Why Study Humanities
Why Study Humanities? The Biocultural Mandate
by Maria M. Colavito
Reprinted with permission.
My first semester of full time teaching was in the Philosophy and Humanities Department at a State University. Being the junior faculty member, I was awarded the “coveted” Freshman Writing courses to teach: one section of Honors Composition and one section of Remedial Composition. For the first week of classes, during the diagnostic period, I performed three tests on both groups of students. The first involved asking them to write an essay answering a “values based” question (Would you rather live a short full life or a long tedious one? Would you give up all your personal possessions if it meant you could save your friend’s life?). After the students wrote the essays, they read them aloud, and we discussed the content of the answers as well as the quality of the basic composition of the answers. In the Honors class, the responses more or less followed the same dithyrambic five paragraph structure (“I would rather live a short full life for the following three reasons…”). In the Remedial class, however, the variation of response, the lush imagery, and the overall drama of the oral presentation, not to mention discussion, left me entirely perplexed. Why were these students in Remedial Composition? The answer became clear, once I actually saw and read their papers. In short, while the papers of the Honor students were an exact portrayal of what they had read in class, the papers of the Remedial students portrayed NO similarity with their oral responses. The pages were filled with lists of words without articles, phonetic spelling, virtually no sentence construction, and in a few cases, a substantial amount of doodling. My suspicion after that first day was that these students were functionally illiterate.
In the next test, I asked them to work in groups to solve a “riddle.” There was this “inscription” found at an archaeological site: could they make sense of it?
- “O sibili si emgo/ Fortibus es in aro/ o nobili demis trux/ Vatis in em/ Caus an dux”
The Honor students immediately identified the language as Latin and began translating the “text” using the Latin dictionary available in the classroom. They became totally engrossed in the project: imagining why the inscription was written, who could have written it, and arguing incessantly about the best, most accurate MEANING and TRANSLATION of that inscription. In the Remedial class, on the other hand, the groups began reading the inscription “out loud” and one by one, giggles and laughter began pouring through the room. Finally, one student spoke up: “Dr. Colavito, This is some funny Roman inscription. Are you sure some American didn’t put this graffiti on the wall, like yesterday?” In this exercise, the Remedial students had “gotten” the riddle faster than the Honor students had, for the “inscription” was in fact written not in Latin at all but in phonetic English.
The third series of tests were designed to assess the ability of the students at division and classification tasks. In the first exercise, the words “BEARD, BOARD, and BIRD” were put on the blackboard. The students were asked to figure out how these words were linked. In the Honors class, the responses came almost immediately: “They’re all one syllable, They all begin with a- B and end in an -RD. They are all nouns…” In the Remedial class, however, they sat still and stared at the words. Then one student replied, ” They got nothing in common until you add “BLACK” in front of them.” Then the rest of the class joined in in agreement, all relieved that someone had solved the riddle. (That WAS the correct answer.) When I “solved” the riddle for the Honors class, they told me that this riddle was “unfair” because I didn’t tell them that that’s what I was looking for. How were they to know that they could add a word to solve the riddle? My directions were not clear enough, they said. As an aside, as soon as this riddle was solved, I placed another on the board: ” LIGHT, HEAD, WOOD.” Both classes immediately responded (correctly) RED! Next I gave them the following four words: “HATCHET, WOOD, SAW, HAMMER”, and asked them which word didn’t belong. The Honors class took no time in responding: ” WOOD, because the others are tools and Wood is not.” In the Remedial class, however, something entirely different was going on. They began: “Dr. Colavito, how big is the wood? Is it like a 2×4 or a piece of a tree? Can I pick it up, or is it really thick?” I asked them, “What difference does it make?” “WHAT!” they said, “How do you expect us to answer the question well if you don’t give us all the information we need?” I asked them to explain HOW they were going about answering this question. The answer astonished me: “Well, we’ve gotta cut this piece of wood, right, so we have to figure out how big it is and stuff to see whether we should use the hatchet, the hammer, or the saw. Otherwise, we won’t know which one to get rid of.”
