Miletus, Constantinople, Istanbul, New York

Most of my friends don’t know that I write. My family members know about my blog, of course, but they don’t read my writings. I am thankful that I have few readers who are curious about the things I write about. I thank you with all my heart.

I am in a defensive mood today. In real life as well as in virtual life I hear responses like “nonsense,” “you are crazy” or “how can you be scientist and talk like this?” There are many variations on these criticisms. I heard “mystic” and “new age writer” too but those don’t bother me. There were few adjectives usually expressed in French that usually mean “pretending to know more than you know.” Those hurt. My goal in life is spiritual development not knowledge per se. I guess I don’t make that clear enough in my writings. This partly motivated today’s posting.

I have been accused of avoiding debate too. It is true, I avoid debate. It is not laziness. I find debating atheists, materialists and dogmatic religionists tiresome. I have a day job where I spend 10-12 hours a day. I don’t have the luxury of time to engage in debates. Besides I don’t see any point in debating these groups. There is  a fundamental communication problem between us the followers of universal spirituality and the dogmatic people of all persuasions. When I was younger I engaged atheists with warmth and understanding but they did not respond in kind. I am tired now. I should clarify that I don’t consider people who are simply tired of organized religion as atheists.

Debates are all the rage these days. Bill Nye the “Science Guy” will be debating Ken Ham the creationist. Sen Carroll debated the theist philosopher Hans Halvarson and he will be defending naturalism against another theist William Lane Craig. Jim Holt and Edward Frenkel debated recently. Jim Holt accused Edward Frenkel as engaging in “mysticism” by claiming that mathematical objects are “real” and “exist.” This is just a sample. Thousands of debates are going on among the intellectuals.

This is nothing new. Intellectuals debate. It is the nature of an intellectual to debate. This has been going on for thousands of years. I don’t like debating and I am not good at debating. Does this mean that I am not an intellectual? So be it!

Intellectual discourse changes over time but it is not clear to me that any progress is made. By “progress” I mean the overall development of the human potential – physical, intellectual and spiritual. It is not clear to me that the intellectual development of humans in the last three thousands years led to any spiritual development. On the contrary, the intellectual development seems to be producing humans with bigger egos. I know this personally. My intellectual development in the last 40 years had very little effect on my spiritual development.

This dilemma is a though one. Intellectual development inflates ego and makes it thick and opaque preventing the light of the soul to reach the mind.

The saddest part is that science – the crown achievement of human intellectual development – is trying to reduce the spiritual dimension of humans to matter. Modern science tries to explain human mind and spirituality as physical phenomena. Is this progress?

I can’t cover the entire history but I want to give you examples where intellectual discourse regresses over time. My main point in the following section is to point out that the number of opinions, ideas, theories increases over time but only few vocal and dogmatic voices dominate the public debate and sometimes they become powerful enough to shape the minds of the young people. In technical analogy, I would say that the standard deviation of ideas increases over time but the average remains close to zero. Intellectual regression in the social sphere is possible in this sense.

In 1453 before the fall of the city the intellectuals of Constantinople were discussing the gender of angels. There were heated debates on whether angels were male or female. Two thousand years before the fall of Constantinople, Thales of Miletus was discussing concepts very familiar to modern physicists. It seems to me that the Ionian civilization of Anatolia was more advanced than the Byzantine civilization (of Anatolia) in many respects. What happened in the intervening 2000 years. Was there no intellectual progress?

