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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Theories of Change and Constancy

"It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man." --G.K. Chesterton (The Everlasting Man, Part 1, The Man in the Cave)

"We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature."--George Berkeley

Alice C. Linsley

In the last lesson we considered theories of time. The philosophers we studied held a range of notions about the dynamic of change through time. Hegel proposed a dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, upon which Marx built his dialectical materialism and advocacy of collectivism. In the dialectical view, change is precipitated by clashes of interest. The Pluralist Empedocles (490-430 BC) held a similar view in which motion, flux and chaos result from the clash of love (philia) and strife (neikos).

Thomas Kuhn made the case that scientific revolutions are sudden leaps that result from an individual's discovery, not from the steady advancement of knowledge by the scientific community. Kuhn termed these epistemological breakthroughs "paradigm shifts" and he demonstrated that the evolution of science does not justify the view that science advances by accumulation of raw sense data. The history of science is full of examples of "discovery through paradigm destruction."

Paradigm shifts drive the philosophical project as well as science. Rene Descartes, Emmanuel Kant and Ludwig Wittgenstein are examples of men who saw a philosophical question from a unique perspective. In each case, they began by wondering about something. If we trace the philosophical project from the earliest times we recognize that the project is driven by innate human curiosity that leads us to ask questions about the world in which we live.

Plato said, "This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin." Aristotle said, "It is owing to their wonder that men now begin, and first began, to philosophize."

We already have addressed some of the questions asked by early philosophers; i.e., What was the first cause? What was the first substance? What is eternity? The next question we will address concerns change.

Can the essence of entities change?

You have heard it said, "There is nothing new under the Sun." In this view no changes in the essence of entities occurs. The essence of humans is the same as it was at the dawn of human existence. Though we may speak of archaic humans and modern humans, the distinction is one of minor anatomical difference which is explained by local adaptation. The distinction is not one of essence.

The essence of trees is the same today as at the time of the appearance of the first tree (though there is actually less diversity today than a million years ago). I am able to look at a towering oak and a date nut palm and recognize both as being of the same essence - tree. The form of these trees is different but they have certain necessary attributes in common - roots, trunks, branches, leaves or fronds.

Plato believed that the human soul re-cognizes objects because they reflect the properties of the one eternal Form of which the soul has innate knowledge. We re-cognize the elm and the pine as trees because they reflect the one eternal form Tree. They embody "treeness" though these trees are quite different. Likewise, each human embodies the essence of humanness though there is a wide range of human features.

Plato's theory of Forms is an early brand of essentialism. Platonic idealism holds that all known things and concepts have an essential reality behind them which constitutes the essence that makes those things and concepts what they are. Dr. J. Jeremy Wisnewski (East Carolina University) has written, "Essentialism is the view that there are things in the world that are constituted by certain essential properties, discoverable by some means of investigation, be it through conceptual analysis, empirical investigation, or some mixture of the two. Precisely what will count as an essential property, of course, is an open question. The one thing we can say about such properties is that they will necessarily be present in any instance where the thing exists for which the property is essential. The term ‘property’ is here to be construed in a broad sense. Hence, to use a typical example, water has the essential property of being H2O. In any instance where we have water, we will necessarily have H2O." ("An Antirealist Essentialism?" East Carolina University; Philosophical Writings No. 22, Spring 2003.)

Saul Aaron Kripke
Essentialism is the view that a specific entity (group of people, living creatures, or objects such as rocks) has a set of attributes or traits all of which are essential to its identity and function. More recently essentialism has been argued by the American philosopher Aaron Saul Kripke in his book Naming and Necessity (1980, Cambridge: Harvard University Press). He maintains that entities have essential properties that can be discovered by scientific investigation and that their essences are independent of human language and culture.

Jacques Derrida expresses an essentialist view in his ontotheology. These would argue that the essence of an entity may fluctuate but does not change. Water's essence is unchanged though it may fluctuate between forms -liquid, solid and vapor. The essentialist makes a distinction between change and flux.

