On the soul’s descent; or, a cosmic web of thoughts and ideas, barely arranged

Know thyself is the maxim that is given to us by the God at Delphi. Plato’s Alcibiades I and the commentary tradition surrounding it establish that the self is the soul, hereafter interchangeably described as the soul or the psūkhe (IPA: /psiˈçi/), which is using the body as an instrument. Plato’s Republic and the Platonic exegesis of its passages establish the concept of the soul as tripartite, divided into reasoning, emotional, and appetitive parts. Cultural developments in the early common era, including the incorporation of the Chaldean Oracles, established concepts like “the one of the Nous” (the Nous is often translated as “mind” or “intellect,” but those are only approximate) and the “one of the psūkhe”, which are integrated into this system as well.

Knowing oneself as the psūkhe is, the more we delve into reading Platonic philosophers, much harder than it looks. Plato establishes the chariot and rider, with the ruly and unruly horse in the Phaedrus; the casting off of garments in the judgment scene in the Gorgias so that one is beheld naked by the judges is yet another example. Platonism, as it developed throughout antiquity, refined its understanding of the embodied soul complex using vehicles, ethereal envelopes, garments, and so on. There is also the tension between the Plotinian “undescended soul” and the Iamblichean “fully-descended soul” that must be reconciled, at least for those who view that the philosophers are not in agreement. It’s my view that they’re not.

This is an exploration of the soul that I am undertaking primarily to set thoughts down that I have been working through for a while, namely my attempt to understand for myself the wicked problem of what the soul is versus what is attached to it and how we create an authentically Platonic crosswalk from geocentric, anthropocentric systems to a cosmic web-oriented one. Namely — the Platonic texts focus on Earth, and a human context, but we know now that the universe is vast, and humans are not the only sentient species out there. How does this accretion process work? What can we say about ourselves based on it? And how do we shock ourselves out of the chaotic, painful elements of 21st-century existence so we can adequately meet the embodied challenges of our time while still keeping ourselves in check about who we are at our core? Out-of-scope for the present discussion (mostly, lol, wait for it) are doctrines communicated in passages like Hermias’ 93,19-30 from the Phaedrus lecture notes, which focus on the experience of the soul relative to the extent of the intelligible that she can see and how she falls into the confused mire of generation, which aim at stirring the reader into getting their shit together. We are really thinking here about ourselves on the meadow and the cards we are given to choose from when we pick a life.

I want to start with a passage from John Finamore and John Dillon’s commentary on Iamblichus’ De Anima fragments, which requires me to go back to the Iamblichus passage itself, the end of Fragment 9, where Iamblichus is discussing Aristotelian views on the soul and commenting that the soul could be produced from the more divine classes. Finamore and Dillon, in that context, believe that Iamblichus actually meant the soul’s vehicle, and they

are led to two conclusions: Iamblichus is discussing some sort of ethereal body and this body is amassed from the classes of being superior to or more divine than the human soul itself. Iamblichus seems to have believed that although the soul’s ethereal vehicle was created whole, there were still pneumatic additions made to the soul in its descent to earth. These seem to be material accretions, but there is no reason to think that they did not include ethereal accretions as well. This would make these ethereal envelopes akin to the lower, pneumatic vehicle of Syrianus and Proclus, to which doctrine Iamblichus’ ethereal and material envelopes may have formed part of the background. Be that as it may, Iamblichus would have denied that these ethereal envelopes are the vehicle. Rather they would be accretions added to the vehicle during the soul’s descent, which make the soul more and more body.

If this is Iamblichus’ theory of psychic accretions, then the “innovation” here in the De Anima is a direct criticism of the Peripatetics’ [Aristotelians’] view of the soul. It is not the soul that is ethereal. They have defined the wrong entity. The ethereal body they describe is actually something very much lower: the ethereal and pneumatic envelopes collected during the soul’s descent to Earth. 

