The Day I Could Not Get Home

I returned to bed, as I often do when I finish writing in the morning, to get an hour and a half more of sleep. Instead, I awoke 23 minutes later, literally shaking. Actually, 23 minutes had elapsed between the time I left my computer and the time when I reopened it. I remember my dream very well, almost the whole of it.

By way of explanation, I have an abnormal sleep pattern. I sleep fewer hours. When I wake up, I go from a deep sleep to a wide-awake state almost instantly. Between the time I am awake and the time I turn my computer on, perhaps a minute has lapsed. More if I pause for a pit stop.

My REM sleep comes at the beginning of a sleep cycle rather than at the end. Most people begin their sleeping with non-REM sleep. Excuse the technical babble, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) part of sleep is when a person dreams. When I am at the sleep clinic overnight (I have been there three times and the doctor is scheduling a fourth, this time, for a 24-hour period rather than the usual overnight stay in the sleep clinic), I usually leave at about 3:30-4:00 a.m., though last time, at the request of the technician, I stayed until 6:00 a.m. Because of the positioning of my REM cycle, I rarely remember my dreams.  I don’t mind. I hate dreaming.

I am sure the following has plenty of scientific errors because I have not read up on the subject, but this is my impression of the science of sleep. I have based it on my talks with the sleep technician more than my medical sleep specialist. I used to say that I rarely dreamed. My REM portion of my sleep cycle tends to be shorter – usually 15 minutes compared to a normal period of about 30 (or even 45) minutes. When I am in REM sleep, the graph produced on the EEG machine, the electroencephalograms, shows small but much more frequent waves.

During the REM phase, I exhibit sleep apnea – a very short period when there are no waves at all. Usually, during my REM period, I have about 1 episode of sleep apnea per minute of sleeping.

When I am on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine at night to ensure more regular breathing, these short sleep interruptions are reduced by 25%. The CPAP machine increases the air pressure in my throat to prevent the collapse of my airway when I breathe by feeding humidified air under pressure through a mask to my throat. It usually stops or reduces snoring. But I do not generally snore. I have stopped using the CPAP machine because the decrease in apnea is too little to offset the inconvenience and discomfort of putting on a sleep mask and taking care of the machine. In any case, my apnea is very mild. And it now seems unlikely, at least to me, that my apnea results from temporary closure of my airways, but is more likely strictly a neurological problem.

My NREM (non-REM) cycle is not abnormal, at least I have not been told it is abnormal, except, if I recall correctly, the deep sleep of the NREM cycle takes five-sixths of a full cycle rather than an average of about two-thirds. Further, I have fewer cycles per night before I wake up, only this is somewhat offset by the 2 or even 3 short naps I take during the day. To simplify, the two columns – and they really are a gross oversimplification – compare the two different NIGHT sleep patterns:

                                        Normal                            Mine

                                        (in minutes)                     (in minutes)

NREM Sleep                   60                                    75

REM sleep                       30 (vary in length)           15

Total sleep cycle (ave.)   90                                     90

Number of cycles/night    5 (or 4 = 7.5 hrs.)            3

Total night sleep          540 min. = 9 hours              270 min. = 4.5 hrs.

I think I have engaged in enough techno-babble in an effort to stall writing about the dream itself. The latter is so vivid in my memory, both in the details and in the emotional effect. I present a very much shortened version.

In the dream, I went out in the morning to explore different parts of the city – the Brickworks where there was an artisan’s market, the stores along Queen St. W., the new park under the Gardiner Expressway (which I have never seen so I am curious about how the real one compares with my imagined park), the ferry across to the island, Fort York. I even got out to the zoo. And other spots. All in a few morning hours. And I do not drive. That is one great advantage of dreams – you cover a great deal more territory than in real life.

The last spot was on Queen St, in Parkdale. Somehow, I had managed to gather a group of people to follow me. We were in a partying mood. I think this scene was influenced by the early scene of the series I started to watch last evening, When They See Us, about the Central Park Five wrongly accused and convicted of raping a female white jogger in 1989.

If you recall, Trump put full page ads in the newspapers advocating that those convicted be given capital punishment. He has never retracted that advocacy, even though the five were freed because the convictions were trumped up and the five teenagers were all exonerated.

In the early scene of the series, young Blacks and Latinos from Harlem in New York City gather together in a festive mood to go into Central Park in New York. I abandoned watching the film because it was too painful to watch the manipulation and threats to which the young boys were subjected by the police, the manipulation of the parents as well, the lies, etc. They had no legal representation when they were being bullied and questioned (lied to). It was torture for me to watch and I went to bed.

In my dream, I do not know how many people collected behind me – perhaps 15 or 20. We went from place to place. In our perambulations around the city, I ran into two medical doctors who had taught at UofT who were friends and they joined the pack. Suddenly, I decided we should all go back to my house for refreshments. As I led them up and down the street where I said I lived, I could not find my house. I was on Robert Street, just north of College. As I went up and down in my vain search, my followers dropped away. Eventually, only the two doctors were left. We were on College Street and I got down on my haunches and wept. I wailed. I cried. I was totally disconsolate. I could not find my home. It had disappeared.

Then I remembered my wife’s phone number. I would call her to ask what happened to our house. I borrowed a cell phone. I did call. She was at home. I said that I had been walking up and down Robert Street looking for our house. It had gone. It had disappeared. “But it is here,” she replied very frightened. “We live on 66 Wells Hill Avenue, not Robert Street.”

I woke up.

If I typed quickly as I usually do – I am a two-finger typist – I would often hit the wrong letter. I was making at least 3-4 mistakes per line. Sometimes I would conk out for a short few seconds and recognize that I had done so because the letter I was typing – say a “c” – would be typed right across the screen: ccccccccccccccccccccccccc. At other times, I would repeat the 3-5 word phrase. It was very hard to keep focused and to keep a moderate rather than my usual fast pace. Even then, sometimes I forgot where the letter was and I would have to quickly look for it. Or I would forget to type a letter. The above should have been written in 20-30 minutes at most. This piece has taken me two hours to write.

Part IV: Bruno – Science, Magic and Memory

In his 1582 volume, Shadows, Bruno openly alludes to the magic statues of Asclepius, seen on medical symbols holding a staff with a serpent wrapped around it. Asclepius was the Greco-Roman god of medicine and son of Apollo, the god who could see through all time – past, present and future. He gave birth to five daughters, each one expressing a different aspect of the healing profession – hygiene and prevention, treatment and recuperation, its process, its signs (e.g. red cheeks) and, last but not least, panacea, the goddess of cure-alls. Asclepius was the god not only of healing but of truth and prophecy as well.

