About This Blog

About The 'Socrates 4 Today' Project

Whether we like it or not, we all have important Life Choices to make, and these choices are largely ‘philosophical’ in nature. Knowing about some of the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle can help us all make more informed life choices today and live happier and more fulfilled lives as a result.

The Socrates 4 Today project is not an official group or institution of any kind, but rather an umbrella banner for a loose collection of friends (and occasionally friendly organisations) to carry out philosophy related activities. These friends all share the idea that the ancient (yet living) ‘real’ philosophy and wisdom of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle has relevance and importance for us all today.

While some of these friends might enjoy a more academic approach to this philosophy personally, they all share the view that philosophy is essentially a ‘practical’ subject, and is something to be applied to the way we live our lives – not just read about in a book. (Even Plato himself says, there is only so much you can learn about philosophy from a book!)

It is hoped that the Socrates 4 Today Project will help to make some of the central ideas and themes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and some of the other Greek philosophers more relevant to a wider modern audience. ‘Real’ philosophy after all is said and done – is simply about giving people important tips for living a better, happier and more meaningful life. It is about making better and more informed Life Choices today.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Myths for Our Times

Socrates and Plato - Myths for Our Times

[See also the longer essay by Tim Addey:
'Myth - The Final Phase of Platonic Philosophy' at:
http://socrates4today.webs.com/mythbytimaddey.htm ]

REGARDING MYTHS

Some Thoughts - Summer 2012

The following are some thoughts on myths and how we should use them that were included in a talk I gave to the Theosophical Society in London in March 2004 titled: The Greek Gods – A Quantum Reality ! (Talk – March 2004)

EXTRACTS: [A full transcript of the talk is available on request.]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

…..A SHORT PRE-AMBLE IF I MAY:

……… Before we look at some details and myths of the Greek Gods themselves, I would like quickly to consider the nature of myth. One well known saying we should consider is:

       ‘Myth is what people of one faith call other people’s religion’.  

I think it is accepted that many traditional orthodox Jews might consider the storey of Jesus to be a myth, as the Christian might regard the Vedic scriptures and stories of Hindu Gods as myth, as the traditional Hindu might well look at Genesis as a myth – although these days of course we all do this very politely and very PC whatever we may actually be feeling inside.

When it comes to us looking for spiritual information about the Greek Gods, we are largely obliged to look to the Greek myths – but we should have some consideration about the sources of these myths. It is important to remember that the stories of the Greek Gods and the heavens were passed down from generation to generation orally for many centuries, some perhaps for as much as a thousand years, before anything at all was actually written down about them. This has led to a number of variations on certain myths, and certainly various interpretations of certain myths. For example, Socrates himself regards many of the myths as blasphemous or untrue – and I quote Socrates only as a well-known historical man of the time whose opinions we actually have written down for us to agree or disagree with.

An example of such a myth – open to a blasphemous interpretation - would be the abduction of Ganymede by Zeus from the blood and gore of the frontline at the battle of Troy. (and incidentally,…. the ‘Myth of Troy’ is now generally accepted as a reality!) Anyway, Zeus takes pity on the young Ganymede and disguised as a giant eagle descends to Troy and plucks the young boy from the battlefield and takes him up to the abode of the Gods on Mount Olympus to be his cupbearer. For many, it was a simple act of compassion, saving a young lad from the horrors of war; but to some it is an act of monstrous child abduction and rape for which there is of course no evidence. Can two interpretations be further apart ? There is nothing to specifically suggest anything untoward in the myth, but some people like to put the negative interpretation on this storey and indeed many other myths. However, as Socrates says, and I agree, …”such stories and interpretations about the Gods are blasphemous”.

So my point is, we must exercise care in interpreting the myths we have, firstly because of the oral tradition for many centuries before they were written down and therefore a proneness to variation in narrative, and secondly because of the interpretation some people have given to the myths over the years, often negative, as I suppose they are entitled to do, but with no more or less accuracy than any other interpretation. T

The Greek myths are therefore fortunately, (yet unfortunately in some ways as explained above) open to considerable interpretation unlike the myths of some more “closed” or “dogmatic” faiths – often referred to “faiths of a book.”

