This is the last chapter in “The Harmonies of Storms” Dennis’ PDF eBook on the Music of the spheres; Harmony in climate change.
In his widely acclaimed movie, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore concludes that the climate crisis is in reality a moral crisis. Just what does that mean? How is morality, traditionally a soul or spiritual value, related to the science of climate research? Looking for an analog or image to address this question perhaps the legend of Cain and Able can provide a starting point.
In the legend Abel was the first son of Adam and Eve. He was what contemporary theorists would call a forager. That is he did not produce food but gathered what was available. Cain on the other hand would be called a pastoralist or agricultural technician. He made instruments to prune trees and to plow the soil and to control fire. The ancient god Jehova recognized the sacrifice of Abel because Abel made no attempt to transform the givenness of the natural world. Jehova did not recognize Cain’s sacrifice because the fruits and vegetables presented for sacrifice were not taken from nature directly but were “engineered” by Cain in his own way. This difference is the root of the fratricide that lies at the beginning of technology. The pastoralists were not only adept at making tools they also were often bellicose.
The most significant and rapidly developed technologies in the shift from Paleolithic times to the Neolithic revolution developed around the forms of more and more sophisticated arrowheads. That should sound distressingly contemporary and is also the central picture in the most ancient of myths.
The advance of the human being as a tool maker has often been accompanied by an aggressive urge to dominate and subdue the natural world. This polarity that arose with the proliferation of advanced weaponry in Neolithic times reveals a fundamental split in the human soul itself. For the purposes of this article the split will be characterized as the tendency to solve the mysteries of life (technologist) and the tendency to want to reveal the mysteries of life. Those who wish to solve the mysteries tend towards power as a solution. Those who wish to reveal the mysteries tend towards wisdom. Cain took the path to personal power and Abel took the path of accepting the wisdom of his god. When extreme, or exclusive either of these two paths can lead to difficulty.
When excessive, the power path leads to warfare, pollution, and aggressive use of the earth’s resources for personal benefit. When balanced, the power path can provide for the advancement of knowledge that benefits all humanity.
When excessive, the “wisdom of my god” path, leads to fundamentalist beliefs and pogroms. When balanced the “wisdom of my god” path can provide workable cosmological models for humans regarding the moral tasks of humanity. The obvious task is to somehow create conditions where the forces at work in both paths can be combined.
To do this requires a different approach to science than reductionism or abstraction and a different approach to religious experience than dogma. However, neither of these approaches when experienced exclusively has a cosmology that can allow science and religion to unite into a moral perspective of the role of the human being in nature.
Without a progressive cosmology that sees a cosmic purpose for the relationship between humans and the natural world the possibility of personal transcendent experience, the moral dilemma that is the root of the climate crisis becomes very problematic. It will be difficult to solve the problems of the climate crisis with tools that can not allow for a cosmological perspective of the significance of human beings in relation to the life of the earth. To continue seeing the issues in terms of the data available to climate scientists, industry researchers and special interest groups is most likely to produce the mood of impasse currently dominant in this debate. Absent a significant cosmology that can link the human destiny to the destiny of the whole planet earth and the biography of the earth, all we are left with is the statistical and computational reference to physical data. No matter how compelling this data has not managed to inspire much change in the business as usual mindset of contemporary politicians and their constituencies.
Much of the split between the human being as a being who is part of nature and a being that is also capable of being simply an observer of nature has to do with the way in which numbers are currently being used to study nature. It is possible that the scientific revolution that started at the time of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton has evolved into a condition where abstract cause and effect reasoning now prevents human beings from relating morally to the climate crisis. In a contemporary cosmos of immense spaces where the Earth is just another mediocre object it is possible that contemporary science has sown the seeds of inertia in humans regarding climate issues. Are the climate crisis, political crisis, environmental crisis, and social crisis that are presently deepening in an alarming way simply mistakes or is there something deeper behind them for humans to consider?
Even into the most ancient times when science, art and religion were much closer in their intent there were two fundamental poles in the way that human beings interacted with the great mystery of the relationship between the human being and the destiny of the Earth. In the ancient world astronomy, architecture and the forming of calendars were the marks of how the people lived on the Earth as a culture, that is, with a consciousness that went beyond just hunting and gathering. The Egyptians were successful in their problem solving using geometry to build their buildings and employing phenomenological astronomy to produce calendars. But the Egyptians had only rudimentary arithmetic. By contrast, the Babylonians developed place value arithmetic to a high order that resulted in accurate astronomical tables for predicting eclipses and complex calendars and counting systems but their knowledge of geometry was undeveloped.