It was those lesser and more hidden features of Asclepius to which Bruno was really referring, for they were about magic while healing was about science. Bruno in his life unequivocally swore absolute obedience to both truth and prophecy. Recall though that Zeus, the chief god, who feared that Asclepius might teach humans immortality, executed him with a thunderbolt. The Catholic Church would use the more mundane means of fire to murder Bruno. Further, unlike the funeral pyre Apollo built for his only true love, Coronis, whom he had murdered in a fit of jealousy, Bruno was burned alive. In contrast, Apollo saved the life of the unborn foetus of his love for Coronis who grew up to be Asclepius. After Asclepius’ medical training under a centaur, he joined Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece before he set up his medical practice. For Bruno, the Golden Fleece would always be both truth and Truth.

And the magic? It was concerned with Truth. Not science but herbs, herbs that could not only heal but could bring the dead back to life. Asclepius learned this magic when he was in a jail cell of King Minos of Cretewhere he was cast because he could not bring the son of the king back to life. The king had murdered his son in a fit of rage. In jail, Asclepius saw the mate of a snake bring her crushed and chopped up partner back to life (hence the two snakes wrapped around the staff of healing that is the symbol of medicine). After first disappointing King Minos, Asclepius learned the art of resurrection. For learning this latter magical art, Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt.

Hence, the reality that medicine is both an art and a science. The art requires intuition and empathy with the other rather than the objectivity and detachment of science. The art requires humility whereas it is the scientific, not the magical side of medicine, employed by itself that can turn doctors into gods. Unfortunately, as we shall see, Bruno’s objectivity made him extremely arrogant while his love of mysticism never seemed to teach him the importance of humility and identification with the problems of the other.

In Shadows, the skill in memory is based on a fundamental division between rules for places or locus, that he calls subjectus, and the image that he calls adjectus. They appear to correspond to what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called the cognitive and the fictional imagination – except Bruno’s names seem counter-intuitive because the fictional imagination would seem to be subjective while the cognitive imagination is objective. However, Bruno calls the latter adjectus, in Latin, ‘to add to,” not objective. Further, subjectus in Latin means “to place under.” The cognitive imagination is indeed subjectus because it begins, as Adam does, with categorization. In contrast, adjectus refers to the fictional imagination, the characterization of which is breaking rather than imposing boundaries.

It seems clear then that cosmology relies on subjectus while mysticism relies on adjectus, the objective world of science and the subjective world of the magically animated imagination respectively. The former characterized Bruno’s Aristotelian inheritance, except that he combined it with empirical observation. For him, the senses and the understanding were two necessary sides of the same activity. Hence, his respect for Aristotle and for his acolyte, Saint Thomas Aquinas, who, however, had framed his memory rules to exclude magic, to exclude the Ars Notoria.

The Dominicans trained Bruno in his skill of memory. Further, that is also why readers generally ignore the credit that Bruno gives to the objective or cognitive imagination because Bruno concentrated on offering much more material on the innovation of the Renaissance and its focus on the occult. That focus was presented in Shadows by the figure of Hermes Trismegistus. Nevertheless, Bruno never backs away from his praise of Aquinas and Aristotle even though he insisted that he went well beyond them.

Thus, in his dialogues, Hermes Trismegistus is in conflict with rationalists like Logifer the Pedant, Vigilius and Erasmus. The works of the former are seen to be akin to religious revelation. Adjectus is unerring, akin to the insights of the Egyptian priests and captured by the image of the rising sun. Later in the 19th century, Hegel would identify subjectus with the setting of the sun at which time the Owl of Minerva appears. The wise Owl of Minerva looks backward in time. In contrast, the rising of the day focuses on adjectus; it is prophetic and announces the world that will be unfolding before our eyes. It captures the Truth because it avoids the fallacious senses.

The great teacher of the art of memory was Giulio Camillo whom Bruno studied in the Dominican monastery. Camillo was a polished Venetian orator, always well-organized and neoclassical in his presentation even when he insisted that the core of his rational system was esoteric and occult. Bruno, on the other hand, even though he had mastered logic and reason, was unrestrained and wild, passionate and inventive and inverted the Camillo memory system into a mystery cult.  The south of Italy, the world of Naples, was envisioned as superseding the Venetian (later Milanese) north.

Astrology offers a cosmological system, but one which does not separate the heavens from the earth as in the Torah, but insists that there is a correspondence between the order of the upper world and that of the lower. Alchemy was another occult “science” for it claimed to be in pursuit of the secret by which one thing could be transformed radically into another. Another pseudo-science developed during the sixteenth century was physiognomy whereby facial characters are used to reveal character – big noses mean that a person is greedy. These were pseudo-sciences because they relied on an admixture of subjectus and adjectus. Bruno insisted that the two methods of memory belonged to two radically different worlds and he did not buy into the Magia Naturalis of the famous magician of the mid-16th century, Giovanni Battista della Porta.

Della Porta distinguished natural from artificial memory. However, the latter, associated with what Bruno called adjectus, was entirely confined to order and system that merely used rooms of pictures, especially those of Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, or the insides of palaces or geometric figures or even human figures as a means of arranging memories in a systematic order. Magic was excluded.

Bruno was possibly most influenced by Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) who had an epiphany and replaced his subjectus memory with a new emphasis on adjectus. He broke the stranglehold of rationalists like Aquinas; Bruno undoubtedly read Agrippa’s manual on magic. This was the real Hermetic secret of memory. Towards the latter part of the 16th century, the occult tradition became more daring.

Since we are largely descended from the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment Talmudists, this romance with the occult may seem strange. Stranger still, why is it that an occultist like Bruno learned to love Jews through the Kabbalah while rationalists from Erasmus to Voltaire found them so repulsive? Instead, Bruno used incantations and the signs of the zodiac, the magic of the alphabet used by Hebrew mystics and the correlation of letters with numbers, to stretch the mind and create perhaps the most powerful expression of the art of memory in history.

“A wheel within a wheel,” but is it the rational will used in service of the imaginative one or is the imaginative wheel subordinated to the cognitive imagination? Bruno specifically cited De auditu kabbalistico as a source of inspiration. In the Torah, and in many rabbinic commentaries, the number 40 has a magical quality. For Bruno it was the number 30. As he wrote, “the Jewish Cabalists reduce to ten sephiroth” the realm that he expanded by a multiple of three. But why not four? After all, the secret name of God is a tetragram. For the Kabbalists, the world has four cardinal points.

The secret is found in cosmology. For the inanimate world is created in the first three days – correcting for slipshod copiers – and the animate world in the next three days. A week consists of 3+3+1 days. A lunar month, however, consists of 4×7 or 28 days. What is the source of 30? Judas sold out for 30 shekels of silver. The secret may be that the figure of four belongs to the realm of rationality. Thus, rational decisions themselves have to encompass four quadrants as follows:

A Frame for comprehending rational decisions:

  Present Future
Abstract Intentions & categorical imperatives
fundamental principles
Goals and ideals
Concrete Particular circumstances Consequential
calculations

In contrast, in the world of magic, in the world of evil, three is the predominant number. In the Garden of Eden there were three characters: Adam, Eve and the Serpent. But the tale began with one and then only two. Further, the creation of the world began with two elements, water and wind (air) and from those two, by distillation, we got earth by evaporation and excluding water. With blowing wind and lots of rain, the earth is lit on fire and rises as lightning criss-crosses the heavens.