Regarding the “Faith and Practice” of the ancient Greeks, in truth very little is known about this from ancient times although there are some these days who would claim differently…… This of course is a great shame academically – but also spiritually – since we do know that great importance was attached to the exactness of these holy services in terms of the words used and the actions performed.

So; enough of preliminary remarks urging caution on interpreting myths and the information we have. I shall now tell you something of the Greek view of CREATION and indeed how the twelve main Olympian Gods came into being…..   
......  I will then conclude by putting the Greeks Gods and their cosmology into a more modern context, and consider the ‘Gods’ influence on our lives today adding some comments on the latest scientific thinking in quantum physics and how this might oddly be relevant to our lives today. [The full transcript of this talk is available on request.]

..... Regarding the nature of the afterlife, I would like to tell you something very important to our understanding of the Greeks, also revealed by Socrates later on in PLATO’S book PHAEDO. If nothing else, I would like you to take this point away this evening as I think it a crucially important point. When asked by one of his visitors in the Athens jail shortly before his execution about the afterlife, Socrates give a 3 or 4 page answer in some detail that is quite bizarre, with boats taking us down rivers that go around the world etc. It is Socrates final two lines of this passage that are so important and should be remembered. Having given his lengthy “unbelievable” description of the afterlife he says words to the effect: ‘Of course, one can’t expect anyone with any sense or education to believe that what I have just said is exactly or even remotely like what happens literally in reality. But what I have just said is more or less how it is, and we can think of it in that way.’  And this is of course my whole point about many of the Greek myths and stories - were they ever intended to be believed literally, or were they ‘truths’ and ‘descriptions’ given to us in symbolic language and phrases so we could understand the ideas and difficult concepts being discussed?

Furthermore, Socrates in another of Plato’s books, the PHAEDRUS, tells us that we humans will never know what the Gods are, or the DIVINE actually is: we do not have the language or the understanding to even describe these things. But Socrates says; we can describe more or less the situation and roughly some of the aspects of the divine, so that we can get an idea of what it is like.

Now, moving on to the present day, this is exactly the approach adopted many top scientists today, particularly quantum physicists and cosmologists. They are often not sure ‘exactly’ how it is, but they create models that give us an idea of how things are, and help to explain how things may work. If you walk into a science classroom you will see wall charts with pictures of atoms, molecules and many other things. There are also models of molecules with little balls on straws. Well molecules do not look like this at all, and atoms do not look like that chart with electrons circling the nucleus like planets going around the sun. However, these diagrams and models do help students to understand what is going on and “what it is like”.

There have been some fantastic developments in physics generally in the last 50 years and especially in the last 20 years in quantum physics and cosmology that should be of great interest to any spiritual people or religious people of any faith. I am talking about things such as the BIG BANG theory or model of creation, the nature of matter, the shape of the universe, and especially quantum mechanics. Strangely I believe, religious people like me can take comfort from these developments and I’d like to make one or two comments about this before I close. The Greeks through the myth of ORPHEOUS talk about the ORPHIC EGG – and at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawkins, talks about Big Bangs. These are really not such different ideas, and something you might like to discuss if we have time later. As I have mentioned, only this week (March 04) with new photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists are now talking of a time in the universe when there was no light, and then light coming into being. The Greeks talk of Aether (light) being born of Erebus (Darkness) and his wife Nyx, Night. Very strangely, this myth is really is a good likeness in fact to how we are explaining things today scientifically, albeit the ancient Greeks use symbolic ideas and language to make the concepts easy to understand. There are many more examples such as these I can assure you – and they are not unique to the ancient Greek Olympic Religion.

Similarly, under certain conditions nuclear particles can appear from ‘nothing’ and disappear again. Not so far removed from the creation of order from CHAOS in Greek so called mythology.