The differences between these two civilizations reveal the possible fundamental polarities in the contemporary process of mathematical scientific inquiry, those being geometry and arithmetic. In some ancient societies geometry was the preferred mathematical model for thinking about the world. Geometry requires a more symbolic and metaphysical thinking process. Arithmetic, the foundation of computation is practical and can be used to create abstractions and cause and effect systems of thought. This polarity between metaphysical geometrical reasoning and computational abstract reasoning reflected the world view of the different cultures in which it was found. This polarity can even be seen within one culture. For instance, in Greek times the earlier Platonic world view of archetypes and a geometrizing universe gave way to the more pragmatic and logical Aristotelian view of numerical categories and abstract reasoning.
Sometimes the two streams come together and a kind of hybrid vigor is the result. Such a vigorous coming together is pictured above. This device is known to scholars as the ”Antikythera mechanism”. It was discovered in the remains of a Roman ship and has been dated at 100BC. It contained 37 separate gears that allowed the seaman to reckon the date, including leap years, and the position of the moon and planets against the Zodiac. It could also predict eclipses and the Saros period for families of eclipses. The Saros cycle predicts that a similarly positioned eclipse will take place after a cycle of 223 lunar months. The device also carries out subtractions, multiplications and divisions.
In one elegant mechanism the star groups of the Zodiac and the planets moving against them in geometrical, proportional relationships are linked to the abstract demands of computation. Here the polarities of the more Platonic view that the planets are the homes of the gods are linked to the more empirical Aristotelian view that planets are calculable entities. These poles are brought together in a celestial computer, all before the time of Christ. The geometry of the ratios and proportions of the mechanism duplicated the phenomena that could be seen with the naked eye, the motions of the planets in front of the fixed stars. The computational capabilities of the device supported the more abstract calendrical and arithmetical functions.
The incredible wedding of practicality, knowledge and technical ability found in the Antikythera device became the total focus of the next wave of culture when Roman engineers, and architects made it possible for the Roman War machine to flourish. Geometry and along with it the symbolic sacredness of metaphysics was essentially lost to the Romans in favor of computation.
The Arabs of the post Roman era brought Hindu and Greek scholars to Arabia where great centers of science, literature, religion and philosophy were established. Especially in the realm of science, the most characteristic energies of the period can be seen. A tremendous outpouring of science that formalized algebra, algorithms, negative numbers, arithmetic progressions and geometries that prefigured Fibonacci and the use of geometric progressions arose in a relatively short period.
But in this flowering a definite separation of the mathematics of the ancient world and the mathematics of the new world was begun, especially in the realm of astronomy. The computational inheritance that inspired the Arabian schools favored abstraction and arithmetical computation as the primary method of science. Geometry was only seen useful in the realm of geometers. The early and late Medieval times in Europe continued the split between the more metaphysical and geometrical Platonists and the rational, categorizing Aristotelians right up into the time of the Renaissance and beyond.
The contrast between the geometrical / metaphysical pole found in the work of Kepler and the emergence of the computational mathematical brilliance of Isaac Newton illustrates this ongoing split perfectly. Kepler was a highly skilled mathematician who could calculate orbital periods in degrees, minutes and arc seconds in his head. However the bulk of his output is in a dense and intricate geometrical reasoning style. His work was deeply geometrical and driven by a search for harmony of the spheres as a kind of religious fervor. The Kepler boyhood home in the town square of a small village outside of Stuttgart stands literally in the shadow of the church that dominates the square. The intricate geometric reasoning coupled with sacredness of mystical experience of the harmony of the spheres that Kepler brought from the ancient world, had to be met the precise phenomenal observations of Tycho Brahe. Without these pragmatic observations Kepler would not have been able to make his breakthrough. The qualities of religious feeling and profound geometrical capacities that would have endeared Kepler to the ancient world are the exact qualities that have caused some contemporary scholars to diminish his contribution to contemporary science. It has been said that Kepler found the three laws of the orbits of planets in spite of himself. Scholars have likened his research to a kind of sleepwalking.
It would be tempting to think that Newton was the epitome of the other pole, the rational, calculating hard nosed pragmatic genius. While it is true that Newton’s work marked a threshold from Medieval geometric, symbolic reasoning into the mechanistic and technological present he himself was not so convinced that this was the best fit for his insights. “I likewise call attractions and impulses, in