Author Archives: Mark

Plato the Artist: Seeing the Dialogues as a Whole

You have to read Plato two or three times before you can read Plato for the first time.

Seeing Plato dialogue by dialogue is a fine start. But a new world of wonder opens up when you see the dialogues as an artistic whole, a view that only comes about when you know them well enough to sense how they play off each other.

Here is an example:

In the Apology and the Phaedo, we learn how the citizens of Athens regarded Socrates as a sophist, a mere manipulator of words, and as such condemned him to death. Socrates argues persuasively that he is not a sophist, not a mere exploitive rhetorician. His dialectical approach is clearly educative and improves those who come into contact with him.

In the Protagoras, we get a look at a bunch of real sophists gathered together in the home of Callias. One of Socrates’ students wakes him before the sunrise so that they can go to Callias’s home and talk with the famous sophist and intellectual Protagoras.

Socrates firsts says that they can’t go so early in the morning. Instead, they should walk around first until the sun is up. Thus, as in so many dialogues, we get a journey motif.

It’s important to pay attention to the dialogues where journeys are involved. As you may come to realize, Plato is setting up Socrates as the new hero of the Greeks, replacing Homer’s hero Odysseus.

Socrates wants to arrive when the sun is up. The sun is a motif across dialogues representing the realm of the forms, or true knowledge. (See in the Republic the myth of the cave.)

While they walk, they engage in conversation about, What is a sophist? What do you want to learn from a sophist? Socrates educates his student through dialectic, but does not charge a fee.

This journey illustrates that Socrates engages in true education and improvement, but not as a profit as do the sophists.

First we get a view of the Socratic way of educating. Later we get a contrasting view of how the sophists educate.

So they reach the home of Callias and are met by a eunuch. The eunuch appears overwhelmed by the presence of sophists, who make long speeches and do not seem to listen to each other. The eunuch sees Socrates and his student and turns them away, saying that there is no more room for more sophists. Socrates replies that they are not sophists.

Here we see a glance at the Apology and the Phaedo. The eunuch, like the citizens of Athens, cannot tell the difference between a sophist and a real educator.

And you can imagine why Plato would allude to the Athenians being philosophical eunuchs.

Here’s is an example from the Republic, which contains ten dialogues in Books (as divided by scholars), and is so large that one must keep in mind that there is a larger artistic vision here playing out symbolically:

In Book VIII, Plato reveals the five kinds of souls, four of which are harmful and which relate to the four kinds of bad governments. (In the Republic Plato explores the best form of government in his view, which is the government of Philosopher Kings.)

From better to worse the bad governments are: Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.

The alert reader will also recognize that the four kinds of bad government are represented by those who question Socrates: Glaucon (Timocracy), Adeimantus (Oligarchy), Polemarchus (Democracy), and Thrasymachus (Tyranny). Socrates of course represents the government of Philosopher Kings.

And the alert reader will also see that as the Republic progresses, each questioner moves up the ladder. For example, in Book I Thrasymachus clearly advocates for Tyranny, but then in the beginning of Book V, after much silence, he agrees with the others and asks that Socrates continue and discussion the education of women (where Socrates reveals himself to be the first feminist).

In other words, Thrasymachus moves from being the Tyrannic Man and becomes the Democratic Man, a step up on the journey to the Philosopher King.

Plato is famous for his Theory of Forms, which is articulated most fully in the Republic. Many people could read the Republic and think Plato advances the theory and design of the state as fixed Platonic doctrine. But in a later dialogue, the Parmenides, Plato offers a powerful critique of his own theory, one that clearly plagues Plato the rest of his life. He was an honest philosophy, honest enough to acknowledge the critical weaknesses in his own theory.

You do not finish reading all of Plato’s dialogues knowing the answers. But you do finish having developed stronger mental processes of approaching questions and truth in a way that creates a more healthy intellectual and spiritual understanding.

And you achieve a high view of artistic truth and beauty.

