Spheres, Souls and Reality

I have recently discovered the author Jorge Louis Borges; his Book of Imaginary Beasts, from which the following is drawn,  is a history of how people have explained the world through the ages, and makes fascinating reading, and shows us how un-modern science fiction really is. No matter how strange, it has probably been described somewhere before.

Because the sphere was long ago established as the most perfect shape, the ancients such as  Plato believed that our world was spherical, so the notions that everyone believed the earth was flat just isn’t true. Plato also believed  that the planets and stars were living as well. He mocked ignorant astronomers who were looking for logic in the paths of the stars, as their movement was voluntary, so was no more predictable than that of any other animal.

In Alexandria over 500 years later, Origen, one of the Fathers of the Church, taught that the blessed would come back to life in the form of spheres and would enter rolling into Heaven. I like this idea, as it saves having to bother with shoes. But rather a problem getting up stairs. Which I suppose suggests there are no stairs in heaven. Hmmm

We tend to think that the Renaissance was a time of deep thinking and logic, but they also had some very strange explanations for reality. The idea of Heaven as an animal reappeared in the writings of Lucilio Vanini.  Neoplatonist Marsilio Facino spoke of the hair, teeth, and bones of the earth. Giordano Bruno felt that the planets were great peaceful animals, warm blooded, with regular habits, and endowed with reason.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the German astronomer. Johannes Kepler debated with the English mystic Robert Fludd which of them had first conceived the notion of the earth as a living monster, “whose whale like breathing, changing with sleep and wakefulness, produces the ebb and flow of the sea”. The anatomy, the feeding habits, the colour, the memory, and the imaginative and shaping faculties of he monster were sedulously studied by Kepler. How did he do this? How can you study something we now know to be nonsense?

Even as late as the recognisably modern 19th century, the German psychologist Gustav Theodor Fechner (a man praised by William James in his A Pluralistic Universe) held the hypothesis that the earth, our mother, is an organism – an organism superior to plants, animals, and men – may look into the pious pages of Fechner’s Zend-Avesta. This points us into the direction of New Age ideas of the earth mother, and backwards into far earlier earth myths.

He also  claimed that the earth’s spherical shape is that of the human eye, the noblest organ of our body. Also, that “if the sky is really the home of angels, these angels are obviously the stars, for the sky has no other inhabitants.” Not sure about the logic on this but I guess anything is possible.


4 thoughts on “Spheres, Souls and Reality

  1. I do not have to save myself—I too am a whim of time, that shifty element.”
    Jorge Luis Borges. The Hourglass.

    The man is truly a rare genius.

    When I was young I took mushrooms once, I understood with perfect clarity that the universe was a womb and we were all literally inside the beast. Probably a good thing I never bothered too much with drugs…


  2. In the modern day people like James Lovelock has won support for the idea Earth is an organism, called the Gaia hypothesis.


    • Yes, and there are loads of people who still mock him. I love the idea that the green movement really got underway with the first pictures of the earth from space – that fragile blue sphere.


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