If you are an agnostic or atheist, and you think that religion is somehow weird and is for ‘weirdos’ – you should try doing  a quantum physics course at a top university. Things just don’t make sense ‘scientifically’ and are very weird to say the least when we consider quantum physics and the quantum world:
* A piece of matter can be in two places at once!
* It can appear from nothing and then disappear again!
* It can exist as a particle or a wave or both – until it is believed, only a conscious mind looks at it, and that the ‘looking’ (thinking/knowing) makes it then decide to be a particle or a wave.
* Two partner electrons can communicate and affect each other from different ends of the universe ‘simultaneously’ – and that’s quicker than the speed of light, and that is supposed to be impossible.

Yes, the science of quantum mechanics is all very weird and difficult to understand or say what ‘exactly’ is definitely happening. In truth, in these complicated areas the scientists and physicists have come up against a brick wall in trying to make progress– not a brick wall of technology or equipment to do experiments, not a brick wall which hides the facts from them, but a brick wall of ‘understanding’ which needs them to “let go” of traditional scientific dogma. There is at this moment ONLY ONE ladder that allows this brick wall to be climbed and crossed and allow us to understand the quantum world – and that ladder is FAITH – and the more dogmatic the religion or the priest, and the more dogmatic the scientist and physicist is, the harder that ladder of understanding – the ladder of truth - will be to climb. For they must now climb that ladder together, scientist and priest together – for the name of that ladder is faith as a reality. I am sure that in the next 10 to 15 years only, the most wonderful discoveries will be made in the realm of quantum physics and understanding.

Having digressed a little into science, I would like to curve my remarks back towards the Greek Gods and Greek Myths and repeat some more very wise and prophetic words from Socrates. Remember that top scientists use ‘models’ to explain things. They are the first to admit that these models are not exactly what happens, but that they help us to understand what is going on. They show us ‘kinda’ what it’s like – not exactly how it is - which at the current time is  ‘unknowable’ to us humans. As I mentioned earlier, Socrates says the same thing exactly about the Gods in the Phaedrus. He says:

       ‘We cannot describe the Gods as we don’t have the language to properly describe them, and we will never know exactly what the Gods are…. We can only know some aspects about them and describe what they are like.’

I think these remarks of Socrates compliment extremely well a science book I read recently by Dr John Gribbin  - who incidentally has a PhD in astrophysics from Cambridge – so I guess he knows what he is talking about. Dr Gribben says in the final chapter of his book called ‘Schrodinger’s Kittens’ which deals in some detail with the various latest theories and models of quantum physics:

       ‘I stress again, all such interpretations (..of quantum mechanics)  are myths, crutches to help us imagine what is going on at the quantum level and to make testable predictions. They are not, any of them, uniquely ‘the truth’, rather they are all ‘real’, even when they disagree with one another.’

These remarks of  Dr Gribben on science seem like wonderful words of advice for us when we consider the myths of other people’s religions. Perhaps the myths are all true – even when they dis-agree with each other. Certainly words worth our consideration I believe.

Finally, I should like to make a few comments about Q.C.F’s. (quantum conscious fields) and recommend a very readable book by the Surrey University microbiology professor Dr. JoJo McFadden. The book is called ‘Quantum Evolution – Life in the Multiverse’ and amongst other things looks at how the human mind works and takes a very up to date scientific look at the latest theories of consciousness.

Now if any of you are psychic (as oppose to a physicist), or know someone who is psychic, and you are interested or confused by how all this ‘might’ work, then try reading this book. Some very interesting scientific discoveries are coming soon in this area according to Dr McFadden.  In his book he talks about the Quantum mind, and consciousness being a quantum function. As I have mentioned, the quantum physicists are now busy talking about the possible importance of ‘consciousness’ in particle wave collapse and the formation of particles – i.e. the nature of  CREATION.  As odd as this may sound, I believe that these areas of study are very relevant to tonight’s subject ‘The Greek God’s – A Quantum Reality’ and indeed religion generally. We should not forget that it was Plato in his THEORY OF FORMS who first suggested that ‘consciousness’ impregnates on matter particles to create matter; and Plato was writing down his ideas long before the benefits of any modern scientific instrumentation - without a particle accelerator in sight…..  Given the international reputation of Plato as a rare and gifted mind – perhaps it is time for us to re-examine “the myths of Plato” in the light of modern scientific discovery and the unfolding discoveries of quantum mechanics.