All systems in all cultures begin with a fundamental duality, a Yin and Yang by which the basics of the world can be understood. That complementary duality becomes a polarity when one pole can be converted to another as we move along a scale with the two opposites as poles rather than two mutually exhaustive realms (Yin and Yang). The two becomes four when one duality is married to another to produce four quadrants. Magic is found in the three and rationality in the four.

In the magical realm of Bruno it works by creating sets of thirty (3 x 2 x 5 (3+2)) = 30 and 30 x 5 = 150. That is Bruno’s magical wheel. Once one understands the basis of the system, once one learns to file everything in terms of this system, then memory becomes relatively easy.

I should have been born in the Middle Ages then I would not have to look up and check everything. Perhaps I too could have married rational and intuitive thought.

Hasa Diga Eemowai – B’haalot’cha Numbers 8:1 – 12:6

Numbers Chapter 11 begins: “And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and devoured the uttermost part of the camp.”

Pantages Chapter 11 begins: “And the people were as blasphemers, speaking of God irreverently and impiously.” For they sang, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a piece of Ugandan gibberish in the musical, The Book of Mormon. When the people heard it, their funny bones were tickled and their spirit was moved so that they bent over in belly laughs.

No fire came as a result of this sacrilegious music. If Lion King was consecrated to God, The Book of Mormon stole the music and mocked Disney’s feel-good lyrics of “Hakuna Matata.” Without hiding, but putting on full display, The Book of Mormon is overtly a “stealer of sacred things,” of the sacred beliefs of Mormons, of the sacred elevated state of the Lightness of Being of Orlando, Florida, of both Christianity’s teachings of Jesus and Judaism’s teaching of Torah and the Ten Commandments, and, in the end, openly and guilty of the crime of generally stealing what is consecrated to God.

The word “sacrilege” derives from the Latin, sacrilegium, “temple robbery,” and from sacrilegus, “stealer of sacred things.” The word means the profanation of anything sacred and, believe me, nothing seems sacred to the provocateurs, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, just as nothing was sacred to Parker and Stone’s TV show, South Park. The musical is scatological, profoundly profane, vulgar, ribald, inappropriate, outrageous, rude and crude, irreverent with absolutely nothing that is politically correct. Boy, is it funny!

The lyrics of “Hasa Diga Eebowai” are as follows:

We’ve had no rain in several days

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Mafala: And 50% of us have Aids.

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Mafala: Many young girls here get circumcissed. Their clits get cut right off.

All: Way-oh!

Women: And so we say up to the sky

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
                  Hasa Diga Eebowai!
                  Hasa Diga Eebowai!
                  Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Mafala: Now you try! Just stand up tall, tilt your head to the sky, and list off all the bad things in your life.

Elder Cunningham: Somebody took our luggage away!

 Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Price: The plane was crowded; and the bus was late!

 Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Mafala: When the world is getting you down; There’s no body. When the world is getting you down, There’s nobody else to blame.

Ugandans: Way-oh!

Mafala: Raise your middle finger to the sky; And curse his rotten name! Raise your middle finger to the sky; And curse his rotten name!

Elder Price: Wait. What?

Elder Cunningham: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Cunningham: Am I saying it right?

Elder Price: Excuse me sir, but what exactly does that phrase mean?

Mafala: Well, let’s see… “Eebowai” means “God.” And “Hasa Diga” means… “Fuck You.” So I guess in English it would be, “Fuck you, God.”

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Price: What?

Mafala: When God fucks you in the butt

Ugandans: Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Mafala: Fuck God right back in His cunt!

Ugandan:
Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Fuck you, God!
Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Fuck you, God!

Elder Price: Excuse me, Sir, but you should really not be saying that. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem!

Mafala: Oh really? Well take this fucking asshole, Mtumbo, here. He got caught last week trying to rape a baby!

Elder Price: What? Why?!

Mafala: Some people in his tribe believe having sex with a virgin will cure their AIDS: There aren’t many virgins left, so some of them are turning to babies!

Elder Price: But that’s horrible!

Mafala: I know!

Yet in spite of the incessant f-bombs, the horrors referenced and grossly exaggerated in Uganda, the myopic self-centredness of the leading youthful Mormon elder whose complaints extend to his stolen luggage, the crowded plane and the late bus, this is a sunny upbeat musical. The Torah says: (11:6) “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.” The Mormon youthful missionaries are told to take anyone, since 1978, even Blacks, and both cleanse and convert them to have faith in the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That is done simply by baptism. In the Torah, (11:7) “thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves.”

In Uganda, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are like Eldad and Medad, moving about the Ugandan rather than the Israelite camp, prophesying this time to the Ugandans, for they have a universal message that doubles on the traditional Christian one – Jesus is great and America is great.  In Numbers 11:27, “And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said: ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’.” In essence, the Mormons have the same role.

The parashah this week is tracked by the plot of The Book of Mormon. Both begin with a departure, the Mormons from their training camp for their missionary work, in Uganda for the two heroes of the story: handsome and tall, blue-eyed self-confident, Elder Price with a beautiful toothpaste smile, and the shlumpy, Jewish-looking, insecure and friendless Mormon, Elder Cunningham. The Israelites begin their trek across the desert, but in a totally opposite state of mind. They are complainers. They bitch and they shrie.  “The same food everyday. We want meat.” The Mormons, whenever doubt or desire creeps into their souls, they are told to repress, not express, their anxieties and neuroses. “Turn it off.” Like a light bulb.

Number 8:1-14 is about the job of “setting souls on fire” which is the task set before the young male Mormon missionaries in Uganda, even though Elder Price had his heart set on the ersatz fantasy land of Orlando. But they no sooner try to do so in Uganda than they bat zero. They must start not only fresh as Mormon males always appear to be, but afresh.

Look at the contrast between the whining and wailing and complaining Israelites and the optimistic Mormons for whom the power of faith and of positive thinking in bred into their bones. Moses was desperate. How could he lead such an ungrateful and ungovernable people? He needed help. Call on the elders, real elders, not ones called elder who are fresh out of missionary training school.

What is the substance in Chapter 11 of Moses’ message to the people?

18 And say thou unto the people: Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow, and ye shall eat flesh; for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying: Would that we were given flesh to eat! For it was well with us in Egypt; therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.

19 Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;

20 but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you; because that ye have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have troubled Him with weeping, saying: Why, now, came we forth out of Egypt?’

21 And Moses said: ‘The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand men on foot; and yet Thou hast said: I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month!

