contemplating a sunset with… plato

self isolation 69th day

excerpt from Plato’s Phaedo

“… We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which
seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we
are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth.
For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the
mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake
and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full
of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every
sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as
a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence
but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned
by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and
in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things
the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover,
if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that
if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the
body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves:
then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which
we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live,
but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with
the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems
to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at
all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in
herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon
that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with
the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself
is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will
be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other
pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and
this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed
to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which
the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. 
You will agree with me in that?”

cited: Phaedo by Plato Trans: Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive

skycape photography: contemplating sunset with…plato Nikon D750 f/8 1/50s 200mm 400 ISO edited in Capture One and Color Efex Pro 4

Phaedo by Plato copyright information available online at

tell me, sir, where’s the distinction?

The river and its waves are one surf: 

where is the difference between the river and its waves?

When the wave rises, it is the water; 

Nikon D750 f/22 .02s 125mm 100 ISO

and when it falls, it is the same water again.

Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction?

Because it has been named as wave, 

shall it no longer be considered as water?

~Kabir Das (One Hundred Poems by Kabir, Trans: Rabindranath Tagore)

early morning readings

Nikon D750   f/4.5  1/400s 85mm  1400 ISO

“…is it the wish—the dreamlike, bombastic wish—to stand once again at that point in my life and be able to take a completely different direction than the one that has made me who I am now?

“There is something peculiar about this wish, it smacks of paradox and logical peculiarity. Because the one who wishes it—isn’t the one who, still untouched by the future, stands at the crossroads.  Instead, it is, the one marked by the future become past who wants to go back to the past, to revoke the irrevocable. And would he want to revoke it if he hadn’t suffered it. …it’s the absurd wish to go back behind myself in time and take myself—the one marked by events—along on this journey.”  ~P Mercier (Night Train to Lisbon, pp. 51-54)

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus

When my heart came to rule
in the world of love,
it was freed
from both belief
and from disbelief.

On this journey,
I found the problem
to be myself.

When I went beyond myself,
the pathway finally opened.
~Mahsati Ganjavi     

early morning readings II

In this world, time is like a flow of water, occasionally displaced by a bit of debris, a passing breeze.  Now and then, some cosmic disturbance will cause a rivulet of time to turn away from the mainstream, to make connection back stream. When this happens, birds, soil, people caught in the branching tributary find themselves suddenly carried to the past.   ~A Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Reality in itself is a stream of life, always moving.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart

Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of children playing in the rubble of war…may become a metaphor or symbol of hope. The image over my desk of a grieving mother and child after an earthquake in Armenia, made by my photographer friend Mark Beach, symbolized for me the sorrow and tragedy that is part of life.  An image I once made of the source of the mighty Susquehanna River–a spring flowing into a bathtub in a field that serves as a water tank for cows, then spilling over to begin a stream–reminds me that the restorative juice “river,” with which I am associated, has many small sources.  ~H Zehr, The Little Book of Contemplative Photography

everything in the cosmos…


For a table to exist, we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness, and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes to exist. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain, and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast, fresh air, and so on. And each of these things, in turn, has to be brought about by other conditions. If we look in this way, we’ll see that nothing has been left out. Everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table. Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves on the tree, and the clouds, we can see the table. The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

why I wondered…


the negative, subtle, but negative response I felt in response to an UU leader’s introduction into my consciousness the concept of tribalism that eventually resulted in my decision to leave her congregation.  Tribalism is to my understanding inclusion that ensures exclusion.

Today, an answer to “why I wonder…” was found in an Aeon article entitled, “When I help you, I also help myself: on being a cosmopolitan.”  I found congruence in the worldview that all of us “are so interconnected and interdependent that we are really an extended family, and we ought to act accordingly, for our sake.”

This resolution has motivated me to share these words of Massimo Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  I hope you also find it enlightening.

One of the axioms of modern morality is that there is an inevitable tension between altruism and selfishness. The more you focus your attention, energy and resources toward your own benefit, the less ‘of course’ you can do for others. As a result, we all strive to find some balance between these two opposing demands, often ending up far short of our ideal, and feeling guilty about it. (Well, some of us feel guilty, at any rate.)

But what if this is in fact a false dichotomy? What if we adopted a different framework, according to which helping ourselves helps humanity at large, and conversely, helping others helps us as well? This is the basic idea behind cosmopolitanism, literally being a citizen of the world, which originated in Ancient Greece and was further developed in Rome. Turns out, ancient Greco-Roman philosophy still has a thing or two to teach us moderns.

