Mixed Souls


The soul is a kind of « heteroclite beast », like the Chimera or Cerberus, says Plato. He represents her as an assemblage of several monsters, whose heads form a « crown ». Some of these heads are peaceful, the others are fierce and ferocious. This beastly crown thrones over the body of a lion, coupled with that of a man. All this is wrapped in human skin, which gives the observer the impression that this composite creature has the appearance of a man.i

The idea of mixing the bestial and the human in several degrees of composition is taken up in another text, Timaeus, where Plato defines the soul of the world.

The soul of the world is described as an « indivisible reality that always remains identical », a « reality that is divisible and subject to becoming « , and finally a « third form of reality », called « intermediate », which is obtained by mixing the first two kinds of realities.

The soul of the world is thus a mixture of three elements: an indivisible one, a divisible one and a third one which is itself a mixture of the first two.

It may seem a little redundant, like a mixture of a mixture with itself… Or, logically, this could also imply that the third form of reality does not mix with the first two realities, indivisible and divisible, in the same way and with the same effects, as we observe when we mix the first two kinds of realities. In short, mixing is not a linear operation, but rather an « epigenetic » one, we would say today.

God, Plato continues, took these three kinds of reality and mixed them together to melt them into a single substance.

But, how to mix the divisible with the indivisible, the « Same » with the « Other »? « The nature of the Other was rebellious to the mixture; to unite it harmoniously to the Same,[God] used constraint; then in the mixture he introduced Reality; of the three terms, he made a unity. »ii

The soul of the world is therefore a mixture of three terms: the Same, the Other and « Intermediate Reality ».

If we compare this mixture with the mixture of the human soul, what do we see? The human soul is composed, as we remember, of a crown of animal heads, a leonine form and a human form.

Can the terms of these two mixtures be reconciled?

The « crown of animal heads » could be analogous to the Intermediate Reality. The « lion » could be assimilated to the Same, and « man » to the Other.

We can imagine other correspondences between the structure of the soul of the world and the structure of the human soul. But the important point is elsewhere.

The fundamental idea is that the human soul is, by the very principle of its composition, the image of all things. It contains in power the possible developments of all living beings.

Plato reinforces this idea with another image. The soul comes, he says, from a « cup » where God has cast all the seeds of the universe, and « mixed them ». It follows that every soul contains in power all these seeds, all these germs, all these possibilities.

iPlato The RepublicIX, 558e

iiPlato. Timaeus, 35a,b

Flying Without Wings


Minding one’s own mind is a difficult art. One must juggle with the uncontrolled power of ideas, the tyranny of imagination, the empire of reason, the excesses of imitation, and the probable (in-)adequacy of the mind to reality.

One must also consider the conformation of the soul’s desire to her true end. The soul is basically a mystery to herself. How could she unravel mysteries far from her attainment, when she is evidently unable to understand herself, or to escape the grip of her drifting imagination?

The myth, it seems, may be for the soul an alternative path of research. It is one way to escape the tyranny of the déjà vu and its consequences. A way to set her free, while giving in to her vertigo.

Here is an example.

In the Timaeus, Plato describes the power that the soul exerts over the body, and in the Phaedrus, he deals with the soul liberated from the body.

On the one hand, the soul is in charge of the body into which it has descended. On the other hand, the soul freed from the body travels through the heavens and governs the world. So doing, she binds herself to celestial souls.

Her liberation is accompanied by frankly enigmatic phenomena:

« Where does it come from that the names of mortal and also immortal are given to the living, that is what we must try to say. Every soul takes care of everything that is devoid of a soul and, on the other hand, circulates throughout the whole universe, presenting herself there sometimes in one form and sometimes in another. However, when she is perfect and has her wings, it is in the heights that she walks, it is the whole world that she administers. »i

The soul « has her wings » and is called to administer the « whole world ». What does that mean?

By commenting on this passage, Marsilio Ficino brings it closer to another text by Plato which states in a rather obscure way:

« The need for intelligence and the soul united to intelligence exceeds all necessity. »ii

This comment requires an explanation.

When the soul is liberated, that is, when she leaves the body, she takes advantage of this freedom to unite herself « necessarily » to the intelligence. Why « necessarily »? Because in the spiritual world there is a law of attraction that is analogous to the law of universal attraction in the physical universe. This law is the law of the love that the free soul « necessarily » feels for the (divine) intelligence.

When she unites with the ‘intelligence’, the soul becomes « winged ». She can do anything, including « administering the whole world ».

This explanation doesn’t explain much, actually.

Why is the « perfect » soul, « winged », called to « administer the whole world »?

In reality, the mystery is thickening. The Platonic myth only opens doors to other, more obscure questions.

Two thousand years after Plato, Marsilio Ficino proposed an interpretation of these difficult questions:

“All reasonable souls possess an upper part, spiritual, an intermediate part, rational, a lower part, vital. Intermediate power is a property of the soul. Spiritual power is a ray of higher intelligence projected on the soul, and in turn reflected on the higher intelligence. The vital power is also an act of the soul reflecting on the body and then repercussions on the soul, just as sunlight in the cloud is, according to its own quality, a light, but as it emanates from the sun, is ray, and as it fills the cloud, is whiteness.”iii

The thicker the mystery gets, the more images multiply!

