Question for Bill Nye

Big Think, an American think tank, invites readers to send in videotaped questions to Bill Nye.  I sent in my question yesterday about how the Greeks viewed the number zero- how they didn't want to adopt it, even though it could have helped them in their math and science, because of what it represented- the void, nothingness,

The 4 Things I want my Kids To Know

This weekend, I was over at a friend's house, and we were talking about how much money she'd put into raising her kids.  She said it had been really important to raise them to have three skills:

  1. the ability to swim- in case they ever fell into a body of water
  2. musical ability- for the effect it has on the brain (makes you better at math, for example)
  3. team sports- to learn how to work with other people

I said I was pretty sure my mom read that same book or article, because she also was very deliberate about our swimming lessons, piano lessons, and putting us in team sports. 

Image from

Image from

After supper, we went outside and lay on her trampoline, and looked up at the stars.  To me, it was just a mass of lights, but to my surprise, she started pointing out the Big Dipper, Saturn, the North Star, and conjecturing about where Mars was in relation to where we were.  She laughed that I momentarily mistook a satelite for a shooting star.  I was in awe- I couldn't believe that anyone could even identify planets anymore.  I mean, an astronomer would, sure, but a regular city person with no formal training?  I decided that was my #4 on my list- that my kids have to know how to "read" the night sky like that.  While I lie there thinking about that, I sensed that it must really be true, that our ancestors watched the twinkling lights like we watch television, and the connection was so much more visceral and meaningful then.

I also decided I had to incorporate star-gazing into my course.  Logic and Science, and the meaning we attribute to what we observe in the world, all started with star-gazing anyway.

I'm pretty sure Amy Schumer Meant to Say Something a Tad more Nuanced

Amy Schumer wrote a skit for Bill Nye, and it's funny but not funny.  Here it is. 

I love Amy's sharp mind- that girl has been on fire lately with her skits, and I have all the respect in the world for Bill Nye, although I don't know him that well.  I just know he's a comedian-scientist who explains things to the public, and I'm all over that. 

When I saw this skit, though, I was a bit dismayed.  On the one hand, I agree that the affirmations movement started by Louise Hay in the late 1970's to "claim" support from the universe can be miscontrued to mean we can take in bits and pieces of reality and reject other, more glaring ones, in response to which Bill Nye says sarcastically, "We now know the universe is essentially a force sending cosmic guidance to white women in their 20s."

Ha.  Amy and her girlfriend just show us how spiritually retarded the West is, but that doesn't mean we need to quash the impulse behind trying to make sense of life's tangled strands.

Amy Schumer in The Universe, Uncensored.

Amy Schumer in The Universe, Uncensored.

What this skit does is completely flatten the mystery of the starry night sky and our millenia-old connection to and fascination with it.  Nye and Schumer wave their hand in the face of the complex understanding that the first peoples had of the planets and stars that kept time and anchored stories for thousands of years.  The heavenly bodies and their stories essentially provided the means of survival for the human race, allowing it to progress from nomads and shepherds to civilizations who farmed and experimented with animal husbandry, giving way to civilizations who brought us philosophy, mathematics, logic, morality, and art, which eventually gave way to the development of the three major mystic traditions, Christian mysticism in the tradition of the Desert Fathers, Kaballah from Judaism, and Sufism from the Muslim heritage.  The universe was found to have spiritual laws before rationality was even beheld by Socrates.  Rationality is underutilized today by certain personality types, and overutilized by others.  We all need a balance of the two to exist with integrity in this world. 

Carl Jung talks about the ying and yang of the divine masculine (knowledge) and divine feminine (context).  The former Catholic monk, Thomas Moore, says reason and ego can only take us so far.  They CAN take us far, and we need that element, but the wisdom, -- and the emptiness of the other side of the wisdom-- is also needed. 

No one wants to appear foolish, so we use our rationality to defend ourselves from the unknown, but we all know people who have been forced into the unknown with an uncurable illness or a divorce, and any transformation that has taken place in the lives of those survivors has come because they embraced the unknown, the mystery, that which is not defined, the vaccuum.

