Ecotopia Timeline writing

Florence the Goose

Florence is a goose. I think of her as my goose although I don’t own her. She belongs to me in my imagination, although she is a real flesh and blood and feathers goose. She lives in the park a block away, where there is a pond. It is called West Lake Park. When is a pond a lake? When you call it one. I met Florence when I was walking my dog, Esme, an Airedale. Esme is a wonderful dog with great high spirits. In fact, we called her “Christmas-every-day” Esme, when she was a puppy, because she acted like it was Christmas every day and all the presents were for her.

Esme didn’t bother Florence. Her name was Florence, I was soon to find out. I warned Esme to stand aside when Florence approached. Florence hissed in that expiration of breath that geese do when they want to make a threatening sound. It was the first sound I imitated when I talked to Florence. I hissed back at her. She liked that. I saw her coming. It was clear she was heading for me and was going to introduce herself. I braced myself for my encounter with a goose. It was perfectly clear that she was going to talk to me. It was an odd experience, understanding everything Florence said, including her name. She marched right up to me and said, “Haaaaaaaaaa.” I heard: “My name is Florence Nightingale…”
What a name for a goose. She was demanding and authoritative, knowing exactly what she wanted me to do. I understood her perfectly.

Ecotopia Timeline writing

The Quality of Mercy: Homelessness In Santa Cruz 1985-1992

by Paul A. Lee

Homelessness is not easy to think about. In fact, one would rather do something about it than think about it. It is the tradition of the pragmatic American way. The plight of the homeless demands action more than thought. Nevertheless, there is much to think about in assessing the homeless and many questions come to mind after working with the homeless for the last six years. Why has there been a growing population of homeless every year since the late 1970s? What has happened in our country that people lack shelter and have nowhere to go at night when it turns cold and dark?

Isn’t the right to shelter one of the basic human rights not to be denied anyone?

Is a philosophy of homelessness possible to develop and is this a task this book should attempt to fulfill, even though, as Tillich says, in his address on the “Philosophy of Social Work”, appended to the end of this book, beyond anyone’s power to do so?


On the Wings of Thymós

by Paul A. Lee

On the Wings of Thymós

The plumage that was Plato’s is indicated by the name given to the group of those who followed Socrates-the fellowship of the swan. Philosophy, according to Socrates, is swan song, with one foot in the grave, meditating on finitude, mortality and having to die. This definition of philosophy based on the shock of non-being is juxtaposed against the imagery of Homer and the post-mortal fate of the eidolon or ‘shadows’ – ‘the after-images of used-up men’-where the dead are nothing because they are pure past. Socrates and Plato have another view of death’s illumination of life: the journey by chariot in the procession of the gods past the vision of being where ultimate concern for the perfect mysteries sustains one through the life to come by virtue of what is glimpsed.

We all want to remember it; deep in our souls this longing precedes our birth. Socrates knew this vision and told stories to illustrate it. Evoking a new dimension of our being through the myth is the purpose of the Socratic theology. It is the high artifice of Plato to sneak this vision into a playful dialogue about ‘disinterested’ love, something only Greeks with a philosophical bent would give panegyrics on, under the sway of empty and vain but wonderfully formalistic oratory. In this sense, the spoken word resounds through Plato even though he signifies the transition from oral to literate-the dialogues were written down! This wrench makes even the gods wince. Hence, as a result of the new literacy, a new theology, contemporaneous with the emergency of philosophical rationality. Old stories, retold by Socrates, with a very clear and long-lived historical intent; like the oracle at Delphi, Socrates reaches out with his voice for thousands of years.

‘On the wings of thymós’ is a good phrase for the emergence of literate consciousness. The transition from the oral transmission of culture to the textual or literate transmission makes Plato the key moment in this breakdown and new point of departure: Socratic consciousness at its finest hour. It is the movement from Homeric thymós to Socratic thymós and the development from thymós as ‘the adrenalin-produced emergency reaction of the sympathetic nervous system to novel situations …’[i]– to thymós as the unreflective striving toward what is noble transmuted into the courage to be-this is the heart of the Socratic theology.

The Phaedrus is as playful and as full of irony as any dialogue in Plato’s authorship. The dialogue begins badly, with the playful Socrates teasing Phaedrus into telling one of the worst scrambles found anywhere. To match the speech of Phaedrus, which is really his bad rendition of the speech of Lysias, Socrates has to cover his head in shame, the proposition to be debated is so fraught with error: It is better not to be in love with the beloved in order to serve the pleasures of the beloved with a so-called ‘disinterested’ intent. Socrates plays along and then realizes he had better offer a recantation and atonement. Love, of all human experiences, is not objective; hence, the theme of the ‘blessings of madness,’ from this failed beginning, as though

the truth could only follow in self-evident clarity after so much incoherent babble, Socrates goes right to the heart of the matter. In dithyrambic excess he tells Phaedrus that this thymós, this desire for the beloved, must strive for what is noble; as thymós is wedded to eros, so vitality to intentionality, or vital drives to moral norms-this is what it is to grow wings.

And so, if the victory be won by the higher elements of mind guiding them into the ordered rule of the philosophical life, their days on earth will be blessed with happiness and concord, for the power of evil in the soul has been subjected, and the power of goodness liberated; they have won self mastery and inward peace. And when life is over, with burdens shed and wings recovered they stand victorious in the first of the three rounds in that truly Olympic struggle; nor can any nobler prize be secured whether by the wisdom that is of man or by the madness that is of god.

