished idea. The second verb (יָצָר , to form) rather translates, by contrast, the point of view of man receiving the « form » given to him, with all that this implies in terms of constraints, constrictions and limits.
If we venture into a more philosophical terrain, chapter 1 of Genesis seems to present the creation of man as ‘essence’, or in a ‘latent’ form, still ‘hidden’ to some extent in the secret of nature.
Later, when the time came, man also appears to have been created as an existential, natural, visible, and clearly sexually differentiated reality, as chapter 2 reports.
S. Augustine devoted Part VI of his book, Genesisin the literal sense, to this difficult question. He proposes to consider that God first created all things ‘simultaneously’, as it is written: ‘He who lives for eternity created everything at the same time. « (Ecclesiasticus, 18,1) The Vulgate version says: « inaeternum, creavit omnia simul« . This word ‘simul‘ seems to mean a ‘simultaneous’ creation of all things.
It should be noted in passing that neither Jews nor Protestants consider this book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) to belong to the biblical canon.
For its part, the Septuagint translates from Hebrew into Greek this verse from Ecclesiasticus: » o zon eis ton aiôna ektisen ta panta koinè « . (« He who lives for eternity has created everything together. »)
This is another interpretation.
So shall we retain ‘together’ (as the Greek koinè says) or ‘simultaneously’ (according to the Latin simul)? It could be said that it amounts to the same thing. However it follows from this difference that Augustine’s quotation from Sirach 18:1 is debatable, especially when it is used to distinguish between the creation of man in chapter 1 of Genesis and his second creation in chapter 2.
According to Augustine, God in the beginning created all things ‘in their causes’, or ‘in potency’. In other words, God in chapter 1 creates the idea, essence or principle of all things and everything in nature, including man. « If I say that man in that first creation where God created all things simultaneously, not only was he not a man in the perfection of adulthood, but was not even a child, – not only was he not a child, but was not even an embryo in his mother’s womb, but was not even the visible seed of man, it will be believed that he was nothing at all.”
Augustine then asks: what were Adam and Eve like at the time of the first creation? « I will answer: invisibly, potentially, in their causes, as future things are made that are not yet.”
Augustine takes the side of the thesis of the double creation of man, firstly in his ‘causal reason’, ‘in potency’, and secondly, ‘in act’, in an effective ‘existence’ which is prolonged throughout history.
This is also true of the soul of every man. The soul is not created before the body, but after it. It does not pre-exist it. When it is created, it is created as a ‘living soul’. It is only in a second stage that this ‘living soul’ may (or may not) become ‘life-giving spirit’.
Augustine quotes Paul on this subject: « If there is an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. It is in this sense that it is written: The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, the last Adam, the ‘newest Adam’ (novissimusAdam), was a life-giving spirit. But it is not what is spiritual that was made first, it is what is animal; what is spiritual comes next. The first man, who came from the earth, is earthly; the second man, who came from heaven, is heavenly. Such is the earthly, such are also the earthly; and such is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly. And just as we have put on the image of the earthly, so shall we also put on the image of him who is of heaven.”
And Augustine adds: « What more can I say? We therefore bear the image of the heavenly man from now on by faith, sure that we will obtain in the resurrection what we believe: as for the image of the earthly man, we have clothed it from the origin of the human race. »
This basically amounts to suggesting the hypothesis of a third ‘creation’ that could affect man: after adam, ish or isha, there is the ‘last Adam‘, man as ‘life-giving spirit’.
From all of this, we will retain a real intuition of the possible metamorphoses of man, certainly not reduced to a fixed form, but called upon to considerably surpass himself.
It is interesting, at this point, to note that Philo of Alexandria offers a very different explanation of the double creation.
Philo explains that in the beginning God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) in the Garden of Eden a « fashioned » man (‘The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden towards the east and placed the man he had fashioned in it’). Gen. 2:8). A little later he ‘established’ (וַיַּנִּח ) a man to be the worker and the guardian (‘The Eternal-God therefore took the man and established him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it’. Gen. 2:15).