Non-Essentialism is the view that a specific entity does not have a set of attributes which are essential to its identity and function. Some non-essentialists include Heraclitus and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Clearly, great thinkers do not agree on the question of change. We often assign different meaning to the word "change." When we say the weather is changing are we speaking of a shift in the wind direction or in the transition from one season to another? When we say that modern humans represent a change from archaic humans are we speaking of essential change or anatomical change?

Archaic views of change

In the ancient world the order of creation was viewed as hierarchical and fixed. This was based on the observation of patterns in nature. In the time of Abraham's Kushite ancestors, the observation of the fixed movement of the heavenly bodies was done by a caste of priests. They noted the constellations have a clocklike movement, the seasons are linked to the 12 lunar cycles, and the Sun directly over head marks mid-day. They saw these phenomena as fixed and constant.

They perceived boundaries in nature. The boundaries were fixed within the hierarchy of "kinds" (pyramid). The Biblical "kind" is not synonymous with the word "species." The term "kind" is conceptually close to Plato's term Form or Idea. The Essentialist view classifies on the basis of exact likeness, that is the offspring are essentially identical to the parents. "Kind" refers to the original pattern of a created entity. Creationists believe the original pattern never disappears. The Biblical "kind" represents an Essentialist worldview. In Aristotle's writings "kind" is intended by his use of the Greek words genos and eidos.

A species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. In the evolutionary view similarities are sufficient to classify creatures into genus. Species hypothesized to have common ancestors are classified in one genus, based on similarities. Because of mutation and adaptation there are many more creatures than there are kinds. Before the theory of evolution the essentialist view of the natural world prevailed. It held that each species preserves its original essence through time. Organisms that lose necessary attributes become extinct. Extinct organisms cannot evolve into different organisms.

Sacred Geometry

The ancient Afro-Asiatic priests saw boundaries in earth's geometry. From the tops of high mountains they noted the curvature of the Earth at dawn and dust. They "oriented" themselves by facing east as the Sun rose. Ancient towers and temples reflected the sacred geometry and cosmology of their builders. The differing geometric shapes of the temples of the Horite Sabians (Afro-Arabian Dedanites) associated the hexagon with Saturn, the triangle with Jupiter, the rectangle with Mars, the square with the Sun, the octagon with the Moon, and a triangle within a quadrangle with Venus.[1]

Abraham's Nilotic ancestors conceived of the cosmos as God's sacred pyramid or temple. As the Sun rose, God entered the temple from the east. As the Sun set, God left the temple toward the west. Rulers were buried in pyramids with the hope that they would rise with the Sun and lead their people in procession to immortality. St. Paul refers to this belief when he writes about how Christ rose from the grave, leading captives in his train. (Ephesians 4:7-9)

This is the symbolism of the sand scarab, which comes out of the sand when the Sun rises and returns to the sand as night approaches. The sand scarab represents the Sun's journey and life after death (repose). The female sand beetle lays her eggs in the sand and when the eggs hatch, she is no longer, because she gives her body to be eaten by her newborn young (cf. Jesus' words, "This is my Body given for you..."). (See The Dung Beetle and Heavenly Lights.)

For Abraham's Horite ancestors, the Sun and the scarab spoke to them of their deity, HR (Horus in Greek). He was regarded, with his father Ra, as the fixer of boundaries. Horos refers to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. From horos come the English words hour, horizon and horoscope. The Indo-European root for year is yeHr-, yet another reference to Horus. The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning Horus of the Horizon. Today the word horoscope connotes astrology, but the word original meant "observer of the hours", from hora (time or hour) and skopos (observer or watcher).