This is the taming of thymós (spiritual vitality) and epithymia (lustful desire) for a moral life, rather than a life of self-destruction through the arbitrary willfulness of uninstructed desires. A metaphysical decision in the soul to seek the Good, eventually to stand on its measure, joins thymós to the Golden Mean.

But inside thymós, in the heart of our centered self, a struggle is going on between Eros and Atê. Eros is the part of Thymós eager to ascend to the heights of human aspiration, striving for what is noble. Atê is self-delusion, leading to self-destruction. It is blindness, rage, interiorized aggression. Thymós, in this negative mode, means smoke, anger, wrath, mental pathology. This negative side of thymós is best expressed in the French word resentment. The French tradition of the reflection on sentiment and resentment follows in the path of the Platonic doctrine of thymós. This conflict between Eros and Ate as the inner struggle of thymós, in relation to reason and desire, is the inner dialogue of the soul with itself.

Plato’s dialogues are the greatest expression of this dialogue. It is soul that encompasses our life; we are hedged about from birth to death by soul. Thymós means the heart of soul. Thymós is the vital root of consciousness. A horse representing thymós in the Phaedrus myth becomes the center of consciousness in the Republic. We are grounded in the middle, which is why Plato calls man the in-between being. The Myth of Er at the end of the Republic is a further elaboration of the myth in the Phaedrus. It is another story in the Socratic Theology. The myth of the winged steeds and their charioteer in the Phaedrus is amplified by the Myth of Er in the Republic through an expansion of the reincarnation cycle in the tale of Er. Three intervals between lifetimes are necessary to escape punishment for our crimes, as though three generations are a minimum structure for any historical grasp of life. In this three-fold sequence of consecutive lives, we undergo the most extreme choice. For Plato the supreme choice is philosophical. Plato issues the loudest call to the ranks of philosophy anyone has uttered. He wants us all to become Socratic, like his teacher, and practice the Confession of Ignorance/Delusion and be delivered from the snares of Atê. Plato provides us with it all-the Cave, the Divided Line, the Ring of Gyges, the Helmet of Hermes, and the Shield of Achilles. He supersedes everyone in his effort to get us to strain every nerve in order to glimpse the mysteries in our three-time round of earthly and ephemeral existence. So fraught with existential dramatics is the Greek view of life that without this glimpse, we would not be the supreme spectators that we are; we would forget, we would make the wrong choice, we would fail in the very foundation and substance of our being. In the Phaedrus, we meet the winged steeds of the soul who can distract the Charioteer from glimpsing the vision of Being and the mysteries of the Forms, thereby condemning the soul to commit grave mistakes about the choice of self in the next go-around. It is all based on the Platonic doctrine of thymós, or the vitality of the biologically based root of consciousness. Only here, in this dialogue, it is construed as a steed partial to its unruly neighbor, human desire, the horse of a different color. How do you get your unruly steed to run well with your noble steed in order for your reason to glimpse the Forms when you make your cosmic round? By practicing dying and preparing yourself for the ultimate test. Plato urges us on to participate in this flight from life to life, where, in the interval between lives, we can get a glimpse of the Forms, enter philosophical beatitude and be blessed by the mysteries we behold in the very marrow of ourselves.

[i] Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977. p. 262. 27


Thymos as Biopsychological Metaphor: The Vital Root of Consciousness

by Paul A. Lee

When I started to take an interest in botany and the plant kingdom, a friend introduced me to the botanical writings of Goethe, after Alan Chadwick had made me aware of the Vitalist tradition in horticulture, in particular the biodynamic system developed by Rudolf Steiner. My friend gave me a copy of Agnes Arber’s edition of Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants, which was to open the theme of metamorphoses, of changes, as though the main text for botany were the I Ching. I read Goethe’s essay and did not understand it. I read Rudolf Steiner on Goethe (he was the editor of Goethe’s scientific writings at the Weimar Archive) and did not understand him. But I plugged along. As the pieces began to fall into place, where fragments never became the larger design continued to shift and never knew exactly how to put it until I found the key: Physicalism versus Vitalism![i]

I was aware of the implications of this larger design for the philosophy of science and the theme of the structure of scientific revolutions. Although Thomas Kuhn (1962) the proponent of the theme, could assume the structure of Physicalism as the structure of scientific revolutions and write a purely formalistic account of the revolution, as though the Physicalist camp were all there was, I had picked up the Vitalist thread, the defeated point of view, the refutation of which defined Physicalism. It was a negative definition: you are defined by what you reject. The rejection of Vitalism by Physicalism thus became, for me, a key to our culture.

While I was studying philosophy and theology at Harvard, Paul Tillich introduced me to a theology of culture and prepared the way for my intellectual path. He gave me the definition of industrial society as “a world above the given world of nature,” where I came to see how the “above” was brought about through “artificial synthesis,” as in the isolation of active ingredients and their synthetic counterparts. The role of synthetics in industrial society was comparable to the role of plastics and the emphasis on simulation. All this took on an ersatz odor for me, thanks to the teaching of my German-born theologian. In the tradition of Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, Tillich (1975) was looking for the means to do philosophy of nature again. He tried, in his Systematic Theology, to work out a philosophy of life (following Nietzsche), but the transmission from Schelling never seemed to find expression. Tillich’s most important paper on Schelling still remains untranslated, although his two early works, expounding Schelling’s theory of guilt and of religious symbolism in antiquity, are now in English.