Bibliography / Suggested Further Reading:

(Which at first glance may contain some odd bedfellows, but which will hopefully sit more naturally side by side in the years ahead.)

       1) ‘The Myths of Greece and Rome’, by H.A. Guerber. (Harrap, London, 1907) OR: ‘The   
       Greek Myths – Volumes 1 and 2’, by Robert Graves.
Both Guerber and Graves give excellent summaries of the information available on the Greek Gods from the so called ‘Myths’ of ancient Greece. All well known Gods are described, together with many of the less well know Gods, demi-gods and daemons. Most stories about these deities are described by both these authors in very readable styles.

2) ‘The Whole Shebang – A State of The Universe(s) Report’, by Timothy Ferris. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1997)
The formation of planets, galaxies and super-clusters and the shape of the universe together with many relevant latest theories on cutting edge science developments are given. I like Ferris’ very readable style for the non specialist and the fact that although he does give his own view, he does sum up all sides of an argument before doing so.
3)   ‘Schrodinger’s Kittens – And The Search For Reality’, by John Gribben. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1995)
       Gribben goes a little further than for the non-specialist in the fascinating areas and developments in quantum Mechanics in the last 10 – 15 years (1980 – 1995) The book is very understandable for the non-physicist like myself yet manages to probe some of the real quandaries in Quantum Mechanics in detail which should be of interest for spiritually minded people from all persuasions.
4)     ‘Socrates’, by Guthrie OR: ‘Socrates’, by Antony Gottlieb. (Phoenix, London,1997)
Guthrie’s ‘Socrates must be regarded as ‘the work’ on the life and work of Socrates. We cannot help but know Socrates better by reading this authorative and complete volume.  Gottlieb also gives the main aspects of Socrates in his extended essay.
5)      ‘The Great Forerunner – Studies in the Interpretation of Platonism and Christianity’,  By John S Hoyland. (Constable and Co – London – 1928)
6)     Hoyland explores many aspects of Plato and Greek thought which were read, known, altered and adopted by the early Christian theologians. Although raising many of the relevant points Hoyland’s book suffers from his own enthusiasm for Christianity (as he is entitled to have of course), but this does make for a rather biased and limited book.

        7)      ‘Phaedrus’, by Plato. (Penguin)
NOT simply “a discussion of Rhetoric” as the overly academic introductions to many translations of this important work would have us believe. It is Plato at his most poetic, most philosophic, and hidden within the pages I believe is Socrates at his most sincere and spiritual. I believe that ‘enlightenment’ is available for those prepared to search the pages of this wrongly interpreted, short, yet profoundly important dialogue..
8)     ‘Phaedo’, by Plato.  (Penguin)

Plato recounts the last days of Socrates’ life; spent deep in discussion with his friends in the Athens jail house. Socrates also gives us a lesson on myth – and shows enormous dignity and courage as he faces true martyrdom for his beliefs.

PLATO'S ACADEMY AND ‘KNOW THYSELF’


Plato's academy was started in Athens around 387 BCE by Socrates' student and friend Plato. It was still going as a place of learning in the middle of the 5th century CE - some 850 years later, albeit with some breaks along the way. This enormously long period for the existence of an important place of learning cannot have been just by chance - or can it? Surely there must have been some important substance to the philosophy studied there that might perhaps be worth our attention today; just as much as any popular philosophy from more far away and seemingly exotic lands.