Well, this went on all semester. In descriptive writing, I could never get the Honor students to get beyond the name of something. If I asked them to close their eyes and describe what they felt, they’d say, “I feel a chair, a table, a book…”, while the Remedial students would reply, to the same stimulus, ” I feel smooth, silky, cold, ridges like the teeth of a comb…” The Remedial students, when asked to describe what it might be like to be caught in a fire said things like, “Breathing cotton balls”; the Honor students said “It would be bad, too hot, all red.” Why was it so easy to teach Remedial students grammar rules but so difficult for Honors students to access their sensory experiences? Why on the other hand, did the Remedial students complain to me that I made them do all the assignments twice: once when they “composed” them, and once when they wrote them down. In essence, I realized that the difference between the Remedial and Honor students was that the Remedial students didn’t naturally translate their sensory experiences into conceptual form while for the Honors students, all sensory experience was immediately translated into conceptual form and the “sensory” experience was either unconscious, or perhaps even entirely absent. What was going on here? Were we dealing with two types of intelligences? I had studied hemispheric asymmetry in an undergraduate psychology class with Michael Gazzaniga and had seen tapes of his split brain patients, but these were not split brain students. Could it be that there are actually many ways of legitimately knowing of which our education system only rewards one? At root, do we as humans share any common systems of knowledge as a species, or are we merely products of our experiences or training? These questions led me rather unwittingly into the nature/nurture debate, because I realized that it was the only way that I could effectively teach all my students. I simply had to learn more, though I recognized that semester that there was indeed a fundamental difference in approach to life between my Honor and Remedial students. For my Remedial students, the goal of their education- their teleology, if you will, was to know themselves better, while the goal of my Honor students was to know the world better. Two halves of our Western legacy-Plato and Aristotle, alive again in the sinews of our student population. And it is this distinction that begins our query into the role of the Humanities in education.
Part One: What is the Point of Knowledge?
The History of the Schism
Pythagoras, Plato, and Philosophia
It was Pythagoras, Iamblichus says, who coined the term philosopher, and later Plato used this same term to distinguish a training he was practicing from that of the other variety of sophists and sages milling about Athens. So what was so unique about this training to warrant a new appellation? Iamblichus tells us that Pythagoras distinguishes it thus:
Some are influenced by the desire of riches and luxury; others, by the love of power and dominion, or by insane ambition for glory. But the purest and most genuine character is that of the man who devotes himself to the contemplation of the most beautiful things, and he may be properly called a philosopher. (Book 12) Plato describes the difference between the multitudes and the philosopher in much more detail in the Republic:
- This then is my division. I set apart and distinguish…the lovers of spectacles and the arts, and men of action, and separate from them again (lovers of sounds and sights)…and those who alone deserve the appellation of philosopher…Those who view many beautiful things but do not see the beautiful itself and are unable to follow guidance to it…we call them doxophilists rather than philosophers…Philosophers are those who are capable of apprehending that which is eternal and unchanging, while those who…lose themselves and wander amid the multiplicities of multifarious things are not philosophers (Book 5475d seq.).
Thus, for both Pythagoras and Plato after him, the training of philosophy yielded a unique type of individual; one whose primary achievement was to perceive in any temporal particular, the eternal good which unites all seemingly disparate appearances into the unity of the beautiful which is the true reality.
While the Republic stands as the most complete dialogue to discursively map out this training, Plato articulates the specific methodology to the practice of philosophy, (specifically describing HOW and UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES the knowledge which is the goal of philosophy enters the individual) in his Seventh Letter1
For everything that exists there are three classes of objects through which knowledge about it must come-the knowledge itself is the fourth and we must put as the fifth entity the actual object of knowledge which is the true reality.
So he tells us that these five are: name, description, the image, a working knowledge of the object,and then there’s this elusive fifth. About it he states:
- In regards to the fifth entity…natural intelligence and a good memory are equally powerless to aid the man who has not an inborn affinity with the subject…The study must be accompanied by an inquiry of what is false and what is true of the whole of existence and that through a most diligent and long investigation… Hardly after practicing detailed comparisons of names and definitions and visual and other sense perceptions, after scrutinizing them in benevolent disputations by the use of question and answer without jealousy; at last in the exercise of these powers to the highest human limit, PHRONESIS flashes with light every object and the mind (nous).
- …For this reason no serious man will ever think of writing down these serious realities…His most serious interests have their abode somewhere…in the field of ACTION. (344c-d)
The term Plato uses here to describe the agent of the fifth element, phronesis, has a very specific etymology. It refers to the heart (phren) and the parts of the body nearest the heart. In Homer this word refers to the seat of life itself, and it is activated with emotion (thymos). So Plato here is espousing a specific kind of knowledge that is created after all the other four have been examined and exhausted. This is of course the true education.
It is likely that Plato himself learned this methodology from Archytas the Tarantine Pythagorean, as the Pythagoreans also used this same term, phrenas to denote the immortal part of the soul. “The soul of man (Pythagoras ) says is divided into three parts: Intelligence (nous), reasoning ( phrenas) , and emotion (thymos)….Reason (phronimon ) is immortal, all else is mortal.” (Diogenes Laertius V111.30).
