Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Womb with Three Views

A beautiful parable.

A Womb with Three Views 
by Donald DeMarco

It did not happen. But it could have happened. It is a matter of historical record that Plato was born in Ancient Greece, Aquinas in the Middle Ages, and Jean-Paul Sartre in the Twentieth Century. Yet it would not have been impossible, in the lottery of life, for all three of these talented thinkers to have been conceived by the same woman and, to stretch the imagination to its outer edge, to have been united in the womb as fraternal triplets.
What thoughts might these three extraordinary individuals have shared in their close quarters if they were as precocious in the womb as they were prolific in the world! As philosophers in the world, each of them dominated the intellectual climate of his day; each was a milestone in the history of Western thought. Together they summarize three radically different views of God and life: Plato represented pagan acceptance; Aquinas, Christian reception; Sartre, atheistic rejection.
If the notion of three embryonic philosophers dialoguing in the womb seems a bit fanciful, it may be worth noting that the small world of the womb has often been regarded as a prototype of the larger world outside. An ancient Jewish proverb states that in the womb man knows his cosmic connection, and after he is born, must rediscover it. Psychotherapist Rollo May claims the womb provides “a state of we-nests” which makes language and communication possible. Media guru Marshall McLuhan remarked that all our senses may very well be “specialized variants” of “womb-wise” touch. Thomas Merton compared the child in the womb with the cloistered religious when he referred to him as “Planted in the night of contemplation/Sealed in the dark waiting to be born.”
Furthermore, our imaginative dialogue is not altogether without historical foundation. Let us recall the Visitation recorded in Luke’s gospel, when Elizabeth’s child “leaped in her womb” at the recognition of another child in the womb—Jesus.
It is late in the prenatal development of our precocious and prolific trio. They have slumbered deeply for several months and now, having awakened from that long period of peace, begin to make observations, raise questions, and draw certain personal conclusions. The one who will be known as Plato proposes a most ingenious theory. He judges the womb to be a deprived environment where shadow has been separated from substance. He argues that the womb is but a prison and that outside it is a world infinitely richer and more real. “There is a being who is good and who sustains and nourishes us,” he reasons, “but we must find the courage to get out of our cave-like dwelling and enter the light so that we may come to know this being. If we continue to feast on shadows, we will remain entirely oblivious to reality.”
Aquinas listens intently as Plato waxes eloquent. But he is more patient. There is such a being, he agrees. And the life that awaits us when we are delivered from this exile is indeed more beautiful and more satisfying than anything we can imagine. “We must have hope. These ‘shadows,’ as you call them,” he explains to Plato in a confident tone, “are also real and have their own value and purpose. We must wait and hope, and in due time we will be delivered. We will finally meet the being who sustains and nourishes us, but only when the time is propitious.”
The third occupant, having listed attentively to the other two, shakes his head angrily. “Neither of you are being realistic in any sense! You do not have the courage to face the brute fact that this is a squalid and hopeless place. Because you cannot admit to the absurdity of our existence in this dismal and congested chamber, you imagine beautiful places that simply do not exist. You must accept the absurdity of your fate. Only then will you be free. Your wishful fabrications can only prevent you from being truly yourselves.”
Plato and Aquinas try very hard to explain the doctrine of cause and effect to their cynical sibling. They reason that since we are not the cause of our being, and since we are not the authors of our own life, spirit, and capacity to think, there must be some higher cause that produces these effects. If you follow the law of reason, they advise, you too will conclude that there must be an order of reality that transcends this gloomy confine and our humble mode of existence.
“All I know is what I see,” Sartre replies. “I can do without superstitious nonsense.” Then Aquinas, speaking very gently, says that he understands his brother’s doubts and that he has many doubts of his own, but whenever he is plagued by uncertainties, he prefers to believe in more reality than in less.