Finamore and Dillon, p. 98-99

Iamblichus is, according to the commentators, saying that another school is mistaking something that is not the soul for the soul — essentially, how much what we think is us is actually something that is not us.

Earlier in the De Anima commentary, Finamore and Dillon write about an earlier part of the same passage, “Heraclides [of Pontus] is attested as holding that the soul is ‘light-like’, with the implication that it is material, and that its true home, from which it descends into embodiment, is the Milky Way” (p. 96).

Taken together, these two statements are like hidden passages behind a bookshelf. The bookshelf is the set of commentators on Plato — the divine men and women who philosophized and worshipped the Gods tirelessly. What is overlooked is the way that we, instead of spending all of our time (like certain fringe sectors of the Internet do) obsessing over whether or not we are interpreting the commentators correctly and what they actually thought based on what they said, can instead receive the words of the ancient commentators, their interpreters, and their modern commentators as if in a conversation and use that to transparently build our own ideas that, while remaining true to Plato, look forward. Nothing I am about to write is new. In fact, while thinking about some of these issues, I came across some books that I added to my TBR, but haven’t read yet, written by scholars who are looking at what Late Platonists thought in terms of 20th century discoveries in cosmology (1, 2, 3 …), and there are a few papers by A. L. Klein (of Oscillations) that seem like they are grappling with related questions. I am not a philosopher, just someone interested in getting down to brass tacks and exploring how our souls functionally work and positing some pathways; it’s likely that everything I am working through has already been addressed elsewhere by people who have an advanced specialist vocabulary and far more intelligence than I could ever possess, but we are siloed away from one another, so it is what it is. I mean, you can tell that I am beyond the farthest fringes of academic norms because I am occasionally just going to quote song lyrics I like for ambiance in this longread.

The passage from Heraclides, if interpreted in a way consistent with the premise that Iamblichus believes he’s actually discussing accretions, addresses the “how does this accretion process work?” element. In antiquity, the cosmological model was geocentric — Earth at the center, with the planets spiral-circling us, the fixed stars beyond — and the arms of the Milky Way contain overdensities of stars and beautiful dark dust clouds, so it looks like a strikingly spectacular pattern when one is in a part of the world with no light pollution. The arm we can see, the Orion-Cygnus Arm, is featured in many mythologies and theological systems due to its striking and stunning presence.

In modern cosmology, Earth is at the observable, subjective center, but not the actual center; our world orbits the Sun, and the Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way, where the black hole Sagittarius A* steers the stars. A useful, if mind-blowing, glimpse at the universe is available in this YouTube video (warning: epic choral audio track):

“How does this accretion process work?” essentially becomes a question of how our souls relate to this entire structure — what we are descending from and into and what that means for a soul’s options.

What we are descending from, in this case, involves the preposition from, which may indicate physical locality. We may be tempted to think of the descent of the soul as that video running in reverse: from the cosmic web down to our solar system. Platonism requires something else, though. There is no locality at play when we are abstracting ourselves from the physical cosmos, at least not in the conventional “A to B” sense. Whenever the Platonic myths are giving us something outside of the material world that is happening, locality is just a convenient analogy to refer to something very strange: the fact that, there, what we experience as discrete temporal moments resolves into a whole; that, there, place becomes estranged from difference and distance, and all things are together while remaining distinct. 

The hand-wringing about the differences between Plotinus and Iamblichus on the soul are missing the point about what each of them is emphasizing. Our embodiments are all simultaneous to the Gods, who are highly pre-temporal; the journey of our soul through time resolves into a whole, like a sinusoid curve that is truly just a mathematical statement about a circle, a whole. From that standpoint, we never descended and yet are always descended.

To Iamblichus’ point, for most of us, knowing the mind-blowing truth about our nature does not solve the fact that our attention and consciousness, during our embodiment, are directed here, and the allotment we spend in this segmented part of ourselves is divinely ordained and chosen (to a limited degree, as it is a choice based on available options) by us. We are alienated from ourselves, and like Dionysos being divided by the Titans into bits, our intactness above has been divided into lifetimes that we experience in a sequence. Ascent is much more about cultivating the tools — especially theurgic practices — to pull our attention back to the crest of ourselves, which is not easy, as it takes multiple lifetimes to achieve this. And then, of course, the cycle repeats.

