The Angel of the Bizarre

Plato says that, just before incarnating in her body, the soul must choose her destiny, her future way of life. At this crucial moment the soul is completely free. It is her sole responsibility to decide which kind of daimon she will use as her guardian during her brief earthly stay.

This idea goes totally against the « modern way ». For the most part, “modern thinkers”, for example Calvin, Hobbes, Voltaire, Marx, Einstein, Freud, have been advocating determinism or materialism for many centuries.

« Modern thinkers » are far removed from the Platonic world. And much more so from the intellectual and spiritual world in which the Egyptians of the pre-dynastic period, the Chaldean Magi or the Zoroaster supporters lived.

On these disappeared worlds, there are written sources, archaeological traces. It is not impossible to try to understand them better. Scrupulous scientists use their lives for this.

But how can « modernity » receive what Egyptologists or Assyriologists can extract from this long memory?

The noisy « modernity » remains silent, mute, speechless, on the oldest issues, the life and death of the spirit, the growth and degeneration of the soul.

How do « modern thinkers », for example, imagine the formation of the mind in the brain of the newborn child?

Epigenesis, they say, gradually shapes the human mind by connecting, strengthening or weakening neurons together during billions of continuous interactions with the world. It is a materialistic, epigenetic process. In this representation, there is no need for a primordial substance, an original soul, hidden under neurons, or descended from « heavens ». There is only a succession of half-programmed, half-contingent connections, a mixture of chance and neurobiological determinism, which end up constituting your mind or mine, the mind of a Mozart or of a Socrates.

In all cases, without exception, there is a totally unique, absolutely singular creation of a « person », a consciousness.

This “modern” view is widespread. But it is only a theory; it lacks clear evidence. There is no neurobiological evidence that the soul exists, and there is no neurobiological evidence that it does not exist.

The « modern » view, whether materialist or animist, determinist or spiritualist, wander and grope, blind-born, in baroque, devastated and irreconcilable intellectual landscapes.

We need to step back, a few centuries earlier, to reconsider the problem.

« What prevents an angelic thought from creeping into the powers of reason, even though we do not see how it creeps into them? »i

This sentence by a famous Renaissance thinker now has a « surrealist » flavor in the modern sense of the word. It effectively anticipates the Angel of the Odd (or the Uncanny) for more than three centuries.

This Angel had no wings, it was not a feathered « chicken ». Edgar Allan Poe explains that the only function of the « te Angel ov te Odd  » was to bring about these bizarre accidents that continually amaze skeptics.

At first, the writer did not believe a word of what the Angel was telling him. Well, he took it the wrong way. Shortly afterwards, he had a real hard encounter with the Angelic power.

“Meeting my betrothed in an avenue thronged with the elite of the city, I was hastening to greet her with one of my best considered bows, when a small particle of some foreign matter lodging in the corner of my eye, rendered me, for the moment, completely blind. Before I could recover my sight, the lady of my love had disappeared—irreparably affronted at what she chose to consider my premeditated rudeness in passing her by ungreeted. While I stood bewildered at the suddenness of this accident (which might have happened, nevertheless, to any one under the sun), and while I still continued incapable of sight, I was accosted by the Angel of the Odd, who proffered me his aid with a civility which I had no reason to expect. He examined my disordered eye with much gentleness and skill, informed me that I had a drop in it, and (whatever a « drop » was) took it out, and afforded me relief.”ii

The Angel had taken revenge.

Skeptics abound. Fewer, those who detect subtle interferences, tiny signals from worlds too parallel.

What are these worlds? To make it in, we could call them « branes ». But it is still a metaphor that is too material, too physical.

There are conditions to perceive these phenomena, these interferences. You have to be free, and your mind must be on « vacation ».

There are many kinds of such ‘mind vacations’: sleep, fainting, melancholy, loneliness.

The modern disease par excellence, unemployment, could be considered as yet another kind of ‘vacation’. Most of us will have to live with it. It will soon be necessary to ensure political and social peace through a guaranteed universal income. We will have to go through this, necessarily, when the rapid progress of artificial intelligence will deprive societies of most of the usual jobs.

Then, in such a world, liberated from stress, « on vacation », interesting encounters with the bizarre will undoubtedly take place. Especially, in spite of themselves, the skeptics will have to learn to live by the new, odd, uncanny, norm.

i Marsilio Ficino Platonic Theology

iiEdgar Allan Poe. The Angel of the Odd

A Mystery much deeper than Mathematics and than Heavens

A famed platonic Renaissance thinker, Marsilio Ficino, thought that everything, whether body or soul, continuously receives the power to ‘operate’, little by little, but never possesses it entirely.

In particular, the soul, at all times, ‘generates herself’, that is, she continuously draws new strengths from herself, she endlessly unfolds intrinsically different forms, and she unceasingly varies (or adapts) her goals, her desires and her laws.

Our time is almost incapable of understanding and integrating these kinds of ideas, which were, by contrast, commonly accepted by the fine flower of philosophical intelligence of the early Renaissance.

It is a lesson in relativism.

Ironically, relativism is precisely what is at stake, here: the soul possesses an intrinsic, permanent, continuous, capacity of metamorphosis, of auto-transformation, – a permanent impermanence.

The soul has a metamorphic essence, and is made of constant transformation, unceasing mobility.

But our modernity does not really consider (and even less understand) the mobility of the “soul », it only knows the mobility of « matter ».

Matter, it is often said, is intrinsically mobile. Just look at the infinite movement of the quarks, the high pitch of the super-strings. By recognizing this intrinsic mobility, modern thinkers believe they understand the secret of all things, from the infinitely small to the ends of the stars.

‘Matter’ and ‘mobility’ together embody today the ancient role of ‘substance’ and ‘soul’.

Everything is still a « mixture », form and matter, mobility and rest.

Old categories, such as the soul and the body, are now confused, merged. No more discrimination, no more separation. Instead, there is now simply common matter, everywhere there is the ‘same’.

But matter, the ‘same’, the ‘common’, do not exhaust the mystery. The same and the common quickly run out of breath, and the mystery continues to grow everywhere, deeper and deeper.

Take a simple look at Euler’s circle. Nothing ‘modern’, nothing ‘material’ in this abstract circle, this mathematical representation taught in high school. But, who among modern thinkers can say why Euler line connects the orthocenter, the center of gravity, and the two centers of the circumscribed circle and of the Euler circle?

I am not talking about demonstrating this curious (and abstract) mathematical phenomenon.

I am saying that nobody, even today, can explain the essence of Euler line, and the reason of its properties…

The same could be said of all the laws of nature…

Modern people are unable to « see » these sorts of (relatively simple) objects of thought (of wonder) as worthy of metaphysical contemplation. They are unable to “penetrate” their nature, their essence.

For Pythagoras and Plato, it was the opposite. Geometric numbers and figures appeared to them as imaginary powers, and even as divine forcesi.

For Pythagoras or Plato, the power of mathematical forms was the best indication of the existence of an underlying mystery, far beyond matter, and far deeper than whichever heavens we were taught…

i Cf. Plato, Timaeus 31b-32c