Give them enough so that it comes out of their kishkes, perhaps as dysentery. The shmiel, Elder Cunningham, who had never read the Book of Mormon because it was bor-r-ring, however was a rich fantasist. He repackaged the myths of the Mormon Church in a stew that the Ugandans could grasp and be inspired by. So Eldad (Cunningham) and Medad (Price) went about and among the people. Sarcastically, Medad griped as Moses did, “(11:29) And Moses said unto him: ‘Art thou jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them’!”  Medad thought, if Eldad, who was destined to be a follower, could be a prophet, what has this world come to when he, Price, was the one destined to have great success.

11:30 And Moses withdrew into the camp.

And Price withdrew from the field of converting others. Cunningham succeeded where all the straight-laced handsome young men failed. But it turned out initially to be an illusionary success. However, instead of God’s wrath getting so strong that He “smote the people with a very great plague,” those converted by Cunningham turned out to have greater faith in his fantasies than Elder Cunningham had himself.

It’s never too late and Elder Cunningham is saved in turn by the beautiful Nabulungi with the voice of an angel. Just as Moses wed a Cushite woman, and set the gossips voices atwitter, it is clear that Cunningham and Nabulungi, as unlikely it may seem from appearances, are destined for one another. For, as the Lord said, (12:6) “Hear now My words: if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD do make Myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream.” It is not the philosopher who thinks in clear and distinct ideas or the Mormon missionaries who wear crisp white shirts and carefully pressed gray trousers, but the fantasist, the dreamer, who captures the greater world in visions who can make this world a better place.

So, too, the scatologists [I know there is no such word] who execrate all things, but with laughter

Part III: Bruno and Kabbalah

I was brought up to believe that the core of Judaism was Halacha – the laws and commandments of the Torah. Giordano Bruno insisted otherwise, that Torah was a tale of magic and myth, letters and numbers. Bruno is a key figure in Hermetic Kabbalah (Cabala or Qabalah) or Hermeticism, the mystical tradition that developed in the West during and after the Renaissance independently of Jewish Kabbalah. There is also a separate tradition of Christian Kabbalah.

Some argue that he was in his time a Hebrew Kabbalist. After all, as I wrote before, he had denied both the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Further, he was “the only known sixteenth-century philosopher to have been excommunicated from all three major [Christian] confessions: Roman Catholic (Naples, 1576), Calvinist (Geneva, 1579) and Lutheran (Helmstedt, 1589).” Finally, he was stiff-necked and stubborn and lived up to the caricature of the Jew more than almost any Jew one can recall. 

That hypothesis of Bruno as secretly a Jew is perhaps contradicted by Bruno’s end – he willingly went to his death byfire on a wooden pyre. Jews generally sought to avoid such a fate. Bruno, in the end, was a Christian because he virtually deliberately died for what he believed. Most Jews, even if they converted, continued to be Jews and did not need martyrdom to prove it, even as they were often martyred in pogroms and even though a number of Jews were martyred because they refused to be converted. But generally it was not because they went out of their way to confront the Inquisition as Bruno seems to have done. The thesis is also contradicted by his attributions, namely to the vast literature ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, the named author of the Hermetic Corpus, who knit together the beliefs of the Greek and Egyptian mystery religions.

However, Bruno did deny holding the heretical beliefs for which he had been charged. But no sooner did he do so than he then used his formidable intellect to undercut the arguments of his accusers, thereby clearly indicating that he was willing to say anything they demanded, but that he was unwilling to surrender his commitment to his own beliefs.

Bruno was a systems thinker who did not write systematically. But he did combine his cosmology and physics with psychology and ethics into a systematic expression of neo-Platonism that he probably learned from the Florentine Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499). Ficino’s patron was Cosimo de’ Medici, thereby connecting us back to Machiavelli. Ficino translated all of Plato’s works from Greek into Latin by 1469. The neo-Platonism can be traced back to Plotinus, a Greek philosopher who, in his Enneads (CE270), insisted that the world was based on three principles: the One, the intellect and the soul. We find the same neo-Platonic influences in the Jewish Kabbalah tradition, particularly in Hasidism.

In Bruno, the intellect and the soul were the two opposite manifestations of the One, an unequivocal articulation of the Neoplatonist view of the world’s ensoulment. This inheritance suggests that Bruno was as sceptical of the modern notion of progress as he was of the traditional tenets of Christianity. After all, he taught that ideas oscillate between extremes, a belief, common to many. However, thought was in constant internal tension rather than seeking a balance at an inertial natural point. This resulted in dialectic in search of the absolute, but encountering failure at each new level when the contradictions become known and incorporated into self-consciousness at an even newer level.

There were other assertions of Bruno that distinguished him from the Jewish mystical tradition. Sometimes he followed the target of Josephus’ criticism. Bruno attributed the story of Exodus in the Torah to an inversion of an Egyptian narrative. At other times, Bruno called the Torah itself the Kabbalah. This superficial facsimile of a paradox is explained by scholars to be a result of Bruno’s efforts to incorporate Jewish oral lore and to turn the tale of the crucifixion of Christ into a Kabbalistic tragedy. At the same time, he tried to hide his literally “outlandish” theology from the Inquisition. Jewish truths, however, were embedded in universal revelation, some of them directly. An example was Job, for the theme of Job’s seemingly unwarranted suffering, according to Bruno, could be traced back to the Chaldeans. After all, Job had actually lived in the Land of Uz.

As a result, Bruno had no difficulty in justifying to himself his syncretic pattern of incorporating Holy Scripture with Kabbalah and the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and the ancient Egyptian and Greek mystery religions. In his vision, one of the four principles of corporeality is the Universal Soul.

In the Jewish Kabbalah, the human soul has three elements: nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah. The nefesh is the given, our DNA, the instincts and appetites we inherit that correspond to that portion of the Universal Matter assigned to each individual. Ru’ach, our ability to distinguish right from wrong, develops based on our education and experience as our DNA interacts with the world around. Neshamah (נשמה) is the higher soul distinctive to humanity and is related to the purest form of the Universal Intellect. That can be directly related to God as present in each of us. 

The Universal Soul is closest to what Christians called the Holy Spirit that gives us our character, both ethical and cognitive. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit, as the only active principle, operates through grace. However, if it is embedded within the material world, as in Bruno and the tradition of the Kabbalah, then the interaction between an individual’s material being and his or her environment enables us to understand human initiative and creativity rather than any reliance on an external agent.  

In Jewish Kabbalah, in addition to nefesh, ru’ach and neshamah, chayyah, the awareness of the divine, is possessed only by a few. Yechida, full union with God, is realized only by the most enlightened. Bruno considered these same “rare few” creative geniuses were both divine and heroic, inspired by “a superior light” or “love” in The Heroic Frenzies. 

