The Other I

February 24, 2010

Was Plato left-handed?

I know:  along with deciding what to put on the table for this evening’s meal, whether Plato was left-handed is the most urgent question facing most of us as we press forward with our daily lives.  

So how did I think up this vital question?  The reason I’ve been wondering is that there is a pattern among a small group of people – mostly men.  They are often brilliant mathematicians, are left-handed, and think that the world of absolute numbers actually exists in a separate universe from the imperfect world we inhabit.

Today, the majority of people who believe in another universe besides ours do so for religious reasons – it is where God and the angels and the departed who have achieved sainthood live.  But it didn’t start as a religious idea.  Plato lived four centuries before Christ, and his “perfect world” was not one inhabited by God but by perfect forms.  Today, people in the modern world who believe in other universes for reasons that are not religious tend to be mathematical geniuses.  There are also cultures where people believe that the world into which they move in their dreams also has an objective existence.

They think they have direct experience of this other universe in the same way most of us feel we have direct experience of the ordinary world around us.  We “ordinary people,” occasionally might get a glimpse of why this alternative world feels so real when we ourselves can’t remember if we dreamed something or if it really happened.  Our memory of the experience is the same, and sometimes we even have to ask someone else if it happened or not.

So I’ve begun to wonder just when, and how far, and under what conditions we can trust the validity of our own experiences.

Anyway, that’s why I began to wonder if Plato was left-handed.  I’m pretty sure he was brilliant.  And I’d guess he was mathematically gifted.  And I’m pretty sure he experienced that world he described where perfect forms exist.

For myself, I don’t think so.   Even though that leads to a lot of philosophical problems that I’m not even going to begin to get into tonight.

Besides I’m still fighting the tail-end of the flu.  Can you tell?


  1. I wonder how many of those other universes are the same, with the same inhabitants?

    On another tangent, I find it interesting that both Plato & Kant (in their very different ways) came up with approaches which represented alternatives to thoroughgoing empiricism. In Plato’s case it was forms which we ‘learn’ by recollection, not by abstracting from experience. In Kant’s case it was synthetic a priori preconditions for experience & knowledge (time, causation etc) – rather than assuming we can only get our concepts of time, causation etc from experience & empirical knowledge.

    Evolutionary psychology now seems to be providing alternative approaches for why (and/or how) we ‘know’ things like these fundamental concepts (number, time, object, theory of ‘mind’, causation etc), which other more particular knowledge presupposes. Which is probably why I find it so fascinating…

    Thanks again,
    thinking makes it so


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — February 27, 2010 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for such an intriguing insight. It seems obvious now that you point it out, but I never thought of comparing Plato, Kant, and evolutionary psychology in terms of how we come to know. What evolutionary psychology suggests – which is one of the things I like best about it – is that our “knowledge” is always the result of an interaction of the object of our knowledge and our capacity to interpret it. We can never know something “objectively,” as it were, uninfluenced by our own capacity to know. And there are some things that possibly we cannot know at all – at least at this point of our evolution. Just as bees can see colors we can’t, and dolphins hear sounds, there must be other realities out there too that I can’t “see.”

      You do keep me thinking. Thank you. Terry – The Other I


      Comment by theotheri — February 28, 2010 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

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