A Duo of Quotations from Proclus’ Timaeus Commentary, Book 3, Pt. II

In a few days — after the Nobel in Physics is announced — much of my time will be occupied with a rapid-turnaround data analysis of the citation patterns of the winner(s). I enjoy doing these, even if the world isn’t watching quite so much now; when I first started these analyses, the laureates were always front-page news, and now, they barely register. At the end of the month, my poetry book Acts of Speech will come out (October 29; e-preorders are here, print in progress). One of the challenges of busy periods like this is that I’m strongly motivated to hit my goals — reading, writing, and so on — so I have to structure my time a bit more aggressively than I do during the summer when things are a bit more relaxed. It’s a bit surreal at times because the autumn light is so relaxing and the crispness in the air has me thinking about baking and mulled cider.

Within the next few days — after rereading the Cratylus — I will crack open Volume V of Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, which I have really been looking forward to because I do like reading about time. I enjoyed Volume IV on the World Soul even though the part about harmonics and geometry was a bit out of my comfort zone. For a simult read, I’m reading Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, and just got to the part about the Mandelbrot set.

The section at the end of Volume IV (Book 3, Part II, Proclus on the World Soul) about the activities of the soul and Being, Sameness, and Difference was very cathartic to read given how much my thoughts have focused over the past year and a half on all of the ways that fragmentation and disorder have been harmful in society, especially when framed against modern social media, polarization/radicalization, and addictive technologies.

And it is necessary not to overlook this fact too — that he says, on the one hand, that when the Circle of the Different proceeds in a straight line it knows the sensibles, but, on the other, when the Circle of the Same runs smoothly it knows <the intelligibles>, He does this with an eye on [the circle of] partial souls. When they are fallen, [Plato] describes the Circle of the Same as ‘shackled’, while he describes the Circle of the Different as ‘distorted’, for these terms are antithetical [to the ones he uses here]. Being distorted is opposed to rotating in a straight line, and being shackled is opposed to the smooth running that signifies a relaxed motion. In as much as the upright position [of the Circle of the Different] signifies that its motion up there is not distorted by things below and that its judgment is irrefutable, to that extent he has celebrated each of the circles in appropriate terms.

Proclus, On the Timaeus of Plato: Book 3, Part II, trans. Baltzly, 314.23-30
(btw, the brackets in this and the one below are all in the translation b/c translations do that and I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned this before?)

It’s difficult to keep some of these things in mind (namely, that there is a healthy way about Difference) when one is immersed in worry as if the sea is in tumult and storm and the stinging briny water has been cast into one’s eyes. Sometimes, I feel a bit dismayed that when I read, I’m often being reminded of things that I have read previously and that have fallen out of focus in my mind, as Sameness and Difference are also discussed in the Parmenides commentary.

The ways that the World Soul is described how it knows and understands specific things a little bit earlier (at about 305, which is commenting on Tim. 37a7-b3) actually reminds me of ontologies in information science.

[T]he World Soul says throughout the whole of itself, in virtue of a single act of knowing, and with respect to both the things that come to be and also those that are [always] in the same condition — it says with respect to both [classes] what each of the things in the realm of Becoming is the same as and from what it is different; and with what each of the eternally existing beings is the same or different; and it says of each thing in the realm of Becoming considered in relation to each other thing how it is related in terms of being, or doing, or undergoing; [and it also says], in the case of each of the things that are in the same condition [i.e. things in the realm of Being] considered in relation to each other thing, how each is related in terms of being, or doing, or undergoing. For among the things in the realm of Being and those in the realm of Becoming, one thing is affected more by another, or one acts more in relation to some other. These things are surely what the soul says when it thinks all things, some of them by means of the Circle of the Same, others through the Circle of the Different. For it [i.e., the World Soul] has antecedently comprehended all the sensibles and their doings and undergoings. Since the universe is one living thing, it is sympathetic with itself, so that all the things that have come to be are parts of the life of the world as if it were a single drama [[…]]

Proclus, On the Timaeus of Plato: Book 3, Part II, trans. Baltzly, 304.28-305.10

In information science ontologies, mapping relationships is just as important as showing that two concepts are related, with the edges (lines) being coded. Semantic tools generally put things in triples to connect two terms together — [apple – is a kind of – fruit] or [apple – has property – edible skin]. It was a fun thing to note down in the margins, like a union of the two major umbrella definitions of ontology. 😂

Anyway, just a quick Sunday note before cracking open my to-do list.


2 thoughts on “A Duo of Quotations from Proclus’ Timaeus Commentary, Book 3, Pt. II

  1. as Sameness and Difference are also discussed in the Parmenides commentary

    Indeed, the emergence of Sameness and Difference at Parm. 139b5-139b6 as a negative determination of the Demiurge and other Gods qua Gods, but as a positive determination of Their activity, corresponds precisely to the activities of the Demiurge narrated by this portion of the Timaeus.

    like a union of the two major umbrella definitions of ontology

    I’m increasingly convinced that the two definitions of ontology are really one, insofar as the potential for automation in the classification and recognition of worldly beings is inherent in the original conception of a technē of objectification, a technization, so to speak, of objecthood as such, that it was ontology’s destiny, in effect, to someday be performed by machines, or at least that it had as an implicit goal being capable of this.


    1. Hephaistos’ automata in the workshop, lol. ^___^

      One of the interesting things about the Penrose is that he’s writing against the idea of sentient AI because there is a lot about consciousness that is real, but not able to be duplicated in computation — since it was written a while back, it definitely foreshadows some of the late 2010s failures of AI. The idea of ontology as being inherently computable is interesting in light of that.


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