The mind-blowing part of this is that eternity, the whole of time, and discrete time are all at play here, and somehow the experiences we have in our material bodies “resolve” into that whole that sums up the discrete moments. We somehow have free will when making our choice among what is possible for us each lifetime, and we somehow have free discretion in our lives. This makes things far, far weirder than stating that things are or are not predetermined; if something is predetermined, the very term predetermined contains a sense that there are discrete moments at play that will have a decisive outcome. It contains a sense that we can “zoom out” temporally into an “all” that has no room for free will. But that is not thinking correctly about what it means to scoop all of time up together, from the dynamic fringes in embodiment to the whole and the crest of eternity. It is a placeless, motionless pulsation, dynamic and weird.

So, there is no from in the traditional, location-based sense. We must treat from as an attentive orientation of the soul, from the crest to the trough of our “waveform” through embodiment.

Traditionally, Platonic teachings have relied both on the geocentric model and on ideas that are also the seeds of modern astrology. Earl Fontainelle’s series of episodes on soul-vehicles, the subtle body, and garments strongly emphasizes this astrological descent, where the soul picks up these accretions as layers that are then translated into what I am assuming are our astrological charts. We carry impressions from Jupiter, for example, and Venus, each of them unique. Fontainelle is keen to point out where Plato says we each belong to a star in his Timaeus. Some people I read interpret this as one of the fixed stars, and others interpret this as one of the planets, with souls being in the series of a specific planetary God. Astrology is not my background, so I will leave it to others to think about that. I will say, though, that much like any other divination or spiritual wayfinding system, I don’t think that astrology means anything outside of the sacred context — the Gods must be invoked, and it is that inspired state that ensures what is cast and what is puzzled through and said hits its target. As Proclus says at the beginning of Book II of his Timaeus commentary, “For even matters that seem insignificant enjoy providence and are important to the extent that they are dependent on the gods, whereas things that are important in terms of their own nature, when separated from the divine, appear as wholly insignificant and of no value” (215.15-20, emphasis mine).

When I interpret the descent of the soul through the cosmos, the accretions I think of account for various scales in that YouTube video of “zooming” out of the universe. The approach I am taking is polycentric, and it could be applied to any soul’s incarnated instance on any habitable planet. I emphasize, again, that this isn’t spatial — you don’t start out at the cosmic web and zoom into a single world. These accretions and garments are elements of the embodied experience that come on during the descent from what is placeless. Some of them persist across many lives, others across only one. It’s conceptually difficult to wrap one’s head around the mechanics of this for all of us.

The soul is present to the entirety of the cosmos at the start of its descent. In our first incarnation, when the souls are scattered throughout the cosmos, we pass through several layers before even arriving at the surface of a world:

Galaxy clusters and the resulting environment. The density of the galaxies’ clustering and the types of galaxies (elliptical, spiral, irregular) that make up the cluster impact what each galaxy can do. Tight galaxy clusters are a lot like graveyards — they quench the formation of new stars. 

A specific galaxy and its particularities. Beyond elliptical, spiral, and irregular galaxies, some galaxies are in the process of merging, and others are “eating” the smaller galaxies that are their satellites. Elliptical galaxies tend to have lower rates of star formation than spiral galaxies, and there are many types of spiral galaxies that create different galactic environments for the star-forming regions within them.

Zone within the galaxy. You don’t want to be too close to the center due to how violent that region of a galaxy is.

Characteristics of the stellar group. This includes things like the compactness of the stars (globular cluster, normal cluster, group of stars sort of traveling together, solo) and the stars’ age distribution.

Solar configuration. This includes how many stars are bound together in the local system (which is different from “group of stars sort of traveling together”), the type(s) of stars, their age(s), and so on.

