February 24, 2021
Episode 112: We are the One: Plotinus’ Participatory Metaphysics
We explore some of the aspects of Plotinus’ living, participatory universe, in which humans play a constitutive role.
Works Cited in this Episode:
On the fascinating theory of the self in Plotinus, a few essential works are Blumenthal
1971; O’Daly 1973; Beierwaltes 2001; Remes 2007; Aubry 2008; Chiaradonna 2008;
- The Plotinian equation of ontology and epistemology: e.g. I.61.9. On Plotinian
hypostases as ‘modes of consciousness’, see Bréhier 1958, 192-5, Wallis (1976). Cf.
Rappe 2000, 25-44; Mazur 2010, 33; Perl 2006.
- Noêsis is being, quoting Parmenides fr. B3 DK (τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι): I.410.6; III.57.51; V.18.17-18; V.66.22-3; V.95.29-30; VI.741.18.
- Plotinus on the unconscious mind: see especially IV.4[. cf. e.g. IV.330.11-16; IV.88; V.112; V.811.27-8. See Bréhier 1958, 74-5, 193; Smith 1978.
- The Plotinian journey inward: IV.81 (see the Greek below).
- Nous is the highest God: see Sleeman and Pollet 1980 s.v. θέος for hundreds of examples. Is the noetic world of Forms, and contains everything this kosmos contains (see e.g. VI.711.3-4 and ff; V.832=36), but without extension or accidents ([ποιήτεις] e.g. II.6; VI.214; VI.112.42 ff.).
- The One occasionally described as ‘God’: especially in VI.8.
- Plotinus acknowledges the originality of the Undescended Self theory: ‘If one may express one’s own opinion, contradicting that of others …’ IV.88.1-6. The theory may have Numenian origins (see Numenius frr. 41 and 42 Des Places; Petty 2012, 17). According to Proclus (In Tim. III.323, 5 Diehl) it is ‘a new theory’, by which Proclus means an innovation contrary to the canonical tradition of the Ancients as he sees them. Cf. H+S’s references to Enn. IV.88.
- Body inside soul: e.g. IV.320.14-15, 22.8-9, 9.36-51.
- The soul’s impassibility: e.g. I.112.
- ‘Often, awakening to my self from the body and becoming separate from all other externals’: IV.81.1-11: Πολλάκις ἐγειρόμενος εἰς ἐμαυτὸν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος καὶ γινόμενος τῶν μὲν ἄλλων ἔξω, ἐμαυτοῦ δὲ εἴσω, θαυμαστὸν ἡλίκον ὁρῶν κάλλος, καὶ τῆς κρείττονος μοίρας πιστεύσας τότε μάλιστα εἶναι, ζωήν τε ἀρίστην ἐνεργήσας καὶ τῷ θείῳ εἰς ταὐτὸν γεγενημένος καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ ἱδρυθεὶς εἰς ἐνέργειαν ἐλθὼν ἐκείνην ὑπὲρ πᾶν τὸ ἄλλο νοητὸν ἐμαυτὸν ἱδρύσας, μετὰ ταύτην τὴν ἐν τῷ θείῳ στάσιν εἰς λογισμὸν ἐκ νοῦ καταβὰς ἀπορῶ, πῶς ποτε καὶ νῦν καταβαίνω, καὶ ὅπως ποτέ μοι ἔνδον ἡ ψυχὴ γεγένηται τοῦ σώματος τοῦτο οὖσα, οἷον ἐφάνη καθ’ ἑαυτήν, καίπερ οὖσα ἐν σώματι. Cf. V.36.13-18. We cite the translation of Banner 2018, p. 113.
- Human individuality preserved at all levels of reality: e.g. IV.45.13-20; IV.318.13-15, and see the discussion in Episode 113 of the podcast. But see e.g. Bussanich 1997, 5314-20 for a counter-argument.
- The numerical singularity of nous: IV.38.22-30; VI.41.23-25, 12.49; VI.51.1, 3.19, 11.32. See Chiaradonna 2010. Noës, the plural of nous, is rare in the Enneads, occurring only ten times (at III.96.7; IV.35.6; IV.717.26 and 27, the Attic variant noî at VI.44.19; VI.615.14; VI.717.27; VI.222.27; at II.91.33 it occurs in the negative context of denying that we can posit more than one Nous, and at and I.82.10 they are ‘so-called noës’). This as against the thousands of occurrences of ‘nous’ in the singular. But see IV.36!