*****

from the Editor’s Introduction: The Best Complete Plato

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Why Bother with Plato?

With Plato, the tradition of critical Western speculation begins in the historic person of Socrates, a fifth-century B.C. Greek sage in ancient Athens during that city’s renaissance in democracy, art, and culture.

The primary sources for knowing Socrates are his student Plato and an historian and soldier, Xenophon. Others wrote in lighter ways about Socrates, including the comedic writer and his contemporary Aristophanes, whose comic play Clouds ridicules Socrates as a sophist and verbal pretender. But only Plato’s dialogues sustain a level of artistry that makes them singular and unique in the history of art.

The historical and cultural environment is critical for understanding Socrates and Plato. Although that history and culture is too much to cover for this introduction, I will mention two key influences.

First is the importance of mathematics, in terms of geometry and music. Socrates was strongly influenced by an understanding of Pythagorean mathematics, which highlighted the divine character of number, geometric forms, and musical intervals. Pythagoras, like Socrates, did not write down his philosophy. He led a secret group of followers in a religious application of mathematics to understand God and the orderliness of creation. He believed in reincarnation and the immortality of the Soul. Pythagoras stands as a permeating influence on Socratic and Platonic philosophy.

Second in importance to Socrates are the Ionian physicists, whom he opposed fiercely. These physicists included Thales, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Archelaus, and Diogenes of Apollonia. They created a materialistic, rationalistic explanation for nature that precluded the need for myths, gods, and religious meaning. Nature was merely material that was in constant chaotic change or flux, a meaningless explanation for sense perception. It had no ultimate purpose.

Socrates opposed these physicists because he saw how these naturalistic philosophies created a kind of skepticism that undermined language and law, forming a foundation for political sophistry and manipulation through language, which ultimately removed the need for people and societies to have a moral character.

Socrates believed in political and moral order, and Plato’s dialogues are works of art designed to make the case for political and moral order, both of which are connected to healthy individuals and communities.

In Plato’s view, Athens killed the most just Athenian, Socrates, who least deserved punishment. They lacked judgment and the ability to make wise decisions, both in killing Socrates and engaging in the Peloponnesian Wars, which resulted in the collapse of Athenian democracy.

So Plato set out to create works of art to address the ability of people to overcome ignorance and make better decisions. And he did this by following Socrates, who where possible avoided relying on dogma.

How?

The early dialogues tend to be aporetic, meaning that they end without a resolution. Socrates is not trying to get people to accept his definition of virtue, knowledge, justice, and so on. He does not even offer a definition. He is trying to get his partner in conversation (through dialectic as opposed to rhetoric) to think for himself: to think through the definitions, the weaknesses and contradictions, to become aware of how the mind holds false opinions, and is fundamentally ignorant in knowing truth.

With the middle dialogues, such as the Protagoras and Gorgias, Socrates begins to offer his own understanding of definitions. His purpose is to attack sophistry directly.

Plato’s later dialogues, such as the Laws, drop the character of Socrates altogether, and present a shift from pure dialectic (one to one) to rhetoric (one to many).

Plato is a poet who writes. Socrates is a sage who writes nothing. Plato, as a poet like Shakespeare, writes dramatically and symbolically. Nothing is wasted. Every line is important. In fact, I would say myth and poetry are more important in Plato than logic.

Logical analysis of Plato has great value, but in the last century, much has been lost in recognizing the poetic and mythic value of the dialogues. If you read a portion of a dialogue and think it is of lesser value than another that you think has the real meat of the conversation, you are missing out on Plato’s art.

The way a dialogue is framed at the beginning tells the reader something about the dialogue itself. A digression may actually be the central purpose of the dialogue.

For example, in the beginning of the Republic, Socrates says:

I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing.

If you take Plato at face value, you read the beginning of this dialogue as something merely descriptive. But Plato is an artist, a poet. Beginnings are important to Plato, and they set a symbolic tone.

