On the Timaeus of Plato
I love how Plato uses multiple frames of introductory ideas in his work.
The Timaeus is framed first by the fanciful gossip of Solon’s story of Atlantis, and second by the superb verbal-magical invocation of Timaeus himself, which is what I wish to quote here (segment three: prelude). Plato’s third frame in the Timaeus, introducing chance and free-will, alters this second frame significantly and is the subject for another post.
So here is the second frame, Timaeus’ invocation of the creation of the cosmos:
“We must in my opinion begin by distinguishing between that which always is and never becomes from that whichis always becoming and never is.”
This is the basis for the physical world for Timaeus, for the macrocosm. But it is important to note that Timaeus is coming out with substantially the same idea as Lao Tze, on the other side of Eurasia at roughly the same period. He here invokes the Tao with these words and those to come. Timaeus, fully aware that speech is a magical act, prefaces this quoted statement with an invocation both to the gods and to his own powers – that is, he wisely invokes the macrocosm and the microcosm before beginning to talk of first and last things.
“The one is apprehensible by intelligence with the aid of reasoning, being eternally the same, the other is the object of opinion and irrational sensation, coming to be and ceasing to be, but never fully real.”
This is a startling description of the quality of Yang and Yin, or Shiva and Shakti. The most modern concept of this is the particular and the wave. The wave is potential particulars, or a conceptual carrier for particulars, or in some way a not-quite-real concept which fills in all the explanatory gaps which the particle concept does not.
But Timaeus goes further, describing the subjective response to these macrocosmic forces. The basis of physical reality is implied to be the source of subjective activity: that is to say, our (microcosmic) awareness of changeless evokes reason and intellect, and the awareness of the always-changing evokes opinion, obscurity, sensation and irrationality. Thus the perrenial wisdom of getting our focus of changeable things, and putting attention of the changeless: by focusing on the changeless we submerge into quiescience our irrational and sensational qualities. The process of self-enquiry suggested by Ramana Maharshi recommends that as the classical direct path to truth.
But listen to what Timaeus says next:
“In addition, everything that becomes or changes must do so owning to some cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause.”
We can infer then that the unchanging, reasonable, and intellectual is self-caused or uncaused, arising from its own nature directly.
What follows next is THE key statement of classical thinking:
“Whenever, therefore, the maker of anything keeps his eye on the eternally unchanging and uses it as his pattern for the form and function of his product the result must be good; whenever he looks to something that come to be and uses a model that has come to be, the result is not good.”
If that sentence doesn’t move you then how do you know you are still alive?
In one sentence Timaeus transmits the essence of classicism as method and means to the creation of art. The esoteric meaning of what Timaeus is saying is that the creation of a thing along classical lines is a recreation of the cosmos, and at the same time an emotional and energetic participation in the original creation. Each and every creative act invokes God into the person of the creator. Creative work is theurgy, and creation brings the reason into alignment with the Reason of the cosmos.
Think about that one for a while!