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"The Truth Is...

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
...Out There" as Fox Mulder once so presciently advised us. What he didn't divulge - maybe because it wasn't logged in the X-Files - is that the truth is dodecahedral, exactly as Plato foretold over two thousand years ago. (You'd better believe it!)
Plato contended that there exist only five solid geometric shapes of perfect symmetry: the tetrahedron, octahedron and icosahedron (all with triangular faces), the cube (with square faces) and the dodecahedron (with pentagonal faces). In his philosophical system, he associated the first four with air, earth, fire and water, the elements of which the Greeks believed the material world was composed. He elevated the fifth to the astral plane, calling it the "quintessence of heaven" and suggesting "the creator used this solid for the whole universe..."
Fanciful and primitive conjecture perhaps, and yet in an extraordinary way Plato's supposition might just turn out to be true. There is now strong scientific evidence to suggest that the universe could be a dodecahedron.
French astronomers at the Paris Observatory have been analysing data streamed back from the American WMAP satellite which has been examining the microwave radiation generated from the birth of the universe. The wavelength of this radiation is remarkably pure but it also has harmonics associated with it (just as a musical note does). Such harmonics reflect the shape of the object in which the waves were generated - in this case the universe itself. Up until now the most favoured theoretical model of the universe suggested it is flat (not the same as two-dimensional, merely without curvature) and infinite.
The WMAP data are in close alignment with that model except for those harmonics - the second and third are weaker than expected, which anomaly can only be accounted for if space (i.e the universe) is finite and dodecahedron-shaped. Kudos in this instance to Plato, perhaps. Time will tell.
In their lifetime in classical Greece (during the fourth century BC) Plato and Aristotle, who are widely regarded as the greatest philosophers of their age, had divergent views about the nature of truth and the role of art in attempting to apprehend and represent truth through mimesis (μίμησις in Greek - implying an imitative act).

Plato arguing the toss with Aristotle

What came first? The ideal or the actuality? Consider mathematics, a body of rules that can explain how so much of the material universe works (including dodecahedral space) and the question is this: did we invent maths or did we discover it? In other words, is it simply a man-made construct by which we understand the model of the world (valid until proven otherwise)? or is it inherent in everything, the very rulebook of creation itself, existing a priori and only waiting to be discovered as man's capacity to reason evolved?
It's at this point on a Saturday night that I pause to wonder if you're still with me... I hope so. Sometimes I get a bit carried away!
Truth then. Plato was of the opinion that art (and poetry in particular) as a medium was not greatly to be relied upon. Although he conceded that poets tapped into what he called "divine inspiration", he never considered them capable of apprehending truth. He used Socrates' bed to illustrate his concern: firstly there is the super-real, the divine concept, the idea of bed; secondly there is the real physical manifestation, a bed made by a craftsman; thirdly there is the mimesis, the unreal artistic representation of the physical bed, nothing more substantial than paint or charcoal on paper or words on a page or in the air. Ceci n'est-ce-pas une verite.
For Plato art was at two removes from the original concept. Poetry, whether as lyric or in play form, he held to be variously personal, sensual, seductive, artificial and frankly deceptive - more likely to misrepresent than to penetrate to the essence of something. Beyond that, he considered it psychologically unsound and politically dangerous. He certainly believed that poetry could not be trusted to tell the truth; only philosophy could do that.
Was he right on that one? I don't believe he was, except for his contention that poetry could be politically dangerous. I much prefer the stance of Aristotle when it comes to mimesis. He had no problem with the sensuality or artifice of art. He reasoned that art, including poetry, is essentially truthful, psychologically healthy, politically necessary and most certainly capable of leading to moral knowledge and ethical living. But then I'm duty-bound to side with Aristotle on this one. I'm a poet.

Surely a sign! - spotted on Paros

What I learned on my recent trip to Paros was that Archilocus (approx. 680-645 BC) was its foremost poet more than two hundred years before Plato or Aristotle were waxing wise. Archilocus first made his reputation and his fortune as a pirate in the eastern Mediterranean, a respectable undertaking at the time, before settling down in his late twenties to become the foremost lyric poet of the age. He lived fast, wrote well and died young (only 35 at the time of his demise) and in many quarters was considered as fine an artist as Homer (except by poor old Plato, of course, who had no time for either of them).
On returning from the sunny island I ordered a book of Ancient Greek Lyric Poetry. It hasn't arrived yet, or I might have quoted some at length. Instead, here below is my latest effort, hatched while on holiday in Paros...

Monday Morning Doubts
I was having Monday morning doubts
about Platonism the other day,
sitting sipping double-Greek in a cafe
under blue Aegean skies after rising early
with the modulating larks of Paros,
taxing my mind on the Island of Light:
how to square the Cyclades
with that cold, wet Lancashire home
from which I was enjoying
thirty degrees of temporary respite!
It was proposed that there are two realities -
the one we can see, which makes no sense
(particularly now) and the one we can't
which does (in perpetuity); with philosophy
supposedly the  key to apprehending the latter,
of divining the essential truth
hiding behind the world of matter.
The old Athenian also contended
that poetry deceives and dangerously so.
No sitting on the fence for Plato,
a bit right-wing in his thinking on that score
and I'm sure he's wrong.
Space may well turn out to be dodecahedral
as he claimed, and mathematics prove
to explain the workings of the universe
but the art of poetry speaks its truth
about the conditions of the human heart
even at three removes; and as those
who've passed the acid test can affirm,
there is anyway only one boundless reality
in which everything is related.
As the pirate poet wrote two millennia ago -
take the joy and bear the sorrow,
looking past your hopes and fears:
learn to recognize the measured dance
that orders all our years.
So long, Plato!
And so long Greece until next summer,
for I'm flying home, recharged, tomorrow.
Thanks for sticking with this. I hope you enjoyed it, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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