I began to think of Schelling (one of the most neglected of all the major Western philosophers) as the key to the last century and a half, so much so, that I toyed with the notion of being in some strange relation with him. I thought that to me had fallen the opportunity to discuss the theory of vital roots and their replanting as a new hope for the philosophy of nature especially in this late stage of the self-destructive tendency of our industrial society.

Neo-Vitalism is not a term I should like to live with, but it expresses the resurgence of movements and forces (since 1970 and the Earth Day Celebration) which were thought to be dead and buried after 1828 and the artificial synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wohler, one of the fathers of organic chemistry.

The Physicalist-Vitalist conflict is the deepest conflict in our culture. It is now possible to delineate it because we are now able to grasp its history, thanks to the resurgence of the Vitalist point of view in the form of the environmental and ecology movements. I cling to the notion that the clarity with which we can grasp this past struggle indicates our distance from it, even though we continue to read its truth every day in countless guises.

The theatre of ideas I have called into play is determined by two masks-the Vitalist Smile and the Physicalist Frown: it is the comic and tragic together. Why they are split apart in science, as in drama, I do not know; all I know is the expression on the masks.

These expressions are paradigm features-they define the point of view. From these central masks, countless other masks may be assumed. Actors can even change places, representing now one, now the other point of view. But the fixity and precision of the initial determination remain. The Physicalist and Vitalist shall come to center stage and state their views. In our effort to develop a leading metaphor for consciousness, we shall see that the Vitalist Smile takes us back to “vital roots.”

The Kantian Recoil from Vital Roots

Issac Newton and Goethe are the supreme embodiment of the Physicalist and the Vitalist, even though Newton kept cabbalistic esoterica locked in a trunk (as though his Vitalist side could not come out of the closet) and Goethe carried on his exacting experiments in the development of his theory of color for the express purpose of refuting Newton’s Optics. Everything follows from these two in terms of characterizing the victory of one trend over another. In order to add to the symmetry, we will give Kant to Newton and Schelling to Goethe.

Kant knew what was coming. Perhaps it was Kant whom Goethe had in mind as the figure for Faust. Then the pact with the Devil becomes the sin against the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the vital root of existence. The quandary over whether existence is a predicate, a technical problem in philosophy which Kant decided in the negative, comes in here. It is the background for the plight of existence in industrial society and the origins of existentialism as the protest against industrial society.

Kant decided against existence as a predicate, and, if we are to follow Heidegger on Kant, this was because of the Kantian recoil from the unknown root of existence. Kant betrayed the existential root. It was the price he had to pay for his “Copernican Revolution” and accommodation of philosophy to the protocols of a physicalistically oriented natural science. From Kant onward, German philosophers tried to find the root again, and failed. The leading theme of German philosophy became the “prison of finitude” as an expression of life in industrial society.

Martin Heidegger inherited this Kantian recoil from “vital roots,” arecoil necessary for the development of industrial society as a world “above” nature and therefore devoid of vital roots. This recoil is the Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Kuhn’s book on the structure of scientific revolution is an effort to make us feel comfortable about the “recoil.” The recoil is the revulsion of the mind over its own unknown root. As Heidegger (1962a) puts it-it is more familiar to us than we are to ourselves:

This fundamental constitution of the essence of man, “rooted” in the transcendental
imagination, is the “unknown” of which Kant must have had an intimation when he spoke of “the root unknown to us”; for the unknown is not that of which we know absolutely nothing but that of which the knowledge makes us uneasy. However, Kant did not carry out the primordial
interpretation of the transcendental imagination; indeed, he did not even make the attempt despite the clear indications he gave us concerning such an analytic . .. Kant recoiled from this unknown root
. (Heidegger, 1962a, pp. 166, 167) It is the flight from our own ground!

Heidegger retired to the Black Forest, in a forester’s hut. with his water spout of pure mountain water dripping into its trough, walking the path back to the vital root. From Goethe’s journey to Italy to Heidegger in his woods, from the journey to the Ur-plant to the path to the vital root, we have the hidden movement of Vitalism in a world determined by the Physicalist victory. This impulse-to find the root again-was shared by Alan Chadwick and myself, when we started the Student Garden Project at the University of California in Santa Cruz. In order to find it, we had to “double dig. ”

The Renewal of the Philosophy of Nature

Double digging is a horticultural technique practiced by Chadwick. It is clearly set forth in John Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, and Tom Cuthbertson’s Alan Chadwick’s Enchanted Garden.

We would also like to use “double digging” metaphorically. The upper crust is not all there is; like Ahab, we have to go to a little lower layer. This opening of the subsoil, for roots, is the basis for a renewed philosophy of nature, The linkage, for me, has been something like this: Schelling represents the breaking point in the defense against the rise of industrial society. Countless critics and witnesses inveigh against it. One of the most powerful, Simone Weil, who was drawn to work in a Renault factory as a missionary to some heathen tribe, wrote the central meditation on this revolt: The Need for Roots (Weil, 1979).

Schelling is the breaking point because of his turn from Naturphilosophie, and his alliance with Hegel, to existentialism (in his Berlin Lectures of 1841-1842), where the audience seemed to sense that a historic move was being made, initiating a philosophical position for the coming century and a half-so much excitement was there in the packed classroom, with Kierkegaard taking notes.[ii]

This breaking point was to continue until the rejected forces could resummon themselves in trying to put things right, when the “unforeseen” consequences of industrial society would provoke the environmental movement. For historical dating purposes, existentialism plays the role of chief mourner for defeated Vitalism (and Natiirphilosophie) until the Earth Day Celebration in April of 1970. This past decade has seen the groundwork for a renewed philosophy of nature, now that science has actually succeeded in unveiling nature’s mysteries in the DNA code of the double helix and in the structure of the atom. Nature’s mysteries were turned into scientific problems to be solved. The mystery became a secret. Those who penetrate to the secret receive Nobel prizes (the story is begun by Watson, 1968, and told in full by Judson, 1979).

