Cosmos: The Future of an Ancient Term

Pythagoras is said to have been the first to call the sky and the universe ‹kósmos›.1 This suggestion resonates with the image of Pythagoras, which to this day conveys an influential tradition: the image of the initiate who was able to experience the universe as a living assembly of musical harmonies – the harmony of the spheres – and rhythms that can be experienced in numerical terms through supernatural perception.2

In fact, the ancient Greek word ‹kósmos› means both ethically and aesthetically ‹harmonious order and appropriate measure,› and therefore also ‹jewelry and splendor,› which is befitting its fame and honor. It is therefore a deeply coherent word to designate a world whose innermost cohesion – as in all ancient cosmologies – is perceived as a wise harmony of harmonious relations. When the world is perceived as ‹kósmos,› it is experienced as an organism that reveals beauty and consequently makes visible the Good and True.

The Will to Do Good

Plato is the first Greek philosopher whose perception of the universe as ‹kósmos› is substantiated, and not only by fragments or often difficult to assess indirect sources, as in the case of the so-called pre-Socratics. Plato’s cosmology is also deeply appealing because it takes up all previous trains of thought – including the Pythagorean – and condenses them into a fruitful synthesis.3

Lines: Fabian Roschka, ‹Inwendig›, Vectorized Ink, 2020

Plato emphasizes a dimension of the cosmos that is not explained by the pre-Socratics: the universe is an organism of harmonious relations because it was born by the free choice of divine intelligence that worked for good through an unrestricted will. In the ‹Timaeus› dialogue, this intelligence – in continuity with an ancient tradition dating back to the Vedas – is symbolized as a divine craftsman, the demiurge. The demiurge wants to convey the good in which he participates unconditionally. Therefore, he intervenes in the chaos of matter in such a way that the visible dimension of being can be harmoniously and beautifully assembled, thus participating in the good as much as possible (Timaeus 29d7-30b). This is the reason for the development of the visible cosmos (ibid. 29d7-e1). Accordingly, the cosmos is similar to the demiurge (ibid. 29e3), that is, a visible image of the demiurge (ibid. 92c7). The cosmos is thus like its originator: good (ibid. 30a2).

Free, Creative Consciousness

The divine craftsman took the highest spiritual reality as the archetype for the design of the cosmos and developed the cosmos according to the essence and life of that reality (Timaeus 30c2-31a1). Does the similarity with that reality as well as with its originator – or the fact that the cosmos was designed as an image of its originator – indicate a restriction of the life of the cosmos? Does it mean that the cosmos is to be regarded as a banal reproduction of the spiritual world and the demiurge, that is, an already existing form of being? The answer is given by the ‹Timaeus› itself: the divine craftsman shapes the cosmos as a self-sufficient being (33d1-3): On one hand, there is no need for an external authority to preserve its life; on the other hand, it is aware of itself, which is why it can reveal its essential life through its own virtue (ibid. 34b6-9). The image of the demiurge here is therefore a being who, through his own consciousness, can freely decide in favor of the revelation of the good – precisely for his own virtue – and reveal the good in a form that could not be revealed without his life. True consciousness of oneself means the ability to actively shape one’s own life on the basis of that consciousness. The good that the divine craftsman gives to the cosmos, therefore, does not consist of a predetermined form that acts as a rigid model. Rather, the good thing here is the possibility of having a creative effect through an autonomous consciousness, so that new harmonious relations can form that do not simply reproduce the relations of the spiritual world.

To be good, as the demiurge is unconditionally (ibid. 29e1-2), is to want and open an unrestricted space for the actions of another autonomous consciousness – in our case the autonomous consciousness of the cosmos – so that consciousness in turn can freely and creatively reveal the good in new forms. The good, therefore, is the will to support the autonomy and freedom of another. 4 The cosmos exists and lives as a revelation of this will.