In the time of Abraham's ancestors, the priests of Horus (called "Horites" in the Bible) were dedicated to observation of the planets and constellations. They observed that the planets and the constellations have an orderly clock-like movement. They conceived of this order as fixed and established by the generative force which makes existence possible (logos, nous, ruach, etc.) The Horite priests were the earliest known astronomers and it is likely that horo is a reference to their celestial archetypes surrounding Horus, the son of Ra, born to Hathor-Meri. Hathor-Meri's animal totem was a cow. She is shown at the Dendura Temple holding her newborn son in a manger or stable.

The Horites were devotees of HR (Hor, Hur, Har or Horus) whose mother Hathor-Meri conceived miraculously by the overshadowing of the Sun (the Creator's emblem). Horus is the archetype by which Abraham's descendants would recognize Jesus as the promised Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15). His authentication was His rising from the dead on the third day, in accordance with Horite expectation. In a 5 day ceremony, the Nilotic peoples fasted as a sign of grief for the death of Horus at the hand of his brother. On the third day the priests led processions to the fields where grain was sowed as a sign of Horus' rising to life. Jesus described his death as a seed of grain falling into he ground and dying (John 12:20-26). St. Augustine noted that the Egyptians took great care in the burial of their dead and never practiced cremation, as in the religions that seek to escape physical existence. Abraham's ancestors believed in the resurrection of the body and awaited a deified king who would rise from the grave and deliver his people from death.

Horus marked the boundaries and established the "kind" (essences). He guarded the four directional points and controlled the water and the wind. The Harmattan trade wind that blows from the northeast and east across the Sahara was named for Horus. The word is comprised of the biradicals HR for Horus and MT meaning order. The Nilotic peoples were probably the first to invent the sail because the prevailing wind blows south while the Nile (Hapi) flows north. Horus was invoked to send favorable wind. The four winds sometimes appeared as birds at the four quarters of the heavens announcing the accession of Horus' deified ruler on earth. On the walls of Amenemhat's burial chamber at Hawara Horus is depicted at the cardinal points and associated with the resurrection of the ruler. The four forms of Horus top the canopic jars holding the ruler's organs.

In the ancient world, the earth below was perceived as a mirror of the celestial order above. The cosmological significance ot the four quarters of the winds - north, east, south and west - are apparent in Homer's writings. The quarters were divided again to configure an 8-point order for the winds know to the Greeks after Homer. By the time of Eratosthenes (c. 276 – 195 BC) a 12-point wind configuration had emerged, but the 8-point configuration was used again in the time of Andronicus of Kyrrhos in the first century B.C. Around the top of the Tower of Winds that he designed 8 winds are named: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus (W), and Skiron (NW). The North, Northeast, Northwest and East are associated with men (masculine principle) and the Southwest, West, South and Southeast are associated with women (the feminine principle). This suggests the binary influence of the earlier Afro-Asiatics.[2]

The Horologion

Wind towers were a common feature in the ancient world. Andronicus' tower in Athens is called the "Horologion." Abraham's Nilotic Proto-Saharan ancestors associated the wind with the divine generative force. Ruach eloyim means spirit, breath, wind, movement of God. The association of wind with Horus is seen also in the word Har-mat-tan, referring to the dry wind that seasonally blows across the Sahara. Here again we see the root horo, relating to Horus. The term was borrowed by the ancient Greeks who were fascinated by ancient Nilotic culture and religion. "Horos" and "horismos" are used by Plato to refer to definition, term, distinction and boundary. Plato studied for 13 years in Egypt.

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) gives the classic definition of essentialism: an essence of a thing is that which it is said to be. It is that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and therefore constitutive of a thing. A thing's essence is that property without which the thing would cease to exist as itself. Entities derive their coherence or constancy from the immutability and homogeneity of their essences. In his logical works, Aristotle links essence to boundaries (horos, horismos) or to definition. He says, “a definition is an account (logos) that signifies an essence” (Topics 102a3). He says that “what belongs to a thing in respect of itself (kath’ hauto) belongs to it in its essence (en tôi ti esti)”.