The entire corpus of Plato’s work is a blueprint for this methodology and training. In some dialogues, he emphasizes the exercise of the class of name, (Cratylus, Euthydemus); sometimes, that of description or definition, What is sophrosyne, courage, friendship, piety, love, justice? (Charmides, Laches, Lysis, Euthyphro, Statesman, Symposium, Republic). In the Timaeus, Plato creates a cosmology using the demiurge to explain how act and form come together in divine proportion to make worlds visible : the class of image. Here he introduces the solids-four geometric realities whose combinations produce the physical world as embodied in the elements of earth, air, fire, and water ( plus the fifth combination- the dodecahedron, “which God used in the delineation of the universe with figures of animals.”) In some dialogues he chooses to delineate the dangers of exercising decision making by power rather than dialectics: the class of knowledge of the object (Apology, Crito, Gorgias , Critias ); in others he illustrates what happens when one takes as the totality of knowledge, merely one aspect and tries to universalize it (Ion, Phaedrus, Philebus). Finally, there are those dialogues where we glean the methodology in the most inconspicuous places. For example, in the Menexenus, a dialogue whose purpose many wonder about to the point of its having been thought a forgery , the reason for its creation is clear if one brackets the following quote as its intertext: ” A word is needed which will duly praise the dead and gently admonish the living…Let us first praise the goodness of their birth, secondly, their nurture and education, and then let us set forth how noble their actions were, and how worthy of the education which they had received. “ Here Aspasia’s speech provides the clearest dicta of the ideals of this system of education, coincidentally, in the Athenian model.
There are some dialogues where Plato’s methodology of “practicing detailed comparisons of names and definitions and visual and other sense perceptions” is exemplified as methodology, where we actually find Plato describing his fourfold division of classes of objects in order to arrive at the fifth within the dialogue itself (Republic, Sophist, Phaedo, Symposium, Laws). And sometimes, we even find out why this knowledge of the fifth is so important to him in the first place:
- For the human takes nothing to the next world except education and training, and these we are told, are of supreme importance in helping or harming the newly dead at the very beginning of his journey there. (Phaedo,107d)
As to the importance of the study of particular things, Plato is clear: it is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve the goal of philosophy without arduous study of every other type of knowing-but this study is NOT the GOAL of philosophy, nor is it the KNOWLEDGE sought after by the study of philosophy. But we are able to glean the true goal of philosophy as we read the beginning of the Phaedrus, where Socrates is asked by Phaedrus if he believes the myth where Boreas seizes Orithyia from the river. Socrates’ answer is enlightening:
I should be quite in the fashion if I disbelieved it as men of science do. I might proceed to give a scientific explanation of how the maiden, while at play with Pharmacia, was blown by a gust of Boreas down from the rocks hard by, and having thus met her death was said to have been seized by Boreas…For my part Phaedrus, I regard such theories as no doubt attractive, but as the invention of clever industrious people who are not exactly to be envied, for the simple reason that they must then go on and tell us the real truth about …countless other remarkable monsters of legend flocking in on them. If our skeptic with his somewhat crude science, means to reduce every one of them to the standard of probability, he’ll need a great deal of time for it. I myself, however, have no time for the business, and I’ll tell you why my friend. I can’t as yet ‘know myself’ as the inscription at Delphi enjoins, and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters. Consequently I don’t bother about such things, but accept the current beliefs about them, and direct my inquiries rather to myself, to discover whether I am…more puffed up with pride than Typhon, or a simpler, gentler being whom heaven has blessed with a quiet unTyphonic nature. (229c seq.)
So what is the knowledge so greatly sought after by philosophy? The answer actually lies the alternate meaning of the term itself.2 Philosophy, philosophia is self knowledge, and it is acquired only through the practice described above. The study begins with an examination of the internal capacity of a particular individual , followed by the study of music (to learn proportion and harmonia) , geometry (to apprehend geometric form), scientific principles (to discover archetypal realities) and finally the study of paradigms: how things hinge together. Later, the student occupies him/herself with the applied study of name, description, image, the conditions of knowledge itself. Or alternately, the study of shadows, actual physical objects, scientific principles and knowledge itself. This fourfold path applies and can be applied to any particular subject under investigation; however, THE GOAL OF THE INVESTIGATION is NOT about acquiring DATA ABOUT THE SUBJECT UNDER INVESTIGATION, though this will be a byproduct of the exercise. The goal is to ATTUNE the soul through dialectic to achieve philosophical competence.