Planetary configuration. As we know from recent exoplanet studies, the types of planetary systems have a bizarre diversity — ultra-hot giant planets skimming the surfaces of their suns, super-Earths, tidally-locked planets orbiting neutron stars and K/M-class stars, and so on. The planets and their satellites will be in some configuration with respect to one another.

Zone within the solar system. The level of insolation decreases with distance to the sun. In addition, some volatile compounds are less abundant among planets that form in inner solar systems and more abundant for planets that formed farther out.

Characteristics of the planets within the system. In our solar system, Jupiter acts as a sentinel and may even shield other planets from too many encounters with debris from the early solar system (asteroids, comets). Planets in our inner solar system have been sharing material for a long time, relics of early bombardment.

(Everything above this line is cosmic or the generic encosmic — I do honestly wonder which vocabulary term is best, and perhaps generic encosmic is it — and everything below this line is the localized encosmic.)

Characteristics of the planet we incarnate onto. Is it a water-world in the habitable zone? An ice-covered world with a balmy subsurface ocean? A moon of a gas giant whose surface is being showered with radiation? A planet like Earth? Somewhere weird-to-us biology can exist?

How the other planets (and our star(s)) impact our planet of incarnation. An observer on a planet views the entire universe relative to that specific planet. For those of you interested in astrology, this is where you probably have a lot of thoughts and where your readings of historical understandings of descent and accretions come in. (Importantly, human beings born on Mars or a planet in Alpha Centauri could not use an Earth-based astrological system because everything is different.)

The availability of species and how those animals function. This is bare-bones natural stuff like reproductive processes and dietary needs, and it may also include cultural elements for those species that have cultures.

I wonder if the original “priming” of the psūkhe — the specific environment in which it is sown — impacts its judgment process when it chooses subsequent lives, at least for those souls that become incredibly disoriented by the most material garments — things specific to a specific world. Regardless, for many of us, incarnations must take place in a smear across the entirety of spacetime, a unique harmonic pattern that balances these considerations. When we receive our allotment and choose a life, we are often primed by the desires, aversions, and emotions present in our previous lives, in addition to ignorance.

Well on the floor there’s a long wooden table (My ghost likes to travel)
On the table there’s an open book (so far in the unknown)
On the page there’s a detailed drawing (My ghost likes to travel)
And on the drawing is the name I took (so deep into your space)

Peter Gabriel, “Growing Up,” Up

Problems can arise from lifetime to lifetime if those outer garments are too heavy. In cases where we are not weighed down by too many things, souls have relatively clear “vision” when making their incarnation selections. Think of what it would be like to fall into a hotel pool in a down winter coat. The coat becomes heavy and waterlogged, and it must be jettisoned for the lighter garments underneath. Those of us who are very waterlogged may even have obsessions that carry over from lifetime to lifetime or recurring patterns that hound us.

Beyond that, the process of purification outlined in Plato and the commentators is designed to loosen and shake us free from the garments that prevent us from being as godlike as possible. Like someone following Marie Kondo’s tidying up process, we pull everything out of the drawers, lay it all out on the floor, and have a good cry as we release everything extraneous to joy from our sense of identity. We take all of these pieces — all of these identities — that are not our soul, are not our essential core — and we take through the processes of contemplation, dialectic, and so on. We pray to Gods we love and move into the contemplation of them (and the winding staircase of metaphysics that inadequately describes them) until we have a sense of profound otherness within ourselves, that still heart of truth that we are. It isn’t without taking all of those pieces and examining them that we can come to that place of knowing, or at least a place of embarrassment about how little we do think about our souls, as in the case of Alcibiades.