For example, whenever you see in Plato someone ascending or descending, you can bet that Plato is symbolically illustrating where the person is going on the philosophical scale.

Later in the Republic, as the discussion on Justice heats up, Plato has Glaucon talk about the story of Gyges:

According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening…

Gyges finds a ring that makes him invisible. He uses his new power to kill the rightful king and take over the kingdom. Glaucon argues approvingly that anybody would do as Gyges had done.

Like Gyges, Glaucon has descended on the philosophical scale.

Plato’s artistry continually illustrates the difference between seeming and being. Like Shakespeare, Plato is concerned with seeming, which is the domain of rhetoric or public speaking to persuade a group, and being, which is the domain of dialectic or one-on-one conversation to agree on the truth.

Socrates does not want to tell the truth. Socrates wants the persons he talks with to state the truth themselves. (Shakespeare as a dramatist shows the seeming, but as a poet he reveals the being. The Merchant of Venice on stage seems to be anti-Semitic, portraying a bad Jew, but to the reader paying attention to the poetry and symbolism of the play, Shakespeare reveals the being of the Christian characters, who in their un-Christian treatment of Shylock, reveal their true hypocritical selves. Have you ever noticed what the opening words of each of the major Christian characters have in common?)

Plato, especially in the person of Socrates, does not want to tell you what to think. His dialogues are artfully designed to exercise how you think. Some of Socrates’ partners in conversation are lazy and do not want to exercise their minds, which often brings the dialogue to an end without a resolution. Meno, in the dialogue of that name, is lazy and does not want to think. He wants Socrates to tell him the answer. He is a bad student.

But sometimes Socrates has a good student, like Theaetetus, in the dialogue of that name, who exercises his mind strongly and thus allows Socrates to engage at a different level of conversation.

Socrates wants to push you towards knowledge by expanding the domain of your ignorance. For he knows what all sages know: you must make room for real knowledge by letting go of false knowledge.

*****

from the Editor’s Introduction: The Best Complete Plato

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Socrates’ Divine Inner Voice

Socrates often mentions that he is guided by a daemon, a kind of divine spirit, oracle, or “sign,” that takes the form of an inner voice or non-vocal nudge. The guide never tells Socrates what to do. It only indicates when Socrates is not to do something.

This distinction is important. One way to tell that a dialogue is spurious is if it has Socrates’ daemon tell someone else what to do.

Socrates learned over time to listen to this inner divine voice. He acted in service to it. Nothing that he does in his life is untouched by this inner divine voice.

He describes it in the Apology:

You have heard me speak at sundry times and in diverse places of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything which I am going to do. This is what deters me from being a politician.

Later, he explains that the defense he is giving to the Athenian court has been approved by this inner divine voice.

Hitherto the divine faculty of which the internal oracle is the source has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make a slip or error in any matter; and now as you see there has come upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either when I was leaving my house in the morning, or when I was on my way to the court, or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and yet I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing I either said or did touching the matter in hand has the oracle opposed me. What do I take to be the explanation of this silence? I will tell you. It is an intimation that what has happened to me is a good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. For the customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and not to good.

Commentators throughout the centuries wonder at what it was that drove Socrates to be the Athenian gadfly, the devoted citizen and warrior, the one who chose poverty over charging his students or any who would listen to his one-on-one conversations.

This divine inner voice spoke inwardly to him, moving him to be the true hero of the Athenian people, being a corrective to their hubris. Along the way, Socrates became a true hero of the Greek people and western civilization; and he became so effective that they killed him for it.

Almost 500 years later, Plutarch wrote a dialogue on this daemon of Socrates. It is included in this anthology.

*****

from the Editor’s Introduction: The Best Complete Plato

*****

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*****

The Piano Story

Don’t wait until you have the resources before setting a goal. Stretch yourself. Set a stretch goal, even one that seems unrealistic, and see how life supports you. Here’s an extreme example.