According to Philo, the man who cultivates the garden and cares for it is not the « fashioned » man, but « the man [that God] has made« . And Philo says: « [God] receives this one, but drives out the other.”i
Philo had already made a distinction between the heavenly man and the earthly man, by the same verbal means. « The heavenly man was not fashioned, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being fashioned, but not begotten by the Maker.”ii
If we follow Philo, we must understand that God drove the ‘fashioned‘ man out of the garden, after having placed him there, and then established the ‘made‘ man there. The man whom God ‘fashioned‘ was ‘placed‘ in the garden, but it seems that he was not considered worthy to cultivate and keep it.
Moreover, in the text of Genesis there is no evidence to support Philo’s thesis of a cross between a ‘fashioned’ man and a ‘made’ man.
Philo specifies: « The man whom God made differs, as I have said, from the man who was fashioned: the fashioned man is the earthly intelligence; the made man is the immaterial intelligence.”iii
Philo’s interpretation, as we can see, is metaphorical. It must be understood that there are not two kinds of men, but that there are rather two kinds of intelligence in man.
« Adam is the earthly and corruptible intelligence, for the man in the image is not earthly but heavenly. We must seek why, giving all other things their names, he did not give himself his own (…) The intelligence that is in each one of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself »iv.
The ‘earthly’ intelligence can think of all beings, but it cannot understand itself.
God has therefore also ‘made‘ a man of ‘heavenly’ intelligence, but he does not seem to have had a happier hand, since he disobeyed the command not to eat of the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
But was this tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ really in the Garden of Eden? Philo doubts it. For if God says, « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it », then « this tree was not in the garden »v.
« You shall not eat of it.” This should not be interpreted as a prohibition, but as a simple prediction of an all-knowing God.
This can be explained by the nature of things, Philo argues. The tree could have been present in « substance », but not in « potency »…
The man ‘in the image’ could have eaten the substance of a fruit of this tree. But he did not digest all its latent potency, and therefore he did not benefit from it in any real way.
There is yet another possible interpretation. Knowledge is not found in life. It is found only in potency, not in life, but in death.
The day in which one eats from the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day in which the prediction is fulfilled: « Thou shalt die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת (Gen. 2:17).
In this strange verse the word « death » is used twice. Why is this?
« There is a double death, that of man, and the death proper to the soul; that of man is the separation of soul and body; that of the soul is the loss of virtue and the acquisition of vice. (…) And perhaps this second death is opposed to the first: this one is a division of the compound of body and soul; the other, on the contrary, is a meeting of the two where the inferior, the body, dominates and the superior, the soul, is dominated.”vi
Philo quotes fragment 62 of Heraclitus: « We live by their death, we are dead to their life.”vii He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this ». As a good Neoplatonist, Philo also takes up Plato’s famous thesis of the body as the ‘tomb of the soul’.
« That is to say that at present, when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body as in a tomb, but by our death, the soul lives from the life that is proper to it, and is delivered from evil and the corpse that was bound to it, the body.”viii
There is nevertheless a notable difference between the vision of Genesis and that of the Greek philosophers.
Genesis says: « You shall die of death! «
Heraclitus has a very different formula: « The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”
Paul Klee’s Angelus novus has an undeniably catchy title. « The new angel », – two simple words that sum up an entire programme. But does the painting live up to the expectation created by its title? A certain ‘angel’, with a figure like no other, seems to float graphically in the air of mystery, but what is he? What does he say? It is said that there are billions of angels on the head of a single pin. Each boson, each prion, has its angel, one might think, and each man too, say the scholastics. How, under these conditions, can we distinguish between new and old angels? Aren’t they all in service, in mission, mobilised for the duration of time? And if there are « old angels », are they not nevertheless, and above all, eternal, timeless, always new in some way?
Walter Benjamin has commented on this painting by Klee, which undoubtedly ensured its paper celebrity more than anything else.