Now this same methodology, when applied outwardly for the express purpose of knowing about the world is also the foundation of Aristotle’s scientific method. One begins with the desire for knowledge of a particular object. Through the study of its component parts one can begin to group other objects sharing in its similar characteristics through comparison of causes to arrive at the substantive definition. One then can derive, through the method of the “golden mean” a composite prototype of the genus, whereby one can begin to make universal judgements about it. Finally, one can pose theoretical inferences from that universal in order to explain, predict, and control this newly discovered substantive entity. But is this philosophy? Is this methodology philosophical? Are its aims in concert with the aims of philosophy? And most importantly, can we apply this methodology to better explain, predict, or control human behavior or culture with any success?
If ever we were to point a finger on where philosophy drew its first fatal flaw, it would have to be in applying the standards and methodology of philosophical ACTION to PHYSICAL SUBSTANCES, and the death blow to philosophy was committed when this methodology was turned back upon itself and applied to Humans as substances to be studied by these techniques. While a superficial understanding of philosophy’s fourfold methodology seems to apply equally well to both human actions and material objects, there are in fact monumental distinctions between these two uses of the methodology that can only now be fully understood, ironically through recent discoveries in the sciences, most notably for us, in the neurosciences.
Before embarking further on this subject, however, and to summarize our discussion to this point, we must first view the more apparent distinctions between the use of this philosophical methodology as it applies to human action and then as it is usurped to apply to physical substances (including the human as substance.)
The chart below represents a rudimentary progression of the “philosophical” methodology as applied to action and then to physical substance:
|PLATO: PHILOSOPHER||ARISTOTLE: DOXOPHILIST|
|Examination begins with internal capacity of individual soul.||Examination begins with desire to know about object.|
|Balance understanding of seeming opposites by golden proportion (dialectics)||Extract common elements among individual objectsto find golden mean.|
|Place the proportion in geometric space.||Establish the causes to define the parameters of the definition of the substance.|
|Discover the archetypal relationships within geometric space.||Establish the universal. (second degree of abstraction)|
|Place the relationship within a paradigm to hold it together.||Create a theory about the substance to be able to explain, predict, and control it.|
As is apparent from the above chart, though the exercise appears similar, the teleology of the approach differs significantly between the two models. Why is this? The answer is simple in ancient Greece. The reason why philosophers were interested in action and not physical substance was because the goal of their endeavor was the training of the soul. And the soul, remember was a whirling mass of actions -a tripartite geometry of vibrations realized through the instrumentation of the individual body, the appearance of which is in fact CONDITIONED BY THE INTERACTIONS OF THESE SOUL VIBRATIONS. Therefore, to a philosopher of the Pythagorean or Platonic variety, ACTS manifest themselves in PHYSICAL FORMS; therefore, to change the physical form, one has only then to change the harmony of the vibrations acting through it. And this is what the training of philosophy teaches, and this alone. Given this as a premise, why then would ANYONE care to devote attention merely to the manifestation except insofar as it indicates a point of departure for transformation? Further, if souls are “constantly in motion”, how could anyone expect to acquire a stagnant interpretation of any object, let alone a human one? Indeed, is it not ridiculous to presuppose that even the observer remain constant long enough to let his/her own “moving” soul be able to apprehend another “moving” soul with any constancy-to say nothing of comparisons of objects? And finally, hasn’t tragedy already taught that we should “count no man happy until he’s dead” precisely because of the changing nature of our souls? Is this belief not the entire fount and source of our FREEDOM? For Plato and the Pythagoreans, the answer is a resounding yes; however, for Aristotle, whose upbringing and training differed substantially from those of his predecessors, the answer is NO. But why? What made Aristotle focus on physical form, and how did this shift in emphasis result in ancient philosophy’s demise? To answer these questions, we turn now to a series of recent scientific discoveries that shed new light on how we humans come to know and what the relationship is between our individual experiences (what Plato and Pythagoras might have focused upon) and our biological imperatives (the emphasis of Aristotles’s exploration).
Part Two: What is the Science of Knowledge?
The Biocultural Paradigm
Current research in the areas of neuroanatomy and neuropsychology coupled with technological innovations such as the PET and Functional MRI scans have paved the way for reassessing many of our time honored understandings about things, specifically in the field of philosophy. With the assistance of these innovations, philosophers may now be in the best position to assuage the current trend against a liberal arts education by effectively demonstrating that such an education is nothing less than mandatory for our species’ survival.
To begin with, current research has demonstrated that humans are endowed with not one, or three, but five distinct human intelligence centers,3 each dedicated to supplying us with different aspects of our world. And though Aristotle may have been right that we are, for the most part all similarly hardwired anatomically (nature), it is our environmental stimuli or lack of stimuli at certain phases of our individual development that determine the particular neural circuitry that later becomes hardwired as our unique selves (nurture)- a boost to the Pythagorean/Platonic perspective.