In Harmony

The being according to which the divine craftsman shapes the cosmos is the spiritual being, which includes all related beings within itself (Timaeus 30c4-31a). Accordingly, the visible cosmos includes and joins together all visible beings (ibid. 30c7-d1). The frequent reference in ‹Timaeus› to this harmonious joining together as an essential characteristic of the cosmos means that the cosmos is not a random aggregate, but an organism in which every being lives in more or less direct relationship with every other being. In the cosmos, everything harmonizes with everything, revealing the cosmic harmony at different levels of consciousness. Plotinus – the greatest ancient representative of Platonism – helps us to understand this universal harmony because he deepens and explains many motifs that Plato only hints at.5

In ‹The Enneads› (V 8.4.4-11), Plotinus characterizes the all-encompassing essence of the highest spiritual reality. It includes all other spiritual beings in such a way that each spiritual being experiences in the transparency of their own consciousness the transparency of all other spiritual beings as well as the transparency of the entire spiritual world. Consequently, all beings are completely transparent to each other so that the revelation of the single center of consciousness forever instantaneously reveals the transparency of all other centers of consciousness, as in a sphere of spiritual light, in which all points are center and each point instantaneously manifests the entirety of the sphere.6 According to Plotinus, the visible cosmos is an image of this transparent wholeness of spiritual light (ibid. 4.4-7), which includes all spiritual beings (Ennead V 8.7 and 9): the spiritual world does not remain closed to itself but gives its own warm and good light so that an unrestricted space for the autonomy of another, self-conscious reality can be born. And this other reality is, as in Plato’s ‹Timaeus›, the visible cosmos (Ennead V 8.7.14-15), which was also created according to Plotinus out of the will for good (see Enneads II 9.3-4 and V 2.1.24 ff.).

In Plotinus’s cosmology, too, the all-encompassing transparency of the spiritual world in the visible cosmos has an image that, as in Plato’s perspective, reveals no reproduction but a form of transparency peculiar to the visible reality. While in the spiritual world, universal transparency is fully conscious in every being, it reveals itself in the visible cosmos as universal sympathy, which manifests itself on different levels and forms of consciousness depending on the individual nature (Ennead IV 9.2, cf. IV 4.26 and 32, IV 5.8).

Co-Creator of the Cosmos

The perception of cosmic sympathy, which Plotinus explicitly connects with the horizon of Plato’s ‹Timaeus› (Ennead IV 4.32.4-6), remains unconscious or preconscious in living beings such as plants and animals, whose participation in the spiritual life of the cosmos cannot surpass the vegetative or the psychic. Human beings, on the other hand, are able to attain a spiritual form of consciousness that makes it possible to creatively experience the spiritual source of that universal sympathy and, consequently, to actively shape the harmony of all beings with all beings, that is, the life of the cosmos, acting together with the spiritual world as co-creators and co-leaders of the universe (The Enneads v 8.7.29-36).7 In other words, in continuity with Plato (Phaidros 246c1-2), Plotinus perceives in the human form of consciousness the possibility of a development that can lead to active participation in the ‹government› of the universe. Due to this development, human beings can act as a spiritual demiurge, as a spiritual author and craftsman/artist in relation not only to their own intrinsic life but also to the intrinsic life of the universe. At the goal of this development, recognition and creative action form a living unity: knowledge of the spiritual reality that creates the visible cosmos does not occur as passive contemplation but is in itself active participation in an inexhaustible generative force. According to Plotinus, the spiritual world is unrestricted productivity/generativity, or eternally instantaneous unity of consciousness/being, supreme knowledge (sophía), and productivity (Ennead V 8.4.44-47). In this perspective, authentic science – which concerns the mind and the true essence of the cosmos – is not abstract theorizing, not a collection of observations, but conscious and creative participation in the life of the mind that affects its being, and consequently co-creation of the essence, which can reveal itself through the action of that life as an organism of harmonious relations – as a cosmos. In other words, no essential concept of the cosmos can be developed here without conscious participation in the spiritual impulses, forces, and dynamics through which the cosmos is born and shaped. On this horizon, I only truly recognize the cosmos if I am able to become its co-creator!

Here, no intrinsic concept of the cosmos can be developed without conscious participation in the spiritual impulses, forces, and dynamics through which the cosmos is born and shaped.