Miletus_TurkiyeThe writings of Thales did not survive. The major source for Thales’ philosophy is Aristotle who also lived and taught in Anatolia for many years. Thales is considered the founder of Natural Philosophy. He introduced geometry and astronomy to the Greek speaking world. He predicted an eclipse of the Sun on May 28, 585 BC, startling all of Ionia. Thales studied in Egypt. He was intimately familiar with Egyptian and Chaldean wisdom traditions. Thales believed in the fundamental unity of all material things behind their apparent diversity. He also regarded the world as alive and thus life and matter to be inseparable. Thales had a profound influence on other Greek thinkers. Anaximander was a student of Thales. Anaximander’s student Pythagoras visited Thales as a young man and Thales advised him to study philosophy and mathematics in Egypt. Thales, being asked what was very difficult, he answered, “To Know Thyself.” Asked what was very easy, he answered, “To give advice.” To the question, what/who is God?, he answered, “That which has no beginning or no end.”

We don’t remember the names of the Constantinople intellectuals but we remember the names of Thales, Anaximander, Plato and Aristotle.  There were only few philosophers in Ionia. In the next 2000 years after Thales the number of philosophers increased by orders of magnitude. In 1453 there were hundreds of philosophers and thousands of learned men in Constantinople but we don’t know much about their substantive discussions. We only remember the silly discussions on the gender of Angels.

Constantinople-Istanbul-MapIt seems that in time the number of thinkers increases. The variation of opinions increases too but this does not necessarily represent intellectual progress because the voices of sincere wisdom seekers are silenced by the loud noise generated by the dogmatic intellectuals.

The interesting fact is that we remember the names of Thales, Anaximander, Plato and Aristotle because of the Byzantines. Before and after the fall of Constantinople to Ottoman Turks in 1453 the wealthy and educated citizens of Constantinople immigrated to Venice and Florence. They brought with them their private libraries containing books of ancient wisdom. These Greek speaking immigrants contributed to the revival of the ancient Greek wisdom, especially the revival of the teachings of Plato.

It seems that cultural advances, as everything else in this universe, are systaltic in nature. The intellectual treasures of Thales, Anaximander, Plato and Aristotle were silently kept in the city of Constantinople even though the intellectual life in the city was dominated by the dogmatic intellectuals. The ancient seers did not have any voice in Constantinople but their teachings were carried to other lands by the silent wisdom seekers.

Constantinople is now known as Istanbul. Constantinople was the seat of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine empires. Istanbul was the seat of the Ottoman empire. They are physically the same place but Istanbul is very different culturally. I should qualify the last statement. The Turkish cuisine was heavily influenced by the Byzantine cuisine. The Turkish politics is as Byzantine as ever.

It has been 561 years since 1453. The number of learned people increased by another order of magnitude in the city. There are thousands of varied opinions among the intellectuals of Istanbul but the intellectual life in the city is still dominated by the dogmatic loud voices.  There is a great number of silent wisdom seekers of all persuasions in the city. They read, they write and they talk among themselves but their voices are not heard. There is too much noise created by the warring ideological factions and their dogmatic ideologues. I see no difference between Istanbul and Constantinople in this respect.

Istanbul_panorama_and_skylineThe intellectual treasures of the East and the West are still kept in Istanbul. Not just in the form of books! Most of these treasures are kept in the minds and the hearts of the silent wisdom seekers. Will they carry these treasures to other lands? Will they somehow find a way to be heard? Will they pass the wisdom to their children?

New York City is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. The cultural vitality of this city surpasses all cities. There are thousands of writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists in New York City. The variation of opinions is the greatest of any city but unfortunately New York City suffers from the same problem: dogmatic loud voices silence the small voices of the sincere wisdom seekers. The so-called “scientific materialism” – which is not scientific at all – dominates the academia in the city. Physicalism is all the rage among the physicists of the city. The word “atheism” is thrown casually with adolescent enthusiasm. The words “mystic”  or “mysticism” are used as insult words. There is nothing more insulting than to be called a  “mystic” if you are a scientist. Is this progress?

I am not saying scientists and intellectuals should listen to all the crazy voices out there. I don’t listen to all the crazy voices either but I maintain an intellectual curiosity and open mindedness towards the sincere wisdom seekers. The sad fact is that most intellectuals are careerists. They are not really wisdom seekers.


* for service and blessedness *

About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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