By say 450 CE the headmaster or principal of the Academy was a philosopher called Proclus – and the school had been moved to Proclus’ modest home in Athens to avoid the unwanted attention and possible danger from the Christian authorities then in power in Greece. Interestingly, one of the first exhibits you see on the way into the New Acropolis Museum in Athens today is about Proclus' little house where Plato’s Academy was based for some years during the 5th Century CE


It had become an established tradition by Proclus' time that the first book of Plato that the new students studied was usually a book called: ‘The First Alcibiades’. This was because it encouraged and emphasised to the new students the importance of the Delphi maxim 'Know Yourself' before starting any philosophical investigation or path. (Incidentally, the second maxim written above the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Delphi was 'Nothing to Excess') The new students were taught the importance of asking: 'Where am I and where am I going?’ – but even more importantly: 'What Am I and where did I come from?'


Are You a Philosopher?

If you ‘wonder’ about things and have the curiosity to find out when your do not know something then you are a philosopher. Philosophy is simply the love of wisdom and trying to make ourselves a little bit wiser as we go through life. However, we will need to search for wisdom in a range of topics and areas unless we have enough curiosity to find things out: 'to wonder I suppose'.

By clicking onto this website and similar ones; by reading books on the various subjects raised; attending some lectures from time to time, or simply by just talking to your friends about various important subjects you start to become philosophers as well.

The only other thing that you really need to be a philosopher is to keep an open mind on various subjects - but especially ‘the truth’ of all things as the years go by. We must also know that sometimes we do not know all the answers – and therefore need to investigate a subject further.

Socrates said that: ‘the un-investigated life is not worth living’.

Face to Face Philosophical Activities with James & Socrates 4 Today.

Socrates deliberately chose to keep his philosophical conversations with his students and friends an oral tradition and to discuss his philosophy face to face with them. He chose not to write things down at all for a wider audience (i.e. books) and clearly had his reasons for taking this approach. In keeping with this wisdom, talks are organised ‘‘face to face’ in Athens and Delphi in Greece, and occasionally in London, for small informal talks, discussions and philosophical walks.

Socrates never charged money for his teaching and time and most talks and other activities organised by James under the 'Socrates 4 Today' banner are usually without any charge or fee for people who come along.

(Kindly note that details of talks and events arranged by various other individuals and organisations are sometimes posted on this blog for information purposes – and ticket charges may apply in these cases.)

The current face to face activities outlined below are very informal - with other like-minded people who are simply interested in understanding Socrates, Plato and Aristotle or indeed “life” just a little better and finding their own unique philosophical or spiritual path.

Current Activities Include:

1.Introductory Talks and 'Walks with Talk' in Athens and Delphi - Greece

Regular programs of introductory talks, and pedestrian 'walks with talk' are organised in Athens and occasionally in Delphi or London. The talks are very informal and usually followed by a discussion of the philosophical issues raised. “Click” for Details of Talks for 2016 + 2017

2. Coffee, Philosophy and Perhaps A Little Greek Salad.

James regularly meets individual visitors to Athens and Delphi (and sometimes London) - to drink a beer or a coffee and chat “without template” about the ‘real’ Greek philosophy (and spirituality) of Socrates and the ancient Greeks or to answer various other questions people may have.

3. Skype Sessions

As well as a growing number of face to face opportunities to discuss philosophy, James and the Socrates 4 Today network of friends can arrange to discuss philosophy on line using Skype where distance prevents face to face meetings.

For further details contact jamesdelphi2000@gmail.com

Embryonic Activities:

The Little Academy of Athens ©

The ancient Greeks had a saying that if you want to do something well: 'Start and finish with the hearth', and it is at the hearth (the kitchens and fireplaces of our homes) that The Little Academy of Athens has started its small and informal school/s for ‘real’ Greek philosophy. The rationale is that if a little house was sufficient for the great Socratic philosopher Proclus to keep Plato's Academy and ideas alive in Athens during the 5th century CE - then it is certainly sufficient for the friends of the Socrates 4 Today project to meet and discuss various subjects and deepen their knowledge in the search for wisdom, truth and perhaps even philosophical enlightenment. Over time it is hoped more and more friends of ‘real’ philosophy will pass through the The Little Academy of Athens, and as a result, shine more brightly and consistently in their own part of the world.

