Indian and Greek philosophy

A few thoughts on my view on the philosophical heritages we could use.

I put this post in English on my own personal blog because it’s really personal thoughts not related to my business, although I’m the same person on both blogs.

I became interested in Greek Culture very early. In France we are introduced to Ancient Greek on the first year of high school, I was 10. Being born in a family dominated by latinists I felt that Greek offered some distance to pragmatism and mercantilism. Europe is scattered by remains of Greek time and it was common at that time to fix Greece and Egypt as the two sources of our culture and knowledge. I started to travel on my own intensively in Greece and Turkey when I was 18 and fell in love with the area and the huge mixture of culture that happened there. Civilizations seemed to grow and juxtaposed one another at a furious rythm. Informations, discoveries, trade was crossing over language and religions boundaries with a surprising ease.

Next I travelled further east by the road. After a long passage through several muslim  countries (Iran was undergoing a revolution, Afghanistan was starting a civil war it didn’t end yet, Pakistan was a total anarchy with people wearing weaponry everywhere) I reached India.

I was not very permeable to Indian philosophy at that time although I enjoyed being there. The lifestyle, the way people were communicating was new and challenging my learnings. Still poverty, lack of democracy, corruption didn’t prove that Indian Culture was sufficient by itself compared to our over modernized world. I was still confident that everything was ruled by progress, science and logic. However life in temples of South India are the nearest I could find from how I imagined the life could have been around temples of ancient Greek cities and I enjoyed it a lot, had great discussions with people.

Back in France I studied Mathematics and became quite good at it. I quit because no opportunities were offered and switched to the new field of Software  (Irony now France don’t find enough Math teachers to hire).

While travelling for my work I visited China, Japan, Korea and realized that while we are repeatedly told that our culture is ancient, written, Asian Cultures are at least as ancient and written as well, -1400, -5000 they say now.

While studying Math, Artificial Intelligence and Programming I realized that logic doesn’t bring you very far. It is surprising when working on Expert Systems and adding features in them you end up not being able to conclude much without heuristics. The best version we ever had was bugged and introduced a random result in the heuristic causing the results to be slightly unstable and interesting. The more you add rules and facts the more the system works in a confined space and lead to results almost as conventional than normal determinist programs.

Later I became more a business man. Working on marketing plans, business plans, building teams. I read a lot and discovered fields like Economy, Marketing, Design, HR. All of them try to build theories and try to rebrand themselves as sciences. They use rethoric. They take logical stances and try to build discourses traverstite in logical explanations. If you are really good at logic you uncover the discontinuities very easily. A discourse pretending to be logic failing to do so is not supporting anything. Does it means it’s all wrong ? no but it is influenced by our tendancy in Western culture to consider that everything based on a logical construction is valid and absolutely true while everything else is just backward and not worth consideration.

Then like others I learned about the power of emotions, habits. What keeps us moving. I drew the parallel with my heuristics in AI. Without some fuzzyness and randomness decisions don’t take place unless the choices are obvious. Even for obvious ones they often take a partial view of the world (they consider this as a given, that as having no costs (ecology, natural resources !) and conclude based on that. Add everything to the equation it becomes unsolvable.

Good, so logic covers only partially what we know and use everyday. Logic don’t helps us take decisions although it could bring us in the best position to take them. But logic is the ground of the world largest discovery and progress.

Sure ? That a very 1960 statement.

Logical discourse is for me the greatest benefit of Greek Philoshophy. The ability to chain statements in such a way that we reach progressively conclusions different substantially from assumptions but with equal solidity (The Logos and Dialectic of Rethoric).

First what we learn in Math is that it’s only as good as initial assumptions. In most cases we don’t know much about assumptions.

Next I’m stoked to consider that  2 theorems I have been using on daily basis for years while building CAD systems (used afterward to build the cars, airplanes, home appliances etc.) Thales and Pythagore are based on works from Mathematicians, Philosophers presocratic.

Thales was considered as a first user of the deductive theory but doesn’t say he used it,  apply it to anything else.

Pythagoras, we don’t much of him, doesn’t seem to have been so clear about where the divide between logic and mysticism was established.

That’s the point were I am now.

What if Logic was an excellent tool to use to a certain level only ?

What if the tentation to apply it to everything was misleading ?

What if all the rational explanations we got about forcasting economy, crisis, growth was just plain wrong as unfounded as any mystical explanation.

What if the source of everything we build on was not ground on Greek Philosophy, including Math itself ?

During my last trips in India I spent more time investigating Yoga. I spent also more time  exploring how Agriculture was going on in India. For this I had to get out my usual places and I made new encounters. I was more open to hear different things. I had also more time to sit and listen.

What I learned:

There are a lot of fields covered by Indian writings and philosophy that applies to fields like motivation, ethic, discipline or self guidance. When I mean Indian I include very old texts, esoteric texts and Budhism. Fields usually covered in the west by Psychology, Self development. Many from the ideas we receive now about Positive Thinking, Emotional Intelligence, Letting go etc are already explored there.

Most of these texts proceed by analogies. If words are similar, it proves they convey sibling meanings. If two concepts can be represented by two images (metaphores) themselves paired in a way in their realm then the two original concepts must surely have something in common as well.

To a software guy like me this sounds like ridiculous. But not much more than calling for Keynes to explain how we will fight unemployement or economical crisis in Europe. if you are one ounce not logical you can be non logical all the way.

Indian proceed by such analogies both for induction from ideas to ideas and for teaching. This last point is interesting because we often practice this method as well. When explaining something we tend to draw parallels, to use metaphors. Then as the learner becomes more aware of the topic the metaphor don’t hold and we end up with a contradiction. If the metaphor we used to teaching and transferering knowledge is flawned isn’t it that the transfer itself is flawned and should be wiped out ? No, for learning we sit on the contradiction and simply put it aside as an artifice used with poetic license. In Indian philosophy and in everyday life it is OK to use such license to make decisions or draw new Knowledge.

It’s disturbing but it brings a lot of creativity, a lot of open areas to explore. Strange enough the ultimate conclusion drawn on them could turn out to be very applicable in the Western world as well. I have never got a cold since I practice kapalabhati although I  don’t take the supporting explanations for granted. Some of the philosophical aspects of early Boudhism (the one before it became a religion) has proved to be useful in my life. I compare it to a proof by absurb. It’s counter intuitive, it deals with “wrong” statements but the final conclusion is usable.

Recently I had interesting discussion on the cycle of Desire, Planning, Realizing, Rewards very present in recents books on habits forming.  I uncovered that Indian philosophy also deal with it but put markers at slightly different points (Iccha, Sankalpa). This change of point of view shows first that we are very much influenced by our Judeo Christian culture, second that options exists outside of paths plotted inside our culture.

Some greeks were already interested in Asian philosophy. Recent discovery I did was that some Greek Kingdoms adopted Budhism. It’s just not very flattering for our latin branch. It was more interesting for Archeologist to investigate links to Egypt, a dead civilization, just opposite of the Meditarrean Sea than to try to investigate links to Asia Cultures, still alive, potential colonies and of course non civilized. The more you dig in one direction, the more you find, doesn’t prove you wouldn’t have find as much in another direction. It seems that Greeks maintained a substancial relationship with Indians. If only our language is much nearer than from the Egyptian one. What if Greek were more influenced by Asians than we think. Many of them were Asian as well.

In 2015 we can open our mind and embrace everything that as been produced and found around our little planet and let go with the a prioris of our ancesters.

That’s my goal for the future, my Sankalpa.

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