Ray, light and whiteness represent different states of intelligence mixing with the mind (the ray becomes light), and of spirit mixing with the world and matter (light becomes whiteness).

We may also understand that the « ray » is a metaphor of the (divine) intelligence, that the « light » is a metaphor of the power of the (human) spirit, and that whiteness is a metaphor of the vital power of the soul. These images (ray, light, whiteness) have a general scope, – which applies to the world as well as to the mind.

So is the myth.

The myth is like a « light », generated by a « ray » striking the mind, and generating « whiteness » in it (i.e. revelation).

The « ray », the “light”, the “whiteness” are images, metaphors, for the Word (Logos), the Myth (Mythos), and Reason (Logos, again), as various degrees of illumination.

Is this explanation enlightening enough?

If not, you will have to learn to fly, without wings, radar and GPS, in the nights and fogs of the world.

i Phaedrus 246 b,c

iiPlato. Epinomis 982 b

iiiMarsilio Ficino Platonic Theology, 13,4

A Unique Universe


The most committed followers of super-string theory support the existence of ‘multiverses’. There would be 10500 ‘multiverses’, they say, if we take into account all the universes corresponding to all the possible varieties of Calabi-Yau, each one of them sailing in parallel branches.

In fact there could be even more, – if we take into account the multiverses that are totally disconnected, undetectable, unpredictable, pure creations of the mind, but which are necessary to guarantee the coherence of the supersymmetry defined by the mathematics of the super strings.

On the other hand, more conservative physicists consider that the theory of super-strings is not science but fairy tale. The theory of multiverses would come from the delirium of researchers who are so fond of the abstract power of mathematics that they consider it « real », whereas it is only an intellectual construction, and has no other reality than mental.

Plato already believed that mathematics has a form of reality, full of mystery. But he also believed that there were other, deeper mysteries beyond mathematics. As for the hypothesis of an infinity of parallel worlds, happily postulated by the physicists of the super-strings, he had also considered it by means of the metaphysical approach, and had clearly invalidated it:

« So that this world, in terms of uniqueness, may be similar to the Absolute Living, for this reason, it is neither two nor an infinite number of worlds that have been made by the Author, but it is on a unique basis, alone of its kind, that this world has come to be so, and that from now on it will be. »i

The alternative is simple: either there is only one universe (which Plato presents as « similar to the absolute Living Being »), or there is an almost infinite number of multiverses… What is the most likely hypothesis?

If there is an almost infinite number of universes, 99.9999…% of them (we must imagine here a sequence of millions of 9s, after the comma) are absurdly unstable, structurally deleterious – with the extremely rare exception of a handful of them.

And among this handful, infinitely rarer still those who would be able to generate the conditions for the emergence of human thought.

Now human thought has appeared. It therefore becomes a factor to be taken into account from the point of view of cosmological theory. Its very existence, and its extreme rarity on the scale of the large numbers of possible multiverses, are indicators of the exceptional nature (both statistical and conceptual) of the particular universe in which it has emerged.

Its existence and rarity have a cosmological significance. And this meaning inevitably interacts with the definition of the cosmos it seeks to conceive, – through the application of the Ockham principle and the anthropic principle.

Ockham’s principle states that it is futile to multiply beings without necessity. It is absurd to multiply them meaninglessly. A single universe with meaning and coherence (from the cosmological point of view) is preferable to a multiplication of non-viable, absurd and senseless universes (always from the cosmological point of view).

According to the anthropic principle, the mere fact of humanity’s existence requires us to affirm that the universe in which it was born is « special » and even « unique » (again from a cosmological point of view). Among the myriads of possible multiverses, which have no anthropic significance, the mere fact that the universe in which humanity exists implies an immeasurable cosmological chance, – if we just stick to the multiverses theory.

This « incommensurable » chance can be approximated. It can be measured by the hallucinating improbability of the « cosmological constant » essential for human life and thought to be possible.

Chance as it unfolds under the draconian constraints of cosmology can generally only produce ordinary (unstable or incapable of generating ‘human minds’) universes. However, this universe, ours, is not ordinary: it owes the very principle of its existence to the miraculously adequate precision of an infinitely hazardous cosmological constant to be implemented.

This universe is unique because it is special. Why so special? Because of the incredible and disconcerting improbability of the physical constants that govern its structure, and which are necessary for its existence.

These improbably « fine » constants, which physics detects and which mathematics theorizes, make possible the balance of cosmic forces, the existence of galactic clusters and life itself.

The cosmological constant, as deduced by observation and calculation, must be of a mind-blowing precision: a 0, followed by a comma, then 123 zeros, then a long series of numbers. The slightest variation in this sequence of figures would make the universe totally unstable, from the very first moments of the Big Bang, or would make it totally unfit for life.

Multiverses are, in theory, in almost infinite number. But only a very small number of multiverses are compatible with the anthropogenic principle.

The total improbability of the cosmological constants required by life implies that man had no chance of appearing in the infinity of possibly conceivable multiverses.

Yet humanity exists in this universe, and it is even possible to calculate approximately the minute probability of its existence.

The lower the probability, the lower the probability of validating the multiverses theory itself becomes.

As a result, the extreme probability of Plato’s thesis of the unique universe grows even greater.

This result gives us, probably, some nourishing food for thought…

i Plato,Timaeus, 31b

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