A Holistic Science

In Plato’s and Plotinus’s perspectives, in which the cosmological ideologies of antiquity are brought together into a fruitful synthesis, the exploration of the cosmos points to an ideal of science that we can describe as holistic in a concise sense.8 For both great philosophers, the cosmos is a living ‹hólon›, a living whole: an organism whose components can only really be recognized and understood on the basis of its living, spiritual wholeness, that means, starting from their common harmony, which in turn reveals itself individually in the essence of each individual component. In this context, it is not surprising that Plato refers to as true arts and sciences only those in which the knowledge of the cosmos is assumed as a whole (Phaidros 269e1-270d7). For example, medicine will not really be able to heal if it is not able to recognize and reveal the nature of the body and the soul in its living context and in harmony with the nature of the whole (hólon) (ibid. 270b1-c5). This holistic approach, in turn, does not mean that the individuality of the components has no relevance in light of the whole. For the archetype of the visible cosmos is the spiritual world, in unity – as in a sphere of spiritual light9 – does not mean a disappearance of differences, but mutual transparency and harmonious harmony of spiritual individualities in a coherent wholeness and a primordial community. As an image of the spiritual world, the visible cosmos reveals the relational and community-building unity just hinted at in a form of its own. And human beings have the opportunity to connect their own consciousness with the spiritual source of this unity. Through this conscious connection, in which authentic science and wisdom (sophía) exist, human beings become not only passive observers but co-creators of this unity, as well as the creators of every form of community-building unity and harmonious harmony, be it in their own souls or in society (Plato, Politeia 500c2-501c3).10 As a result, cosmological science becomes an eminently ethical fact. In fact, it proves to be a preparation and at the same time a prerequisite for the will for good, which nourishes the spiritual world and the life of the cosmos, to be able to experience new and deeper forms of revelation in all dimensions of human life.

A Calculable Cosmos?

In particular, as an indication of the harmony of everything with everything, the ancient term ‹kósmos› can reveal affinities to the approaches of relational thinking that have increasingly shaped philosophical and scientific-theoretical discourse in recent decades, stimulated by the developments in quantum physics and ‹artificial intelligence›. Therefore, some would relate this indication to the perspectives of systems and complexity theory. Others, in some ancient intuitions and characterizations of cosmic relationality, would even want to anticipate computational theories of the mind and thought, according to which the mind and thought can be ‹translated› into the dynamics of computing.11 The supposed possibility of deriving physical laws through artificial intelligence 12, seems to justify this.13

The good thing here is the possibility of having a creative effect through an autonomous consciousness so that new harmonious relations can form that do not simply reproduce the relations of the spiritual world.

If our intelligence is to be regarded as an information processing system – so that self, consciousness, thinking, and cognition could be reduced to the dynamics of the ‹calculation› – and if, according to Plato and Plotinus, it is to be perceived as an image of macrocosmic intelligence 14, why shouldn’t their macrocosmic archetype, and with it the whole cosmos as well as its spiritual source, be understood, researched, and mathematized as such a system? 15

A mathematization or reduction of the cosmos to computational dynamics, however, is with an unbiased consideration of the sources, in contradiction with the cosmological perspectives of ancient Platonism, which were hinted at here and which are most often perceived as intrinsically related to such approaches. Plotinus explicitly characterizes the creative activity of the mind, which creates the visible cosmos, as purely intuitive, that is, as every logical-causal, temporal dynamic outstanding.16 It surpasses any dynamics of informational, computational processing. The spiritual numbers to which Plotinus refers in continuity with Plato have nothing to do with any concept of the computational or with arithmetic (Plotinus, Ennead VI 6.18.1-5) but are an eternally instantaneous revelation of the conscious and generative activity of the mind (ibid. 15.16-18) and of the harmonious relations between the beings of the spiritual world (ibid. 18).17 In other words, in this perspective, the mathematical emerges from consciousness/mind/being (ibid. 15.16 and 24-25), not the other way around, as it happens in the mathematizing cosmologies of today. And the implied transcendence of consciousness/mind/being towards all computational dynamics can also be realized by human beings if they manage to combine their own physical and psychic dimensions with the spiritual source of the cosmos (Ennead v 8.7.29-36). Because of this connection, human beings can act and work from the source of all possible worlds/systems/mathematizations, which means real freedom.18 Plato already pointed to this level by explicitly locating the highest reality, the highest good as the origin of all consciousness, thought, and being beyond all possibilities of mathematical intelligence (Politeia 511a3-c2). This absolute origin in the good, as well as the origin in the freedom of the One in Plotinus’s philosophy (Plotinus, Ennead VI 8.19), in turn, on every level of being, and thus also in relation to the visible cosmos, leave an infinite space of free and creative activity open. Infinite because this space reveals the conscious presence of the Spirit, which, nourished by the consciousness of goodness, can always act as the will to the freedom of another, and therefore as the will to reveal the authentically new.