It seems our primary form of knowledge as individuals- the “transparent” one we count on to examine the rest of our world- logically depends upon which of the possible five intelligence centers was most exercised by us during that center’s “open window” phase of our particular development. (More on this later.) Culture then is that component that first exercises, and later determines the legitimacy of some intelligences over others. So what are these centers of human intelligence, and how do they manifest both individually and culturally? These questions are answered through the systematic unfolding of what I have labelled the Biocultural Paradigm.
The foundation of the Biocultural Paradigm hinges on what to nurture and when is nature, and when to nurture and what is nature. The basic components of the paradigm can be understood by examining the three charts on the following pages.
Chart Two delineates by bioculture the unfolding of the model imperatives producing each of these intelligence systems. While the nature imperatives outline the open window phases and sequential development of the anatomy, the nurture imperatives direct the actions of the primary caretakers of the developing child (mother, father, family unit, siblings, etc.). The cultural imperatives serve as both “remedial intervention” (when the primary caretaker is delinquent) and as “neural reinforcement” (to strengthen the initial circuitry to assure long term retention). Thus, the emerging child in a way is born in medias res , in many ways conditioned by both the dictates of the society in which he/she is raised (through education) and in other ways a product of his/her caretaker’s world view, seemingly leaving little room, if any for an emerging free self to burst forth. So how then to create such a free human?
Chart Two: The Biocultural Paradigm
|R. BRAIN MIMETIC|
| L. BRAIN*
opinion formation, ideology, fundamentalism, agnosticism
* secondary biocultures (adult only)
The third chart outlines the brain intelligence centers and the corresponding behavioral traits by bioculture, while Chart Four describes how the predominance of one intelligence system over the others within groups producecultural imperatives-shared images and beliefs among individuals in endogamous communities that then reinforce, in a cultural loop, the nurture imperatives which then affect the nature imperatives which then through habituation define the followers as a social unit- a CULTURE. The chart represents IN PARADIGMATIC FORM what types of cultures one can expect depending upon the primacy of each of the intelligence systems habituated by that group. For example, it is the mother’s state of mind/body during the prenatal period that actually determines whether a child will be born with an anatomically stronger hindbrain (if the mother’s environment is a hostile one) or forebrain (if the mother’s environment is perceived as stable)4. Thus, since this first imperative is literally dependant on the mother alone, cultures that espouse the kinesthetic form of knowledge embody the image of universal mother as a primal archetype. She can be envisioned as a serpent out of whom the universe is born, (Tiamat), as the “One” from which all creation takes place through desire (Rg Veda), or even as the moon (Europa, Jocasta, Io). The point here is that she, in her creation of this world (of kinesthesia)manifests it by HER WILL and DESIRE ALONE, and thus the world is her creation. Likewise, all individuals must recognize HER in their origins, and know that all things eventually will return to her, as the HYMN to the mother in the Mahanirvanatantra5 or the speech of Isis in the Golden Ass of Apuleius6 clearly dictate. A clear example of what constitutes knowledge in this system is the biology of the Hindu/Buddhist chakra system, where the body is perceived as a whirling mass of energy circles around the axis of the spinal chord (brain stem.) The ascetic practices of both the Eastern and the Western traditions that are designed to control autonomic responses are directly related to this bioculture’s form of knowledge. Consciousness of all the body states is knowledge of the blueprint of creation, and therefore serves as the spiritual pathway for union with the divine.
Chart Three: Brain Intelligence Centers and Behavioral Traits by Bioculture
(to be inserted)
Chart Four: The Biocultural Paradigm (Cultural Aspects)
(to be inserted)
When vision is the primary sense in a culture, then the prototype of deity is a divine demiurge-literally someone who takes elements that exist in a chaotic world and re-constructs them according to an order imposed by him (her). This is an exact reproduction of the name-thing imperative unfolding during the right brain open window phase of child development. So for example, just as the child begins to break from the maternal unity of sensation to build neural fields of the world “out there”, while still being conditioned by the kinesthetic and limbic imperatives of that same “mother”, so does the hero MARDUK slay the dragon Tiamat and re-create OUT OF HER the world, though by his own dictates, leaving HIM then as the “creator” of the new world. Likewise, Ptah of the Memphite theogony creates, and Tvashtr of the Rg Veda , and to some degree all hero myths where the hero breaks down the old world order and establishes the new one by the act of slaying a “monster.” (the Minotaur, the chimaera, the hydra, etc.) Naturally, however, the world order established by this culture is based on the “vision” of its new leader; therefore, it’s only a matter of time before another “visionary” appears to lead the people to a greater world. And this too is accounted for in the myths of these cultures, by this built in model of heroic succession. Or as another vestige of this culture might remark, “there is always a new and better model coming…”
The left brain mimetic bioculture functions in exactly the same way that the left brain functions with the lower brains: it tells them what to do and most importantly, what NOT to do. The left brain is the brain of override; it can override the sensory data coming in from the lower brains and send down its signals to stop proposed action. Culturally, this is the home of the mind/body split people. Authority comes from an objective outside source, and the divine is perceived as an omniscient force outside of creation that prescribes divine laws and imposes them on his subjects. The Code of Hammurabi, the Laws of Manu, and the Ten Commandments all reflect this biocultural slant. (Have you guessed it? Aristotle is also at home here.)