« There is a painting by Klee entitled Angelus novus. It depicts an angel who seems to have the intention of moving away from what his gaze seems to be riveted to. His eyes are wide open, his mouth open, his wings spread. Such is the aspect that the angel must necessarily have of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where a sequence of events appears before us, he sees only one and only one catastrophe, which keeps piling up ruins upon ruins and throwing them at his feet. He would like to linger, awaken the dead and gather the defeated. But a storm is blowing from paradise, so strong that the angel can no longer close its wings. This storm is constantly pushing him towards the future, to which he turns his back, while ruins are piling up all the way to heaven before him. This storm is what we call progress.”i
Striking is the distance between Benjamin’s dithyrambic commentary and Klee’s flatter, drier work. Klee’s angel actually appears static, even motionless. No sensation of movement emanates from him, either backwards or forwards. No wind seems to be blowing. His ‘wings’ are raised as if for an invocation, not for a flight. And if he were to take off, it would be upwards rather than forwards. Its « fingers », or « feathers », are pointed upwards, like isosceles triangles. His eyes look sideways, fleeing the gaze of the painter and the spectator. His hair looks like pages of manuscripts, rolled by time. No wind disturbs them. The angel has a vaguely leonine face, a strong, sensual, U-shaped jaw, accompanied by a double chin, also U-shaped. His nose seems like another face, whose eyes would be his nostrils. His teeth are wide apart, sharp, almost sickly. It even seems that several of them are missing. Do angels’ teeth decay?
Klee’s angel is sickly, stunted, and has only three fingers on his feet. He points them down, like a chicken hanging in a butcher’s shop.
Reading Benjamin, one might think he’s talking about another figure, probably dreamt of. Benjamin has completely re-invented Klee’s painting. No accumulated progress, no past catastrophe, seems to accompany this angelus novus, this young angel.
But let us move on to the question of substance. Why should history have only one ‘angel’? And why should this angel be ‘new’?
Angelology is a notoriously imperfect science. Doctors rarely seem to agree.
In Isaiah (33:7) we read: « The angels of peace will weep bitterly. » Do their renewed tears testify to their powerlessness?
In Daniel (10:13) it is said that an archangel appeared and said to Daniel: « The Prince of the Persians resisted me twenty-one days ». This archangel was Gabriel, it is said of him, and the Prince of Persia was the name of the angel in charge of the Persian kingdom.
So the two angels were fighting against each other?
It was not a fight like Jacob’s fight with the angel, but a metaphysical fight. S. Jerome explains that this angel, the Prince of the Persian kingdom, opposed the liberation of the Israelite people, for whom Daniel prayed, while the archangel Gabriel presented his prayers to God.
S. Thomas Aquinas also commented on this passage: « This resistance was possible because a prince of the demons wanted to drag the Jews who had been brought to Persia into sin, which was an obstacle to Daniel’s prayer interceding for this people.”ii
From all this we can learn that there are many angels and even demons in history, and that they are brought to fight each other, for the good of their respective causes.
According to several sources (Maimonides, the Kabbalah, the Zohar, the Soda Raza, the Maseketh Atziluth) angels are divided into various orders and classes, such as Principalities (hence the name « Prince » which we have just met for some of them), Powers, Virtues, Dominations. Perhaps the best known are also the highest in the hierarchy: the Cherubim and the Seraphim. Isaiah says in chapter 6 that he saw several Seraphim with six wings « shouting to one another ». Ezekiel (10:15) speaks of Cherubim.
The Kabbalists propose ten classes of angels in the Zohar: the Erelim, the Ishim, the Beni Elohim, the Malakim, the Hashmalim, the Tarshishim, the Shinanim, the Cherubim, the Ophanim and the Seraphim.
Maimonides also proposes ten classes of angels, arranged in a different order, but which he groups into two large groups, the « permanent » and the « perishable ».
Judah ha-Levi (1085-1140), a 12th century Jewish theologian, distinguishes between « eternal » angels and angels created at a given time, for a certain duration.
Among the myriads of possible angels, where should we place Klee’s Angelus novus, the new angel whom Benjamin called the « angel of history » with authority? Subsidiary question: is a « new angel » fundamentally permanent or eminently perishable?
In other words: is History of an eternal essence or is it made up of a series of moments with no sequel?
Benjamin thinks, as we have seen, that History is represented, at every moment, at every turning point, by a « new Angel ». History exists only as a succession of phases, it is a wireless and random necklace of moments, without a sequel.
Anything is always possible, at any moment, anything can happen, such seems to be the lesson learned, in an age of absolute anguish, or in a serene sky.
But one can also, and without any real contradiction, think that History is one, that it builds its own meaning, that it is a human fabrication, and that the divine Himself must take into account this fundamental freedom, always new, always renewed, and yet so ancient, established since the origin of its foundation.
iWalter Benjamin, Thèses sur la philosophie de l’histoire. Œuvres III, Paris, Gallimard, 2000, p. 434
Wittgenstein famously wrote in his Philosophical Investigations that if a lion could speak we could not understand him.
