ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή (Heraclitus)1
It seems that only one course is open to the philosopher who values knowledge and truth above all else. He must refuse to accept from the champions of the forms2 the doctrine that all reality is changeless, and he must turn a deaf ear to the other party3 who represent reality as everywhere changing. Like a child begging for ‘both’, he must declare that reality or the sum of things is both at once. (Plato, Sophist 249c)
Philosophers appear to be engaged in a sort of triangular duel (Rupert Lodge)4
when each of these [three arts of the trivium] is viewed not singly but as one of a set of Siamese triplets, the perspective changes enormously as does the entire significance of every development in their histories. (Eric McLuhan)5
The notion that there is a kind of triple beat to reality itself and, therefore, to all philosophy and to all human experience whatsoever, goes back at least to Heraclitus. But the notion is common in mythologies and is probably much older, stretching far back into pre-history.
The third position is what is called a superposition in quantum physics. It accounts for all of the possible subpositions but also, and this is one of its mysteries, it itself appears in the spectrum of possible subpositions. Other great mysteries are: why are there subpositions at all? And once they come to be somehow, how do they hold out against the overwhelming power of the superposition?
- The way up and the way down are one and the same (B60). This is one of the two epigrams from Heraclitus to Eliot’s Four Quartets. ↩
- The gods in the heights above. ↩
- The giants in the depths below. ↩
- ‘Balanced Philosophy and Eclecticism’, Rupert C. Lodge, The Journal of Philosophy, 41:4, February, 1944, 85-91. This article is in McLuhan’s papers in Ottawa, but misnamed in the finding aid as ‘Balanced Philosophy and Scholasticism’. Lodge’s “triangular duel” is that of the three fundamental assumptions — realism, idealism and pragmatism — which he saw as basic, always in one of these modes, to all human experience. McLuhan was very familiar with Lodge’s hypothesis from his work with him between 1931 and 1934 at the University of Manitoba and especially from Lodge’s 1934 paper, ‘Philosophy and Education‘. See Taking Lodge to Cambridge and beyond and McLuhan and Lodge (‘Philosophy and Education’) for citations and discussion. ↩
- ‘Introduction’ to The Medium and the Light, 1999, xii. The full passage (beginning on xi): “He (McLuhan) decided that he had to master and then draw the outlines of the trivium, which had for many centuries been the traditional Western system for organizing intellectual activity. The trivium compressed all knowledge into three streams: rhetoric (communication), dialectic (philosophy and logic), and grammar (
literature, both sacred and profane, including modes of interpretation). Grammar included written texts of all sorts, as well as the world and the known universe, which were considered as a book to be read and interpreted, the famous ‘Book of Nature’. Incredible as it may seem, the job had never before been done. Certainly, there were — and are — plenty of histories of philosophy, for example, and histories of literature as well as accounts of rhetoric. But when each of these (arts of the trivium) is viewed not singly but as one of a set of Siamese triplets, the perspective changes enormously as does the entire significance of every development in their histories.” Eric probably got the phrase ‘Siamese triplets’ from a caption in the University of Toronto Varsity newspaper, October 5, 1979, 6. ↩