The Decision for Sensory Perception

The great challenge that Plato’s and Plotinus’s cosmologies represent today is their clear reference to the superiority of mind and consciousness over any determinism, computationalism, or mathematics. If physical laws, that means laws of the cosmos, could supposedly also be discovered by ‹artificial intelligences› or system constellations were also experimented with robots,19 in the perspectives of those great philosophers, this would only mean that physical laws and – understood in the usual sense – systemic thinking represent the physical and psychological dimension of being. This means the limits of bio psychic life, cannot excel.

If consciousness, the self, and the world could indeed be limited within the limits of bio psychic life, then systemic relations would also be a priority and determining for Plato and Plotinus, just as it happens in some contemporary philosophical discourses.20 In other words, in a purely bio psychic framework, the life of human beings and the cosmos would sooner or later also be calculable for Plato and Plotinus, and thus completely determinable and monitorable. However, the highest and deepest reality that these philosophers perceive is not exhausted in the bio psychic being and thus in the experience of – even if it were indefinite – duration. That reality, on the other hand, reveals itself as bio psychically unpredictable, not anticipatory, but deliberately intentional suddenness (Plotinus, Ennead V 8.7.14-15), which can produce the golden, inexhaustible germ of the really new, the real future even in the seemingly smallest and most cramped. It reveals itself in the flash of a free decision for the good as the will to new harmonious resonances. The threshold for this free decision opens everything for me, even the most everyday encounter with the world perceptible through the senses. Neither the humble rose nor the mighty cosmos forces me to perceive it in its innocent beauty unbiased or to nail it to computational structures.

The ancient cosmologies, which perceived the visible cosmos in all its dimensions as the work of the spirit, can today – instead of the complacent confirmation of our supposed knowledge – inspire us to want to hear the sound of the eternal in the conscious decision for the impartiality of sensory perception. Listening to this sound, which for ancient wisdom was a gift from the Gods, today consciously wants to be born in the will of the I for good. The ancient perception of the cosmos can spur us on to this currently painful birth: to birth, from the I-power, a new perception of the cosmos that can lead to transforming the abstract mathematical into the imaginative. This will lead to that new Isis, to that new wisdom/sophía that Rudolf Steiner so insistently invited a hundred years ago.21 Only the finding of this new Isis-sophía will give birth to the future of an ancient concept: ‹Kósmos› will then mean the community-building harmony of everything with everything in the good, which can only be heard today and in the future through the free, spiritual will of the I.