The logos bioculture is a composite of the maia bioculture and the left brain mimetic one. Its specific brain location is the interpreter module; however it is its link with the reptilian system that provides the justification to call this a separate cultural type. In this bioculture, the aforementioned intelligences of body response and theoretical substitution systems come together to form a group that acts OUT with justification from WITHIN, but whatever it doesn’t recognize as knowledge (like the data coming in from the lower brains) it doesn’t consider, AND if there are gaps of understanding, IT SIMPLY MAKES SOMETHING UP TO FILL THOSE GAPS. So if a member of this bioculture feels threatened (ie. his/her reptilian brain sends danger signals to the cortical region because of some conflict with the voice of the left brain) , this individual will perceive the threat, but will be unable to access the origin; thereby being unable to quell it. This leaves him/her with two choices: wholeheartedly searching out the threat to eradicate it , by deciding “logically” where the threat is OUT THERE (in those with opposing views, in those with purple hair, etc.: the fight option), or succumbing to the overwhelming angst of not knowing where the threat is and attempting to survive it (through sacrifice and martyrdom for the “greater good”) or escape from it (by mind altering drugs, or virtual reality, or developing control over a technology, or suicide: the flight option.) Cultures likewise who display this mindset do what they want, then justify their actions with the appropriate “logic.” The unfortunate lesson that biology can teach here to cultures is that it is impossible to eliminate the threat, because that threat is the product of that culture’s nurture imperative (the original “mother.”s” blueprint.) This is a case in myth of killing your father (the proscription that caused the internal dissonance in the first place) and unwittingly marrying your mother (the reptilian blueprint that you were trying to overcome by creating a left brain in the first place.)
Finally, we come to the mythos bioculture. While the maia bioculture is founded on protection, and the right brain mimetic on charismatic leadership, and left brain mimetic in the law, and logos on power, the mythos bioculture is founded on the goal of community homeostasis. It is the original democratic bioculture because homeostasis is not a condition of permanence imposed from the outside, but an ever present balancing of the changing conditions in movement that require careful mediation to ensure stability. It is the bioculture of both diplomacy and of heart.
The prefrontal cortex and its connection to the heart are the biological imperatives that will manifest a mythos bioculture. The model, in myth is the hieros gamos, because in the sacred union there is first a joint return to chaos (in the union itself) of the opposites and then a new creation-of the two but unique from either one of them. It is the dialectical child. One makes a mythos child early in life, though the flowering of the mind does not burst forth until after the pruning process. Only then does the prefrontal cortex begin its job of building worlds of empathetic union and a pathway back to the origin of creation through the heart. By heart here, we do not mean to relate a metaphoric allusion of mere sentimentality-we are speaking about the physical organ and its role in mature human development. For example, recent research into neuro-cardial circuitry and anatomy has uncovered the following FACTS about the human heart7:
- It contains its own intrinsic nervous system with nerve ganglia that process information and send it to the cortex.
- The heart is now classified as a hormonal gland because it actually produces neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine (the catechlomines). These hormones affect the kidneys, the adrenal gland, the circulatory system and the brain.
- The heart generates 40-60x more amplitude electrically than the brain, and all emotions alter the heart’s electrical field.
- Electricity emanating from the heart of person A can be detected and measured in the brain waves of persons near or touching person A.
- Cellular memory resides in the heart cells, as discovered in transplant cases.
- DNA can be altered in the hands of a person practicing head/heart “entrainment.”
But how does one access this “little brain in the heart?” Many literary and spiritual traditions in both the East and West have alluded to this answer, and their written texts and other cultural artifacts seem nowadays to be the sole beacons for the preservation of this intelligence. For example, Hesychia8 in the Orthodox tradition (the prayer of the heart), Sufism in Islam9 (Shams for Rumi), the mystic practices in Western Christianity (the angel’s visitation in Theresa de Avila; the Dark Night of the Soul, and Love’s Living Flame of San Juan de la Cruz10; Ignatian exercises to gain love), the Katha Upanishad11 in Classical India (where the ksatria train the brahmins), the dolce stil nuova style of Cavalcanti, the Vita Nuova12 of Dante or the troubadour tradition in the medieval west, Krishna’s path in the Mahabharata13, Isis and Osiris (who trained Egypt in the art of civilization), the middle path of Buddhism (between playboy and saint), Boethius’ consolation of philosophy, and even Odysseus’ wanderings in order to find home. But where can we find this SYSTEMATIC training? How does one become educated in such an art? How can we maintain any semblance of stability in an individual/society if we educate by unraveling his/her/its beliefs? Does this not lead to madness?