Modern philosophical conversations on essentialism

Properties, attributes or traits that are essential are considered incidental while properties, such as stripes or number of legs, are considered accidental. Ernst Mayr expresses the essentialist character of Platonic Forms in biology in this statement: "Flesh-and-blood rabbits may vary, but their variations are always to be seen as flawed deviation from the ideal essence of rabbit".

Anthropology professor Lawrence Hirschfeld gives an example of what constitutes the essence of a tiger. Particular traits such as stripes, color or lack thereof (albino), or deformities such as the loss of a leg or a short tail, are not essential (incidental). The essential properties of a tiger are those without which it is no longer a tiger. Other properties, such as stripes, the number of legs, color and tail length are considered inessential (accidental).[3] (Here is a response to Hirschfeld on the question of race.)

Essentialists (Plato, Aristotle) believe true essences exist. This is the basis of Plato's Forms which pertain to the metaphysical realm outside time where essence does not change. For Plato this realm is real, structured and eternal. The apparent variety of transitory appearances is not real change, but flux within a fixed order. The real world consists of distinct essences that make it possible to recognize and sort objects into natural kinds. All things that have the same essence are identical in their incidentals, though not necessarily in the accidents.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) points to the fixed nature of the metaphysical "center" in his book From Structure, Sign and Play. He writes, "the entire history of the concept of structure... must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix... is the determination of Being as presence in all sense of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence - eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) alethia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth."

Derrida maintained that the philosophical project in the West has reached a dead end because of the abandonment of Plato's essentialism. Derrida's “metaphysics of presence” borrows from the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger maintains that Western philosophy has always granted primacy or “privilege” to presence itself. That is to say, something is because it can be and something can be because it is. We might add that "something isn't" is also about metaphysical presence. Derrida is familiar with the apophaticism of eastern thought.[4] (For more on this, go here and  here)

Apophaticism describes by negating that which God is not; one eliminates all that is material and named. Also excluded are the attributes such as goodness, love, truth, and wisdom. One finally excludes being itself. God is none of these. His nature is the unknowable. He “is not” this or that, or any other perceived thing that we imagine out of our finite selves. Yet, God is the One who chose to have a relationship with us so that we are somehow able to say “You who calls me are God, the Known Unknown, the apophatic God.” In this tradition we are never able to see God, only the veil of God.

In the Western theological tradition this is sometimes called “negative theology” but apophaticism and negative theology are not exactly the same. They do have one thing in common. They identify something at the center of reality that is not material and not fully knowable.

Derrida's “ontotheology” speaks of “the center” to which we inevitably must return in philosophy. There we find an eternal, immutable Presence which has been variously called Logos, Nous, God, Tao, Apeiron, the Ontological Core, etc. Derrida demonstrates that language is unstable and plays havoc with the concept of a transcendental, self-evident logos. That said, it is important to remember that Derrida never denies the existence of “the center” or that there is something there. He regards the center as a function, not a being, to which we must return to understand existence (ontology).

The logic of “supplementarity” (Derrida’s term) shows that what is conceived as the marginal object does in fact define the central object of consideration. We have seen this in the supplementarity of male-female principle or binary polarities of the Afro-Asiatics. The assigned priority to north and east (those being associated with God) are reversible, bringing south and west to the position of priority. Such reversals are significant in Semitic mysticism, such as Kabbala. It appears that Derrida, an Arabic-speaking North African Jew, was reviving an appraoch to metaphysics that would have been familiar to Abraham and his African ancestors.

Fixed Boundaries in Genetics

The word horotely is used to describe the rate and boundaries of evolutionary change for a given group of plants or animals. The term is used to indicate evolutionary progress and the implication is that through the mechanism of evolution the essence of an entity can change. However, the etymology of the word suggests the very opposite, coming as it does from the ancient world. The term relates to Horus and fixed limits or boundaries between "kinds" (an essentialist view). This is not a popular concept among those who believe that chimps and humans have a common ancestor because they have similar anatomical and genetic structure, or that nurse sharks and camels have a common ancestor because they have a similar antigen receptor protein structure.