Reviews of Unusual and Interesting Books Associated With Socrates


Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths (by Lucy Coats)


This is a great book for anyone who enjoys reading to their children at bedtime, or wants to try and get their children to read more a bit more by themselves. Interesting, enchanting, inspiring, all at the same time. Beautifully produced and with great illustrations to keep young eyes turning the pages. Good clear English for youngsters who want to improve their English language skills as well. (Many of these myths are pillars of our culture and way of life)

See: 100 Greek Myths for Children


'Travels In Elysium' by Williamk Azuski.


'The Travels' starts with the simple premise of young Nicholas ‘Nico’ Pedrosa taking his first job as an assistant at an archaeological dig on Santorini in Greece. However, within just a few pages William Azuski has begun adding the many layers of intrigue and mystery which he develops throughout his well crafted and philosophically thought provoking book. Nico tries to work out whether his new boss and would be mentor, Marcus Huxley, really will find new levels or reality and truth hidden under the deep volcanic ash of the ancient Minoan eruption; or whether it is just a wild obsession with Plato’s World of Ideas and Forms, the Orphic Mysteries, and “all things ancient Greek and metaphysical” that drives Huxley forward. Surely no personal or greater good can come from the situation Nico finds himself in or Huxley's dubious methods; or can it? One cannot help but keep turning the pages to find out.

See: The Travels


'Plato For Beginners' by Robert Cavalier.


Robert Cavalier’s little book with cartoons and pictures puts Plato into "bite size chunks" for young people, and this is certainly one of the aims of this blog. Cavalier's book encourages people to go out and read a bit more and so it deserves a mention on this blog. This short book will be of interest to all 'beginners' of Socratic philosophy – whether young and old - if they want to get a quick overview of what the subject is about. There are a few small points where I think a mistake has been made, and certainly a few spelling mistakes - but what the heck - the cartoons are very good. Ideal stocking filler for young philosophers!

See: Plato for Beginners


'Socrates and Plato & Their Essential Tip for Young International Travellers' by James Head.


Socrates and Plato are without doubt two of the best known philosophers and thinkers from ancient Athens or indeed any other period of history including our own. Why is it that they are still so well known today, and what is it really that makes them such important people? These are just some of the questions I hope to answer for you in this first book of three understandable essays for general readers.


Keep in mind right from the start that philosophy after all is said and done, is simply about giving people tips for living a good life or a better more fulfilling kind of life. Socrates was quite simply a wonderful teacher about life in its various shapes and forms; which is what ‘real’ philosophy is all about. ‘Where am I and where do I want to go?’ - are the fundamental philosophical questions for Socrates summed up in the Delphi Maxim or phrase: ‘Know Thyself’. I hope this book will start to explore some of these questions for you, as well as giving you a good idea of what Socrates and Plato were all about and why their advice or ‘tips’ are still worth our consideration today.


The three essays move progressively deeper into the philosophy of Socrates and Plato for those who wish to know a little more. After a general introduction to what ‘real’ Greek philosophy actually is in the traditional Socratic sense, the first essay looks at the essential question of ‘Know Thyself’ and talks about Plato’s book The First Alcibiades. Interestingly, this was also the first book that new students at Plato’s Academy began with – so it is undoubtedly a good place for us to start. The second essay is appropriately titled: ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Plato’ and looks at some important ideas and themes which crop up in many of Plato’s books. By the end of this second essay you will have a very good ‘general idea’ of what Socrates and Plato were all about.


Finally, the third essay discusses Plato’s book The Phaedrus in some detail. As described within the previous essays, Plato can be thought of as a poetic writer who often adds several layers of meaning to his books. The Phaedrus can simply be read as a description of what it means to fall hopelessly in love with someone; or it can be read as a road map to philosophical enlightenment. As described at the start of this final essay, this is one of the many choices we all have to make for ourselves. (Regular free offers - See top right of this blog page for details.)

See: Essential Tips for Young Travellers


Let me know if you would like to add a book review in the above section of the Socrates 4 Today blog.


Why Not Spend 3 Days In Delphi ?

Why Not Spend 3 Days In Delphi ?
I guess many philosophers like to walk in 'special' places like Delphi....