The breaking point, represented in the turn of Schelling, is only shared by those who, so far, assume a minority view in their reaction against the pursuit of science under Physicalist protocols defined by the rejection and elimination of Vitalism.

The environmental and ecology movements are contemporaneous with the penetration to the secret of life. Think of the moment when Francis Crick, in a loud voice in a pub near Cambridge University, announced that he had solved the secret of life. Given the forces that are ranged against them, the ecology and environmental movements have achieved only partial toeholds. Look at the Environmental Studies Program at your local university-they are beleaguered enclaves in the midst of a hostile, science-determined organization of knowledge whose purpose is to train servants of industrial society.

However, all the signs are clear about our being in an advanced stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, as we know it. The economy of the United States is a symptom of this self-destruction. The organized system of industrial society is best expressed on the faces of unemployed blacks in the inner city in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Once having driven through these areas, replicated in every major industrial city in the United States, one never forgets it. It is like escaping from an armed camp.

For this reason, we have tried to elucidate the metaphor-vital roots-as a leading metaphor of consciousness, and we have moved from applying the metaphor in a critique of industrial society to an uncovering of the metaphor in the origins of our culture in ancient Greece. It should be obvious that this metaphor was discovered in the actual development of a university garden project where countless students rediscovered their roots. In this sense, horticulture and agriculture, seen in the light of the ecology movement, are prerequisites for the development of any culture worthy of the name. Industrial society alienates us from this ground and provokes in us the longing for roots. Only in a discussion of the metaphors of consciousness do such considerations take on the meaning they deserve.

The Metaphors: “Vital Roots” and “Thymos” According to Freud, the metaphor for consciousness is the neurone, an electrical charge along a nerve pathway. In order to distinguish the neurones appropriate to consciousness, Freud tried to postulate a qualitative charge in the neurone, but it did not work, and he sent his famous “Project for A Scientific Psychology” off to his cohort-Wilhelm Fliessand never asked for it back. It was found among Fliess’s papers, and came to light only a few decades ago in the publication of the Freud-Fliess correspondence as the Origins of Psychoanalysis (Freud, 1954).

Freud would have done better with a metaphor like “vital root” rather than “neurone,” but his Physicalist training under Ernst Briicke prevented him from using a vitalist metaphor. Why? Because Physicalism in alliance with positivism eschewed terms with a metaphysical ring. Neurone is a nice empirical word; “vital root” is a metaphysical metaphor.

I have been working with the metaphor, as a metaphor for consciousness, ever since teaming up with a man who assumed responsibility for replanting it-Alan Chadwick, sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest living gardener. When we started the Student Garden Project at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1967, I witnessed Alan Chadwick’s Singular devotion to creating a garden, working fifteen to eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, without a break. I had to think of some way of putting it. The formulation appropriate to the phenomenon was to say that Alan Chadwick had been uniquely appointed to replant the vital root of existence. The supposition was that if it could happen somewhere, and it had to happen somewhere in order to prove that it was possible in a world where vital roots were endangered and in jeopardy, then it could happen elsewhere, as has been the case, given the thousands of students who have been trained in the methods and systems devoted to the replanting of the vital root, practiced by Chadwick, the French Intensive and Biodynamic. I came to appreciate that these were more than names for styles of hand-intensive systems of horticulture and agriculture, they were forms for the replanting of what industrial society had uprooted.

In fact, they were new forms for the supplanting of industrial society! We had joined a revolutionary movement which erupted nationally in 1970, on a given weekend, when countless Americans celebrated Earth Day I-April 22, 1970. We were ready for it in our garden in Santa Cruz.

After 1970, prompted by the inspiration of Earth Day, I started to think through what historical forces we were opposing in order to get a clear view of what we were up against. It became a marvelous detective story as I began to unravel the clues. Now that I have it mostly figured out, I can see that it has given me the central metaphor for consciousness in the notion of the “vital roots” of consciousness.

Here is how it goes: the ancient Greek term for the “vital root” is thymos, a Homeric word meaning vitality, courage, or spirit. There is now a fairly extensive philological and philosophical literature on thymos, but no one has fully elucidated its philosophical significance, although there have been a number of good attempts, beginning with Tillich (1952), Ricoeur (1965), and Strasser (1977). A new contribution was added by Jutian Jaynes (1977) in his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He utilized what was well known to anyone interested in classical philology, namely, the work of Bruno Snell and the linguistic approach to Homeric anthropology through the analysis of the metaphors for consciousness in the Iliad and Odyssey. Snell found that all the words for consciousness were words that referred to organs or quasi-organs-they had a material ring to them that had to be appreciated in order not to read back into them the subsequent linguistic elaborations of the terminology for consciousness. When Homer said “psyche” he meant the breath, consciousness was “breathing” in the sense of “one gasped one’s last,” the literal meaning of consciousness or “psyche.” Consciousness {“psyche”} is only mentioned in reference to death; there is no “psyche” but this “last gasp.” By the time we get to Plato, “psyche” is the name for a structured consciousness with three parts-the rational, the vital, and the appetitive. Plato’s words are nous, thyoas, and epithymia.