The term ‘cosmopolitan’ was associated with the ancient Cynic philosophers, named after a word that didn’t have the modern connotation at all, but rather indicated a group of radicals devoted to challenging society’s norms by living simply, owning no property or housing. One of the schools of Hellenistic philosophy influenced by the Cynics was that of the much more mainstream Stoics (who lived in actual houses, and some – like the Roman Senator Seneca – were even rich). The Stoics developed the idea of cosmopolitanism into a general philosophy that guided their everyday thoughts and actions. As Epictetus, the slave-turned-philosopher of second-century Rome, put it in Discourses: ‘Do as Socrates did, never replying to the question of where he was from with: “I am Athenian,” or “I am from Corinth,” but always: “I am a citizen of the world.”’ This strikes me as something we ought to remember, internalise, and practise – especially in these times of fear-mongering, xenophobia, Brexit, Trumpism, and nationalistic tribalism.

The Stoic idea was simple and elegant: all humans inhabit the same big city, indeed we are so interconnected and interdependent that we are really an extended family, and we ought to act accordingly, for our own sake. The Stoic philosopher Hierocles came up with the image of a number of concentric circles of concern: at the centre of the smaller, inner circle, is you. Right outside is the circle of your family. Outside that is the one comprising your friends. The next circle over is that of your fellow citizens (ie, in the literal sense of those inhabiting the same city), then that of your countrymen, and finally humanity at large.

A modern philosopher such as Peter Singer talks of expanding the circles, meaning that we should aim at enlarging our concerns to encompass more and more people, thus overcoming our natural selfishness. Hierocles, in contrast, thought that we should aim at contracting the circles, bringing other people closer to us because we realise that they are our own kin. The closer we get them to us, the more the self/other dichotomy dissolves, and the more our interests align with those of our community. Indeed, Hierocles went so far as to instruct his students to address strangers as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ (or, depending on their age, as ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’), in an early form of cognitive therapy aiming at restructuring the very way we think about others – and consequently the way we act toward them.

In his Meditations, the emperor Marcus Aurelius, also a Stoic, summarised the idea of cosmopolitanism and our duty to others in the form of a logical sequence: ‘If the intellectual part is common to all men, so is reason, in respect of which we are rational beings: if this is so, common also is the reason that commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community.’

This is what the Stoics captured in one of their fundamental slogans: ‘Live according to nature.’ It doesn’t mean that we should go around naked, hugging trees in the forest, but rather that we should examine human nature and live according to it. And human nature is fundamentally that of a social being capable of reason. (Notice that I said capable of reason, some of us employ such capacity more often or more keenly than others…) It follows that living according to, or in harmony with, nature, means doing our part to use reason to improve society. Whenever we do so, we at the same time make things better for us (because social beings thrive in a functional and just society) as well as for others. Which means that the modern self/other dichotomy is far too simplistic, and in fact misleading, because it artificially pits the interests of the individual against those of society. Of course, there will always be specific cases where we have to choose between the immediate interests of, say, our children and those of strangers. But keeping in mind that in the long run our children will thrive in a flourishing society helps to shift our way of thinking from treating life as a zero-sum game to seeing it as a cooperative one.

Stoic cosmopolitanism should not be taken to imply that the ideal human society resembles a beehive, where individuality is subsumed for the benefit of the group. On the contrary, the Stoics were keen defenders of human freedom and very much valued the independence of individual agents. But they thought that the freedom to pursue our individual goals, to flourish in our own way, is predicated on the existence of a society of similarly free individuals. And such society is possible only if we realise that our collective interests are broadly aligned. We might be from Athens or Corinth (or the United States or Mexico) as an accident of birth, but in a deeper sense we are all members of the same global polis. We would be well advised to start acting like it.Aeon counter – do not remove

Massimo Pigliucci

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


tuesday photo challenge: signs

signs (1)

…a sign means something – stop, go, walk, etc. The sign thinks for you. It commands you. A symbol, on the other hand, represents an idea, a process, or a physical entity. But the important word here is represents. The symbol represents something else, something beyond what you are looking at–whereas the sign means only this… Where the sign thinks for you, the symbol asks you to do the thinking–abstract versus the literal.

~Junichiro Tanizaki

A sign painted on a building commanding the passerby to “stop” and “drink…”  Submitted in response to  Dutch goes the Photo’s challenge.