Monday, February 19, 2007

The Forms





Plato made some interesting arguments that still have life these many centuries later.

One of these was the notion that there are “forms” which exist on a more perfect plane. In his parable of the cave, Plato argued that we can see these forms only dimly, like shadows on the wall of a cave.

The world of matter was for Plato essentially corrupt and temporal, and therefore while it seems real to the unenlightened, it is less real than the forms, because while matter decays and dies, the forms live on.

To pick up on my point from the last post, again I think Plato here is recognizing something eternal in the soul of man – and that little something is not ethereal or immaterial, it is simply DNA. He writes of this or that horse which lives and dies, but never can be described as the perfect horse. Meanwhile, we have a concept of the form of a horse that allows us to recognize one when we see it.

What Plato, limited by the science of his day, could not see, is that the form of the horse, the blueprint for all horsiness if you like, is recorded in DNA and other genetic material. That record is not a mere concept, it is laid out in complex proteins and other real matter. What Plato meant by forms is DNA.

Another thought came to me the other day about Plato – he argued that not all knowledge can come from experience, because some knowledge is innate. To illustrate he tells a story of teaching an uneducated slave boy some geometry, which the boy immediately grasps. The conclusion is that if the knowledge of math were not innate, the boy could never learn it so quickly.

Plato is right – our brains are capable of learning and understanding math. But what he could not know is that this is so because of knowledge gained through experience. Not the experience of the individual, but the experience of all their ancestors, as recorded and encoded in DNA and other genetic material.

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

Well written article.