Weeping Angels and Tragic Metaphysics
Even after Copernicus resurrected Aristarchus’ heliocentric model and displaced us from the center of the cosmos, human philosophy and language maintained for the most part and for a much longer time a Ptolemaic understanding of our relation to Truth. Our dependance on language fetters us to an understanding of Reality only in relation to ourselves and what is more familiar, and symbolizing it as objects to be manipulated in exercise of power, be they religious idols or ideas, or simple words. Truth is accessed through Reason (an exclusively human possession that Aristotle took to be the distinguishing mark of our superiority to all other life), and if Truth is not taken in an Absolute or Transcendant sense, then it retreats into an Existentialism whereby meaning and values are self-generated and buttressed by one’s own moral integrity.
What it boils down to is that Truth and Being (and thus the predication of anything as having properties or instantiation into existence) exist in an intermediary realm between a Rational Subject and the Object of Contemplation. Even the Object’s existence and essence is fixed simply by that observation (as Berkeley concluded, esse est percipi). Quantum physics functions the same way, with the implications that determinism, just like any other theory, is a function of the Subject. Once a particle is observed, its position is fixed. I wish to argue that Human Destiny as a Tragic concept functions in a similar way, and that quantum determinism has its roots on the Sophoclean stage.
To help demonstrate, let us consider the science fiction drama “Doctor Who,” in particular the Weeping Angels who send their victims back in time. In the most recent episode of the series, the character Amy discovers her husband Rory aged by 60 years and on his deathbed, the apparent victim of a Weeping Angel. Yet the young Rory is himself in the other room. The Doctor warns Rory not to see his future self, because by doing so his Future is fixed. Rory’s destiny was determined by the observation of his fate. The infinity of possible timelines was reduced to a single 4-dimensional line segment with a fixed endpoint. It happened because he saw Himself.
It is self-knowledge that one seeks to attain by consulting the oracle at Delphi, where above the entrance to Apollo’s temple was reputed to have been written “Know Thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) or simply, “Thou Art” (εἶ). The very act of consulting the oracle is what fixes one’s fate. It is how the receiver interprets the oracle that can demonstrate the tragic condition. Oedipus, for example, understood the prophecy of parricide and incest as an sequence of events determined by cosmic forces existing independently of the human self. His tragic flaw was his atomistic conception of reality, in which Subject and Object are independent causes that exert force by means of collision. Because of this he hubristically endeavored to extricate himself from this cosmic pool table by relocating from Corinth to Thebes (unknowing that Thebes was his actual birthplace where his real father and mother were).
Yet the words of the oracle were only words, and not the knowledge itself. It would only be through suffering (πάθος) that knowledge (μάθος) of the self could be attained, at the moment of realization and clarity in which the aphorism of Heraclitus rings true: character (ἦθος) is destiny (μοῖρα). The cosmos that Oedipus thought was independent of his Subjectivity was in truth an extension of himself, and the unfolding of its history was contingent upon the eternal and unchanging thing that makes a tragic hero heroic, his character.
Oedipus streamlined his quantum timeline by going to Delphi, the navel of the earth, returning to the womb of his mother, out of which, by the tragic annihilation of the Apostate Self, he was reborn with true sight into the realm of truth, now blind to that of appearances and false distinctions.
Apollo is the force within us that organizes reality into rational proportions, of sounds into music, of clay into shapes, and of reality into a plurality of words. He is the quantum Subject that determines the purpose of a thing and the character of a person by fixing it in language. That is his oracular function. Μοῖρα is the setting of boundaries.
Dionysus is the breaker of boundaries, the dying-and-reborn god whose eternal recurrence of annihilation into new forms of self-knowledge represents the tragic condition of humankind. Dionysus is Life, and so long as life persists as an irrational force of unlimited potential and creativity from the depths of darkness unplumbed by Apollo’s light, it will continue to be worth living. Don’t blink. You might miss it.