Plato’s Challenge

Plato was obviously, and unchallengingly, a great thinker and a super influential philosopher.  In fact, his radical (at the time) views on the separation between the Ideal and the Real resonate deeply in current Western thought, and in the main Western (Abrahamic) religions.  The core concept of separation between the material and the spiritual.  Even more fundamental, that the material reality we live in is just an imperfect, degraded view of the perfection of the spiritual world (the Ideal.) This is directly reflected in the prevalent (endemic) concept of God as “outside” of the material world.  That He created this reality, and is therefore inherently separated from this world we live in.  The parable of Adam and Eve emphasizes this duality — they chose “knowledge” and therefore were condemned to be both separate from this world, and to an eternity of hard work. This duality between material and spiritual, knowledge and experience, observer and observed, is not universal. Many Eastern philosophies and religions strike a more integrated relationship between the spiritual and the material. Indigenous cultures often present an even tighter coupling — the spirit world is ever present in this world. The one inhabits the other. There is no explicit distinction. In fact, understanding the spirits dictates many actions taken in the day-to-day. The Platonic/Abrahamic tradition can definitely be argued to have led to many successes. One huge example is the scientific method. This philosophy bases itself on the core separation of the observed from the observer. (This delineation would have to be relaxed with the advent of quantum theories of nature.) Science is without a doubt one of the most successful endeavors of man to date. We have used these methods to learn so much about the world around us, to create so many life changing and lifesaving technologies. The results of the scientific philosophy have brought the world together more than Plato would have ever imagined. (In fact, his view of the extent of the “world” would likely not have bypassed the Straits of Gilbraltar.)
But there has been a dark cost to all this progress. This stark separation of Us vs the World, literally, is now causing unavoidable damage to Us. Our insistence on conquering the natural world, and the belief that We are not part of this world, has now led to a degradation of our home world such that it could one day soon conceivably threaten our race’s very existence. It is now becoming clear that the Platonic duality and separation of Mind over matter, Man over Nature, was hubris — and self-defeating — not to mention needlessly devastating to the world supposedly “given” to us to care for. Plus, I would posit that this enforced separation between Spirituality and Nature has created an almost intractable sadness in humanity. This inherently arbitrary separation fundamentally leaves us unfulfilled and unfulfillable. It is only when we let go of the hubris, the separation, and find moments of unity, that we find peace. I would further argue that this was Jesus’ greatest (and mostly quickly diminished) contribution — that Love, of all mankind, of the world, is what saves us. That only when we set aside separation, and see the divine in the natural, and in our fellow humans and the animals around us, are we able to find true peace. In my view, it is imperative to find a way to consolidate the obvious successes of the dualistic/scientific way of thinking with a more holistic approach, that allows for a more complete, even spiritual view of reality. The former has been and will likely continue to be a successful method for discovery, creation of new technologies, and finding further means of decreasing human suffering. But, it seems increasingly clear that reliance on just a dualistic approach, whether it is the scientific method, or the dualism so prevalent in both religious and political spheres, is not truly serving either humanity, individual humans, or the material world we live in — and should be nurturing. The scientific method for all its power, inherently lacks a moral compass. And religions (not just Western, but all organized religions), while certainly touched by and containing sparks of the divine, have consistently proven themselves to be ultimately inseparable from politics, and generally used as a means of exercising power. A good starting point is to step back (way back in time) and understand that the dualism started by Plato, and inherited by the Abrahamic traditions — was a choice. It is not an imperative, and not the only way to view our world, our relationship to this reality, or our path through this existence. We need to take Platonic dualism as one valuable way of thinking, but understand fully its fallacies and deficiencies, and spend some time looking at other views of Truth. For me at least, this is the next step in my personal Journey.

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