The Old Biology
The history of biology up to the arrival
of the psychosis-addressing-and-solving,
real explanation of the human condition
Part 4:1 To explain the human condition science had to be invented, a process Socrates, Plato and Aristotle initiated
As emphasised throughout Parts 1, 2 and 3, the liberation from the upset state of the human condition depended on finding sufficient knowledge to be able to explain the human condition. As described in Part 3:10, Plato recognised that ‘enlightenment’ of our ‘imperfect’ ‘human condition’ had to be found for the human race to be ‘released from’ the ‘bonds’ of our ‘cave’-like ‘prison’ of ‘almost blind’ alienated denial. In that same Part, Jacob Bronowski was recorded as saying, ‘Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.’
Since time immemorial we have known the elements involved in the human condition of instinct and intellect—they are, after all, recognised in the story of the Garden of Eden, which was written some 3,500 years ago by Moses—but we couldn’t explain how and why these elements clashed to produce humans’ upset state. Every description of the human condition simply ended with the conclusion that we humans are bad, evil, worthless beings. For instance, in the story of ‘the Garden of Eden’ we were ‘banished’ as evil—we took the ‘fruit’ ‘from the tree of…knowledge’, became conscious and went in search of knowledge and as a result became destructively behaved, supposedly evil beings deserving of eviction from the ‘Garden’ of our original, pre-conscious, instinctive innocent state.
We have always known that other animals couldn’t reason like we humans could, that we were ‘smart’ while they were ‘ignorant’, but we didn’t know the mechanisms behind the two states of intellect and instinct. Vague, abstract, metaphorical, metaphysical, mythological and mystical accounts of our human state and predicament, like ‘taking the fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden’, weren’t enlightening our situation. We were never going to explain the human condition and end the underlying insecurity of our predicament until we committed ourselves to building up a first-principle-based, rational, testable and verifiable understanding of the nature, mechanisms and workings of our world. Science, from the Latin scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’, had to be invented, developed and formalised and it was this realisation and development that proved to be the most important, core contribution of the golden era of Greece, a period that lasted from around 500 to 300 .
The Greek philosopher Socrates greatly contributed to the establishment of science when, in response to every comment directed to him, he asked, ‘Why?’ In fact, Socrates’ refusal to stop questioning the metaphysical descriptions of the gods of his day resulted in his enforced suicide. As he famously said in his own defence at his trial, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ (Plato’s dialogue Apology, c.380 BC, tr. Benjamin Jowett), and similarly ‘the only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance’ (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, c.225 AD). Socrates knew that knowledge alone would be the clarifier and eliminator of mystery and superstition, specifically the mystery of our seemingly horrifically imperfect human condition. He said we had to think—an instruction his student Plato took to the next level, beginning the thinking in earnest. The ‘problem’ with Plato’s thinking, however, was that it was unbearably honest. For instance, he asked the rhetorical question: ‘isn’t it obvious whether it’s better for a blind man or a clear-sighted one to keep an eye on anything?’ (Plato The Republic, tr. H.D.P. Lee, 1955, p.244 of 405). In other words, surely it made sense for the exceptionally upset-free or uncorrupted and thus exceptionally alienation-free, ‘clear-sighted’, ‘blind[ness]’-free, sound and relatively innocent—‘the true philosophers…those whose passion is to see the truth’ (ibid. p.238), the ‘philosopher kings’ or ‘philosopher rulers’ or ‘philosopher princes’ or ‘philosopher guardians’ as he variously described them—to lead a society. Such honesty was untenable because differentiation between individuals according to degrees of alienation or soundness left those no longer innocent unjustly condemned as bad and unworthy. As will be explained more fully as this understanding of the human condition is fleshed out, until we were able to explain the human condition and by so doing defend and understand the upset, corrupted state, any acknowledgement of who was upset and who wasn’t only led to prejudice, to the more innocent condemning the more upset as bad or evil. We can now see that while some people became more upset than others as a result of humanity’s heroic battle against ignorance, no human is bad or evil or unworthy. Plato was too honest in what he advocated. Clearly a denial-based way of participating in the search for knowledge, namely reductionist, mechanistic science, had to be developed, which is what Aristotle , a student of Plato, went on to do.