So from Homer to Plato we can catch the growing density in the linguistic evolution of rational self-consciousness-from “vital breath” (in the moment of death, as in, “he blew his life away”), to a structured self-consciousness ruled by reason. The carriers of this development are the pre-Socratic philosophers, about twenty of them, who prepared the way to Socrates as if he was what they meant. I like this existential reference. It has been immortalized in the syllogism:

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The second line in the syllogism is called an enthymeme, when it is understood, in which case the syllogism would read:

All men are mortal
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

An enthymeme, derived from thymos, is in the middle. In principle, we take it for granted. I have come to develop a whole philosophy out of it. I have moved from thinking of thymos as in the middle to thinking of thymos as “vital root.” I had my metaphor for consciousness.

In order to develop a metaphor for consciousness, it is good practice to go back to Homer, where all the terms are metaphors, because Homeric culture is an oral culture, preliterate, and preconceptual. The Homeric metaphors for consciousness are phrenes, thymos, psyche, and nous, etc. They can be considered protoconcepts, or the metaphorical roots of concepts, in the sense that these metaphors for consciousness, based on organs in the body, become the concepts of Plato with no bodily references.

The key metaphor in Homer is thymos, the most widely used term in the Iliad. Imagine my delight when I began to excavate this central term, rather like Schliemann digging up Troy. Forgotten and buried under the successive layers of language, representing the linguistic evolution of rational self-consciousness, thymos was waiting to be found. I was able to dig down to the vital root of consciousness.

When I saw the book by Jaynes (1977), one day as I walked through a local bookstore, I thought-“oh-oh”-somebody got there before me. I saw from the index a number of entries on thymos. I held my breath.

When I got to his definition of thymos, I exhaled. He had missed it by a step. He calls thymos the adrenalin-based reaction to an emergency situation, which is not bad for defining vitality, but more appropriate to epithymia, or the “lesser thymos,” the region of longing-drives, desires, and appetites, below the region of “spirit.” What step had Jaynes missed? No one in the area of classics had made the obvious connection between the word and the bodily organ, even though Snell had specified the relation between psyche and breath, phrenes and liver, etc. Even Snell had missed the obvious. Thymos is the thymus gland. I had found the vital root of consciousness in the thymus gland.

The thymus, therefore, is what Homer referred to when he used the word thymos. This is the hypothesis for unravelling the mystery of the vital root. Although the gland was formally named by Rufus of Ephesus (c. 100 A.D.), the correlation, in Homeric terms, between thymos and thymus carries through the principle of organs, or quasi-organs, as the basis for words for consciousness.

My speculative faculty was set into play when I went on to make the connection with the herb thyme, also derived from thymos. Now I really had a connection with vital roots, although the thymus, as the center of the immune system, was vital root enough.

The herb grows wild all over Greece, and its highly volatile essential oil makes it one of the great germicidal and antiseptic herbs. Therefore, its vital function. Like the thymus, it is a guardian of vitality in the defense against disease and illness. In this role, thyme has always been associated with courage.

The more this configuration of ideas came into focus, the more I was convinced that I had lucked into a key to the riddle of “vital roots” as the leading metaphor for consciousness where thymos was the root. I knew I had to extend the work of Tillich, Ricoeur, Strasser, and Jaynes into further areas of exploration in order to develop a Thymos Doctrine, drawing, as well, from the work of classical philologists-Snel1, Onions, Havelock, Dodds, and Adkins.

Origin of the Word Thymos

Thymos is a Greek word meaning the raising of the soul, passion, courage, spirit. Its origin should be found in the Indo-European root dheu-to rise in a cloud, as dust, vapor or smoke (relation with breath). In Sanskrit, dhumah (dhumo-) means smoke or vapor, giving in Latin “fumus,” in English “fume,” “fumigate,” “perfume.” There is also the idea of undulation, waving, and ebullition. In Irish, dumhach means foggy. In Sanskrit, dhulih (dhuli) means dust or dusty soil or pollen. In middle Irish, duil means desire, movement of the soul. The root dheu (dheua) has the connotation of “being animated by swift movements,” to swirl or whirl. In Sanskrit, dhutah means shaken. In Greek, thuella means storm, whirlwind; thuein: to sacrifice; thuas: incense for sacrifice; thumas: soul, courage, anger. Some authors think that dheues (dhes) belongs to the same root; it became in Greek, theas: God, and theian: smoke or sulfur. Thua originally denotes a violent movement of air, water, the ground, animals, or men. From the sense of “to well up,” “to boil up,” it went to “to smoke” then “to cause to go up in smoke,” “to sacrifice.” Thumas is “that which is moved and which moves,” “vital force”! The meaning of thumos is quite extensive: desire, impulse, inclination, consideration. Later on, thumas took the meaning of “wrath,” particularly in the New Testament.

The Continuing Struggle between Physicalism and Vitalism

The vital root of consciousness is more than the elucidation of a word, although even that is a prodigious task and beyond any single effort. Tillich’s Courage to Be begins the work in his masterful elucidation of the meaning of thymos in Plato, the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc. It is as though Tillich was able to carry through Kant’s failed attempt at developing the transcendental imagination. As we mentioned, according to Heidegger, something happened to Kant to make him recoil from carrying through his interest in the vital root of consciousness in the constitution of the transcendental imagination.

