I put together this presentation last year, to explain the original concept and vision for Cypsel, my startup. I tried to solve the problem of putting together ad hoc teams to solve problems. The original idea was diluted in the process of developing a product and ended up as a matching marketplace in art& music education. Very useful lessons were learned in the process.
Advanced technological civilisations would be impossible without an Aristotle and the host of haphazard historical circumstance that preserved his thought through the ages. Aristotle was the first real scientist. That’s because he assumed that in order to understand the world you must observe it, and that all knowledge comes from our senses. His notions contrasted with the notions of Plato, his teacher. Plato believed the opposite: that the world of the senses was an illusion, and that all there was to know was in the mind. For Plato reason came first and was adequate in itself. For Aristotle it was first observation, then reason.
Most of us know that Alexander the Great was a student of Aristotle. However, although Alexander admired his teacher when he was young, he became quite paranoid later and thought that Aristotle was plotting to kill him. Aristotle was very disappointed that Alexander declared himself divine; this was hubris in every Greek sense of the word. But Aristotle had another student too: Ptolemy, a friend of Alexander, then a general in his army and, after Alexander’s death, the king of Egypt and the originator of the Ptolemies, the Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt until its last queen Cleopatra killed herself as Octavian’s armies approached.
Ptolemy was instrumental in realising Aristotle’s scientific vision. He sponsored the founding of the Library of Alexandria, where all knowledge of the world was stored. And he encouraged scientists and engineers to explore nature. As a result, Alexandria became the scientific capital of the world. Some of the greatest scientific and engineering minds worked there. The influence of Alexandria across the Mediterranean was immense, and scientists started appearing in other places too, like Archimedes in Syracuse and Hypparchos in Rhodes.
The legacy of the Aristotelian Ptolemies passed to the Arabs who during the Middle Ages developed a rich scientific and engineering tradition, while Europe languished in Platonic introspection. Thankfully, in Renaissance, Europe awoke to Aristotle (St Thomas Aquinas played a major role in that), and that’s how the scientific revolution was made possible.
Perhaps therefore, we can now somewhat explain Fermi’s paradox: life ought to be common in our galaxy. Evolution ought to have evolved highly intelligent creatures in several thousands planets. Why haven’t we heard of them yet? Why haven’t they discovered radio waves?
Assuming that their neurophysiology is comparable to ours (and that is a big assumption) perhaps they never had an Aristotle. They only had Platos. They exist, but have not discovered radio waves, have not built telecommunication antennae, or spaceships. The are stuck in endless, theocratic, Middle Ages.
Herodotus says that the gods had the real Helen whisked away and hidden safely in Egypt, while giving a doppelgänger of hers to Paris. That the Trojans and the Greeks had fought over a ghost.
Euripides in his tragedy “Helen” picks ups this version of the story and weaves a plot where, ten years later, Helen meets Menelaus in Egypt. He returns from Troy and is shipwrecked. The new king of Egypt, son of the recently deceased Proteus, hates the Greeks and wants to marry Helen despite her will. Like Paris, he too has fallen under the spell of her beauty. In the end Menelaus recognises his true, and faithful, wife and they manage to escape back to their home in Sparta.
Helen of Troy is one of those ambivalent female characters that Euripides loves to deconstruct. She may not posses the darkness of Medea but Helen is equally tragic. Because of her thousands of young men will kill each other in battle, the greatest heroes of Troy and Greece. She will be the cause that Troy is destroyed, sacked, ruined. And all that not because she plotted or wished any harm to anyone, but because of her beauty. Like all tragic heroes, she cannot change her fate. Gods have decided that her beauty would be the cause of destruction, that she would be death. Then the gods decide to play one more game: they send a ghost to Troy and let everyone fight over it. The gods are ruthless. They play with people like people play with dolls.
“Οὐκ ἦλθον ἐς γῆν Τρῳάδ’, ἀλλ’ εἴδωλον ἦν”, says Helen in the play. (“I did not come to the land of Troy, it was a phantom”).
And the messenger replies: “Τί φῄς; Νεφέλης ἄρ’ ἄλλως εἴχομεν πόνους πέρι;” (“What are you saying? We have suffered because of a mere phantom?”)
Euripides wrote the play after the Sicilian Expedition where Athens suffered a humiliating defeat. It was the beginning of the end for the great city, and the poet wanted his audience to understand that war was the root of all evil; and that war was about nothing. There was no Helen in Troy. There was no glory in Sicily. The gods played with human weaknesses, hoping perhaps that the mortals will grow wiser once they suffer. But do we?
Consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – weren’t they wars about nothing? Isn’t any war really about nothing? About ghosts?
The gods had put the real Helen under the protection of Proteus, the king of Egypt. Proteus is the son of Poseidon; his name means the “first born”, the “primal”. He is a sea god who, like water, adapts and changes shape. Reality is protected by change, or change is what hides reality from our senses. Change confuses us. We long for stability; and that is our fall. Our tragedy is that we cannot help but being constantly deluded.