/ Philosophy

Dear Plato

I feel like I need to get something off my chest.

I don't really like the classical elements very much. It's not that I hate them or anything. They've been good to me. I get them. I've worked well with them for the last decade and a half.

It's more like I think it's time to move on. I'm breaking up with the platonic elements. It's not them, it's definitely me. I've changed as a person and our relationship really isn't serving me very much. I'm not getting anything out of it really, but I'm still calling and going through the motions. And it's time for me to make a clean break.

I don't mind that a lot of my friends are still having their relationships with the elements. On the contrary I'm really happy that they're engaging in things they find meaningful, relevant, and valuable. And It's not like I'm never going to see the four elements again. I can't really avoid them. They're at my friends houses, at religious events I go to, and damn near every magical book I pick up is going to be talking about them. They're like the most popular band in pagandom.

Relationship metaphor aside: I'm a software engineer and data architect by trade. Taxonomies and classifications are something that I deal with in the abstract pretty much every day. Part of my job is being able to look at a system of classification and see its strengths and weaknesses, and decide whether or not it is useful in my context. I'm realizing that the four elements are not contextually useful to me any more.

I have a bunch of reasons. The most important is that the classification system is so cluttered it has started making things less clear and delineated rather than more so. Take Earth for example.

  • Earth is matter.
  • It is physical form.
  • It is property and wealth, which is a human abstraction.
  • It is tradition, which is a practical-temporal abstraction.
  • It is death, which is a temporal-spatial abstraction.
  • It is silence, which is observational.
  • It is the winter, which is temporal

I'll stop there. When we think of or talk about Earth, the element, we're alluding to all those things and many many more. And the more studied and experienced we are, the longer the list becomes. Earth is a symbol for a vast library of strong and weak correspondencies that I doubt could ever be fully documented.

And that is tremendously powerful. I get that. I get how powerful it is to be able to use a single word to express this vast experience that is Earth. I understand how comfortable, how joyous, it is to explore the mysteries of earth and have deep, complex wisdom seep into your very bones.

But I also understand that the more that is contained in a classification, the less precise our language and experience of it becomes.

I'm breaking up with the elements, because they're sloppy. If I ask a student what their experience of a landscape in a journey was, and they say "earthy," I can easily nod and say I understand what they mean. That seems sensible. It becomes less sensible when you realize that my confirmation bias caused "earthy" to mean "homey, nurturing, and warm," when my student was intending earthy to mean "cold, barren, and silent as the grave".

It's not that there is something fundamentally wrong with the classical elements. They're super-awesome. It's just that I feel like I need to be in relationship with a more explicit language, a less powerfull but more precise set of energies.