The One and the Many


Infinity

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)

Infinite


The idea of an infinite, hidden God, on whom everything rests, was conceived by Mankind long before Abraham or Moses. The Veda testifies that this idea was already celebrated millennia before these famous figures.

« Manifest, It is hidden. Ancient is Its name. Vast is Its concept. The whole universe is based on It. On It rests what moves and breathes. (…) The Infinite is extended in multiple directions, the infinite and the finite have common borders. The Guardian of the Heavenly Vault runs through them, separating them, He who knows what has passed and what is to come. (…) Without desire, wise, immortal, born of Himself, satiating Himself with vital sap, suffering from no lack – He who has recognized the Ātman, wise, not of old age, always young, does not fear death.”i

iA.V. X, 8

Being Horizons


Man, stars, wisdom, intelligence, will, reason, mathematics, quarks, justice, the universe, have something precious in common: “being”. Arguably, they all have specific forms of “existence”, though very different. The diversity of their distinctive types of “being” may indeed explain their distinctive roles in the (real) world.

One could assume that the word “being” is much too vague, too fuzzy, too neutral, by allowing itself to characterize such diverse and heterogeneous entities. The verb “to be” has too many levels of meaning. This is probably a direct effect of the structure of (here English) language. For, despite an apparent homonymy, the “being” of man is not the “being” of the number pi, and the “being” of the Cosmos as a whole does not identify itself with the “being” of Wisdom or Logos.

Sensitive to this difficulty, Plato sought to analyze the variety of possible “beings” and their categories. He defined five main genres of the “Being”, which were supposed to generate all other beings through their combinations and compositions.

The first two types of “Being” are the Infinite and the Finite. The third type results from their Mixing. The Cause of the Mixing represents the fourth genre. The fifth genre is Discrimination, which operates in the opposite way to Mixing.

Infinite, Finite, Mixing, Cause, Discrimination. One is immediately struck by the heterogeneity of these five genres. It is a jumble of substance and principle, cause and effect, union and separation. But it is undoubtedly this wild heterogeneity that may give rise to a power of generation.

With its five genres, “Being” is a primary category of our understanding. But there are others.

Plato, in the Sophist, lists them five all together: Being, Same, Other, Immobility, Movement.

The Being expresses the essence of everything; it defines the principle of their existence.

The Same makes us perceive the permanence of a being that always coincides with itself, and also that it can resemble, in part, other beings.

The Other attests that beings differ from one another, but that there are also irreducible differences within each being.

TheImmobility reminds us that every being necessarily keeps its own unity for a certain duration.

The Movement means that every being has a ‘potential’ for ‘action’.

Five kinds of “Being”. Five “categories” of (philosophical) understanding. Oh, Platonic beauties!

This is only a starting point. If we are to accept their power of description, we must now show that from these “genres” and these “categories”, we may induce all the realities, all the creations, all the ideas, all the possible…

As a serendipitous thought experiment, let us conjugate these five « categories » of understanding with the five genres of “being”, in hope of bringing out new and strange objects of thought, surprising, unheard of, notions.

What about imaginary alloys such as: “Moving Cause”, “Mixed Same”, “Other Finite”, “Discriminate Being”, “Immobile Infinite”, “Cause of Otherness”, “Moving Finite”, “Infinite Otherness”, “Infinite Mixed”, “Immobile Discrimination”, or “Discriminate Immobility”?

A general principle emerges from these heuristic combinations : an abstraction piggybacking another abstraction generates “ideas”, that may make some sense, at least to anyone ready to give some sort of attention, it seems.

What do these language games teach us? It shows that genres and categories are like bricks and cement: assembled in various ways, they can generate shabby cabins or immense cathedrals, calm ports or nebulous clouds, dry chasms or acute bitterness, somber jails or clear schools, clumsy winds or soft mountains, hot hills or cold incense.

There are infinite metaphors, material or impalpable, resulting from the power of Platonic ideas, their intrinsic shimmering, and the promise of being “horizons”.