- On Nous being everywhere, nowhere, and ‘up there’, see Wilberding 2005.
- Noêsis as synæsthesia: VI.712.25 ad fin. Noêsis as vision: We could not even begin to cite all the passages where Plotinus uses the language of vision to describe the perception of the noetic realities. Ennead V.8, On the Noetic Beauty, is a classic.
- ‘Our perceptions here are dim acts of noêsis, and the acts of noêsis there are clear perceptions’: VI.77.31.
- Noetic bodies: IV.318.13-15; IV.45.13-20; VI.221.52-53. Noetic bodies as eyeballs that see in every direction: IV.318.20-22.
- Noetic matter: II.43-5 and 15; see [Rist1961, 125].
- Noetic ‘walking’: V.84.
- ‘Alone with the alone’: I.67.9; cf. V.16.11-12; VI.734.7-8. Cf. Numenius fr. 2 Des Places.
- The direct encounter with the One: see the special episode on the encounter with the One in Plotinus.
- The One present at all levels of reality, even matter: III.810.
- The ‘big mush’ of a universe without a One to limit it: VI.714.
- Hadot on Plotty’s ‘mysticism’ really being about nous for the most part: Hadot 1986, 11-12.
- Plato’s Timæus on the body being within soul: 36e.
- Porphyry perhaps not holding Plotinus’ doctrine of the undescended self: See Smith 1974, pp. 47-49 for a good discussion of the issues and further bibliography.
Secondary Works Cited Above:
- Gwenaëlle Aubry. Un moi sans identité? Le hemeis Plotinien. In Gwenaëlle Aubry and Frédérique Ildefonse, editors, Le moi et l’interiorité, pages 107–125. Vrin, Paris, 2008.
- Nicholas Banner. Philosophic Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus. The University Press, Cambridge, 2018.
- W. Beierwaltes. Das wahre Selbst. Studien zu Plotins Begriff des Geistes und des Einen. Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt, 2001.
- H. J. Blumenthal. Plotinus’ Psychology: His Doctrine of the Embodied Soul. Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1971.
- Emile Bréhier. The Philosophy of Plotinus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958. Translated by J. Thomas.
- J. Bussanich. Mystical Elements in the Thought of Plotinus. ANRW, 36(7):5300–5330, 1997.
- R. Chiaradonna. Sostanze intellegibili e unità numerica in Plotino. In Daniela P. Taormina, editor, L’essere del pensiero. Saggi sulla filosofia di Plotino, pages 121–136. Bibliopolis, Napoli, 2010.
- Riccardo Chiaradonna. Plotino: Il “noi” e il “nous”. In Gwenaëlle Aubry and Frédérique Ildefonse, editors, Le moi et l’interiorité, pages 277–293. Vrin, Paris, 2008.
- Christian Girard. L’identité de l’homme chez Plotin. PhD thesis, Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2013.
- Pierre Hadot. Neoplatonist Spirituality: Plotinus and Porphyry. In A.H. Armstrong, editor, Classical Mediterranean Spirituality, pages 230–249. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986. translated by Jane Curran.
- Alexander J. Mazur. The Platonizing Sethian Gnostic Background of Plotinus’ Mysticism. PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2010.
- G O’Daly. Plotinus’ Philosophy of the Self. Irish University Press, Shannon, 1973.
- Eric D. Perl. The Togetherness of Thought and Being: A Phenomenological Reading of Plotinus’ Doctrine That the Intelligibles are not Outside the Intellect. In J. J. Cleary and G. M. S. Gurtler, editors, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. XXII, pages 1–26. Brill, Leiden, 2006.
- R. Petty. Fragments of Numenius of Apamea. Number VII in Platonic Texts and Translations. Prometheus Trust, Hockley, 2012.
- Sara Rappe. Reading Neoplatonism: Non-Discursive Thinking in the Texts of Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 2000.
- P. Remes. Plotinus on Self: the Philosophy of the ‘We’. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.
- J. Rist. Plotinus on Matter and Evil. Phronesis, 6(2):154–66, 1961.