If the problem is the vital root, then we can understand why metaphysics was abandoned and even rejected by the Physicalist trend in the system of the sciences, as if the best way to deal with a problem one has renounced the language for formulating is to bracket it and hope it goes away, as in the Positivist and Linguistic revision of language for the purpose of excluding such issues as “pseudoproblems.” If Kant intuited this and recoiled from it, if Kant saw what was coming-industrial society-and that philosophy would have to accommodate itself to it, then Kant is part of the problem.

When I found the passage in Heidegger, I thought it was too good to be true. Here was Heidegger (1962a), as though complaining about himself and his inability to carry through the project of Being and Time, Heidegger (1962b) isolating the moment in Kant where the recoil from the unknown root occurred-a recoil he was to inherit. It is a commentary, buried in philosophy, of the uprooting of our modem period as a result of the rise and triumph of industrial society. It is the story of how our “courage to be” was undermined and eroded as a result of losing touch with “vital roots.”

So our metaphor for consciousness is indicative of the deepest perplexity in the depths of our culture. We are all worried to death about the outcome of this revived debate, thought settled in 1828 when Physicalism defeated Vitalism (a view repeated throughout the literature, as though a war had been fought to decide the issue). This assumption reigned supreme for a century and a half. Should you look up any references to Vitalism in the literature, including references to philosophy of life (Nietzsche) and philosophy of nature (Schelling), they will uniformly refer to names of defeated points of view-with existentialism inheriting the defeat and presiding over the last rites.

No one could have predicted the reemergence, historically, of defeated Vitalism in the celebration of Earth Day. It is the historical end of existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. Even though the nails may not have given way, the coffin came unglued, and we witnessed the return of a point of view thought dead and buried.

This neo-Vitalist resurgence in the environmental and ecology movements reenjoined the debate. It has lead to the realization of the Thymos as Biopsycltological Metaphor necessity for dismantling industrial society in order to minimize the damage due to its self destruction. What we need now is the amplification of this renewal in a new view of consciousness. For our own point of view, by renewal we mean discovering your thymus gland as the biological basis of your spirit, and we mean discovering the medicinal properties of herbs, as in the herb thyme. These two roots, glandular and herbal, will put you in touch with thymos, the vital root of consciousness. I can sum it up in a parable:

Once upon a time, a famous poet and man of letters, who was also an
accomplished scientist, particularly in botany, dropped out of German society
to take a long walk as though he went in search of something as profound as
the vital root of existence, although he was not able to put his longing into
words, He went south, to Italy, as though in search of cultural roots, mindful
of the danger they were in which he foresaw. Based on his botanical studies,
he was actually in search of his own version of the vital root-what he called
the Ur~plant. He had formulated a theory of plant metamorphosis based on
the relation of leaf to stem. He had envisaged a primal plant exemplifying his
theory, a plant that would be the morphological prototype of all possible plant
development. He wanted to find one.

When he entered the oldest botanical garden in the Western world, in Padua, founded in 1545, he sensed that quest was realized.

When he gazed upon the palm growing in the middle of the garden Chaemerops
humilis-he designated it the Ur-plant.

To commemorate the finding of the Ur-plant in their garden, the Paduans
built a glass case to cover it. They called it “Goethe’s Palm,”

The vital root of existence in the form of the Ur-plant was squirreled away
under glass in the oldest botanical garden in the Western world to wait out the
triumphant rise and self-destructive demise of industrial society as a world
above the given world of nature and therefore devoid of vital roots,

The vital root is alive and well in Padua.

The Pysicalist-Vitalist Conflict in Pschology[iii]

The physicalist-vitalist conflict also pervades the discipline of psychology. On the one hand, we find the “hardheaded” and natural science-inspired approaches in psychology (e.g., physiological psychology, behaviorism, and cognitive psychology), which follow the strictly experimental approach of rigorous scientific causal analysis. This approach seeks to uncover the roots of behavior in the prepersonal terms of physiological and psychological functions, without appeal to the experienced reality of consciousness and personal self-agency. In this view, behavior is a consequence of antecedent reinforcement and situational manipulation circumventing the awareness and choice of the participants; action is the result of the operation of certain information processing loops steered by feedback. The physicalistic-positivistic approach is the serious attempt to simulate man as an assembly of variables and response tendencies with a general information-processing capability of an “artificial” intelligence with emergent properties. The ideal of the Physicalist view is the complete simulation of man, the creation of the android under scientific management and control.

On the other side of the psychological spectrum, there are the “soft” humanistic and existential approaches which insist on the reality of selfhood, self-realization, and self-agency, and which emphasize the importance of personal consciousness, of meaning and values. The activities of each human individual require an “intentional analysis” and interpretational reading, a Uhermeneutics of existence,” rather than a causal analysis. Human reality is preinterpreted reality; people act on the meanings they perceive the situation to have. Action implies choices between alternatives, choices of direction leading into the future and ultimately to the creation of a way of life. The Vitalist emphasis in psychology stresses the reality of embodiment, meaningfulness and intensity of experience. It is thus sympathetic with both the human-potential movement in humanistic psychology and its emphasis on the experience of the body, and transpersonal psychology, which retains an appreciation for man’s vital connectedness with the realities of the spirit, of values, and ultimately with the realm of the Divine. The existential emphasis on authenticity, on the right relationship of the person to others and to his/her world, also represents the Vitalist position of insistence on quality, on will, and on commitment, on the courage to be, the courage to incarnate values.

Methodologically the humanistic and existential approaches emphasize case studies, descriptions of experiences, and personal stories, working directly on one’s involvement and experiences in the sense of a spiritual and psychological praxis. The expression of experience becomes important; the use of personal testimony, of symbols and metaphors, is seen as helping the interpretation and serving as guiding images and is favored over conceptual classification, measurement, and the expression of knowledge as cognitive objects.