Why only a lion? Isn’t it also true of the tuna, the dragonfly or a rattlesnake’s nest? Or even of a pile of dust, a block of granite or a cluster of galaxies? Or a prion, a plasmid, a boson? Or an angel, a seraphim, and even God himself?
The living, the non-living or the beyond-living speak languages that cannot be translated into each other. They live or non-live in their own worlds, – while living or non-living side by side in the common world. The lion smells the blood of the impala, hears its terror, feeds on its scent, and the whole surrounding savanna learns an immemorial lesson from this feast.
God fills the world with His subtle grammar, but a single boson, too, fills the universe, in its own very tenuous way.
It is an ancient dream to speak all languages, past, present and all those yet to come.
But it is an unspeakable dream to desire to speak the language of all the aeons, all the universes.
One might say: but a stone doesn’t speak, nor a proton or a star! Only beings endowed with reason do speak.
This is, of course, a short view. Can we conceive what we are not?
The Leonine language seems closer to the Human language than to a mineral language, because there is no lack of animal metaphors, that could bind the two worldviews.
Isn’t the crushing of bones in the jaws a kind of sentence? Isn’t the agony of the victim, the smell of fear and death part of the universal volapük?
The lion « leonises ». The snake « snakes ». Man « anthropomorphizes ».
What about the aborted dream of the fly? What about the photon’s fatigue? The angel’s grief?
All these lives, these feelings, — outside of all syntax, all lexicon, but not totally out of all intuition.
If we put a million Champollions on the spot, to finally decipher the roar of the panther, the cry of the whale or the vibrato of the lizard, wouldn’t we be able to determine non-thought of structures, shapes, meaning? Wouldn’t there be some hope of establishing correspondences between languages eminently « other » than, say, Greek, Hebrew or Sanskrit? Is it certain that we will never find a new Rosetta Stone one day revealing that the languages of the living are living their own lives?
And life is not reserved for the living, by the way. The non-living, or at least what the living call it, also lives a life that is undoubtedly more secret and more fundamental, initiated at the borders of time and space…
All languages have one thing in common. They survive those who speak them. They form a world apart, which also lives its own life.
How can we understand ourselves if we cannot even understand the nature of the language we think we speak?
If we could really understand ourselves, and our language itself, would we understand better all the infinite otherness in the silent worlds, all that is obscure (to us) in the universe?
There is talking and talking. There is speaking without saying anything, and there is speaking without looking like it; there is speaking with covered words, or between the lines.
There is the music of words and there are tones. The high tone, the firm tone, the beautiful tone, the warm tone, the acid tone, the fat tone. So many tones! You need the ear, you need sensitivity.
In the slightest breath, there are ignored palimpsests, impassive, waiting for their time. And the stars also breathe.
‘Words’ are also the dark and shiny reflections, the muffled flashes of a latent fire, a fire of meaning, inaudible, unhoped for, smouldering under the ashes of appearances.
Are we essentially alone in the face of the porous mysteries of the unconscious? Are we always alone in front of what could suddenly be discovered or revealed there, after long and slow maturation? Are we alone in front of the flagrant repression of what will remain buried there forever?
Many wander in sorrow in the deserts of their own minds, they wander lonely in the ergs of understanding. Fleeing the austerity of the silent void, they flee to the hubbub.
Others think alone, against the norm, against opinion, against the crowd. « I cross the philosophical space in absolute solitude. As a result, it no longer has any limits, no walls, it doesn’t hold me back. This is my only chance.”i
But if it is difficult to think alone, it is even more difficult to think with others.
The common brings us closer and warms us up. It doesn’t encourage people to try to reach cold peaks. The community compensates for isolation, and offers fusion in the mass. But something resists. It is the haunting, extreme, demanding feeling that the ‘self’ is not the ‘us’. The ideological, collective, social ‘us’ does not intersect with the inner, personal, singular ‘self’…
Cultures, religions and civilizations are ‘us’, fleeting in essence.
They fictitiously envelop billions of solitary ‘selves’, in essence. All these ‘us’ become lifeless shells, skinless drums, after a few millennia.
The mystery is that only the ‘self’ will survive them.
A deeper mystery yet: how to survive our Self?
iCatherine Malabou, Changer de différence, – cit. in Frédéric Neyrat , Atopies.