- J. H. Sleeman and Gilbert Pollet. Lexicon Plotinianum. Brill/Leuven University Press, Leiden/Leuven, 1980.
- Andrew Smith. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag, 1974.
- Andrew Smith. Unconsciousness and Quasi-Consciousness in Plotinus. Phronesis, 23 (3):292–301, 1978.
- R. Wallis. Nous as Experience. In R. Baine Harris, editor, The Significance of Neoplatonism, pages 121–154. International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Norfolk, VA, 1976.
- J. Wilberding. Creeping Spatiality: The Location of Nous in Plotinus’ Universe. Phronesis, 50(4):315–334, 2005.
Aiôn, Apophatic Writing, Deification, Higher Self, Nous, Parmenides, Philosophy, Plato, Plotinus, Transcendent Consciousness
February 24, 2021
Thank you so very much.
February 25, 2021
This was most baffling episode yet. Thank you.. Really great fun to listen to—especially with the Amoebics playing at the end!
I don’t know any Platonist philosopher that disputes the existence of the self. This is so surprising to me! Consider that the classical psychedelic mystical experience involves a profound loss of ego — just at the moment where one feels infinitely connected to the universe. At least, that’s my experience with Henosis 🙂
But, I hope you see my question: why does *self* play such a role in Noesis?
From the perspective of Plotinus:
1. Can there be sensation without nous?
2. Can there be nous without sensation?
3. Can the nous have sensation?
FINALLY: What is the relationship between Soul (Psuche), Sensation and Nous?
February 25, 2021
Thanks for the excellent questions and comments. So, numbered questions first:
1. No way (there can be nothing without nous, but beyond that, the perceptions here are ‘echoes’ or distortions of the perceptions there: see VI.7 especially).
2. Very interesting question. I think maybe the higher levels of nous where it starts to border on ultimate simplicity are without sensation, though he’s still happy to talk about ‘vision beyond vision’ and stuff like that. But the noetic world seems to be full of sensation, more so than our world. It’s kind of Blakean in that way: everything there is more vivid.
3. Yes. νοητὴ αἴσθεσις.
Now, as to why ‘self’ plays such an important role in the higher, well, self, for Plotinus: I do see where your question is coming from. Here’s the thing: in this episode we hardly talked about the lower self at all, and Plotinus has a really fascinating, ahead-of-its-time, and psychologically-astute theory of the lower self, the ‘we’ (what we, in our more individualistic times, would call the ‘I’), and this would seem to be most of what people mean when they talk of the self in ordinary language. For Plotinus, by contrast, the ‘we’ is a false self that we shed just like the body when we manifest the noetic self. So there is a higher self (and an ontologically-grounded self of pure being at that, so we are definitely not in Buddhist territory here), but it’s nothing like the ego-self.
‘Self’ might not be the best term of translation here (it doesn’t really exist in Greek, to begin with), but it’s hard to see a good alternative. Maybe the ‘higher iteration’ of the kosmic/hyperkosmic entity known here as ‘human being’ which there is a daimôn, something like that. Bit of a mouthful.
FINALLY: Way too complex to answer here. Keep listening. We are planning an episode on the theory of the self in Plotty, which may answer some questions. Also, read the Enneads!
February 25, 2021
Thank you for the replies. Here are my reflections:
1. I’d like to understand the nous as”thought world”, sort of, but more like “information world” or “all possibilities world”. From your description, the Nous encompasses *at least* the infinite potential information space, or what Spinoza called “God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes.”
2. I would suppose that Plotinus read Philolaus? “the soul cherishes its body, because without it the soul cannot feel”—if sensation or feeling requires bodies, then the vastness of the Nous may be vivid as a picture but largely unsensed. If only because bodies can only so imperfectly approximate the forms in the nous, the nous would be so infinitely beyond the potential of bodily interaction.
3. Imaginary Sense? Like our noetic bodies noetically sensing?
It is not terribly well acknowledged that information and thermodynamic material systems overlap uncomfortably in a scientific enigma —exemplified by the concept of entropy. I have a hard time imagining an informational system acheiving feeling. And yet, states of feelings are so transcendentally captured by classical musical forms—hmm. There is feeling in the nous: but does the nous feel?
