10/25/2009

Maelströms from the Renaissance

Siddhartadevi's repeated hints to Giordano Bruno and renaissance neoplatonism as relevant input for the emergence of science and the selfperception of scientists make one very curious about that piece of mental history, which I know only through Yourcenar's brilliant novel and some random readings of Plotin. But having Yates' book on Bruno not at hand, I just remember a possibly interesting side-aspect of Renaissance hermetics: texts secured with labyrinthine semantics against uninvited readers. The corresponding mentality reflects e.g. in the architecture of renaissance castles: One finds hidden staircases within staircases, iterated layers of hidden floors and secret rooms in harmless looking buildings. One thinks at invisible inks, texts and symbols hidden in perspectively distorted pictures, esoteric symbolisms, poised pages. But there was probably a far more sophisticated method in use to secure theories: a kind of mental trick lock. I guess it really only in Kabbalism, about which Gershom, a scholar working at the JPost, told me the story below, allegedly going back to medieval south france hermetics. If that is roughly correct it surely applies to other hermetic texts too.

The trick is similar to that described by Martin Gardner in his article about "Hinton cubes". That are simple mechanical tools for developing a various parts of 4-dim. visual imagination (actually, when reading on regular solids etc., I can imagine such things without toys tools...). The unlucky practitioneers of a cult Hinton made out of that got mad because the trained ways of modified perception started working automatically, they could not stop that any more. Now imagine, someone would have confronted them with suitable analogues of impossible figures etc....

Conc. the Talmud, Gershom says: It's 63 volumes are not only 'passionate disputes': By demanding the reader to follow them, they provide a training in the type of thinking used by those medieval, hermetic scholars. The effect on a mind used to the every day way of thinking is described in the texts as bewilderment first, - the Talmud contains six 'levels', or 'orders', including one designed for beginners - then engagement and finally an "Eureka-experience" of understanding how the mind correctly works and should ever have worked. Then a kind of intellectual extasis is described, which includes for hermetic scholars obviously some sense of humour.

Then a clever designed 'mental trick lock', an 'intellectual vortex' comes. The emotional and motivational aspect of all the training with repetitions, variations, rythms, starts working like a maelstrom along the mentioned levels of learning. The first 'trick lock' the student meets is the barrier of his own intellectual strength, a barrier artificially made thicker than necessary. Only then comes the real 'trick lock' for the student who thinks he has the trouble behind him: The now since long dragged-in mental concepts and thinking-ways are set into conflict. A Talmudist described it: "... it puts the mind at war with itself; the more powerful the mind, the more destructive the conflict."

Be that as it may, here a link to the real 'glass bead game', coming from garbled ancient greek descriptions and only reconstructed in renaissance, and Illich's beautifull book on texts and reading through the times.