The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very specific functions.
The Adhvaryu prepared the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual aspects of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations specific to their sacrificial activity.
The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of SâmaVeda in the most melodious way.
The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, but without singing them, the ancient hymns of Ṛg Veda, respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.
Finally, remaining silent throughout, an experienced Brahmin, the ultimate reference for the smooth running of the sacrifice and guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.
These four kinds of priests had a very different relationship to the word (of the Veda), according to their ranks and skills.
Some murmured it, others sang it, others spoke it loudly, – and finally the most senior among them kept silent.
These different regimes of expression could be interpreted as so many modalities of the relationship of speech to the divine. One could also be content to see in them an image of the different stages of the sacrifice, an indication of its progress.
In the Vedic imagination, murmurs, songs, words, cries, and finally silence fill and increase the divine, like great rivers wind ‘safe to the sea’.
The recitation of Ṛg Veda is an endless narrative, weaving itself, according to various rhythms. One can recite it word for word (pada rhythm), or mime a path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).
In the « braid » (jatā ) style, a four-syllable expression (noted: abcd) became the subject of a long, repetitive and obsessive litany, such as: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd…
When the time came, the recitation would « burst out » (like thunder). Acme of sacrifice.
In all the stages of the sacrifice, there was a will to connect, a linking energy. The Vedic word is entirely occupied with building links with the Deity, weaving close, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic correlations.
In essence, it represents the mystery of the Deity. It establishes and constitutes the substance of a link with her, in the various regimes of breath, in their learned progression.
A hymn of the Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which is similar to a sacred, mystical union.
« More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears does not hear it.
To the latter, she has opened her body
like her husband a loving wife in rich attire. »
It is interesting, I think, to compare some of these Vedic concepts to those one can find in Judaism.
In Genesis, there is talk of a « wind » from God (רוּח, ruah), at the origin of the world.i A little later, it is said that God breathed a « breath of life » (נשׁמה neshmah) so that man became a « living being » (נפשׁ nefesh).ii
God’s « wind » evokes the idea of a powerful, strong hurricane. In contrast, the « breath of life » is light as a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation.
But there is also the breath associated with the word of God, which « speaks », which « says ».
Philo of Alexandria thus commented about the « breath » and « wind » of God, : « The expression (He breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is Intelligence; what is blown is Breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs.”iii
Breath, soul, spirit and speech, in the end, unite.
Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, a profound analogy transcends worlds.
The murmurs of the Adhvaryu, the songs of Udgatṛi, the words of Hotṛi, and the very silence of the Brahmin, aim at an union with the divine.
The union of these various breaths (murmured, spoken, sung, silent breaths) is analogous in principle, it seems to me, to the union of the wind (ruah), the soul (neshmah), and the spirit (nefesh).
In the Veda and in the Bible, — across the millennia, the union of the word and the breath, mimics the union of the divine and the human.
Claude Lévi-Strauss is a good representative of contemporary thought. He displays its salient characteristics: despair of thought, insignificance of being, erection of non-knowledge as the ultimate « knowledge », universal doubt (doubt of meaning and doubt of doubt itself), all this in a sardonic and cheerful tone. « Let humanity disappear and the earth disappear, nothing will be changed in the march of the cosmos. Hence a final paradox: we are not even sure that this knowledge that reveals our insignificance has any validity. We know that we are nothing or not much, and, knowing this, we no longer even know if this knowledge is one. To think of the universe as immeasurable to thought forces us to question thought itself. We don’t get out of it.”i
What will be the thought of the universe in a thousand or two thousand years from now, who can claim to know it today? And who can think in the languages of the day what will be thought here and there, in the universe, in eight hundred thousand years or in a hundred million centuries? These ages seem distant only because of a lack of imagination.
We are really tired of the old marquis who are tired of dreaming. Post-modern doubt is a paper origami. We yearn for fresh and lively intuitions, for other universes, for horizons with naked orients, for stars without north, and the worn-out metaphors of extra-galactic confines or exo-biological chimeras already bore us with their brash roundness and frank blandness.
To think far away, however, little is enough. We need to change the signs, to swap the senses, and to dream of hurricanes. Everything quickly becomes different then. The thoughts of the day seem like slow caterpillars, far from the butterfly that is sensed, and very unworthy of the pensive eagle, high in the cloud.