Although the natural scientific approach moves in a denotative way, using specified operational definitions, the humanistic-existential approach favors connotative ways, which are suggestive, which invite participation, and which emphasize the plurality of meanings that symbols can carry. Although the physicalist-positivist psychologies aim for mastery and control by a professional scientific elite (e.g., computer diagnostics), the vitalist psychologies seem to favor and further emancipation, self development, and taking matters in one’s own hands. The search for the appropriate metaphor and symbol to live by and the task to embody spiritual insight, wisdom, and knowledge in a viable and responsible assembly of activities and in collaboration with a social ensemble, defines the vitalist task in psychology: to create an optimal way of life together, on Earth, from within the conditions in which we find ourselves. In this day and age, the issues are defined by the limits to technological carrying capacity in a limited earth-resource environment, a historical development that has brought our very rootedness in the land, in our body, and in our spirit (as the source of illumination as to the right way on earth) into question and existential jeopardy.

The journey and account of one person through this complex interdisciplinary terrain of issues and ruling metaphors, and his discovery of a root of renewed existence in “double digging” (the biodynamic French intensive mode of horticulture), in the ecology movement, in the Greek word thymos, in the herb thyme, and in the human thymus gland, offers a Vitalist testimonial and a summons to everyone to become involved with roots again. The story of the journey evokes our personal and collective existence in its unfolding. Thymos is a vital reality and a biopsychological metaphor that may keep us on the right track by calling us to our roots and to the sources of our vitality, to the ground of our life-making.

Cassirer, E. The problem of knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
Cuthbertson, T. Alan Chadwick’s enchanted garden. New York: Dutton, 1978.
Freud, S. Letters to Wilhelm Fliess. In M. Bonaparte, A. Freud, & E. Kris (Eds.), Origins of
Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books, 1954.
Heidegger, M. Kant and the problem of metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1962. (a)
Heidegger, M. Being and time. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. (b)
Jaynes, J. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bialmeral mind. Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin, 1977.
leavon, J. How to grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you can
imagine. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1979.
Judson, H. The eighth day of creation: The makers of revolution in biology. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1979.
Kuhn, T. H. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Merz, J. History of European thought in the nineteenth century. Darby, Penna.: Arden Library,
Ricoeur, P. Fallible man. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965.
Strasser, S. Phenomenology affeeling. Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Duquesne University Press,
Tillich, P. The courage to be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.
Tillich, P. Systematic theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
Watson, J. D. The double helix. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Weil., S. The need for roots. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Additional Reference
For the best introduction to the botanical origins of modem science, see:
Annytage, W. H. The rise of the technocrats, a social history. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1965.

[i] The best introduction to this conflict is E. Cassirers (1950) The Problem of Knawledge, J. Men’s (1978) A History a/European Scientific Thought in the Nineteenth Century, and T. Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions

[ii] Kierkegaard’s notes are contained in his Papers and Diaries (an unpublished manuscript
amounting to some 75 pages in Danish). For other references to his attendance at Schel·
ling’s lectures, see the last volume of his papers, translated by Howard and Edna Hong.
Paul Tillich calls these notes the “Ur·text of Existentialism.”

[iii] The remainder of this chapter was written by Rolf von Eckartsberg, and is included with the
author’s permission and approval.-Eds.


Meaning of Health

by Paul A. Lee

The depiction of Hygieia in the mural devoted to medicine at the University of Vienna, by Gustav Klimt, expresses the artistic and cultural background that formed Paul Tillich as a German philosopher and theologian. Vienna was the center for the “fin-desiecle,” as well as the center for many of the prophetic visions and movements of the century to come, expressed in the Viennese novelists and satirists Karl Kraus, Musil, Kafka, Brock, Von Dodderer. Freud discovered psychoanalysis there, when, as a latter-day Heraclitus, he searched for himself, like a deep-sea diver, and began the process of self and other-analysis, which, along with Existentialism and Expressionism, became the form-breaking powers of the 20th century. As the daughter of Asclepias, Hygieia is the bearer of healing power, particularly in her priestess and hieratic pose in Klimt’s rendering. Bearing snakes, the ancient symbol of the convergence of poison and medicine (where dosage determines the difference), Hygieia heralds “the unity of life and death, the interpenetration of instinctual vitality and personal dissolution.” (Schorske). The snakes of Asclepias, wound on the staff, the caduceus, were said to come out at night and lick the wounds of those who came to sleep in the temples in a practice known as “incubation,” where the God would appear in a dream omen announcing the prospects for a cure.

