Ancient Systems Thinkers, 2550 Years and Counting

At least since 570-550 BCE, twenty years that saw the birth of PythagorasSiddhārtha Gautama, Lao-Tsu, and Kong Qiu, there have been many great observers of humanity, who have named a reality that has had a major influence on society for hundreds to thousands of years.  These philosophers were all great systems thinkers, asking the big questions of human existence and developing whole systems to understand, live by, and live within these pictures of reality.

At least 2,550 years of philosophers, right up to today, have seen whole systems that describe:

  1. the basic stocks of life, those essential elements human life depends on — here they have developed the economic question of how much resource there is and how to get more of it
  2. the inflows and outflows of these basic stocks, influencing whether there is enough or not, over time — here they have developed the political question of who decides and enforces who has access to the stocks and the surplus of these stocks
  3. the information flows influencing the decisions made in the inflows and outflows, determining what criteria are used to decide — here they have developed the cultural question of what values are used to decide, and what symbols are used to represent those values and who are the identity holders for a group
  4. the relationships amongst the information flows, inflows and outflows, and basic stocks — here they have developed the social question of how we interact, the principles, standards, and rules of the game

In designing these whole systems, with stocks, flows, information, and connections amongst them all, these philosophers, dating back at least 2,550 years have been master systems thinkers.  Systems thinking is not new, but it is complex, and the few people who have had disproportionately huge influences on how the rest of us live our lives, embraced this complexity and designed whole systems that addressed all four questions at the same time.  Pythagoras influenced western thought through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Siddhārtha Gautama created Buddhism. Loa-Tsu delineated Taoism.  Kong Qiu described Confucianism.  A pretty impactful twenty-year period, in the beginning of at least 2,550 years of systems thinking.  It is our turn to take the next step, to take on the design of the whole like they did so many years ago.

Our Experience of Light, as Seen 2,500 Years Ago — Recommended Reading

Lawlor, Robert. 1994. “Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, and Light,” in Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, Christopher Bamford, ed., Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books.

In this chapter, Robert Lawlor explores the early observations on light of the great Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who lived 570 – c. 495 BC.  Pythagoras, famous today for the Pythagorean Theorem, was a very influential philosopher and mathematician.  This is a fascinating journey through thinking that influenced the last 2,500 years of western thought about what light is.

“The Pythagorean symbolists assumed what may seem an obvious cosmological ground for their numerical procedures: that God has manifested himself in this universe as light…Certainly spiritual texts from many cultures abound with the association between light and the universal creator.  But Pythagoreanism, like its Egyptian sources, is an instance in which this association may be taken not only as an inspired metaphor, but also as a protocol-scientific analogy.  Leibnitz beautifully restated this Pythagorean time, saying, ‘The exquisitely orderly behavior of light indicates the underlying radical patterned order of reality'” (p187).

Light and other forms of radiation can only be absorbed if they carry precisely the right amount of energy to promote an atom from one rung to a higher rung.  As the atom falls back to its fundamental state the absorbed radiation must be removed, carrying away the difference between the two levels.  This released energy appears as a photon or a quantum of light having a particular wave-length determined by the energy difference in the rise and fall within the structure of the atom…[This] occurs according to a very precise rhythmic scale.  Every atom possesses a preset harmonic energy scale, ‘a musical organization’: an in-formed vibratory gradation” (p201).

Substance and light are of the same electromagnetic energy; they are fields of force whose movement/form is detectable as wave phenomenon.  Substance varies from radiated light in that it has been organized into relatively stable geometric vortices by the three primary principles of organization, the protonic, the neutronic and the electronic: the movement towards centrality, centrality and the movement away from centrality.  The varying proportions of these three powers determine the geometry of the substance” (p203).

All light is invisible until it has encountered a substance.  All substances to some varying degree absorb and re-emit light.  This interaction is color, and it is the signature of the inner form of the substance” (p203).

“The logic of Pythagoras is the logic of light and vibration.  It is inclusive of the concept of an octave contained within an octave; but it also understands that the essential form-nature of an octave (the consonance of its proportions) is connected to all other octaves through resonance” (p204).  “For the Pythagorean, this universe is a universe of perception.  Perception is the transformation of light into forms of itself.  And light is consciousness imaging itself” (p 205).

The development of a perspective that still penetrates much of our current understanding of the experience of light.