As I indicated in my opening and as I will elaborate in my final remarks on his memory palace, this movement upwards can be enhanced by memory to enable the soul to move from multiplicity towards unity, and, not surprisingly, to move back to comprehend multiplicity within an overarching unity. In the Kabbalist tradition, it is this that makes prophecy possible (ru’ach hadkodesh), but is also the source that provides joy on shabbat (neshama yeseira) and on the day of a bar or bat mitzvah (neshama kedosha).

One major difference is that the idea of reincarnation enters into Hasidic Judaism after the Renaissance, but has no parallel track in Bruno. On the other hand, the steps to uniting with the soul of God were similar, including scepticism concerning any objective or scientific conclusions and the belief that faith and revelation are superior to the intellect. In Bruno, this meant rising above subjectus, separation and categorization, into a realm where the effort can be made to reconcile opposites.

On the other hand, astrology, the linkage between the movement of the heavenly bodies that hold sway over an individual’s destiny, is a central element in the Hermetic tradition. In Fisino, “there is absolute continuity between the old magic and the new. Both rest on the same astrological presuppositions; both use in their methods the same groupings of natural substances; both employ talismans and invocations; both are pneumatic magic, believing in the spiritus as the channel of influence from the above to below. Finally, both magic and astrology are integrated into an elaborate philosophical context. The magic of Picatrix [an ancient Arabic magical handbook Ghâyat al-Hakîm presented in a framework of philosophy (and translated into Latin in 1256); and Ficino’s natural magic is fundamentally related to his Neoplatonism.” (Yates 1964, 81) In Israel today, it is estimated that 11% of Jewish Israelis take astrology seriously.

The inheritors of the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition assailed the traditional clergy or Reform, Conservative and even Orthodox rabbis. Bruno even more vigorously criticized the clerical caste and monks imbued with “a foul-smelling melancholy.” Laws and regulations were needed by the masses to assist them because they could not achieve enlightenment, but one did not achieve enlightenment through obedience to laws. This mystical tradition traced its roots to Ezekiel and to the 12th century where illustrious rabbis of mysticism lived in Provence in France (Moses Nahmanides and Rabad of Posquières) and the Zohar that appeared in Spain. By the time of Bruno, the centre of this Jewish mystical tradition had migrated to Safed in Israel and was in the hands of Moses Cordovero (1522-70), Ari Isaac Luria (1534-72) and Chaim Vital (1542-1620). Bruno never traveled to Spain or Palestine and there is no evidence of contact between Bruno and these Jewish mystics.

Yet the two traditions arrived at overlapping positions and conceptions (such as the use of the Heavenly Palace discussed in the next blog) through parallel tracks from a distant vanishing point. The ten divine sefirot or emanations of God imitate those of Plotinus. Meditation, a focus on the various names of God, meditation and visualization (yechidim in Hasidism) are common to both mystical traditions. The goal in Hasidism is purity to enable a return and reunion with God through God’s presence (Shekhinah). Bruno would make his most important contribution via visualization and the art of memory that I will take up in the next blog. 

To be continued.

Part IIC: Giordano Bruno and the Four Causes

In the Aristotelian view and in Bruno, there are four causes: material, efficient, formal and final. In his work, Cause Principle and Unity, Giordano Bruno not only challenged the cosmology of both Aristotle and its Christian and Jewish adaptations, but set out to shatter the whole world view that unfolded from the Aristotelian characterization of these causes.

For Aristotle, God is the first cause. Why? Because God is the final cause, the destination of a world seeking to settle into a natural order. It is a teleological view of the world. Bruno follows Aristotle in defining the final cause as the perfection of the universe. However, there is no natural pre-established order. Just as the world is Becoming rather than Being, God, too, is Becoming rather than Being. God is, “He who I shall be.” God is not complete but is He who reveals Himself over time. Thus, though perfection is the final cause, perfection, in contrast to Aristotle, does not exist.

Aristotle had a conception of potentiality and actuality. Potentiality is the possibility things were said to possess while actuality is the realization of the potential. Just as Being precedes Becoming in Aristotle, actuality is the activity, motion or change that fulfills what is already potential. Guidance counsellors who sit with students and insist they must discover who they really are, what they really have the potential to be, then work to realize that potential, are acting as Aristotelians. In that sense, the students have a possibility, but have to exert effort or will to make that possibility an actuality. On the other hand, since humans are animate beings, their destiny is built into them. Only one actuality can result from fulfilling a potentially. There is a necessary connection between possibility and actuality.

In contrast, in the case of inanimate matter, such as the water that lay over the deep, an external agency was required to give inanimate material a form. Copper piping is a possible outcome to giving form to copper ore, but this is but one of many possibilities. Further, not only does the agency belong to another, but so too does the final destination, though the possibilities are finite dependent on the potentiality of the material.

In Bruno, the marble of the statue and its form were constituents; hence, they were principles, the marble being the material, the form the formal principle. The other causes, by contrast, were extrinsic. A sculptor was the efficient cause of a statue who made it into what it became. He did so with a particular goal, e.g, David, an end, a final cause, in mind. Neither the sculptor nor his purpose were constituents of the finished piece. Analogously, the Universal Soul and Universal Matter were the two principles immanent in all things, whereas the Universal Intellect was the efficient cause of all things and so extrinsic to them. It also operated in accordance with a final and therefore extrinsic cause: the perfection of the universe as a goal rather than a given.

Christians read Genesis as setting out God’s redemptive plan for His creation. Under the influence of Aristotle, Christians read the Biblical text as a story of the effort to re-establish the natural order of the universe. When an external agent gives form to inanimate material, that party must do the best it can to fulfill its potential in giving shape to material. That is how perfection is achieved. However, in Bruno, there is no natural cosmological order; order is not only created but it is creativity that establishes order. The world begins in chaos and only God or the Universal Intelligence gives it form. In the process, as in Aristotle, the destination of this world is perfection. However, in Bruno, that perfection always remains a possibility and never an actuality, otherwise all potentiality would evaporate.

God’s creative activity in the Torah is about putting in place that which is good, not that which is either better or best. The language is about satisfaction, not perfection. Yet, in his own Commentary, Rabbi Gunther Plaut wrote that, “However one interprets the nature of God – as person or as process, as individual reality or as generalized principle – there are three basic ideas which the contemporary reader can share with biblical man and which are implicit in Genesis.

THAT God, as Father or Creative Force, provides all creation with purpose and that therefore to understand God means to understand one’s own potential;

THAT God, as Lawgiver, validates the principle of justice and righteousness which must govern the affairs of men;

THAT God, as Redeemer, guarantees the ultimate goals of existence and enables man to find meaning in his life.” (pp. 21-2)

God instills purpose right at the point of creation in humans. God provides the rules of justice to enable good governance. God is also the guarantor of fulfillment so that it is only by and through God that a person can realize his potential. This is a religious version of Aristotelianism.