I play piano. In my college days, I didn’t have one. I couldn’t afford to buy or rent one. For the longest time that stopped me from getting a piano. Why? Because I thought (held the picture) that I could only have a piano if I bought or rented one. I thought I needed the money first.

Wrong!

Once I was presented with the picture of being an End-Result Thinker, not thinking I needed the resources first, I gave it a shot.

I began picturing having a piano and looking for a way of getting one that I didn’t have to buy or rent. Once I set the goal, I soon had this thought:

Hey, you know there are probably people out there who have a piano and find it a burden. I could offer to store it for them.

Actually, I thought, there are probably people with two pianos who would love to have me take one off their hands. That way, they would probably let me keep it for years, since they already had one piano.

So at my job as a 7-11 manager (putting myself through college), I began asking all my regular customers who had known me for some time whether they had an extra piano that they would like to have someone store for them.

It took only two weeks. An older gentleman who lived nearby said his wife had two pianos and they had been thinking what to do with them since they needed only one.

I arrived that weekend with a friend and a truck. We walked into a very nice home. One piano was an older black upright Baldwin piano. The other was an even older, beautifully crafted Chickering spinet piano with a top that folded down turning it into a table. It was lovely.

We started heading toward the upright piano, and the man said, No, my wife likes the touch of that piano, please take the Chickering.

It was incredible! Beautiful appearance. Wonderful touch. Bell-like tone. I had that piano in my home for almost five years.

Even today, the piano in our home belongs to someone who has no room for it right now.

So you see, it wasn’t a matter of Positive Thinking. It was more a matter of End-Result Thinking and applying imaginative exercises.

Thinking differently,
not harder.

It required no extra effort. Just a willingness to suspend disbelief and recognize that the possibilities of achieving a particular goal are much wider than we often believe. We just have to think from the End, As If.

I knew there was a way to get a piano without buying or renting one.

I set the goal. I saw it, I felt it, I acted as if it were a done deal.

I got the piano within a couple of weeks.

Try it. Pick any instrument you’ve always wanted, for you or your child. You will be amazed.

Remember:
You create your life every day
by writing, picturing, and feeling
what it is right NOW.

from Creating Your Life

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Why Physical Touch Is a Key to Romance

Connie Podesta is a motivational keynote speaker. You can find a variety of funny and insightful video clips of her on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Connie+Podesta

In one of her recorded talks, she talks about difficult people. She makes the case that difficult people don’t feel loved. She tells a fascinating story about a man named Harold:

A small hospital invited Connie to speak at a mandatory all-employee meeting. As you can imagine, nothing makes employees happier than a mandatory meeting.

In the back sat Harold. He looked like he was ready for retirement.

He slouched in his chair, arms folded, giving her a look that said, “I hate being here. There’s nothing you have to offer me.”

Wanting to include him, Connie went up and asked him his name. He replied that he didn’t have to tell her. He was present, and that’s all that was required.

She found a couple of other people in the audience more responsive. At break time, people came up to her and told her about old, mean Harold.

They said he’d been like this for five years. He used to be nice, but now he was nasty and mad, so people avoided him.

They didn’t know what had happened, but nobody talked to him anymore or invited him to anything.

When the session started again, she walked up to Harold, sat in his lap, and continued delivering her talk.

After three minutes, she started to get up, but he pulled her back into his lap. She talked that way for 45 minutes and at the end, his head lay on her shoulder.

After the session, she followed him out and asked him if he was OK. He turned to her sobbing, came up to her, and put his arms around her.

He said, “You are the first person who has touched me since my wife died, five years ago.”

We underestimate the power of touch.

How often do you touch your beloved? With a hug, a kiss, something more intimate?

Do you do it daily, first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening?

Or can days or weeks go by without a hug, a touch on the arm, a stroke of the hair, holding hands, a brush of the neck, kisses lightly around the eyes and on the cheeks, little massages on the back, or touching of feet?

Touch expresses intimacy.

Touch is the Gift of Service
that Affirms Quality.

