23.5 Degrees and the Right Angles

Many centuries ago, in Greece, two brothers were sitting on the grass during one of their daily classes. For this particular lesson the class had assembled in the evening on a clearing outside of the schoolhouse. The sky was perfectly clear and some condensation had formed on the grass upon which the students were seated, but the brothers were too captivated by the lesson to be bothered by it. Their teacher stood before them as he spoke of the Heavens. The class all gazed skyward as they listened to the deep and commanding voice.

This voice described the True Forms—present and fixed in the arrangements of stars above them. The teacher was stern but patient as he explained and clarified the positions of constellations. Images began to emerge from their dark backgrounds as the students recognised formations for the first time. After some initial uncertainty, the older of the two brothers was suddenly sure that he’d identified one of these compositions. Each of the stars in the group appeared brighter than those surrounding it and he was sure that he could feel the Truth in the form he had discovered.

As the lesson progressed his enthusiasm increased. More and more of the forms began to emerge and took on their associated meanings and significances. The younger of the brothers was no less enthusiastic than his sibling, although he was unable to see with certainty how any of these Forms stood out from their background in the sky. He looked as carefully as he could, but each star appeared as significant as those surrounding it—the dimmer ones only made the others seem brighter. He could arrange and compose a myriad of forms for himself, but none of them held any more weight than the rest.

Both of the boys excelled in their schooling. The older boy exceeded in his knowledge of the Heavens and its True Forms, whilst the younger boy’s failure in this area was counterbalanced by his extraordinary understanding of the earth and its creatures. For a while, it wasn’t a problem that the younger of the two hadn’t accepted the ‘Truth’ of the forms. His admiration of the Heavenly Bodies (although he wouldn’t have called them this) meant that he was seldom questioned as to their significance in his beliefs. However, later in life, as the young boy started to study more independently, his teachers started to realise that he had not accepted the Truths that were attached to these Forms. The boy questioned the necessity of the Forms and couldn’t understand why people took for granted the particular Truths that had been identified. He experimented by identifying his own constellations—in order to support the fabricated meanings he would attach to them, he wove narratives around them—even more eloquent than the ones he had been taught. As he’d expected, he was ridiculed for his efforts. He had only hoped that people would see how they had done precisely the same thing when they had decided on what was True.

Disillusioned with the stubbornness and shallow beliefs of his fellow villagers, he devoted himself instead to the task of meticulously studying and categorising the physical things that he found before him on the earth. In a relatively small amount of time he progressed so much that he had begun to make new discoveries in the natural sciences. Soon enough his findings well surpassed any of those that already existed in the field. Despite all of this, the people’s perception of him meant that they dismissed his studies as nonsense, accusing him of speculation and ill agendas. The particularly Heavenly bunch labelled him evil, and called him a ‘spreader of lies’. His older brother was embarrassed by this, and worried for his own reputation as an expert of the Heavenly Forms. He encouraged his sibling to abandon his scientific pursuits and instead to develop his talent as a writer, which he had so clearly demonstrated in his constructed mythologies. Despite this advice, the younger brother refused to abandon his research, knowing that it could benefit the people and their environment - irrespective of their Heavenly beliefs. It wasn’t even that he wanted his voice to be heard, just that his studies be taken up and furthered by others. He longed for a critical conversation to begin around the ideas within his field of inquiry.

He knew that people would pay no attention to his natural research if they thought he was trying to demolish their Heavenly Forms. He had no intention of corrupting people’s beliefs, and he was concerned about the consequences of doing so accidentally. He had observed that his society’s morality was contained within the narratives accompanying their Forms, and he feared that if they came to view what was formerly Truth as a Falsity, they would turn on one another or become dejected and unproductive due to a lack of meaning. Eventually though, he figured out a way of relating his own research to the ‘True Forms’ of the people’s beliefs, without each becoming too badly polluted by the other.

One day he attended a public ceremony in the town square. The people were gathered to observe a solar eclipse that his brother had predicted would take place. He was thinking about how he had a certain respect for the sheer power of the sun, and the extent to which this was similar to the townspeople’s worship of it. After all, he would never question its necessity; as far as he could tell it was the causer of seasons and the primary sustenance of life the world over. As he stood there waiting for the eclipse, with as much anticipation as everyone else present, he suddenly realised what the difference was: he had accepted the oblique course of the sun as an essential uncertainty—knowing that he would only ever understand its effects rather than its original cause. On the other hand, the worshipers of the sun called it a Heavenly Body and had supposed their understanding of it—positing a cause at the expense of being able to adequately appreciate its effects.

A moment later, a dark shadow began to slide its way across the powerful glow, and he was awe-struck by the marvellousness of it.

Starting with the sun, the next day he began to circulate some of his findings publicly in a new way. He referred to the sun as the ‘Giver of Light’, and integrated his ideas into the established narratives. This way, his categories were at least being utilised, even if it was against a fabricated background and in relation to inferred ‘Truths’. He explained how the ‘Causer of Change’ could impact on their seasonal crops, and how heat and moisture affect various plants differently. He also identified certain species of animals by associating each group with particular constellations the people already recognised. Over time, people began to forget about his early controversies, and other thinkers began contributing to his domain of inquiry. Although he was more careful about what he said publicly, he still held to the belief that it makes no sense to select constellations and identify Forms of Truth—perfect models - according to one’s own needs or interests. He was passionate about his work, but content with its limitations. Surely, he thought, not knowing certain things is what makes it all interesting.

Nonetheless, whenever he stood outside at night he was always reminded—at least when the clouds allowed for it—of how fascinating and mysterious the Heavens remained, just as much as they had been during an evening lesson one particularly clear night of his childhood. Indeed, the more he learned about the earth, the more the stars increased their secrecy. On occasion, he would spend long enough under the stars that he was able to observe their motion—the Movement of the Gods. Gods have Truth in their mouths, we say—though we are forced to pronounce them ourselves. The lesser animals, he thought, are the ones that deserve admiration—they need not even a word for Truth.

July 2009