This next quote alludes to this fundamental difference between the denial-free approach taken by Plato and the denial-committed strategy that Aristotle adopted. While the denial-complying, human-condition-avoiding attitude of mechanistic science hasn’t yet been properly explained, and the negative-entropy-driven, order-developing, integrative, cooperative, selfless, loving theme and meaning of existence outlined only briefly in Part 3:4, it may be difficult for the reader to fully comprehend this reference to Plato and Aristotle, however, it should be possible to gain from it some insight into their different attitudes: ‘Plato was ever aspiring to intuitions of a truth which in this world [that most people live in] could never be wholly revealed,—a truth of which glimpses only could be obtained, partly by the most abstract powers of thought, partly by the imagination…Plato…was an artist, and clothed all his thoughts in beauty; and if there be (as there surely is) a truth which is above the truth of [mechanistic] scientific knowledge, that was the truth after which Plato aspired. Aristotle’s aspirations were for methodised experience and the definite’ (Aristotle, Sir Alexander Grant, 1877, p.6 of 196, from a series titled Ancient Classics). Plato was actually just as scientifically rigorous—as ‘methodised’ and interested in the ‘definite’—as Aristotle, the primary difference between them was that Aristotle, like the great majority of the human race, wasn’t sound and secure enough in self to confront the ‘beauty’ of ‘a truth’ ‘as there surely is’ ‘which is above the truth of [mechanistic] scientific knowledge’, ‘a truth of which glimpses only could be obtained’ by most people, ‘a truth which in this world [that most people live in] could never be wholly revealed’, namely the truth of the integrative, cooperative, selfless, loving meaning or theme of existence, which Plato recognised in his books when he spoke of ‘the Good’ and ‘the absolute’. Plato was one of the rare few people in history who was sound and secure enough in self to confront the issue of the human condition (as the quote above acknowledged, ‘Plato was ever aspiring to intuitions of a truth which in this world [that most people live in] could never be wholly revealed’, namely the truth of Integrative Meaning). His ability to confront the issue of the human condition enabled him to lay the foundations for denial-free, so-called ‘holistic’ or ‘teleological’ science. Aristotle, on the other hand, suffered from the upset state of the human condition (like virtually everyone else) and therefore had to live in denial of the issue of the human condition and any truths that brought that issue into focus—most particularly, as will be explained, the truth of Integrative Meaning. He wasn’t sound enough to confront this ‘truth’; for him it ‘could never be wholly revealed’. Aristotle intuitively understood that science, humanity’s vehicle for inquiry into the mechanisms and workings of our world, would have to comply with humanity’s almost universal need to live in denial of the issue of the human condition and any truths that brought it into focus. Upset humans couldn’t be faced with the issue of the human condition until it could be solved because if they were such an encounter could lead to suicidal depression. As a result, Aristotle developed the discipline of denial-complying, human-condition-avoiding, focus-down-on-the-details-not-up-at-the-unbearable-whole-view, so-called ‘mechanistic’ or ‘reductionist’ science.
And so it was that these men, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, from three inter-connected generations in one brief period in human history, respectively formalised the principle of science of asking ‘why’, and the two approaches to scientific thinking: unevasive, denial-free holistic, teleological science, and evasive, denial-complying mechanistic, reductionist science (both approaches will be explained more fully shortly). It was an incalculably important and absolutely extraordinary achievement. But while denial-based mechanistic thinking was extremely valuable, ultimately it was the integrity of denial-free thinking that Plato initiated that could and would progress science fastest and furthest. The problem, as we shall see, however, is that denial-free thinkers are extremely rare.