In Bruno, purpose is discovered; it is not a given. The laws of nature that provide the rules are a result of the interaction of unformed matter (water or the deep) and are not a unilateral divine product. Thus, the laws of nature too come into being and are not a given. Finally, there are no guarantees, by God or anyone else. Results depend on what an individual brings to the table, the environment and how the two interact in relation to the divine force.

In Bruno, Plaut’s manifestations of God need not be. Bruno would also question Plaut’s statement about purpose. This is because Bruno gives a different meaning to efficient, formal and even final causes.

In the Bible, there are two sides to God’s agency. On one side, God’s hand gives shape to the world. On the other side, God’s word determines the form or categorization in understanding things. Classes, species, genera – all definitions and rules, including the discovery of the laws of nature, come about via words and language. Thus, since humans have both hands and language, they are partners with God in giving shape to the world. Bruno calls God’s word the Universal. Unlike Aristotelians, where God is transcendent and external to this world, for Bruno, the Intellect is the formative and organizing force which operates from the depth of nature.

By the 19th century, this would become Darwin’s theory of evolution, for Darwin married survival to upward and onward movement and change. Hence, though embedded fully in nature itself as process, the efficient cause is clearly temporal and mediates between the formal structures created and the chaos of matter. The laws of nature are the result. This process can provide humans with ethical and legal norms, but humans can use language as well and can determine among themselves the ethical and legal norms to govern their conduct.

This is radically different than Aristotelian teleology and the conception of potentiality and actuality. Why then did Rabbi Plaut as a Reform rabbi echo Aristotle? Recall, he wrote, “That God, as Father or Creative Force, provides all creation with purpose and that therefore to understand God means to understand one’s own potential.” This clearly harks back to the Aristotelian version of Genesis wherein God provides what is potential and it becomes the human responsibility to make it actual. Nachmanides, claimed that on the first day, God’s creative act produced the first form and matter that constitutes the undifferentiated sky and earth and, thereby, the potentiality out of which actual different objects arise. The issue is whether potentiality refers to establishing possibilities or is the actuality contained wholly within the potential?

However, there is no potential/actual language used in the Torah text. Further, matter as water exists as does wind or air as an expression of God. The sky and the earth are not potential undifferentiated realms, but a division of the whole cosmos into two radically opposite realms. In terms of purpose, the goal is not perfection, but hope. God is hope. God is He who reveals Himself over time and in time, not because of a pre-existing imprint, but because creativity is applied to the imprint we inherit. Bruno went a long way in reading the Hebrew text as it is written rather than as an expression which needed to be wrapped in Aristotelian principles to be understood.

Bruno does capture the essence of Nature characteristic of the Torah as well as modern scientific conceptions. Reality is a unitary process in which matter is expressed as both content and form, but, in the end, it is not a singular perfection, but a packed world with a variety of species and genera. “Be fruitful and multiply;” that is God’s mission to humanity.

Obviously, this can only be an introduction to a very small part of Bruno’s cosmology. What I have tried to demonstrate is how Bruno escaped both the Aristotelian vice grip as well as the Christian redemptive portrait to paint a vision of the cosmos that was closer both to the biblical text and our contemporary understanding of nature wherein matter is the constituent principle of reality. Matter and soul, therefore, are but two sides of the same thing viewed from two opposite perspectives. Further, matter itself is divisible into the sensible, what we now think of as matter expressed in separate and specific entities, and the intelligible expression that captures the unity in things, a unity expressed at different levels. Here again, the separating and uniting, the extensive and intensive, are viewed as two aspects of the same thing. Matter given form always includes corporeality and incorporeality.

How did Bruno make that breakthrough? One thesis is that he did so by understanding the art of the Renaissance in which linear perspective played such an important part. To realistically portray space and depth in the paintings of the sixteenth century, a vanishing point on a two-dimensional surface was identified as the means of giving the painting a unity.

Bruno is a dialectical thinker who conceives the world as a unity of opposites where the divine is expressed everywhere and in everything as contradictions – eternity and instant, point and extension or body, maximum and minimum, matter and energy in our contemporary parlance. Each contradiction is resolved only to posit a new one. The process is never ending.

Michael Greenstein sent me a reference to show how Bruno was not only influenced by art but in turn influenced one of the most important novelists of all time, James Joyce. (Cf. Joseph C. Voeiker (1976) “‘Nature it is’: The influence of Giordano Bruno on James Joyce’s Molly Bloom,” James Joyce Quarterly: 14:1, Fall, 39-48.)

https://www.jstor.org/stable/25476026?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Let me offer you a few extracts, noting that it is clearly not coincidental that Molly Bloom in Catholic Dublin was Jewish. “Joyce’s women live in close contact with their senses…women…are flowing rivers and spinning earthballs, disguises for Nature, whom Joyce deployed in his life-long war with the proponents of Grace.” Joyce borrowed his conception of Nature from Bruno, wherein Nature is at once an eternal unchanging substance and, paradoxically, is expressed as ever changing, both as spirit comprising all possibilities, as multiple existences, and matter, that which is divided and re-divided from an initial, formless, indeterminate and undifferentiated unity, what I have called, and the Torah dubs, the Deep. Women, therefore, for Joyce, as expressions of Nature are formless rivers and formed spinning earthballs.

God is the divine immanent (as distinct from transcendent) intelligence in Nature which gives form to the inchoate and chaotic material fluid but unformed world. God, then is unformed material and formed substance, atoms, that occupy minimal space, and, at the same time, energy that occupies maximal space. “The least, therefore, is paradoxically the greatest; the trivial is the profound.” And that which is least becomes the most so Bruno is multiplied in a myriad of forms in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. As Bill Kuhns wrote, Bruno appears as Saint Bruno as well as Bruno Nowlan and other figures.

As Bruno argued in his Fifth Dialogue in his cosmology volume Cause Principle and Unity, “It is profound magic to know how to draw out the contrary after having found the point of union.” And it will be the creativity of what he referred to as magic that we can grasp and control the process. That takes us to the inverse of cosmology, the Kabbalah.

To be continued.

One of the notes that I received back on Bruno’s cosmology is the following, which I found worth including as an addendum.

There might be a way out from the apparent conflict between Aristotle prime elements and Torah / Physics / Plato attributes of God.

Aristotle’s prime elements: earth, water, air and fire represent, in my opinion, four basic states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma.

First sentences of Torah describe manifested (revealed) attributes of God, or observable World in Physics:
Bereshit in Torah = Time in Physics. As you mentioned; the starting moment necessarily implies the preceding and following moments – time continuum. 
Heaven in Torah = Space in Physics
Earth and Water in Torah = Matter in Physics
Wind in Torah = Movement or Motion in Physics
Light in Torah = Energy in Physics

Therefore those distinctions should not be confused: one deals with modes of matter and the other with domains of existence. This wider view is also incomplete. According to Spinoza and to some degree Plato and Plotinus, those few manifested attributes of the World that we relate to, are insignificant to comprehend infinite attributes of God.