Philosophy and the Study of the Humanities
The program of education proposed by the mythos bioculture is not new or even recent. It has been the cornerstone of all civilization because it too is epistemologically grounded upon our most basic human origins: our biology. The difference however between this model and all others is that this education is not a dogmatic training or specialty; it is a methodological training, and it requires educating by EXERCISING ALL THE ABOVE STATED INTELLIGENCES AS A PREREQUISITE TO ITS DEVELOPMENT. This is a training that requires individuals who are prepared, to create cultures that are great, or even to see the greatness of other cultures or individuals outside our own sphere. Luckily for us, the clearest explication of this legacy of training exists in our own Western tradition in the philosophy of Pythagoras and the writings of Plato. But for reasons elaborated upon in Part one, the mistakes we, as modern readers make of this philosophy and these writings is to read it as “theory”; in other words, to apply Aristotle’s methodology of inspection to these works and not see them for what they actually are: a separate intelligence system with an entirely different neural circuitry.14
Conclusion: Why Philosophy / Why Humanities?
We return now to the questions posed in Part Two about the problem of applying the methodology of philosophy to physical substances, especially to HUMANS as physical substances. In short, the conclusions drawn from neurobiological research necessitate a serious reevaluation of our use of Aristotle’s formal cause15, especially as it relates to humans for the following reasons. The nurture and cultural imperatives make it impossible for anyone to extract accurate generalizations of humans from the outside NO MATTER HOW MANY PARTICULAR CASES ARE STUDIED because the nurture imperative conditions an individual’s intelligence network by creating an ARCHITECTURALLY UNIQUE nature imperative once an individual’s biocultural development has been completed. Thus the entire intelligence network, the sine qua non of human distinction, is fundamentally asystematic. So where then is the “human blueprint” besides the realm of name? Shall consensus of NAME now serve as our principle of Natural affinity?
The alternative to this method -the Pythagorean/Platonic model, offers a solution to this impasse of better understanding human behavior/culture through the methodology of self reflection as preliminary criterion for examining the world.16 This methodology first trains individuals to see their own particular conditioning, by examination of the motivation for their ACTIONS, thereby allowing them to remove the imperialistic constraints of their perspective from their preliminary world view. It is only in DOING this exercise first , that one may then approach the notion of seeing the other for who he/she is, for understanding the purpose and reason for the field of Humanities. But to teach Humanities this way first requires a radical reinstitution of PHILOSOPHICAL METHODOLOGY a la Plato and Pythagoras into the school curriculum, for there is no better method for learning about oneself or other humans/cultures that continues to stand up to scientific scrutiny than the study of philosophy as outlined by Pythagoras/Plato. With the conclusions drawn from current research in child development and neurobiology, the use of Aristotle’s hybrid methodology of studying humans disintegrates thoroughly, and with it too, should the demise of the entire field of the social sciences follow.
In my long journey from the classrooms of those Honor and Remedial students to today, I have learned much about the nature of what an education in the Humanities ought to be, what the role of philosophy needs to be. It ought to be an education that first draws out from the students their natural proclivities (their primary biocultures-their nurture imperatives), to allow them a safe harbor for their journey. Next, it ought to help them navigate the passages to other nurture imperatives (other people’s primary biocultures-also their biological inheritance). And only after all these intelligence systems are exercised may they begin to be called truly educated. This could be accomplished uniquely in the field of the Humanities, where the multi disciplinary approach to the study of a culture exercises at once all the human ACTS produced by intelligence fields that every human possesses today, and every human has forever possessed in some proportion. Only in this way can one reasonably draw an affinity between students in the classroom and those humans who founded the culture originally. Only then may the Zeitgeist of a civilization be understood and actually experienced.
Why study Humanities? Because this is the only exercise humans have as individuals, and as a species that guarantees them renewal in innovation and continuity, that, despite any social or political coercion, provides them with internal freedom, and perhaps even, immortality.