From Sex and Romance

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Changing Your Life Is Like Kitchen Remodeling

One of the things that the Power of Positive Thinking crowd often fails to mention is that whenever you try to make a big change in your life, your life can sometimes enter a stage where it seems everything is falling apart.

When you want to take your airplane to a new altitude, put on your seatbelt because you may experience some turbulence on the way up.

Making a major change in yourself or your life is like kitchen remodeling.

You have your old kitchen. You’re content with it out of sheer habit.

Then one day you visit a friend who has remodeled their kitchen. New granite counter tops, fresh matching appliances, new tile floor. You decide to remodel your kitchen.

Unfortunately, the transition to the new vision or goal is not immediate. There is a dismantling period where your kitchen must be removed. You have a less than functional kitchen.

You enter a kind of Dark Night of the Soul.

A less-functional or gutted kitchen means hard times. And there is always danger that if the new vision hasn’t fully taken hold, you will hang on to the old kitchen rather than move forward into the new kitchen.

The new vision has to be stronger than
the current picture to get you to act.

This happens whenever you set a vision or goal and work to make it happen. The key again is that whatever goal you set, you must hold it strongly in mind.

If you hold the goal strongly in mind,
if you daydream about it and feel it,
you are more likely to achieve your goal.

Your enthusiasm for the new vision
carries you through the tough transition.

You inspire yourself with it continually, and sustain the vision and energy through the rough times. Your old “anchor points,” those fixed pictures that anchor your vision of reality, will get pulled up to make room for the new vision. You hold the vision in order to have the energy to carry your goal through to completion.

You want to become a chemical engineer. You are not one right now. But you know some chemical engineers, and their work fascinates you. You think you can be good at it and have fun with that kind of work.

So you hold a new vision of yourself that does not match your current picture. What do you do? You motivate yourself to go to school, do the work, get the degree, search for a job, go to interviews, accept a job offer, learn the job, grow in your new role. The vision manifests.

You have given up your old picture and adopted a new, more professional and experienced one.

The mind is easily distracted. Therefore, one has to work hard to keep the mind focused and disciplined. This is why people work with positive statements and affirmations.

from Creating Your Life

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The 95% Rule of Being Certain

As you can see, the mind creates blind spots whenever you claim to be 100% certain of anything. If there is any evidence that contradicts your 100% certainty, you will not see it.

Certain kinds of absolute conviction
blind you to the Truth.

But you can let go of these absolute convictions in order to test them. In other words, we find value in holding a kind of objectivity where deeply held beliefs (especially negative and limiting beliefs) are challenged and dissolved to form a more flexible and adaptive consciousness.

What can you do?

Simply cultivate a bit of humility. Have a little bit of healthy self-doubt about everything you are certain is true.

Say to yourself, “Yes, I believe that’s 95% true; of course there is a chance I could come upon evidence or arguments that can change my mind.”

Yes, some truths appear to be absolute. I could say to myself, “It is absolutely certain that I will not be able to jump to the moon two weeks from now.”

But I have cultivated a habit of being suspicious of absolutes. So instead I say for the benefit of my subconscious, “It is highly unlikely that I will be able to jump to the moon two weeks from now.”

Healthy humility about being certain
entails little risk and helps keep your mind clear
so you can stay flexible and see more clearly.

from Creating Your Life

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The Nocebo Effect: Evil Twin of the Placebo Effect

Beware of the negative effects of false assumptions:

The Nocebo Effect

—In a 1970s study doctors diagnosed man with end-stage liver cancer. They told him he had just a few months to live. The patient died. An autopsy showed no cancer.

A —1992 study demonstrated that women believing they were prone to heart disease were 4-times as likely to die.

—In a 2009 study, participants were told they were given drugs with bad side effects. They were told the bad side effects for their particular drug, which was actually a placebo. They experienced burning sensations outside the stomach, sleepiness, fatigue, vomiting, weakness and even taste disturbances, tinnitus, and upper-respiratory-tract infection. These “Nocebo” complaints were not random; the side effects experienced were specific to the type of drug they believed they were taking.