On Being versus Becoming relationship I would lean towards the view that Becoming is a part of Being but it is like an egg and chicken dilemma. Probably it is better to avoid a hard ruling on this subject not to become a victim of a paradox or an arbitrary overreach.

Bruno’s assertion that “the cosmos, in general, was not finite but consisted of an infinite number of solar systems like ours” got him executed by the Inquisition. We can see clearly in the light of last 10 years discovery (mostly by Kepler space telescope launched in 2009) of thousands exoplanets, that his assertion was correct. In the conservative estimates there are about 30 billion planets orbiting home stars in our galaxy and there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe.

Part IIB: Bruno’s Cosmology – Aristotle, Christianity and Judaism

Let me be more systematic (more Aristotelian) and more grounded. Initially I will divide different views of cosmology initially into two very contrasting perspectives, the first I call a Christian religious version of Aristotle; the second I dub Jewish. As we shall see, the Christian view is not actually Aristotelian. Further, the Jewish view is not mainstream to Judaism. Jewish theologians in the Middle Ages from Saadia Gaon (882-942) to Abraham ibn Daud (1110-1180) and Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides or the Rambam (1135-1204) were also Aristotelians. Further, I have dubbed the second column “Jewish” even though it is a blending of Torah and Plato. I will elaborate upon that in the section on Kabbalah.

The Christian Perspective The Jewish Perspective
The universe was created out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). The material of water existed but had to be given form by a divine spirit (wind or air).
The universe was created at a specific moment of time. “in the beginning of God’s creating” – Genesis starts with a process already underway.
The world was created by an act of divine will. The world was created, by the hand of God working through wind on water, and through God’s words combined with air that resulted in light and the heavenly sphere.
Prior to creation, there was nothing. There has always been something, even if it was chaotic and unordered.
Time comes into being with creation. Even at the moment of the Big Bang, time existed, for a moment can only exist in time.

By the Middle Ages, the Jewish tradition had largely accepted the premises in interpreting Torah from both Muslim and Christian civilization. I mentioned the tenth century Jewish scholar, Saadia Gaon, the head of the Babylonian Academy of Sura. He wrote The Book of Beliefs and Opinions. It is self-evident in the first paragraph of that book that the Gaon is an Aristotelian rationalist. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel – the True, in the sense of evidently true, who verifies for rational beings the existence of their souls with certain truth, through which they find their sense perception to be sound, and know their knowledge to be accurate. As a result, errors are removed, and doubts are eliminated; arguments are clarified and proofs established. May He be extolled over the highest and most genuine praise.”

In the above, humans are the only rational beings whose souls search for certainty. This is not the case in Bruno. Heavenly bodies belonged to one of three genera of rational beings that populated the universe since they operated in accordance with a final cause. Humans, on the other hand were rational in proceeding from one thought to another and reasoned in order to execute their roles but never arrive at certainty. The other genus of rational beings are demons which were rational beings with rarefied bodies made up either of pure aether or different mixtures of aether and air or earth.

Space was the aether, the continuum existing throughout the universe. Using corporeal water, the aether binds corporeal atoms together. Everything is located in aether as spiritus, the motionless immaterial medium through which the soul as the animating principle works. 

In the Christian view, God is identified with Truth with a capital “T”. God is the ultimate source of verification for any truth. Humans qua rational can discover that truth, a truth which accepts the existence of souls whereas in Bruno, there is no certainty for humans. Against the scepticism of Erasmus and Bruno, in the Christian view, sense perception is verified as sound and as the foundation for developing convictions which are certain. Further, such truths are verified by rational arguments and proofs.

God had decreed laws of nature, but was not bound by them. Further, though the Christian view was Aristotelian, Aristotle was sometimes wrong. The world was not “eternal according to reason” and “finite according to faith.” It was not eternal, full stop. This was rationalism at odds with Aristotelian rationalism which was revived in the 9th century and became predominant by the 12th century. The pure Aristotelian propositions differed from either choice in the above five rows.

  1. The universe is eternal and was never created.
  2. Hence, there was no creation of the universe at a specific point in time.
  3. The world qua eternal was not created as an act of divine will.
  4. To even suggest that before creation there was nothing employs the concept “before,” clearly implying that time existed before creation; the above assertion is self-contradictory.
  5. To assert that something comes to be presumes that there was a time before when it was not and therefore time cannot come to be with God’s creation.

Which of these three positions is the accurate one, Aristotle, the Christian or the Jewish view? Abraham ibn Daud wrote ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, The Exalted Faith, in 1160, decades before Moses Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed. Both were Aristotelians. Both denied the previous precepts about creativity and cosmology in favour of the Aristotelian version. Both accepted the Aristotelian doctrine that the world consists of substance and accident, that is, ontologically substance trumps accident and accident is defined in terms of substance rather than viewing substance and accident as two perspectives on the same item or event. The implication: Being precedes Becoming, in contrast to the right column above that I have dubbed Jewish which focuses on Becoming as basic.

To be continued with a discussion of the four causes

Part IIA: Giordano Bruno’s Cosmology

At the beginning of the 20th century, The Catholic Encyclopedia described Bruno’s beliefs as follows: “Bruno’s system of thought is an incoherent materialistic pantheism. God and the world are one; matter and spirit, body and soul, are two phases of the same substance; the universe is infinite; beyond the visible world there is an infinity of other worlds, each of which is inhabited; this terrestrial globe has a soul; in fact, each and every part of it, mineral as well as plant and animal, is animated; all matter is made up of the same elements (no distinction between terrestrial and celestial matter); all souls are akin (transmigration is, therefore, not impossible). This unitary point of view is Bruno’s justification of ‘natural magic’.” 

Other than the last sentence as well as the negative spin, the summary is a pretty accurate summary of Bruno’s cosmology. Further, although there is some overlap, it was because of his cosmological convictions and not his hermetic mysticism that he was executed. As was the pattern in Germany during the Holocaust, the Inquisition kept meticulous records. During the trial, the Notary not only noted the questions Bruno was asked and his often very long answers, but every scream he let out when he was tortured. In 1593, when he was transferred from Venice, where he was captured, to the prison of the Holy Office in Rome, the Office of the Inquisition prepared a detailed and very extensive analysis of his writings that was put before the court, a record which we know only indirectly because the original records were lost.