Ancient dreams in a modern land
I’m trying to get back as fast I can
Back to a time before I had form
Back to a time before I was born

You don’t have to be like everybody else
You don’t have to fit into the norm
You are not here to conform
I am here to take a look inside myself
Recognize that I could be the eye, the eye of the storm

I am not my body, not my mind or my brain
Not my thoughts or feelings, I am not my DNA
I am the observer, I’m a witness of life
I live in the space between the stars and the sky

Marina Diamandis, “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land,” Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land

Of course, all of us are bound to make mistakes due to double ignorance or misguided efforts. We essentialize the accidental, especially in embodied contexts when we have not been quite so radically untethered from the idea of a static center and a reorientation towards a center characterized by attentiveness and perspective. (Only by having sets of options does one arrive at, through a process of elimination, a sense of what is essential.) We universalize the particular, as in the case of Christianity, which posits a single salvific person through which everyone must pass or be damned — a claim that would seem absurd and presumptuous to someone living on Alpha Centauri or Tau Ceti or halfway across the visible universe, let alone halfway around the world.

Sometimes, the words of the ancient commentators do not help with looking forward: They were living at a time when the prevailing model was geocentric, and from reading and listening to scholars, it seems as if people believe that the metaphysics itself is outdated, not just that the commentators essentialized the accidentals of our solar system and mother Earth. Plato was very aware that, even though we cannot end at sensibles and must not fall into the errors of materialism, they have a big impact on how we approach the ascent out of the cave.

Before telescopes, we had no instruments to obtain the sensory data one would need to understand the heliocentric model, let alone the polycentric, cosmic-web model of today — you need a telescope to see stellar parallax, for example. The discussion here is limited to considering the visible, telescope-enhanced sight we have because what we see is more static than the scientific theories we have. (Which means we should ignore the speculative end of that video that was toying with multiverse theory; I think it clouds the impact of the video, but it was still the best non-narrative video I could find on the “scales of the universe” topic.) Scientific theories are examining that visual data to understand how things fit together — how the universe evolved and will evolve over time, and how the very small scales of quantum mechanics resolve to produce the world around us. There are always changes — new ways to analyze data, new approaches based on unexpected findings. We are not Peripatetics or materialists, so let’s use our new sight mindfully — just as Plato encourages us in the dialogues, we need to question what we think we know, and we need to follow the path Socrates and the Elean Stranger outline in so many dialogues to ensure that we are ascending through arguments to what is real. 

In my case (note: I often take myself as an example because I think it’s more useful than guessing about other people), starting with fundamentals, I am a human woman, born in the United States. I’m white, of average height, and have brown hair and eyes. I have glasses. I’m a homosexual. Moving on to societal things, I have student loan debt, I work in libraries, I’ve loved reading from an early age, and so on. Some things are a product of my genetic makeup, like my species and descriptive traits. Other things are a product of genes and nurture, like being nearsighted, my ancestors’ decision to move to America, and so on. Some things are totally cultural. The fact that I could marry my girlfriend if we got into a good financial place (again, student loans), is a social/civic thing. My soul is not gay, nor is it a woman, nor is it human, nor does it wear glasses or have student loan debt. Most of this is accidental. A tiny bit of it is intrinsic, like the fact that I will execute my embodiment with (relative) smoothness or challenges based on whether or not my current life aligns with my leader-God. If it does, the sameness and congruence mean I will perform my function well; if not, I’ll have difficulties, like someone trying to dance while wearing shoes that don’t quite fit. Note here that doing something well is not the same as having an error- or challenge-free life. There are some things I used to find annoying about my body that I don’t mind anymore simply because I stopped overidentifying with it, which paradoxically helped me take care of it better.

And we see this contrast in the ancient commentators, too, although often not discussed explicitly. In Proclus’ Republic essays, he refers to men and women as fundamentally the same, citing Socrates’ discussion of men and women in the Republic’s fevered city — and I believe he even says once that there isn’t a clear-cut soul difference — but, in the Timaeus commentary, Plato and Proclus separate male souls from female souls. A deeper trough is allocated to souls that tend towards female incarnations, admittedly, in both places. Plato’s text prioritizes lives that give the psūkhe more control over its specific embodiment, and for most of history, that has not been the case for women. Outside of our species, these social dynamics are not a relevant distinction (see orcas or elephants), so it cannot be something intrinsic to souls, and we definitely don’t know how intelligent exolife socially organizes.