Beware of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies. See more on the Creating Your Life channel on YouTube:

The Importance of Empathy for Happiness

Hugh Hewitt, who teaches constitutional law, frames his book The Happiest Life around gifts and givers. For him, generosity is the precondition for happiness.

He first works his way through “The Seven Gifts”: Encouragement, Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy, Good Humor, Graciousness, and Gratitude.

Of these seven gifts, he says:

Everyone is eligible to be a giver of these gifts. Everyone. You don’t need wealth. You don’t have to be twenty-one. You don’t even have to be literate.

And if you’re not giving these away, you are being a miser.

Then he follows with the seven kinds of givers we can be:

The Spouse, The Parent, Family Members, Friends,
The Coworker, Teachers, and The Church.

And to be a giver, you not only need to have generosity, but also courage. He starts the introduction of the book with a quote from the ancient Greek General, Thucydides:

The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom is courage.

Hewitt then writes:

You have to have courage to give away what you hold dearest, again and again and again. Every day. Remarkably, self-sacrifice and generosity produce the greatest, most enduring happiness.

Hewitt’s book is warm and wise, and full of illustrative stories to provide a sharp and insightful definition of the gifts.

For example, to bring home what empathy actually is (as opposed to sympathy), he shares a conversation he had with a rabbi.

Sympathy is sharing suffering at a distance.
Empathy is sharing suffering up close.

The rabbi said simply, “Show up and shut up.”

You don’t have to tell the suffering person that you know what they’re going through. You don’t know.

You don’t have to tell them it will be all right. You don’t have to share your own experience with suffering.

As Hewitt says, “The gift of quiet, advice-free companionship in the midst of suffering is a gift of the highest order.”

He makes the point that empathy is a costly gift because it means “reliving past sorrows and entering into new ones.”

From Sex and Romance

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What Is Imagination?

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.
Tuli Kupferberg, poet

Philosophers like to distinguish memory from imagination.

We perceive sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences. We can close our eyes and recall these same sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences. We can remember what we ate yesterday, how we felt the first time we kissed someone, what bioluminescent ocean waves look and sound like.

We call this faculty of the mind “memory.”
We remember the past.

What about the future?

We know we can take past experiences and change them to picture something we haven’t experienced. I can have memories of touching a hot stove, blistering my finger, and also watching a campfire burn.

However, I can imagine putting my hand in a campfire and feeling and seeing my hand burn. It does not matter that I have never experienced actually putting my hand in a campfire. I can picture it. I can imagine it.

We call this faculty of the mind “imagination.”
We can picture what is not real.
Or what we have not yet experienced.

We can imagine bioluminescent ocean waves that are green or yellow, or waves with images of colorful birds in them. We can imagine the ocean waves falling up in curious spirals with the sounds of trumpets and flutes coming out of the shooting spray, and the smell of peaches in the spray.

Even though we have never seen
or heard such things combined.

So imagination is not limited to images or mere memory. All senses can be put into play. And make no mistake, imagination is play. Daydreaming is playful. And the more we know how our mind works, the more we can take advantage of playful daydreaming.

What happens when a girl first sees someone dance on stage and begins imagining that she is the dancer? How is it that creative drive provides the energy for the girl to beg her parents for dance lessons, and in a few years she is dancing onstage herself?

What happens when a boy sees firefighters in a fire truck and begins imagining that he is a firefighter? How is it that creative drive provides the energy for the boy to read all about firefighters, to discover what he needs to be a firefighter, and then someday to find himself bravely running into burning buildings?

How is it that some people build a multimillion dollar business, and when that business fails, they sink into depression? Yet others who fail building a multimillion dollar business turn around and build another one, and another?

Once you have an understanding of how the mind works, and how imagination creates your world, you will have the keys to create and change your life.

from Creating Your Life

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