Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Word About Plato

When I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota many years ago, I took a class on Greek and Roman mythology to satisfy one of my history requirements. I was very interested in the course at the time and had a huge crush on the TA who was a rugged, punk, intellectual type that was way too interested in his female students. Anyway, I don’t use what I learned in that class on a regular basis, but I remember the material surprisingly well. One thing in particular that I often find myself thinking about is an essay written by Plato, outlining his idea of what happens to us before we are born. Plato thought that all the unborn souls live in some other place (I’ll call it Heaven even though I don’t think he did) waiting to be born. They decide on the human form they will take by being shown a series of images of lives they can lead from which they choose the life they like best. The souls are only shown a glimpse of these lives so they are not aware of the hardships that inevitably accompany each life. When they catch a glimpse of who they want to be, they pick that life and are born into it.

As a freshman in college I initially underestimated Plato’s theory. I thought, “Okay, but what about people that are disfigured? Mentally challenged? All-around miserable? Isn’t it an affront to them to presume their souls chose this life?” The beauty of the theory is that there are fleeting moments either in the past or in the future where their souls are happy, at peace, in a life someone might choose if only for a moment. I am not religious. I can’t even really pretend to be very spiritual as I have no answers to why we are greater than the sum of our parts. But for some reason, I really like Plato’s theory. And I still think about it a lot.

The other night I was driving home from a satisfying day at work. I had the windows down, letting the warm, November breeze of Florida blow through my hair. To my left the sun was setting causing streaks of pink and purple to ribbon through the sky. I was excited to go home and see the love of my life, and our little cat family in our quaint apartment. It’s moments like this I think of Plato’s essay and think, “this must have been what I saw when I was still in Heaven.”

And to those of you who want to put something clever in the comments: No, I am not high. Just happy.


Sylvia said...

The love of your life is lucky to have you as his partner. I wonder if his vision of the life he picked was of you and him watching a baseball game while curled up on the sofa with the cats. This year's Illini football team must be one of the hardships he couldn't see.

dancingo4 said...

I think part of the fun of reading your blog is the way you think about things in a different way. What an amazing moment of realization you had doing something so typical. I know I will try to look for those moments in my life. Why would I have chosen to be the person I am? I guess being in academia you question things like that more often. The business world really doesn't care how you got here, just wants to make sure you get the work done. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job and the people I work with. However, there is a lack of the deep thoughts that come with being in an educational setting. Instead of “why are we here” we think about “how can we maximize the profit on that.” Just something that seemed evident to me when reading all your thoughts on things that I wouldn’t even think about unless I would be reading your blog.

I’m excited to find my “moments” thanks to your thought inspiring post.

Sylvia - I laughed out loud at your comments about Illini football. Oh! And I won $2 from your lottery ticket. Woo Hoo! Thanks.

Scott said...

Reminds me of that joke where a guy has to choose from the three doors of hell, and sees suffering through the first two, but in the third everyone is standing in a pool of shit drinking coffee, so the guy chooses that one and hops into the pool and is handed a cup of coffee. Just then the devil jumps out and says, "Coffee break's over, back on your heads!"

jenbeauty said...

Its wonderful that you had that happy moment. I love posts like these. It really made me smile. Thank you for sharing it with us.

gabrielle said...

Thank you, Natalie. This post was very moving. I too have experienced such luminescent moments when it feels as if there is nothing separating me from the continuum of life and everything is infused with an unspeakable beauty. Alduous Huxley wrote a book about such a vision. He hypothesized that we are all capable of this kind of expanded awareness, but since it is not practical, our brains and nervous systems serve as a filter for our perceptions. He used mescaline as a portal. Sufis whirl, Shakers shake, Buddhists chant. There seems to be a natural human longing for connectedness.
I wonder why this sense of unity is so rare and why we insist on segregating it to the sacred. I hesitate to call these experiences transcendent because this would imply that they are not ordinary. Anyway, there's a part of me that believes that not only are they ordinary, but that they are also v accessible... if we train ourselves to be still and allow our senses to soak in the rich broth in which we swim.
Have you ever gone through the motions of eating or having a conversation without really being present...your mind is absorbed in the minutia of a pending paper, your emotions invested in the outcome of your efforts. It's as though we are sleepwalking through our lives.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite." William Blake
Thank you again for having the impetus and writer's verve to remind us of what is so precious.

Scott said...

I have some ideas on how to get around the laws of physics. I started writing down my idea, but now I think I'll wait and see if you can't lend some more credibility to some of them. I think you'll like it though.

magnetbabe said...

Thank you everyone for your thoughts. I didn't write this to inspire people, but I'm so glad that's waht I ended up doing. So many people use their blogs as an outlet to vent about their jobs, their families, etc. That's great, that's what it's there for. But for me, it's just as important to write about the moments I am overwhelmed with happiness, which is often.
Working in physics I can't help but think deep thoughts about how what I learn pertains to a bigger picture. I am not in theory and I don't regularly deal with such questions as the origins of the Universe but I increasingly become aware that working in science gives me a unique persective. I tackle things from different angles everyday, which is why I must open my eyes to what's around me- I can't afford to miss what may be right in front of me. Once in awhile this method leaks into my everyday world and everything just...fits.

Did you read what hairless nad I had to say again on the comments section of my last post? Feel free to send me an email about your ideas.

Scott said...

Hi MB and Hairless - Thanks for the comments. I didn't see the hairless comment until you pointed it out Nat. My idea is a fictional explanation of the universe. I'll definitely email you the specifics if I lose steam or really think it out. I started to comment here about it and found out I had a few more ideas than I had before, so I switched to my personal journal and want to work at it for a while. I would rather send it to you via email anyway as I would probably want to surprise everyone with my (hopefully) unique idea.