Thursday, March 16, 2017

Being and Becoming

A while back I graduated from a texty beast phone with a keypad to a touch screen, and took a break from blogging after running into obstacles in making posts on this new device.  After giving up for a few months I am beginning to miss my self expression outlet!  Typing is tricky, but including images with text is ugh!  Maddening!

So my chart averse friends will be spared the usual map of real time and just get a Plato quote with a story of how I met and gradually fell deeply in love with it.

It goes something like this: "As being is to becoming, so truth is to believing."

I read it in a philosophy book that I bought at The Paper Plant years ago.  I remember (but you know how shifty memories can be) John being so glad that I bought it.  But I could not remember the exact name of the book or the author.  I knew it wasn't Bakunin the apologist of anarchy (I really liked him!) or Camus (I liked him too, and rembered enough to feel confident I did not read that quote in his writing); it seemed like it was some German guy and the book had philosophy in the title.  When I looked up Heidegger a year or two ago I did not find a title that rang a bell.  But his name stuck in my mind.

Today I googled "Heidegger on Plato" and found it!  It was a lecture that had been made into a book:  "What is Philosophy?"  No wonder I picked it up!  It was cheap (used book store), it was skinny, and it was asking the question I had wondered about, like those people on the commercials for "The National Enquirer" - I wanted to know, not about the Loch Ness monster, but what philosophy is.

It was a kind of a hard read, but there was some stuff (if I remember right) about the verb 'to be' in Greek that reminded me of the verb 'to be' in Spanish.  For one thing, there are actually two of them.  One is for stuff that doesn't change, not absolutely, but relatively speaking, like a person's name or a chair.  The other is for stuff that does, like location; sometimes we are at work, sometimes we are at the store and sometimes we are at home.  One kind of being gets one verb and the other kind gets another.  Well, all langauges don't have one verb for being without change and another for being with change.  Spanish does, but English doesn't.  In English we change the word or stick it beside another one to indicate how transient or unchanging a situation is, or sometimes the audience just has to figure out how transient things are from the context; we can be at the store or we can be the daughter of a political activist, both the transient and the unchanging get the same verb. 

So in this book 'What is Philosphy' Heidegger was explaining how Plato's audience would have been reading two completely different words for two types of being.  And this essay is already getting pretty long for a blog post so I will try to cut quickly to the big moment, where me and that quote first met.

He was talking about truth and illusion and opinion and about how illusions and opinions change, that their angle of inclination changes until they are standing upright, and when that happens they are approaching the truth.  You really will have to read it for yourself, I am sure I have got his meaning all muddled, that's just what remains in my mind more than 20 years after the fact.

But I swear I remember something about the 'to be' verb for changing things, which usually gets translated in English as 'becoming' (as opposed to 'being' for the boring stuff that always stays the same) refering to something that gradually stands up: and that made me think of astrology.  I had read a few books by Dane Rudyer and he was really big on astrology being all about cycles- that each sign, or step in a cycle between two planets, was a step in growth.  Each new step both depends on and builds on the previous step.

I knew astrology was among the graduate, or upper level of courses, that well educated Hellenists studied, so I knew Plato  could probably 'speak' astrology.  But for some reason it took me about 20 years to buckle down and really explore Plato. 

Well, actually the reason it took me so long is probably that in addition to wanting to understand philosophy I was also fascinated with men and, you know, the things everyone says women do with them.  The three letter word that begins with s and leads to parenthood.  But all through those adventures of finding out what this strange activity is that seems so mysterious and primitive and frought with unseen danger I did keep poking around and picking up a skinny book about philosophy here or there, until I settled in for a long satisfying Greek/English translation of Plato's Timeaus.  It is by Benjamin Jowett and has lots of really helpful annotations.

Wow.  So many years wondering.  That quote really baffled me.  "As being is to becoming so truth is to believing."  Now, rather than baffle, it encapsulates for me so much of the wisdom unfolded in the part of Timeaus about the genesis of the  cosmos.  When that quote comes up in my mind there always follows all the things Plato said about the psyche, the way he bowed reverently to other cultures and pointed his audience to the source of the wisdom he was sharing.

There is a form of existence which does not experience birth or death, and it is that from which all forms of existence originate.  It is always.  Opinions and beliefs are born and grow to maturity through experience and wane until they have morphed into new ones.  The truth is always unchanging, always there ready for us to find it.