This blog is a call for a conscious "staying" with the discomfort around the paradox of reason and science on the one hand; and mystery and ancient wisdom on the other.  As long as we have one without the other, we're incomplete beings. 

I don't blame Amy for making fun of people using random t-shirts as signs to validate their immoral behavior.  But I disagree with how she used Bill Nye to invalidate any use of mystery at all.  Poking fun of those who don't know how to read the signs of the universe is kind of funny, but let's not do it at the expense of the "yin".   Any ignorance around it needs to be met with sane formal and information education on how to use it, so we can not only become more intelligent about the universe, but also operate more intelligently within the universe.

From Ancient Times to Modern Times

I was listening to Helen Palmer give the keynote talk at the 2013 International Enneagram Conference in Denver again this morning.  She was one of the earliest people to start teaching the Enneagram in the U.S. in the 1980's, I believe.  The second person, in fact.  She's a professor of Psychology at the J.F.K School of Consciousness. 

"Terra non est centra mundi"

The best quote I've heard all month came from Paul Holdengraber, the director of public programs at the New York Library who said that he approached all his subjects with "a euphoria of ignorance", which is exactly how I feel about my course.  Like him, I'm producing Science and Alchemy School because I'm fascinated by the topic, and I'm excited to have some really great speakers enlighten us as we learn how two profound systems of inner growth-- astrology and the Enneagram-- are modeled in our planetary system, and how, in turn, we are, in our biological make-up, products our planetary system.  We belong to each other.  Not only is the universe's unfolding a fascinating story, but it's the cradle for our own psychological unfolding, and as both narratives come together in the 21st century, enabled by technology and research, there is also profound meaning.  Science and mysticism are revealing themselves to be intertwined in fascinating ways in our modern-day universe, so these are exciting times.

Another quote I heard this week was from Russ Hudson's talk on the historical context of the Enneagram.  "It takes time for ideas to cook."  That's an understatement.  In about 150 AD, a Alexandrian astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician named Ptolemy wrote Almagest, which became the standard textbook on astronomy for generations of students to come.  Indeed, for the next 1200 years, it held its place as the authority on the planets and stars, how they moved around the earth, which was the centre of the universe. 

Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish cleric.  His ideas weren't accepted until centuries after he died.   Image from Wikipedia.

Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish cleric.  His ideas weren't accepted until centuries after he died.  Image from Wikipedia.

It took a man named Nicolaus Copernicus in the mid-sixteenth century to get the gumption- and the science together- to challenge Ptolemy's ideas, and his resulting book was ignored by the Church.  Copernicus was a Polish cleric who studied religious law, medicine and astrology, (since it shed light on the nature of his patients' illnesses), and as he did so, found that Ptolemy's calculation tables were a little cumbersome.  Over the course of his adult life, he developped a heliocentric model of the universe, and his ideas didn't become accepted until the 19th century. 

Talk about taking a while for ideas to cook.  Yesterday, Joanne Wilson profiled a city in South Korea that decided to go without cars in one particular neighborhood for one month.  It took TWO YEARS to convince everyone to get on board.  People just didn't think it could be done. 

I love new ideas.  I soak them up, although sure I get threatened by my fair share of them.  But I like to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible so I'm never taken by surprise. 

Numbers and The Thug Life

This guy.  Charles Seife.  What a writer, but look at him.  Doesn't he look pretty surprised and confused that his picture's being taken?  I think he was walking down some halls of academia and a gang of thugs is following after him, saying, "Hey!  Hey you!  Seife!  Turn around!" and Seife is like "Wh- wh- what's going on?  What do you want from me?"  and the thugs are like, "Don't say anything- just stand against that wall and smile." and Seife is like, holy shit- what are you going to do with my picture? and the thugs are like, "We're gonna put it on the back inside flap of your book jacket.  This guy 'Penguin' said you wanted it against a white background.  Say cheese, mofo.

