From Sentience, To Reason & Philosophy

Why Is It Modern To Study Ancient Philosophy?

Because one studies this way the roots of reason, as first put into digital form (that’s what writing is). One does not study ancient physics, so why ancient philosophy? Well, one should study ancient physics, that would be an occasion to mention obvious mistakes one is tempted to do, but that one should NOT to do when interpreting nature.

For example, Aristotle believed that one needed to keep on applying a force to keep on moving. That was a curious mistake: anybody running fast, or, a fortiori, galloping on top of a horse, realizes that air resistance is what necessitates to keep on applying a force. And that’s why arrows have the shape they have.

One could make arrows with other shapes: emperor Commodus amused himself by firing in the arena arrows with a crescent shaped blade. Commodus was an athlete of great physical beauty and power (said various contemporaries). The sharp crescent would hit an ostrich’s neck, and the bird would run without a head, to the amusement of spectators (they better be amused).

In serious usage arrows had a very aerodynamic shape (and even could be made to stabilize by rotation thanks to their back feathers).

Humans and Horses Are Capable of Reason. Human Reason Was Communicated to the Horse, and This Is How Horses Learn To Jump

Humans and Horses Are Capable of Reason. Human Reason Was Communicated to the Horse, and This Is How Horses Learn To Jump

[I have practiced that sport, by the way… In Africa, with stallions. Definitively, a good obstacle rider has to be able to able to communicate… reason (what else?) to the horse, in a spirit of trust and conviviality! Otherwise, death and mayhem may result… Aristotle was definitively not a rider, while Xenophon, general, superlative philosopher, and horse breeder, was.]

It took 16 centuries to correct Aristotle’s confusion of aerodynamic resistance and violation of inertia. Buridan, a physicist, philosopher and mathematician, was the first to do so, with his theory of impetus. (Even then he got confused in some detailed examples.)

Explaining to children Aristotle’s mistake should be part of the (early) teaching of physics.

In “Why is ancient philosophy still relevant?”, February 16, 2016, Massimo Pigliucci ponders:

“Why on earth am I devoting years of my life to studying (and practicing) Stoicism? Good question, I’m glad you asked. Seriously, it would seem that the whole idea of going back two millennia to seek advice on how to live one’s life is simply preposterous.

Have I not heard of modern science? Wouldn’t psychology be a better source of guidance, for instance? And even philosophy itself, surely it has moved beyond the ancient Greco-Romans by now, yes?”

Massimo finds the answer in eternal human nature:

“…there is clearly something that the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Peripatetics (followers of Aristotle), the Buddhist, the Confucianists and so forth clearly got right. There is something they thought about and taught to their students that still resonates today, even though we obviously live in a very different environment, socially, technologically, and otherwise.

The answer, I think, is to be found in the relative stability of human nature. This is a concept on which the Hellenistic philosophers relied heavily, though they didn’t use that specific term.”

Notice, by the way, that all our mathematics and physics rest on what the Ancient Greeks knew which happened to be right (although much of their mathematics came from Egypt, for example “Euclid’s Theorem”; also the Greek had modern number system half baked, the final baking happened in India, and were christened “Arabic Numerals”, although they were brought to the West by a Persian…)

Thinking works in a hierarchized way: from the obvious to the extremely subtle revealed by the latest neurology. The Greeks were the first to write extensively on the first aspects of thinking, so their considerations have to be considered first, whenever one studies thinking. So they stay first, and always will, as long as the memory of the past survives.

Massimo: “For Aristotle, humans were essentially rational (meaning capable of reason) social animals. The Stoics agreed, and in fact their theory of oikeiosis (“familiarization”) was essentially an account of developmental moral psychology… Crucially, although other primates seem to share in our natural instinct for sociability, they are incapable of extending it by reason.”

And the big question is: what is reason?

Reason can be put in words, thus expressed digitally. But it can also be transferred by a drawing (that’s not digital). Basically reason is neurology that works, and which can be transferred to other minds.

So reason can be transferred to a dog, or a horse (say when one teaches a horse to jump obstacles).

A sentient animal is one with feelings, it can reason. However, it cannot communicate that reason easily. Although it can learn through communications: songbirds are known to learn from other birds, more or less well, to make more or less complicated songs: educating birds to make mini symphonies is national craze in Indonesia.

Philosophy is the study of reason for reason’s sake. Animals do not do that industrially, nor tribally, but our species and two or three before that, obviously do.

Patrice Ayme’

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6 Responses to “From Sentience, To Reason & Philosophy”

  1. dominique deux Says:

    Riding African stallions (“barbes”) is a two-way teaching venture, as they very patiently teach the stupid primate that the most efficient way to get beyond an obstacle is to fswerve around it at speed.

    The issue of singing and talking birds is quite interesting. It is certain some (mostly of the genus Corvus) associate sounds (words) with meanings, and use them with deniable cogency. I knew a mynah bird who’d hurl chosen insults at the family cat; when the annoyed cat sat on its cage and dangled its tail in taunting retaliation, the bird would “dance” along and chant “Tu m’emmerdes!”.

    Its most astonishing accomplishment was non verbal: when spying a nubile female human from its 11th story balcony, it would let go a with a powerful, modulated, appreciative whistle which would make the target look around in clueless indignation. Males and frumpy ladies did not interest it. Go figure.

    In my Breton countryside, bluejays are known to imitate cats.

    What I find most fascinating though is the so-called whale songs. That they are mainly tribal calls is well known. The interesting thing is that, among specific pods of the same species, they can vary from a few simple sounds to elaborate, long sequences. In the latter case, such songs are organized rhythmically and with repeated rhymes at the end of separate sequences. This rhyming is obviously a learning aid: the more rhymed, the longer the song.

    Which is exactly how rhymed poetry originated in human societies, as a way to remember and transmit complex tales and meanings: think of Homer, and of African talking drums. So, digitizing predates writing, and is not restricted to the Homo genus.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, birdsong is extremely interesting. It’s not just the genus corvus (as the examples you gave). In Indonesia, they teach all sorts of birds to sing complicated songs. And they use birds to teach birds, sometimes of a different species, and they also use a spirit of competition between birds, by putting they cages close by (but not so close that they only want to kill each other, and stop singing altogether).

      Whales are smart. 30,000 Humpbacks displaced themselves to Northern California recently (Monterey Bay) deserting Maui and Mexico… It’s full of herring there, probable courtesy of “climate change” and clearly they communicated this to each other…

      The age of the divergence between humanoids and apes is probably way earlier than earlier supposed, as I will tend to believe elaborated communications came early on (before the big brain). It’s already known that bipedalism came earlier than the big brain…

      Poetry is the fundamental thinking mode.


  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    I agree that science students should look at Aristotle’s science. Aristotle made three huge mistakes in physics (and some others that were consequences of them) and the amusing thing is, if you read Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics, and wade through the confusing wording, probably at least in part through the translation from the ancient greek by translators that do not understand what they are translating, you find that these three mistakes largely arise through Aristotle totally ignoring his own recommended procedures!


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