Sunday, June 7, 2009

Night, Day, and Induction

This post is one in a series on the Epistemology and Worldview Throughout History.  Previously in this series: Hesiod and Aristotelean Demonstration.

As I discussed in my last post, Hesiod's Eros (Love) can be thought of as a motive force that brings entities to come together (much like gravity) and to create.

Khaos felt Eros, the urge or internal force that made it seek to give birth.  And what did it first give birth to?

Erebos, or Darkness, was the first baby in the universe.  You might ask yourself, "how can darkness be “born” when darkness is just the absence of light?"  But to Hesiod the materialist, Darkness was a black mist.

Erebos was born along with its own internal force, different from Love.   The force that moves Darkness was Nyx, or Night.

Nyx was often thought of as the wife of Erebos and shown as a woman in a chariot who “wore” her husband (Darkness) like a great big cloak.  When Night came to the land, riding her chariot, she would pull her husband (darkness) over the earth like a great big tent.  Night brings darkness, literally.  Erebos and Nyx then became the universe’s first husband and wife, brought together by Eros.

Together, Erebos and Nyx had a son and daughter: Aether or Brightness and Hemera, or Day.  Aether took after his father, in that he was a shapeless mist.  But he was different in that he was a bright, glowing mist.  As you can imagine, father and son had their differences.  Hemera took after her mother, in that she was a chariot-driving force of nature.  She felt that HER husband Aether deserved to cover the earth.

Thus began an eternal rivalry.  Every morning, Day arises in the east, driving her chariot, and scattering the mists of Darkness, which she gradually replaces with the Brightness of daylight, which is pulled over the earth like a great big dome tent.  As she finishes placing the Brightness of day in its proper place of glory, she completes her conquest over Darkness by driving it westward into the underworld.  But her victory is temporary, for soon Night reemerges on the east in HER chariot, scattering the Brightness of daylight in revenge, and pulling her husband Darkness to reinstall him in his rightful place.  And so to Hesiod, the ongoing cycle of days and nights is really a cosmic battle between the first two married couples in the universe.

If we think of the mists of Daylight and Darkness as mindless masses, and knock Day and Night from their chariots and think of them as Aristotelean internal principles of change (forces), then Hesiod's cosmology can be seen as a perfectly respectable mechanical theory, worthy of a 6th century Milesian proto-scientist like Thales or Anaximander.

Let us assume that Hesiod and the other Greek poets who formulated this myth did not use Aristotelean demonstration to infer the above cosmic scheme.  Is it then devoid of a reasoned basis?  Is it pure madness, with no method?  No.  Almost all cosmic myths make some kind of sense in their own way, and Hesiod's is no exception.  But it is the kind of sense humans more generally use in considerations of the natural world: induction.  Induction, as characterized by Aristotle, is reasoning from the particular to the universal.  After a child burns his hand on a flame, he infers from that particular instance that similar particular flickering lights will generally burn his hand.  He does not deduce "burned hand" from the universal category "flame".  Similarly, after a careful ancient observer repeatedly notices that the moon progressively waxes, without waning, until it is full, and then wanes, without waxing, until it is new, he will confidently predict from these particular observations that the moon will always follow this process.

The "rotating mists" conception of day and night may have made sense to the ancient Greeks, because for all they knew, the canopies of the night and day skies were material bodies.  They seemed to move, and they seemed to meet each other at a threshold.  In countless other particular instances of daily life, they have seen the movement of bodies be impelled by the movement of other contiguous bodies.  Falling rocks strike water and make waves; waves in the ocean shove ships and capsize them.  Why wouldn't the twin canopies of the sky follow the same basic pattern?

Next in this series: Introducing Works and Days.

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