This guy.  Charles Seife.  What a writer, but look at him.  Doesn't he look pretty surprised and confused that his picture's being taken?  I think he was walking down some halls of academia and a gang of thugs is following after him, saying, "Hey!  Hey you!  Seife!  Turn around!" and Seife is like "Wh- wh- what's going on?  What do you want from me?"  and the thugs are like, "Don't say anything- just stand against that wall and smile." and Seife is like, holy shit- what are you going to do with my picture? and the thugs are like, "We're gonna put it on the back inside flap of your book jacket.  This guy 'Penguin' said you wanted it against a white background.  Say cheese, mofo.

I'm reading this book by Charles Seife called Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, and it should be mandatory reading for every adult who's in a position to 1) lock someone away, 2) impose a death sentence, or 3) inflict any kind of punishment, because it demonstrates just what kind of clowns we can be when we find an idea threatening to our settled way of thinking.   Humans are capable of some pretty terrifying acts of violence when something threatens their worldview.  Last night I went to go see "The Imitation Game" with my parents, a movie about how Allan Turing invented the computer during World War II under massive pressure.  His job was to decode the German's encrypted messages that got radioed to their warships every day.  After successfully decoding their messages, the war ended, and he went home, only to be convicted of being a homosexual.  He had to take hormonal therapy to reverse his preferences, which led to his committing suicide.  We sure have perfect vision in hindsight, but at the time, we feel like we're being completely rational.

Speaking of being rational, in studying the Enneagram, I've come across Pythagoras a few times, and I just assumed he was this wise old man with a long beard who did math and geometry all day and taught his students about the spiritual quality of numbers.  It turns out he did a lot more than sit around and stoke his beard and think about numbers- there was an ugly side to him, and I don't mean his hypotenuse side.  He sentenced one of his own students, Hippassus of Metapontum to death by drowning (so the legend goes) for revealing to "the outside world" that irrational numbers were a mathematical possibility. 

It was a discovery completely at odds with the spirituality of the brotherhood- their entire worldview-- not to mention their understanding of their own role in the world-- was based on being able to make sense mathematically of their universe. 

For everything in the universe to be govered by ratios, as the Pythagoreans hoped, everything that made sense in the universe had to be related to a nice, neat proportion.  It literally had to be rational. (pg. 35).

As Greek scholars tended to be interested in mathematics-- having learned their math from the Egyptians who were also leaders in science, but moreso in geometry-- many of them studied ratios and "the interchangeability of math, music, and nature".  To them, perfect ratios were a way to connect to divinity.  Even the planets, in their minds, made music in perfect fifths- the most harmonious ratio in music- as they rotated around the earth (that's where the music of the spheres comes from).  So when Hippassus got out a really tiny ruler and realized that the diagonal line connecting two inner corners of a perfect square can't exactly be plugged into an a/b ratio where a and b are commensurable (able to be meaured by a comon yardstick), it didn't make sense.

Irrationality was dangerous to Pythagoras as it threatened the basis of his ratio-universe.  To add insult to injury, the Pythagoreans soon discovered that the Golden Ratio, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number.  To keep these horrible numbers from ruining the Pythagorean doctrine, the irrationals were kept secret.  Everyone in the Pythagorean brotherhood was already tight-lipped - nobody was allowed even to take notes - and the incommensurability of the square root of two became the deepest, darkest secret of the Pythagorean order.." (pg. 37).

Let this be a lesson to everyone in power, or who has any measure of power over anyone- to sure, be bold about our opinions, but to hold them loosely.  We might end up being the next judge who sentences the next Allen Turing to hormonal therapy, or Pythagoras who makes a massive mistake in discounting irrational numbers.

The Battle of the Titans, Part III

The reason I'm writing about the Battle of the Titans is because I'm reading a journal article by Helen Palmer and Virginia Wiltse on the connection between ancient astronomy and the Enneagram.  Palmer was supposed to come out with a book about the connection between ancient astronomy and the Enneagram a few years ago, and I inquired about it again a couple months ago, and it hasn't been published yet.  There definitely is a lot to take in in the groundbreaking 2011 article. 

