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< Supporting Evidence

Plato's Vowels: How the Alphabet Influenced the Evolution of Consciousness

Frank Poletti
World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution, 2002, Volume 58, Issue 1.

Abstract:

Beginning with Ken Wilber's framework for the evolution of human consciousness, this essay investigates the critical threshold crossed around the year 500 B.C.E., when human consciousness in the Western world transformed from a predominantly oral and tribal framework to a largely written and abstract one. This transformation has been called the birth of the mental-ego-the birth of an autonomous, willful, and uniquely individual consciousness. Yet, in the Western world this birth was inextricably influenced by a completely novel literary invention-the Greek version of the alphabet. Living at the precise moment when this new invention was rapidly proliferating throughout ancient Greece, the Western world's most famous philosopher, Plato, posited his ontology of human disconnection from the sensory world. For Plato, the "real world" is the abstract world of transcendent Ideas, of which our sensory, human world is only a pale reflection. The following essay asks, then: is it just a mere coincidence that the world's most abstract literacy tool (the Greek alphabet) and the world's most abstract and disembodied philosophy (Plato's theory of Ideas) just happened to flourish in ancient Greece at exactly the same time in history?