For a closer, here is my favorite example of Plotinus getting real technical and then soaring into the abyss:
“one part is in sympathetic connection with another, just as in one tense string; for if the string is plucked at the lower end, it has a vibration at the upper. But often, too, when one string is plucked another has a kind of sense of this by its concord and the fact that it is tuned to the same scale. But if the vibration can even pass from one lyre to another in so far as a sympathy exists, then there is also one single harmony in the All, even if it is composed of opposites; and it is in fact composed of parts which are alike and all akin, even when they are opposites”
February 26, 2021
That’s an interesting thought about the Nous being an “all possibilities world.” Some contemporary Platonistic thinkers have floated the idea that the base layer of reality is some kind of “space of all possibilities.” The two theories I’m thinking of are Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (where every mathematical structure is equally real, and our universe is one of them) and David Lewis’s modal realism (where all logically possible states of affairs are equally real, and our universe is one of them).
These big possibility spaces do remind me of Plotinus’s Nous in some ways – for one thing, they describe a complete collection of abstract objects sitting at the root of reality, which sounds a lot like the world of Forms to me. Plus, they seem to rely on a prior notion of coherence that determines what belongs in the “space of all possibilities” in the first place (for Tegmark it’s mathematical coherence, for Lewis it’s logical coherence) and maybe this coherence could correspond to the One! After all, things are only coherent insofar as they participate in the One, right?
But Tegmark and Lewis have important differences with Plotinus, too. For instance, Plotinus doesn’t believe in a multiverse, but for Tegmark and Lewis, every possible way that things could be is a different world. And Plotinus is clear that the Nous is a mind (the divine mind, eternally thinking all of its contents), whereas Tegmark’s and Lewis’s possibility spaces don’t really seem like minds.
I definitely see the appeal of thinking of Nous as a “space of all possibilities” or “information world.” I personally like thinking about it that way, but I’m not sure whether or not Plotinus would approve!
March 9, 2021
If you haven’t already, you may be interested in reading Cosmological Koans (Aguirre; mostly just suggested because it’s a fun read that synthesizes a lot of different perspectives), Understanding Our Unseen reality (Kastner), and some of Roger Penrose’s works (while keeping in mind that in his popular work, whenever he says he’ll keep it math-free/lite, he is lying). Kastner’s transactional interpretation work is interesting in the way it collapses possibility into actuality to create a single universe. I see a lot in modern theoretical physics that looks very similar to a non-superficial understanding of Platonism, especially when one thinks about the meadow in the Republic.
February 25, 2021
Averroës/Ibn-Rushd held a one-intellect theory interpretation of Aristotle’s nous, like your interpretation of Plontinus, correct? Or am I misremembering this? This is probably nothing novel to SHWEP’s audience, but there’s a very plausible argument to get the one-intellect theory going:
1. When Tom and Earl think the Good, they think the same thing or different things.
2. If they think different things, then they are not thinking the Good.
2a. There is only one Form of the Good.
3. If they think the same thing, they think the Form Good.
4. The content of thinking is the same or different as the act of thinking.
4a. (Plotinus’ argument they are the same.)
5. Therefore, the Form Good is the same as thinking the Good.
6. Therefore, if Tom and Earl are thinking the Good, they think the same thought.
7. If thoughts are the same, then from 4a, then the nous is the same.
8. Therefore, Tom and Earl have the same nous.
9. Therefore, Tom and Earl have (share? a part of?) one Nous.
Something like that. There are likely some gaps in there. I didn’t mean for this to come out to nine steps, but Fate was elegantly kind.
February 25, 2021
I can’t speak for Ibn Rushd, but I think you might be thinking of al-Farabi, whose elegant Aristotelean/Platonist thought we shall be covering with great gusto in the course of the podcast. He did indeed blow everyone’s mind by maintaining the unicity of aql (nous to us, intellectus to the Latin philosophers who got his thought via Ibn Sina’s).
Speaking of Scholasticism, thank you for the chain of reasoning. A very wise professor, Dr Rob Pauls, once laid out his thoughts on Neoplatonism for us, and one of his main points was that every Form is numerically one (including, obviously, the One itself, although for Plotty this transcends Form). So your argument can extend beyond the One, and encompass, for example, fire or two or justice. If there are Forms of these realities (which there are for Plotinus and his ilk), they are numerically singular, no matter how many partial instances or instantiations thereof we find here in the kosmos.