It appears that ancient Hermetic-- and eventually Christian and Sufi-- philosophers saw a connection between human spiritual development and the mythical stories behind the "heavenly bodies", the planets.  The Christian mystic, Evagrius Ponticus (b. 345 AD)- who was also a neo-Pythagorean (Greek with Egyptian scholarship)- saw the planets as having certain qualities, whose transits and mythology were ordained by God to teach us about our own personal development.  They definitely believed back then that the outer cosmos was a macrocosm for our inner cosmos. 

So in these three blog posts, I'm exploring the relationships that Palmer sees between certain planetary gods in the Golden Age and the Enneagram symbol. 

The modern Enneagram symbol.  9 is at the top (ie. at the top of the equilateral triangle), 1 is to the right of it, then 2, 3, 4, and etc. until you get to 8.  Same as the numbering on the symbol to the right.

The modern Enneagram symbol.  9 is at the top (ie. at the top of the equilateral triangle), 1 is to the right of it, then 2, 3, 4, and etc. until you get to 8.  Same as the numbering on the symbol to the right.

The three triangles here represent major interactions between the gods of the golden age, before the War of the Titans, an epic take-down of the Titans by their children, the Olympians.

The three triangles here represent major interactions between the gods of the golden age, before the War of the Titans, an epic take-down of the Titans by their children, the Olympians.

So is it possible that Western civilization has lost its understanding of Greek mythology and how it relates to our own personal alchemy as human beings- how we grow and change?  How we convert our own personal "base metals" into "noble metals"?  Well yes, obviously.  There are maybe a hand-full of people on earth who are conversant in this material.

So here's what's going on with those three triangles on the right.  You'll see there's a triangle connecting Venus, Saturn, and the Sun.  Of course, the Greeks associated the visible planets with their gods.  So Venus, in its lust is connected with Type 8 and the goddess of the same name.  Saturn, usually depicted with his sickle is connected with avarice, therefore Type 5, and the god of time, Kronus.  The Sun, with its warmth (and, according to Evagrius, pride) is connected with Type 2, and the Goddess Helius. 

Palmer and Wiltse's reasoning that these three are connected in the first triangle is because Saturn was the god who was primarily responsible for ushing in the golden age.  Remember, he was the one who castrated his dad, Uranus, when four of his brothers held him down.  When that junk came off Uranus, it landed in the sea and out of the sea emerged Venus.  And one of those brothers who held down Uranus for the castration was Hyperion, the father of the sun. 

OMG, this shit gets complicated, especially because this is only the golden age Enneagram- after the golden age, we have to bring in the redemptive vice-to-virtue process, which involves the moving of those lines (I think which explains why the symbol on the right doesn't look exactly like the modern symbol on the left).  I can see how Helen Palmer's book isn't out yet. 

I'll discuss the other two triangles in upcoming blog posts.

The Battle of the Titans, Part II

Kronus didn't actually castrate his dad alone.  Four of his Titan brothers helped by hiding at the four corners of the world, and waiting for their dad, the Sky, to come in and make out with their mom.  When he came, they held him down by the four corners and Kronus castrates him with his sickle.  With Uranus deposed, the Titan brothers then release their giant-brothers from the belly of their mom, Gaia (who get sent right back to the hell-pit they came from not too long after.)

(Hyperion, one of the brothers, is the god of the dawn, so he is considered to be at the East corner.  He gets together later with his Titan-goddess sister, Theia, and fathers the Sun: Helios.  The sun represents Enneagram Type 2, according to Helen Palmer, btw.)

So Kronus, the god of Time, becomes king, and his wife, Rhea takes up the role as Time's first lady- the goddess of fertility and motherhood.  (Being married to Time meant she would come to represent the flow of time from generation to generation). 

But at some point in his taking over the throne, Kronus' parents- Uranus and Gaia- propesy that one of Kronus' own kids is going to overthrow the his new government.  Kronus is understandably nervous because that's exactly what he did to his own dad, so he swallows all of his children as they're born, just to make sure they don't try anything.  But his wife, Rhea, doesn't like this, and so when she gets pregnant with Zeus, she goes to her in-laws, Uranus and Gaia, for advice on how to save this one child.  They advise her to hide away when it's time to give birth, and set up a situation where he lives in a cave in Krete, nursed by a goddess and protected by some gods.  Then when she's supposed to hand over her baby to Kronus, it's actually a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Very clever, mom and dad.