What they leave tacit is, I think, a functional expression of how our most material accretions work and how the souls within a specific planetary context — here, geocentric, with additional biases accreted on by society — interact with the substrate they find themselves in, if we take “interact” to mean how the soul projects the parts we describe as the irrational soul. The psūkhe is in dialogue with nature and matter. Embodied, we interpret higher realities according to the systems we know, conditioned through a confusing blend of nature-nurture (the natural forms of our bodies and the way our cultures interpret them). What we are is soul, and soul is simple, albeit not as simple as first principles, anchored to higher realities through the flowers of the soul and mind. There are specific things we have to deal with about our bodies in an incarnation, but those traits are accidentals that are not essentially us. My homosexuality, for example, is based on a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental priming, as are most expressed traits. It governs the way I relate to other humans when selecting romantic partners. On the habitual and civic level, where culture operates, that physical trait is assigned expectations, like the idea that I will get married, have IVF (… Gods, I hope I get into a solid financial place to do that before menopause), or need to consult travel advisories before I go somewhere out of my fairly accepting region. While some conservative Platonists may think me being gay makes me inherently bad at Platonizing because it shows I have nonproductive sexual desire (Porphyry was very strict about removing every bit of appetition), it has absolutely zero impact on me, the psūkhe, doing contemplation or working through the virtues or trying to catch a murky glimpse of Truth Itself. Learning how to show up in one’s romantic life is part of cultivating the ethical and civic virtues, and the only real difference is that there are fewer “road maps” for people like me to use as healthy models.

Granted, it is possible to start thinking about these issues — who am I kidding, it’s extremely common, and we’ve all been there, probably — and recoil like Porphyry. Contemplative techniques can draw us into a place where we jarringly recognize how heavy our garments are. We become claustrophobic, seek liberation, and want out, now. That initial release — that change in perspective — can either lead down more and more subtle forms of binding oneself to the material world (paradoxically, through an obsession to “let go” of it), or it can lead to being able to float upon it as if on a still pool, accepting that, while alive, our psūkhe is in dialogue with nature and matter. We are under the governance of the encosmic Gods in whatever way is most fitting for the environment and culture we have found ourselves in. This is the dignity that Socrates brings to the Phaedo as the hours close in on his death, that calm float upon the still pool.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about embodiment. Like anything else, it’s a question of mindfulness. (I highly recommend the recent interviews with Gregory Shaw and Danielle Layne on the SHWEP, which emphasize nonduality and coming to terms with embodiment quite a bit.) The wicked challenge for each of us is figuring out what the balance is that leads to that serenity and acceptance. 

Again, we are overwhelmed. Everything is out on the floor, and we sort it into the keep, discard, donate piles, and we’re left with … what, exactly? As I mentioned in a previous post about depersonalization and how easy it is — especially for those of us who have contemplated these things and who have a sense of that difference between ourselves-at-core and ourselves-extended — to overdo things until our entire embodied experience feels alien. We want to reduce the impact of material daimones whose activity creates impasses for us (not because they are evil; they just do what they do regardless of who is in their way), and we want to properly navigate the friction caused by being in space and time, and we want to live virtuously. There are some things — beliefs, activities, habits, perspectives — that are truly harmful impediments for us. They are divine tokens of nothing that we want to invoke. There are other things that can be supportive, even if they’re extraneous, and then there are things that we simply have to learn to accept and deal with. Life is messy.

The point of Marie Kondoing a home is to arrive at what sparks joy, both the essentials and the desirable. The point of doing all of this work with the psūkhe is to become as godlike as possible and, following from our leader-God, be able to act in the world from a place of solidity rather than being jostled hither, thither, and yon upon the waves of becoming. We want to have sobered up about matter and be absolutely drunk as fuck on the One and the intelligible heights.