Travis Wade ZINN
March 5, 2021
Very much resembles Zen – which is why I think the Zen practice platform is perfect for activating and embodying esoteric traditions in the West (and also key to a much-needed Christian Reformation).
March 7, 2021
In their song ‘Kyoto Now!’ Bad Religion sing: ‘You may not think there’s any wisdom in a f’d up punk rock song’ – Amebix (and countless other bands, including Bad Religion themselves) prove quite the opposite! Many an undergraduate political philosophy essay of mine can be traced back to some punk song or other… whether the content of those essays (rather than that of the songs) was already wisdom is, I suppose, a different question…
March 8, 2021
March 9, 2021
Actual episode content aside, I can’t believe you didn’t mention the Yes album Going for the One, containing the songs “Awaken” (my favorite song) and “Going for the One” (which is decent). Then again, I think we all have our favorite “this reminds me of everything I’m reading in Platonism” songs in whichever genres we love, and I just realized that I had forgotten to add those two songs to my Neoplatonism playlist in Spotify ……
March 9, 2021
While at the level of the One all is unity, in the world of prog-rock duality there are two kinds of people: those who like Yes and those who like King Crimson.
But perhaps Magma is the δύναμις which allows us to transcend this apparent prog dichotomy?
March 9, 2021
King Crimson’s Power to Believe is not unpleasant and the title song is obviously about either the Chaldean Hekate or about Athena as characterized in Proclus’ hymn; “Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With” is about the political virtues. Yes’s “Awaken” is like De Mysteriis.
I heard Magma way later (my parents raised me in prog rock but didn’t play them) in a constructed language context, and given the reasons behind the conlang, sounds like a legit interpretation.
March 13, 2021
Um, so what does that make one, who likes both?
KC ITCOTCK arguably started it all, according to Mike Barnes’ “A New Day Yesterday”.
April 26, 2022
Minute 38:26 of this episode
“Yes you heard that right, gentle listener, ‘walk around’ [in this place outside normal space and time]”
So, how is this place accessed? Can it be by modern people?
The more I listen to these episodes, the more I am convinced that ASCs are being accessed in various ways.
Charles Tart remains one of our most important contributors to this area, as most current science generally ignores these topics (except to look upon them from the outside using scanners and such).
Three articles by Tart (all fully available online get at this stuff from different angles)
First, as to ‘place’:
Do a search for the word ‘tunnel’ in this article and read around it, and then perhaps if you remain interested you can read more about what was going on (basically this was a very small study – a weakness admittedly – of mutual hypnosis)
Second, what is the mechanism for creating an ASC?
Here is a figure from article 2 that is interesting. https://i.imgur.com/j4mANqQ.png
The article may be accessed here: https://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-40-08-02-137.pdf
Third, is there a way to analytically understand states such as this (using modern conventions, in this case a ‘scale’, which is often used method in psychological research). The key figure is this: https://i.imgur.com/5xal3hv.png
The article is here: https://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-02-70-01-027.pdf
October 12, 2022
40-some minutes into the podcast, there are some examples of limits to rationality. Sometimes the boundaries between what are reachable with rational systems and what are not reachable is blurry, though. For example with Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, “there are true propositions about the natural numbers that can be neither proved nor disproved from the axioms.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_G%C3%B6del) and in computer science the question of P vs NP is still open.
As always, thank you for this podcast. It continues to bewilder and teach.
October 13, 2022
This whole ‘limits to rationality’ thing is why the older, rather vague idea of ‘Plotinus the mystic’ gave way, in twentieth-century scholarship by people who took him seriously, to the idea of ‘Plotinus the rational mystic’. The idea – perhaps formed under the influence of the early-twentieth-century search for a complete system of logic/mathematics by Russell, Wittgenstein, and their ilk, which quest was indeed terminated by Gödel, who shewed that ‘there ain’t no such animal’ – was that rationality of course functions, but that we can recognise that there must be a horizon in reality, or in human thought, beyond which rationality cannot function: this would be ‘the ineffable’, by whatever formulation a given thinker wants to make.
Plotinus clearly delineates this horizon, or as clearly as you can; hence, ‘rational mystic’.