It works, and it's a good thing that out of all the swallowed children, she saves Zeus, because he grows up and becomes the king of the gods, the ruler of the sky, and the highest ruler of human kind.  Zeus is a big deal.  (In astrology, he rules Jupiter, the planet that represents luck and power.)  So you can imagine, when Zeus grows up, and he's got some avenging of his own to do, and he's going to be really good at it. 

He gets his dad to vomit up all of his siblings and forms an army with them- they call themselves the Olympians- and they decide to go to war against their dad and his old boys' club, the Titans.  So basically there's an epic war between the younger Olympians and the older Titans for ten years.  This is called the Battle of the Titans.

To be continued...

The Battle of the Titans

Back in the day (a long time ago, before there were humans on the earth, and before any of the sexy gods like Zeus or Venus were born), there was a first generation class of deities called the primordial deities, who weren't really deities in the sense that they were people, but places, elements, and times, like Earth, Air, and Time.  They had their own shit figured out- they were self-formed.  They just emerged, apparently.

Gaia was one of the first gods to emerge- she was the earth, which basically meant she was the mother of everything that followed.  To set the stage, she "did it" with some of the major gods.  She got together with Ouranus (Uranus), the god of the sky, which resulted in other sky gods.  Mating with Pontus, the god of the sea, gave us more sea gods; and getting together with Tartarus, a hell-pit below the earth, resulted in a race of giants, the Gigantes.  Then she also gave birth to us humans through her flesh, but that was later. 

As we know about Greek mythology, it's filled with all kinds of drama.  First of all, Gaia's main husband, Ouranos (Uranus) was the ruler and king of everything because, hello, he was the sky itself.  Together, they had 12 sons and 6 daughters, although this is where the complications start.  I guess Uranus didn't like her first two sets of kids, so he locked them away in her stomach, which caused her an enormous amount of pain, pain for which she was ready to avenge as soon as she could come up with a good plan.  Her next six kids with Uranus were called the Titans, and as soon as they were old enough, she got them together and asked them if anyone was willing to castrate her husband, Uranus.  Kronus (Saturn/Time/EnneagramType 5) was the only one who volunteered, so one day when Uranus is going in to make out with his wife, Kronus comes in and does the ugly deed.  He throws his dad's junk into the sea (which eventually gives birth to a lovely maiden, Venus, but not yet.)

So Cronus was the king now, the King of the Titans. 

To be continued...

The History of Astrology and Astronomy

Today I'm listening to a presentation on astronomy and astrology by the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London.  Here are my notes.

Both astronomy and astrology are Greek words; the former meaning "the law of the stars", the latter, "word" or "reason" of the stars. 

Around 1000 BC, Mesopotamia is where myth, astrology, and mathematics became linked.  Only the Babylonian and Sumarian priests studied it.  Then the Greeks, who were fascinated with philosophy and mathematics studied it.  They looked to the sky for omens.  In 61 BC, we got the very first chart.  150 AD, it makes its way to Rome.  People went to astrologers wanting their chart done.

Then it went on to the Arab culture, Arabs being brilliant mathematicians.  They provided amazing star maps.  Then it went to Europe at the time of the Arab transmission. 

Europe, at the time of the Renaissance was when astrology was really honored and understood.  At that time, the earth was considered still a magical place, the earth was very much considered to be alive.

With the advent of science and the scientific revolution, we lost that.  Astrology went underground, while at the same time, above ground there was a lot happening in understanding the psyche.  It wove its way into Jung's work on the psyche, through his understanding of myth and symbols.  Liz Greene also mixed astrology with psychology. 

Today astrology is a little out of reach from the common person, but slowly our culture might be starting to re-embrace it. 

When we enter astrology, it's a chance to connect with the world as being alive through symbols.  Its strength is that we can find patterns in our lives and free ourselves from unwanted patterns.

The teachers carry on the teachings from one generation to the next, a tradition that started all the way back in mesopotamia, although as it spent time in each of the cultures, it shifted a bit as they adapted it to their worldview.