1. These and translations to follow from, (1961) Hamilton, (trans.)
2. “Homer and other poets use philos for the possessive pronoun (my ,thy, his) …even when no affection is implied in it.” (Liddell and Scott, 761) This would allow philosophia to be alternately interpreted as something like “wisdom of the self” or even figuratively “knowing thyself.” For a similar type of misrendering of philos, we can look to the meaning of philokalia. While its true meaning is “watchfulness”from phylaki (phylassu) or “summoning oneself to attention”, it has oft been mistranslated as “love of the good or beautiful.” Note however, that it is common in mystical traditions from which both the Pythagorean as well as the Hesychast traditions are examples, to utilize homonymic transference to certain words, both to render the more esoteric shadings of meanings more unavailable to the unitiniated as well as due to the primarily auditory transmission of the traditions. For more on this point, see also The Sufis by Idries Shah on the use of the abjad system in that tradition.
3. They are: the reptilian brain, mammalian brain (limbic system), the right hemisphere of the neocortex, the left hemisphere of the neocortex, and the interpreter module of the left hemisphere. See, (1995) Colavito for a detailed study.
4. Nature, May, 1998
5. “You are the original of all manifestation; you are the birthplace of even us; you know the whole world, yet none know you…you are both subtle and gross, manifested and veiled, formless, yet with form…Returning after dissolution your own form,dark and formless, you alone remain as one ineffable and inconceivable…though yourself with beginning…you are the beginning of all, creator, preserver, and destroyer.” (1972) Woodroffe
6. ” I am nature, the universal mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead…Though I am worshiped in many aspects…the whole round earth knows me.” (1998) Gibson
7. For this and other data about this research on the heart, see the Institute of Heartmath website @ www.heartmath.org.
8. “Whenever the soul, paying no attention to external things, is concentrated in prayer, then a kind of flame surrounds it, as fire surrounds iron, and makes it wholly incandescent…Blessed is he who in this life is granted the experience of this state and who sees his body, which by nature is of clay, become incandescent through grace.” (Ilias the Presbyter) (1984) Palmer et al. Philokalia
9. “There are two kinds of intelligence; one acquired…from books…one already completed and preserved in you…A freshness in the center of the chest…It doesn’t move from outside in…It is the fountainhead from within you, moving out.” Rumi, (1995) Barks (trans.)
10. “On that joyous night in secret seen by no one, Nor with anything in sight, I had no other light or mark, Than the one burning in my heart.” (1998) de Nicolas
11. “There are 101 channels of the heart. One of these passes up to the crown of the head. Going up by it one gains immortality…A person of the measure of the thumb is the inner soul, ever seated in the hearts of creatures…Him one should draw out from one’s own body…him one should know as the immortal and pure one.” (Sixth Valli) (1921) Hume
12. “A vision appeared to me…a lordly man (who) said, ‘I am your master.’…In one of his hands he held a fiery object, and he seemed to say,’behold, your heart.’….After a short while he seemed to awaken the sleeping one (Beatrice)…and she ate it.” “I addressed him saying,’Lord of all virtues, why do you weep?’ and he answered, ‘I am like the center of a circle, equidistant from all points on the circumference, but you are not.” (1992) Musa (trans.)
13. “And I am seated in the hearts of all; from me are memory, wisdom, and their loss. I am the one to be known by the Vedas; the author of the Vedanta, I am also the knower of the Vedas…”Light of lights, it is said to be beyond darkness; It is knowledge, what is to be known, and the goal of knowledge. It is seated in the heart of all.” (1992) de Nicolas
14. For the current relevance and far reaching biological implications of using the Pythagorean/Platonic approach as it was designed, see Lipton, Bruce, Biological Consciousness and the New Biology.
15. “Knowledge is the object of our inquiry, and men do not think they know a thing till they have grasped the ‘why’ of it…”( Physics Bk11, Ch.3) Here Aristotle introduces his material (that out of which a thing comes to be), formal (the form or archetype), final (the purpose or end) , and efficient (primary source of change or coming to a rest) causes. Towards this end, note this statement in the Posterior Analytics (Bk.11:Ch 17)” Can the cause of an identical effect be not identical in every instance of the effect but different? Or is that impossible? Perhaps it is impossible if the effect is demonstrated as essential and not as…a symptom or an accident.” This may lead one to extract this scientific approach as a universal methodology for drawing “universals ” from inductive examination. However, Aristotle is very clear that some causes cannot be expressed in universal terms, and individuals fall under this category. ” For while man is the originative principle of man universally, there is no universal man, but Peleus is the originative principle of Achilles, and your father of you…” (Metaphysics Bk11: Ch 5) Therefore, the essential methodology of the sciences as practiced in the social sciences and at times even the Humanities, is fundamentally flawed, even according to Aristotle.
16. This project has recently been proposed as an alternative philosophy of education in de Nicolas, A. Habits of Mind (Paragon, 1989) (iUniverse.com 2000).
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