Translation Monika Werner

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  1. H. Diels, W. Kranz, The Fragments of the Pre-Socratic Philosophy. Berlin 19528, Bd. I, p. 105, 25 (Pythagoras 21) as well as 225, 14 (Parmenides 28 A 44). To get an insight into the history of the term ‹kósmos› in antiquity, see Ph. S. Horky (ed.), Cosmos in the Ancient World. Cambridge-New York 2019.
  2. A first accessible introduction to Pythagoras and the sources concerning him can be found in C. Huffman, Pythagoras (Stand 2018). Within academic research, the image of Pythagoras as an initiate was particularly deepened in W. Burkert’s Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Cambridge, Mass. 1972 (revised English edition of Wisdom and Science. Studies on Pythagoras, Philolaus and Plato. Nuremberg 1962).
  3. For a comprehensive introduction to Plato’s philosophy, see. M. Erler, Plato. Munich 2006; for ‹Timaeus› and his cosmology see D. Zeyl, B. Sattler, Plato’s Timaeus (Stand 2017).
  4. [4] For an interpretation of Plato in which the centrality of the good is deepened as the will to the freedom of another, see S. Lavecchia, Agathology, Thinking as a Perception of the Good or: In Search of the Most Obvious Mystery. Perspectives of Philosophy 38 (2012), pp. 9-45, and Agathological Realism: Searching for the Good beyond Subjectivity and Objectivity or On the Importance of Being Platonic, in G. De Anna, R. Martinelli (eds.), Moral Realism and Political Decisions. Bamberg 2015, pp. 29–50.
  5. For the first introduction to Plotinus, see J. Halfwassen, Plotinus and Neoplatonism. Munich 2004, as well as L. Gerson, Plotinus (Stand 2018).
  6. On these aspects of Plotinus’s philosophy, see S. Lavecchia, Free of Oneself and Others. Reflections on the Origin and Essence of the Noetic Self in Plotinus’s Philosophy. Perspectives of Philosophy 46 (2020), in press.
  7. For further deepening, see Lavecchia, Free of Oneself. ibid.
  8. On holism from different perspectives, see M. Esfeld, Holism in the Philosophy of Mind and in the Philosophy of Physics. Frankfurt a. M. 2002; Chr. McMillan, R. Main, D. Hederson (eds.), Holism Possibilities and Problems. London 2020.
  9. In regard to the relevance of this image for the understanding of Plato’s philosophy, see S. Lavecchia, The I and the Good. Approaches of a light philosophy in connection with Novalis and Plato. Perspectives of Philosophy 40 (2014), 9-46.
  10. Here the spiritual cosmos is regarded as the archetype of any just, harmonious community in the visible cosmos. On the creative dimension of the ‹sophía› in Plato’s thinking and on its intimate connection with the spiritual essence of the cosmos, see S. Lavecchia, Self-Knowledge and Creation of a Cosmos. Dimensions of sophia in Plato’s thinking. Perspectives of Philosophy 35 (2009), 115-145.
  11. For the approaches mentioned here only fleetingly for reasons of space, see the easily accessible introductions in S. Green, Philosophy of Systems and Systemic Biology (Stand 2017); W. Dean, Computational Complexity Theory (Stand 2016); M. Rescorla, Computational Theory of Mind (Stand 2020) as well as the foundational information in Wikipedia/System and Wikipedia/Complexity.
  12. Cf. S. M. Udrescu, M. Tegmark, Symbolic Pregression: Discovering Physical Laws from Raw Distorted Video.
  13. With regard to the Greek term ‹kósmos›, to my knowledge, no attempts at popularization in this direction have been made so far, as happened in related fields by F. Capra, The Tao of Physics, Boulder, Colorado 1975, starting from Eastern ideologies of philosophy and spirituality. In numerous contributions from humanities and natural sciences, Plato’s and Plotinus’s philosophies are associated with the perspectives hinted at here, but no previous contribution can be regarded as an introductory synthesis.
  14. See for example Platon, Timaios 90c7-d, and Plotinus, Ennead V 8.7.
  15. To the hypothesis of a completely mathematizable universe – the cosmos is mathematics! – which is presented under explicit evocation of Plato’s philosophy, see J. Barbour’s two popular attempts, The End of Time. The Next Revolution in Physics. Oxford 1999, and M. Tegmark, Our Mathematical Universe. My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. New York 2014.
  16. Ennead V 8.5.48-50, 5.4-7 and 20, 7.1-15 und 40 ff.
  17. For an introduction to Plotinus’s number theory, see S. Slaveva-Griffin, Plotinus on Number. Oxford 2009.
  18. For the superiority of freedom in relation to the physical and psychic dimension of being, see Plotinus, Ennead VI 8.1-7.
  19. See Experimental Workshop Constellations, Universität Bremen .
  20. See for example K. J. Gergen, Relational Being. Beyond Self and Community. Oxford 2009.
  21. R. Steiner, The Bridge between World Spirituality and the Physical of Human Beings. GA 202, Dornach 1993, Lectures from 12/24 and 12/25/2020.

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