A reflection on the fragments of the Pythagoreans
In earlier reflections, I have lionised the quest for knowledge, while at the same time admitting the paucity of our faculties in this pursuit. One of my most significant concerns has been the submission of every aspect of our understanding to the razor of analysis – to be prepared to debate our most dearly held beliefs. However, one could posit that my privileging of a narrative of intellectual discovery is merely the phenotypic expression of my intellectual heritage – the western cultural milieu which encourages debate and discussion, if only within the paradigm of western culture. This, I would argue, brings into question our very understanding of the universe and our place within it – our concept of cosmology. I think it is important to dwell on this idea, for if we take our acculturation as a process of layers, the fundamental beliefs we hold about the universe surely provide the foundation on which our understanding of aesthetics, ethics and politics are constructed. Thus, I shall attempt to unpack the concept of cosmology – and from this analysis attempt to discover if we can escape from our conception of the world.
What do I mean by cosmology in this context? This has little to do with the competing theorems of Physical Cosmology – for example, the cyclic or eternal inflation models of our universe. In fact, it would be better to understand those competing theories as existing within a Philosophical Cosmology that sees the universe materialistically and expects that its nature in intelligible to humans. If we conceive in cosmology in this philosophical sense, we can see the scientific empiricist model as existing in competition with religious, mystical, sceptical and idealist cosmologies. Thus, cosmology is a summation of the ideological, spiritual and cultural conditioning and education that we undertake throughout our lifetime. The analogy I would use is that your cosmology is a snapshot of how you think the universe works – from the movements of the stars to the emotions in our breasts.
Although I have argued above that this cosmology – related to our precept of metaphysics – serves as the base layer of our moral and ethical precepts I want to emphasise that this doesn’t mean that our cosmologies are fixed. I would posit that shifts in our understanding of the universe fundamentally alter the way in which we understand our position, concept human nature and duties with regards to others. In fact, I would argue that ethical and moral debate does little to change minds – effective only exhortations to the choir. If we accept the behaviour of an individual as an outgrowth of their internal worldview, we would need to engage them on a deeper level, attempting to seduce them to seeing the world from a different viewpoint. Attempting to effect peripheral changes to a person’s actions will, if successful, result only in subservience – and all the resentment that entails.
Having examined cosmology as the root of our conscious actions, we should begin to question: is our cosmology the right one? Can we even test our worldview, or is it impossible to examine our own minds from within the fetters of our sensate experience? To this, I answer: although our actions are in large part an outgrowth of our conditioning (see on Consciousness), we do have the ability to choose what texts we engage with. If we choose to read works from outside our frame of reference and discuss our understanding with others who have radically different cosmologies, we can hope to broaden the keyhole through which we understand the universe.
Fyodor Bronnikov, Pythagoreans Celebrate the Sunrise, 1869