It is tempting to believe that thought is immeasurable to the universe, and, diagonally agonistic, line of fire, that it transcends it easily. The humblest thought goes further than the white dwarves stars, and it pierces the fabric of the world with a hole blacker than the whole dark matter.
Any thought that is a little audacious obliges us to question the universe itself, its meaning and its essence. Every thought then cries out: « We are getting out of it immediately », – and not: « we are not getting out of it ».
The whole universe is in itself « insignificant ». By contrast, thought “means”, it has “meaning”, and it gives “meaning”.
If the entire universe ever receives one day some meaning, that meaning will not come from cosmic background noise, the shape of nebulae, or the sanctification of the boson (the so-called « God’s particle »).
If a demiurge created the world, the cosmos has no meaning of its own. Its meaning is obviously to be found elsewhere than in it.
And if the world created itself, by some kind of automatism, how could it give itself its own meaning, suck its own blood? Does the baby child at the breast suck herself?
The cognitive and ontological pessimism of post-modernism is equivalent to its opposite, from the point of view of the free play of radical hypotheses. The pessimism of insignificance has no logical weight of its own.
The existence of human consciousness, the irrefutable manifestation of being, must be placed far above the imperfect dreams of putative multiverse.
Universe, multiverse, it doesn’t matter what they are or how many they are, because in reality « you can’t get out of it ».
Consciousness, in essence, its deepest mystery, is that the deeper you get into it, the more you « come out », — as from an eternal Egypt.
iClaude Lévi-Strauss, De près et de loin. Ed. O. Jacob, Paris, 1988
The « Hidden Jew » is an ancient figure. Joseph and Esther hid for a time. Esther’s name (אֶסְתֵּר) means « I will hide ». But, somewhat paradoxically, it is because she revealed her secret to Ahasuerus, that she saved her people.
Forced to hide under the Inquisition, and again paradoxically, the Marranos were « adventurers », « pioneers who can be counted among the first modern men », according to Shmuel Triganoi. They were the ferment of Jewish modernity. They are even said to be at the origin and the foundations of modernity in general.
« The Marrano experience reveals the existence in Judaism of a potentiality of Marranism, of a predisposition to Marranism, which has nothing to do with the fact that it also represents a decay of Judaism. The ambivalence is greater: imposed by force, it is also a high fact of the courage and perseverance of the Jews. The real question is this: is Marranism structurally inherent to Judaism, was it inscribed in Judaism from the beginning? (…) How could Jews have thought that they were becoming even more Jewish by becoming Christians (basically this is what Jewish-Christians have thought since Paul)?”ii
This question goes beyond the scope of Jewish-Christian relations alone. It goes further back to the origins. Did not Moses live for a time in ambivalence at the court of the Pharaoh?
Philo of Alexandria died around 50 AD. He had no connection with Christianity, of which he was a contemporary. Of Greek and Jewish culture, he knew the Greek philosophers and was well-learned in the texts of Judaism, which he interpreted in an original way. He was also interested in the religions of the Magi, the Chaldeans and the Zoroastrians.
A man of crossroads, he sought higher syntheses, new ways, adapted to the mingling of peoples, whose progress he observed.
Philo was certainly not a « hidden Jew ». But he pushed the analysis of tradition and its interpretation to the point of incandescence. Neither a Pharisee, a Sadducee nor an Essene, what kind of Judaism was he then representing?
Philo, two thousand years ago, and the Spanish and Portuguese marranos, five centuries ago, represent two unorthodox ways of claiming Judaism among the Gentiles. They seem to be moving away from it, but only to better return to it, by another kind of fidelity, more faithful perhaps to its spirit than to its letter. In this way they serve as bridges, as links, with the world of nations, offering broad perspectives.
Royaly ignored by the Synagogue, living in a troubled period, just before the destruction of the Second Temple, Philo professed advanced opinions, which could shock the orthodox traditionalists, and which bordered on heresy. Moreover, it was the Christian philosophers and theologians of the first centuries who preserved Philo’s writings, finding a posteriori in his synthetic thinking enough to feed their own reflections.
There was clearly then a difference in perspective between the Jews of Jerusalem, who prayed every day in the Temple, unaware of its imminent destruction, and the Jews of the Diaspora, whose freedom of thought was great.