In his comprehensive discussion of Western modes of healing, Tillich mentions how Asclepias vied with the Christ as the preeminent bearer of healing the Great Physician of the ancient world. When I was a young graduate student at Union Theological Seminary, I heard Tillich deliver the Bampton Lectures at Columbia University-Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality, where he overcame the Humpty Dumpty problem in Western religion by putting the two cultures together again in all of their dialectical tension Athens and Jerusalem. While at Union, I discovered the essay–The Relation of Religion and Health and copied it out longhand. As the son of a doctor, I had decided against medicine and for theology and philosophy as a career. Tillich restored to me the lost unity of these two subject matters, as well, by placing the theme of ‘healing’ and the meaning of health in its old cosmic frame, within the context of salvation and its etymological origins. Healing is restored to its religious dignity. Tillich shows this ancient unity of powers and functions before their historical separation. He anticipated the longing for their mutual convergence as currently expressed in the Holistic Health Movement now sweeping the country in all of its varied forms. As a thinker on the boundary line, Tillich was able to negotiate territory neglected by others who remained bound to the confines of their own viewpoints and specialties. He was able to show the deep associations between otherwise seemingly separated fields. Therefore, the current split between industrial medicine and traditional medicine, as practiced worldwide in non-industrial nations, as well as ethnic groups in rural areas everywhere, is an unfortunate consequence of a trend of a century and a half. When biochemistry isolated the active ingredients of natural medicine to synthesize artificially from inorganic sources, biochemistry undermined the botanical foundation of medicine. Tillich’s discussion reviews the long historic development and sets the stage for re-evaluating the contribution of neglected and rejected styles in the healing arts burdened by their association with religion and a vitalist approach to health and disease. In “The Religion of Health and Tillich” sketches out the background for what he carried through in “The Courage to Be.” I have come to call it “The Thymos Doctrine,” the old Homeric word Tillich translated as “The Courage to Be.” When I found out that the word for the herb thyme and for the gland thymus were cognates, thymos became the theme for my life’s work.

In my judgment, Tillich anticipated the development of modern immunology in “The Courage to Be”. Once one follows  through the meaning of ‘thymos’ in the discovery of the thymus and the central role of the thymus in immunology, as well as the classic herb thyme in the rediscovery of the healing properties of herbs and the significance of traditional or herbal medicine worldwide, “The Courage to Be” is seen as an essay in theological and philosophical immunology, a discourse on the vital dynamics of self-affirmation in the face of all that would undo and destroy us, where our constitutional defense is called into play, otherwise known as our immune system. Tillich gives us a spiritual biology of the immune system, where “The Courage to Be” is our thymic vigor. After reading in the field of immunology for the last ten years, it is possible to mount a new argument for the existence of God based on the infinite diversity of antibody response to antigens (anti-body generating). As though to fulfill the vision of Leibnitz that we live in the ‘best of all possible worlds,’ immunology is now discovering that we have the best of all possible immune systems. With his unerring facility for language and theoretical formulation, Tillich picked just the right word for his pursuit of the meaning of health and the relation of religion and health begun here in these two essays as the background for “The Courage to Be.” The Thymos Doctrine is sketched out here in his effort to construct a theoretical model of the human self for the purpose of determining a complex of relations necessary for any discussion of the meaning of health. This model, although the term’ thymos’ is not mentioned, should be read as the theoretical background for the subseql’ent elucidation. To read these two essays as a preparation for “The Courage to Be” provides the student of health with a rich historical and theoretical background. It is appropriate to introduce this material into the current discussion for the sake of supporting the quest for models of wholeness that overcome the bifurcation of the healing arts into technical specialties with everyone lost in their own niche. It is time for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. To think through the cultural modalities of the healing arts in order to restore the full dimensions of human health is the task we all share in this late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. Tillich points the way, as he tried to do in everything he thought and wrote, as one of the great fighters against the demonic ‘structures of destruction’ that would destroy life as we know it on this earth, whether through synthetic simulation or radiation and pollution. Healing, again, can become a religious vocation, when the medical arts and sciences join with the priest and the prophet, the curendero and native healer, in the mutual acknowledgement of converging domains, where wholeness is the consequence of a new “planet medicine.” This “planet medicine” is the avowed goal of the World Health Organization.

In 1978, upon the successful completion of the campaign to rid the world of smallpox, Dr. Halfdan Mahler, the Director-General, announced the goal for the year 2000 “Health For All” through the promotion and advancement of traditional medicine worldwide. For someone like myself, a student of Tillich’s, and a spokesman for the medicinal herb renaissance in America, this goal strikes me as the basis for one of the most creative and promising dialogues of the next two decades. When I met a second year Stanford Medical School student a native American Indian who told me about his initiation into the herbal medicine of his tribe, I thought I had encountered the best example of the new ‘cross-fertilization of cultures,’ which the dialogue between traditional, basically herbal, medicine and modern industrial medicine entails. In such figures, we may hope to see the confluence of themes and trends, styles and models of medicine and health, developed in different times and in various climes, brought together, for the benefit of all. In this way, the healing arts and sciences and their history, so richly reviewed here with all of their problems and complexities brought to light, may contribute again to the history of salvation.


A Woman’s Herbal, by Jeannine Parvat, Freestone Collective, 1978. AS C LEP lAS, by Karl Kerenyi, Bollingen Books, Princeton University Press.

FIN-DE-SIECLE, by Carl Schorske, Random House, 1981. HYGIEIA,

IDENTITY AND THE LIFE CYCLE, by Erik Erikson, Psychological Issues 1,1, International Universities Press, New York, 1979

PLANET MEDICINE, by Richard Grossinger, Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1980.

THE BIOLOGY OF ULTIMATE CONCERN, by Theodosius Dobzhansky, New American Library, New York, 1967.

““The Courage to Be””, by Paul Tillich, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1952.

THE DOUBLE FACE OF JANUS and Other Essays in the History of Medicine, by Owsei Temkin, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1978.

THE METAPHORS OF CONSCIOUSNEss, ed. byRonaldS. Valle and Rolf von Eckartsberg, Chap. 25, “Thymos as Biopsychological Metaphor: The Vital Root of Consciousness,” by Paul Lee, Plenum Press, New York, 1981.

“Wholeness and Totality,” in TOTALITARIANISM, C. J. Friedrich, ed., Harvard University Press, 1954.