Remembering the Ancients

Imagine coming to a cinema halfway through the featured film, at the time when the climax of the story has started to build up, the identities of the characters have unraveled and the anticipation of the audience has mounted to another level.  It is still possible to feel excitement in this situation but the excitement has to compete with a thousand and one questions that whirl in our mind.  That is the price of coming late for a movie date. When we miss a substantial part of the movie’s preliminaries, we are bound to experience a kind of vacuum within and this can easily distract us from the movie’s narrative or  cinematic effects.

In our age however, this minor inconvenience can easily be remedied.  Most movies shown in theatres are preceded by comprehensive reviews long before their debut. In other words, when a cineaste visits a movie house, she is already loaded with substantial information about the movie she wants to see.  She might have read something from blogs or heard comments from talk shows or have browsed the movie’s book version. If she fails to do any of this, she can wait for the next screening and then tie up the loose ends once the movie starts again. Besides, most people these days no longer go to the cinema to watch a movie.  Movies today are either downloaded or burned and they are shown, no longer in huge cinema halls, but in offices, bedroom, waiting lounges, public transportations, practically any place where we can safely hold our gadgets where the movies are stored as files.

There is no shortage of options as long as the topic is confined to missing the beginning of a movie.  I guess it won’t be as easy once the issue shifts to life itself, how it began and how much we do not know about it.  As in the example given, we came to life in midstream. Events have taken place and episodes have transpired long before we barged into the scene.  History is past precisely because it is always ahead of us.  Like our tardy moviegoer, our advent to life is the entry of someone who is late for the screening. That explains why human existence is marked by so many unknowns.  This partial blindness to basic truths about life gives occasion to uncertainty but still, others take it as a motivation to journey and to search.

In the beginning of human civilization, our ancestors mitigate this problem of human condition by seeking recourse to religion, rituals, mysticism and superstition. They drew assurance and consolation from the latter to sustain them through a life marred by instability and doubt. From them, they derive answers that are ready-made and repeatable.  When we are dealing with something greater than ourselves, we often look for a north to give us constancy of direction.  In the old days, religion, ritual, mysticism and superstition perform that function. Then at one point, somewhere in ancient Greece, a group of people thought that maybe there is more to reality than what is prescribed by the oracle and the pronouncements of the gods.  There might be, they thought, a way of seeing life other than what is purported by the temple keepers and the worship leaders. Rather than relying on their word, these new breed of seekers started taking nature as it is – courting it, coaxing it to reveal its riches and secrets.  For this reason, these early thinkers are called sometimes as the first natural scientists because of their efforts to understand nature in its own terms. Their names, literally and otherwise, are indeed Greek – Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander among others.  They were collectively referred to by scholars as the Milesians. Their goal was to determine the primary stuff that underlies reality. They came up with different theories.  Thales thought it was water. Anaximenes thought it was air. For Anaximander, it was something undefinable.  Despite their differences, they were in agreement that a new and different way of looking at the world is possible.  They were breaking new grounds though unaware that they were laying the ground for a discourse which will be later known as philosophy.

We remember the ancients because they remind us of philosophy’s origin. While it can be said that philosophy historically began from Greece at around 6th century BC, it is also true that its being historical does not only mean it originated from the past; it also means its origin stems from our human nature to seek an alternative way of looking at the world.  Philosophy therefore has no fixed and single history because it always begins, even today, even from us, every time we venture to search for a way of looking at life differently.