Reaching sparks joy with ourselves means being able to put everything in place and to have that sense of observer’s agency with respect to our specific life. Functionally speaking, having clearer glimpses of the Forms — such as the Form of Justice — are not meant to put us in a holier-than-thou, what-does-this-matter place, but to help us properly diagnose and treat problems within our broader civic and social context with solid grounding. Otherwise, we are always moving on to the next thing, whiplashed by the pace of change as the waves hurl us, reacting piecemeal to situations instead of treating them according to a set of general principles. In a distracted, divided, and hyper-fragmented state, our judgment is more based on the meanderings of our emotions and desires than on our soul’s intrinsic faculties. We won’t always win over our emotions and desires while embodied, but decluttering and de-garmenting the extraneous does help us right ourselves again when shit inevitably hits the fan.

I feel greater than the sum of all my parts
A space jockey from a distant star
Marooned upon dystopia
I’ve found my tastes are somewhat underground
Between the shadows and the cracks
I am building my utopia

Brendan Perry, “Utopia,” Ark

This is a challenge we encounter in every lifetime.

The above section on how we relate to what is intrinsic and extended/nonessential about ourselves was not a digression, but a way of positing that maybe our first life primed us for what we are experiencing now. We choose the familiar and safe in subsequent incarnations because radical change is so fear-inducing — and fear, like pleasure and pain, bind us further to the body. Or, in a positive sense, let’s say that some of us were last active in Late Antiquity and chose to be here, to be us, because it was the choice that allowed us to continue working on our statues in the context of Platonism or Stoicism or whichever system we hold dear, as we liked it last time and want to continue with it. There are some challenges and bad things about my life that leave me wondering what I must have been thinking, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives, and I do get to read Proclus and legally light incense at my shrine. I’m sure most people can relate to that statement.

Maybe we choose hard lives because we at least have access to the Gods; maybe we choose easy lives because we fear the challenges that come with risk, or we think a specific context must be “easy” and then discover it isn’t after we’ve made that choice. Edward Butler has discussed (on Twitter, somewhere, sometime) that souls choose our allotted daimones and that this choice of who we want to be around may be more formative than the practical elements of incarnation itself.

If this is true, perhaps many of us might choose a different planet next time simply because we’ve been primed to wonder about them. Maybe this is why some people nowadays think they’re from another planet or find it challenging to relate to being human this time — they’re actually just horribly confused about vague past-life memories, and they’ve tacked on a lot of nonsensical stuff to make sense of a disquiet that could have been calmed by a healthy dose of Plato.

We have come far from Proclus discounting precession or the possibility of other worlds in his Republic essays and The Blazing-World of Lady Margaret Lucas Cavendish, and we have enjoyed widespread science fiction story options in many societies for about a century. We have seen a variety of exoplanets in news reports.

The strength of this post’s approach — and note that this post is merely a scaffold — would come out in doing commentary on, say, the Republic‘s Myth of Er or the partial soul section of the Timaeus, where it’s possible to show that Platonic metaphysics is solid even when our technology-enhanced sight shows us a very different universe from the one our predecessors glimpsed. Slowly, very slowly, we are unfettering ourselves from doctrinal geocentrism (if “geocentrism” is even the correct word, as we are still subjectively geocentric given that this is where we live) to embrace the possibility of the cosmic web. I hope that these brief thoughts have constructively contributed to considering how, and, like everything in life, this is all a work in progress.

Οἰγνύσθω ψυχῆς βάθος ἄμβροτον· ὄμματα πάντα ἄρδην ἐκπετάννυμι ἄνω. May the immortal depths of your soul be opened. May all of your eyes extend wholly upward on high.

(Note: Some minor edits to this post were made on 5/19/2022 to enhance the clarity of what I am arguing for. Thank you, @barefootwisdom, for the very insightful and fun conversation that sparked some of these clarifications.)

2 thoughts on “On the soul’s descent; or, a cosmic web of thoughts and ideas, barely arranged

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