Based on that evidence and analysis, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine boiled the heretical doctrines that he allegedly held down to the following:

  1. His rejection of “two real and eternal principles of existence” that were separate entities, soul and matter.
  2. His doctrine of both an infinite universe and infinite worlds in conflict with the narrative of Creation, for Bruno’s doctrine, in characterizing the world and the number of worlds as both infinite, denied the infinite power of God.
  3. Perhaps the most heretical of all, Bruno held that every reality, including all bodies, resides in the eternal and infinite soul of the world; there are no bodies without a spirit and some kind of intelligence.
  4. Bruno’s belief that substance is eternal and, though it transforms what exists, it creates nothing.
  5. The astrological assumption that terrestrial movement was influenced by the changes in the arrangements of the stars (astrology); though widely held by the populace, astrology was antithetical to Catholic science.
  6.  Bruno’s designation of stars as “messengers and interpreters of the ways of God.”
  7. Bruno’s embodiment thesis that both the “sensory and intellectual” soul are earthly.
  8. Bruno’s critique of the Thomist belief that, in humans, the soul, an independent spiritual reality, was held captive in the body.

Unlike Plato, for Aristotle the soul, though different from that of body, was embodied and not separable from the body. Humans get their individuality by the way the soul interacts with a body in a particular person. The highest function of the soul can be found in humans, that is the intellect that sits atop the appetite (the nutrient aspect) and the sensitive, both of the latter common to all animals. Bruno, however, argued that not only was the soul embodied, but that there were many more aspects to the soul than animation, sensitivity and intellect. Bruno found the tripartite division of the soul false to nature and, further, that animals possessed their own intellects and, in some ways, were wiser than men because of how their bodies had specialized.

Bruno cited the spider as an example. The critical difference in humans is that they have hands, or, in modern evolutionary theory, appositional thumbs. Differences in intellect depend on different configurations of bodies. There is thus no singular hierarchy such as the great order of being. As Montaigne would also claim, natives or indigenous peoples (that explorers had so recently discovered) were in many senses intellectually superior to their European counterparts. The religious beliefs of our First Nations were closer to and derived from observing nature closely. In Bruno, they were more akin to animals, not in any negative sense; their intellects so dominated their animal bodies that there was no internal struggle but they could move and act intuitively.

Bruno’s cosmology began with his amendments to the heliocentric Copernican theories. His vision of the created world stood in stark contrast to that of Aristotle who taught that the heavenly bodies were eternal and moved to try to return to their “natural” place in the universe and, of course, to the Ptolemaic vision of the universe. Aristotle taught that the universe was finite wherein there was a superlunary region made up of aether that was incorruptible. Bruno inverted both theses. The world came into being and was not eternal. Further, that world was infinite consisting of many solar systems.

In the Torah, as God is beginning to establish order out of chaos, He already has water and wind (air) with which to give form to the world. In the beginning of God’s creation of heaven and earth and darkness over the face of the deep with wind sweeping over the water, God creates light and divides the light by a process of separation from the dark.

Genesis Chapter 1 בְּרֵאשִׁית

א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. 2 Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
ג  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר. 3 And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.

Do you translate בְּרֵאשִׁית as “in the beginning,” implying a starting point, or do you translate it, as in the Plaut version, “When God began to create,” or, even more clearly expressing process, “In the beginning of God’s creating”? The latter most clearly emphasizes a process already underway rather than a beginning point. What seems clear and unequivocal, in spite of Jewish and non-Jewish interpretations that God created everything, is that earth, made up of water, the deep, pre-existed. God gave it form. How? By wind, or the primary element of air which came from God and which swept over the waters of the deep.  This was also Bruno’s thesis.

In other words, the world comes into being and is not itself eternal. It comes into being as a result of two substances, water, which exists independent of God, and air or wind which comes from God and is used to give form to the world. If God is eternal, then wind or air is eternal, as is water which acquires its form as a result of God’s breath. Then the world as such is a finite created entity. Of the two basic substances, entities which are characterized by extension, water is not divine while wind or air is. Further, God did not create the world ex nihilo. (See Plaut’s first footnote in Genesis.)

This is the foundation of Bruno’s cosmology. Contrast this with Aristotle and the Christian (and Jewish) theologians under Aristotle’s sway. In Aristotle, there were four, not two, prime elements: earth, air, fire and water. In the cosmology of Aristotle that Bruno rejected, earth and water are at the centre. Revolving around the Earth are concentric circles of two other sublunary elements, air and fire, beyond which can be found the inner sphere of the sun, moon and planets and the outer sphere of the stars. It is a world depicted as four concentric circles.

For Bruno, as stated above, there are only two basic elements, water and wind or air. “Water is that which produces union, density, thickness and gravity.” Water is the Universal Matter which, when combined with the Universal Soul which is air or wind as an expression of God, as an expression of divine action, results in the universe. From a different angle, earth and water were two sides of the same thing, with earth representing contraction or solidity resulting from the wind evaporating the water. It is the non-divine residue of water which is characterized by solidity or minimal extension rather than liquid indefinite extension.

It is as if Bruno had discovered that the material universe was based on two expressions of the same thing, matter as condensed energy that occupies minimal space, corporeal matter without intelligence, and energy that views the same entity as occupying the maximum space available and is both incorporeal and intelligent. In other words, Bruno depicts a version of Einstein’s E= m. Such a view is consistent with envisioning the creator God as dealing with pre-existing water and his own breath. Through distillation and condensation, the earth below is created. The evaporated water combined with air becomes fire, which, like air, and unlike water and earth, is incorporeal. In other words, solid items are the residue that makes up earth. Earth represented spatial contraction. Water was a continuum characterized by the principle of corporeal extension. Bodies consisted of two or more dimensionless atoms bound together by water.

To sum up, air or wind remaining from the divine giving form to the deep also results in fire when combined wit,h rather than considered separate from, water.  Then there was light. Water and air are primary. Earth and fire are secondary. Earth was made up of atoms, not microscopic entities like the atoms of Democritus and Epictetus or modern atoms that can be “split,” but indivisible entities because their circumferences and diameters were equal.

In sum, as in Thales, water was the Universal Matter. Air was the Universal Soul. Combine water and air and the result is the Universal Intellect that provides any body with an animating spirit or gives the soul fire. Distill out the water and the result is earth.

“God said, ‘Let there be light’.” (Genesis 3) We have a three-step movement. Step 1 depicts what we begin with. Water exists outside of God. Wind (ruah) is one expression of God. Wind or air working on water results in the solid earth as a residue, the second step. As the residue settles out, and the water evaporates, the divine element remaining combined with air is fire. Unlike earth which results from God giving form to the world through wind, fire comes into existence as a result of the word. God speaks and there is light. Evaporated water or mist combined with the word rather than hand of God resulted in fire, which, as we shall see in the next section on the kabbalah, represents the soul governing all things.

Finally, because the universe was infinite and not finite for Bruno, all possibilities and manifestations were possible over time. The daily Ptolemaic rotation of the firmament around the Earth was an illusion, a product of the earth being round and rotating on its own axis as it circled the sun. The cosmos, in general, was not finite but consisted of an infinite number of solar systems like ours.

To be continued