For purposes of classification, the essentialist is willing to group similar species such as apes and humans in the same genus, but this does not mean they are of the same essence. Clearly they have different essences since they reproduce different kinds. Humans only reproduce humans and have done for the past 3 to 4 million years. There are fixed boundaries within the DNA code. While the similarity of humans to primates may suggest a common origin, a common ancestor(s) is not known to have existed in real time.

Three to four million year fossils recovered in Ethiopia and Cameroon have been studied to reconstruct a picture of Lucy and her archaic people. These 3.2 million year old remains were found in Hadar, Ethiopia in 1973. For about 20 years Australopithecus afarensis was described as the earliest known “human ancestor species.” Australopithecus means “Ape of the South” and afarensis refers to the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia where the fossils were found. The first discovered skeleton of this population was named "Lucy" and she was described as an ape rather than a human.

Australopithecus afarensis is the term coined by South African anatomist Donald C. Johanson for Lucy and her community. Johanson has since concluded that these were Homo, not apes, although the artists’ drawings in biology books still show them as hairy and apelike.

Ward, Kimbel, and Johanson reported in Feb. 2011 the recovery of a complete fourth metatarsal of A. afarensis at Hadar that shows the deep, flat base and tarsal facets that “imply that its midfoot had no ape-like midtarsal break. These features show that the A. afarensis foot was functionally like that of modern humans.”

What are we to make of the phrase “functionally like” – does it mean similar or identical? The Darwinian will read this and stress similar structure as evidence of common ancestry. On the basis of similar anatomy humans and chimps are classified in the same genus. So why not admit, on the basis of similarity, that A. afarensis is human? Here we find a serious flaw in logic.

The Essentialist would regard the structures being compared as identical in essence.

When paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva compared the ankle joint, the tibia and the talus of fossil "hominins" between 4.12 million to 1.53 million years old, he discovered that all of the hominin ankle joints resemble those of modern humans rather than those of apes. Chimpanzees flex their ankles 45 degrees from normal resting position. This makes it possible for apes to climb trees with great ease. While walking, humans flex their ankles a maximum of 20 degrees. The human ankle bones are quite distinct from those of apes. Using DeSilva's evidence no argument can be made that the fossils are similar to apes. They are not. Lucy and her community are not evidence of common ancestry of apes and humans. They are evidence that humans have had the same essence for millions of years.


1. Pierre A. MacKay, "A Turkish Description of the Tower of the Winds" American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 73, No. 4, (Oct., 1969), pp. 468-469.

2. The Horites saw a binary order in creation. There binary view is distinct from dualism in that one of the entities in the binary set is regarded as superior to the other. See "The Binary Distinctions of the Horites."

3. Lawrence Hirschfeld, Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture and the Child's Construction of Human Kinds, p. 87.

4. The word "apophatic" means revelation and negation. Vladimir Lossky defines apophaticism as follows: "Apophaticism consists in negating that which God is not; one eliminates firstly all creation, even the cosmic glory of the starry heavens and the intelligible light of the angels in the sky. Then one excludes the most lofty attributes, goodness, love, wisdom. One finally excludes being itself. God is none of all this; in His own nature He is the unknowable. He "is not." In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we find this: "And grant us, O Lord, to dare to invoke Thee with confidence and without fear, by calling Thee Father." According to Lossky the Greek text says, "God on high Whom one cannot name, the apophatic God." (See Lossky, V., Orthodox Theology: An Introduction. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1978, page 32.)

Related reading: Pre-Darwinian Taxonomy and Essentialism by David Stamos; Biblical Anthropology and the Question of Common AncestryThe Ruach of God; Who Were the Horites?; The Horite Ancestry of Jesus Christ; Theories of Primal Substance and Cause; Theories of TimeThe Science Guy Reveals His Ignorance

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