Let us find an indication of such freedom of research by this line of Philo, typical of his style :
« God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world, but the spirit cannot bear such parents whose graces are far greater than those it can receive; it will therefore have as its father the right Logos and as its mother the education more appropriate to its weakness.”iii
Philo clarifies the scope of the metaphor: « The Logos is image and eldest son. Sophia is the bride of God, whom God makes fruitful and who generates the world.”
The Logos, « image and eldest son of God »? This was written by a Jew from Alexandria, a few years after the death on a cross of an obscure rabbi from Nazareth, a self-called Messiah? It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the Doctors of Jewish Law to these stirring words. It is also easy to understand why the Judeo-Christians of the 1st and 2nd centuries decided that Philo would be a precious ally for them, because of his audacity and philosophical interpersonal skills.
In another writing, Philo evokes Wisdom, both a « spouse of God »iv, and a « virgin », of an undefiled nature. How is it possible? It is precisely because the union with God gives the Soul its virginity. Other metaphors abound: the Logos is father and husband of the Soul.
The idea of a mother-virgin wife was not so new. It can be found in various spiritual traditions of Antiquity, especially among the Orphics. The symbolic fusion between the wife and daughter of God corresponds to the assimilation between Artemis and Athena among the latter. Korah, a virgin, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, unites with Zeus and is the life-giving source of the world. She is the object of the mysteries of Eleusis. In the Osiriac tradition, Osiris is the « principle », Isis the « receptacle » and Horus the « product », which is translated philosophically by the triad of the intelligible, the material and the sensible.
Tempted by daring syntheses, Philo was certainly not an orthodox Jew. So what was he then the symbol, the prefiguration of? Of the eternal vigour of Marranism? Of the temptation of an effluence of the spirit? Of an avid search for universals?
Is Marranism so absolutely modern, that it becomes universal? Shmuel Trigano writes: « The dual identity of the modern Jew may well be akin to the Marrano score.”v
But the « Marrano score » is not reserved for « hidden Jews ». It is much more general. It touches on the very identity of modern man. « Marranism was the laboratory of Jewish modernity, even among the Jews who escaped Marranism. Let us go further: Marranism was the very model of all political modernity. »v
A political Marranism? But why not go further, and postulate the possibility of an anthropological attitude fundamentally « Marrano« , potentially touching everyone, and hiding in the heart of all human groups?
What, in fact, does Marranism bear witness to? It testifies to the profound ambivalence of the worldview of messianic belief. « Messianic consciousness encourages the Jew to live the life of this world while waiting for the world to come and thus to develop a cantilevered attitude towards this world.”vi
This feeling of strangeness in the world, of being put off, is not specific to Judaism, it seems to me.
Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, see this world as an illusion, as Māyā. This has also been the feeling of shamans since the dawn of time. The feeling of strangeness to the world is so universal, that it can be considered as a foundation of human consciousness. Man’s heart remains hidden from himself, and from this concealment he has a restless and troubled conscience. Man is for himself a mystery, that the magnificence of this world and its wonders verges on it without really reaching it, and certainly without ever filling it.
Man, shall we say, is fundamentally, anthropologically a « marrano« , torn between his inner and outer selves, his ego and his id, his soul and his abyss. Here is man, apparently complete, in « working order », and he is also aware confusely of all what he is lacking of. A Dasein pursued by doubt.
He discovers, again and again, that the world denies him, that the immense, eternal cosmos welcomes him, one day, we don’t know why or how, and makes a fleeting consciousness emerge from nowhere, which will end up broken, humiliated, by the tumult of unanswered questions. But over time, he also discovers the means to resist alienation, the necessary tricks, and acquires the ability to thwart the game of illusions.
This is a political lesson and a philosophical lesson.
Politics, first of all. At a time when the most « democratic » nations are actively preparing the means of mass surveillance, intrusive to the last degree, at a time when the prodromes of totalitarianism are rising on a planetary scale, we will always need this very ancient lesson of duplicity to survive, simply to remain human.
Philosophical, too. In order to prepare a better, more universal world, we will have to follow Philo’s example, navigate freely among religions and nations, thoughts and languages, as if they all belonged to us and were our own.
iShmuel Trigano. Le Juif caché. Marranisme et modernité, In Press Eds, 2000