Upon hearing this, Sartre becomes even more enraged and shakes the umbilical cords so vehemently that he momentarily shuts off the air supply. “Don’t do that,” gasps Plato, after regaining his equilibrium. “You are acting like a being without reason.”
Aquinas antagonizes Sartre even further by lecturing him on the virtues of commutative justice and fraternal charity.
“Let me put it as bluntly as I can,” Sartre snaps. “There is no exit from this place. And what is more, I do not owe either of you anything. I belong to myself alone. And frankly, after listening to your verbal inanities, I am convinced more than every that man’s greatest trial is other people. In fact, if I may coin a phrase, ‘Hell is other people.’ And one more thing! These cords you seem to think are so important are really fetters. I shall cut them; only then shall we be free.”
“No!” Aquinas bellows. “These cords connect us with the source of our nourishment and love. We are dependent beings. If we sever our connections with the being who sustains us, we shall surely die.”
“If we remain attached to another,” Sartre retorts, “we cannot be ourselves, we cannot be the masters of our own destiny.”
“Our freedom lies in obedience,” Aquinas answers, “and in the wisdom to love and serve the one who is our Master.” “Knowledge will be our freedom,” adds Plato. Yet Sartre remains adamant: “Faith in anyone else is bad faith. I believe in myself. Now please leave me alone.”
Plato, in a more reflective mood, calls attention to the low, steady beats that reverberate throughout the womb. “These rhythmic sounds,” he muses, are the footsteps of the demiurge who assisted in our creation. He lingers awhile to be assured that we are all right.”
Sartre reproaches him one again: “These endless, repetitious sounds I hear overwhelm me with a feeling of nausea. They are as senseless as life itself and serve only to announce our impending doom.”
“I beg to differ with you,” Aquinas states, almost apologetically. “I believe these ever-present beats are a sign that we are under constant protection. Moreover, I believe that this protection is a natural emanation from a source of continual love.”
More time passes. The triangular dispute remains unresolved. Then the hour arrives when spasms occur and jostle the embryonic trinity. The walls of their fleshy incubator contracts and convulses with increasing severity. The trio are now tumbling and careening into each other. “What is happening?” they exclaim in unison. “We are dying!” answers Plato. “This is absurd!” shouts Sartre. “Have faith!” urges Aquinas.
Soon the spasms become more frequent and intensify to the point that they expel the three philosophers from their tiny hermitage and force them down through a narrow corridor.
“You see,” says Sartre. “It is just as I have maintained; life is utterly absurd and can lead only to even greater absurdities.” “Truly we are dying,” Plato moans. “No,” says Aquinas calmly: “In death we are born to life; the seed must die so that it may live to a higher life.”
The discussion is ended. With one last great spasm, the three are forced out into the world. They are chilled by the cold and confused by their first experience of weight. As they cry, air fills their lungs for the first time. And then they meet the being whom they both sought and denied, the being who sustained and nourished them.
Her name, however, is not “freedom,” or “first cause” or “demiurge,” but mother. And she is more tender and more beautiful and more loving than they could possibly have imagined. Now the philosophers live in an extra-uterine environment that none of them can possibly deny. Yet their quarrel persists and follows a familiar pattern. Plato is anxious to find his way out of this world of earthly shadows, while Sartre insists that this new environment is all there is. But Aquinas, still patient and full of faith and hope, continues to believe in even more reality.


  1. It did not happen. It could not happen. As a result of the human bipedal gait, the human female pelvic outlet is narrow. Owing to the relatively large human brain, human babies are born comparatively immature, and a lot of brain growth occurs after birth, otherwise the size of the foetal head would preclude natural birth.

    Foetuses just don't have the brain development to engage in intrauterine dialogue.

    And John the future baptist leaping with joy in the uterus of Elizabeth at the recognition of Jesus within Mary isn't historical. It's blatant fiction. Luke, assuming that he's the gentile traveling companion of Paul, wouldn't, couldn't have the slightest idea of Mary's pregnancy.

    What a silly thread.

    1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyApril 14, 2013 at 8:50 AM

      bach, that little screed could serve as a prototype for the Lament of the Meat Machine...

      [Imagine if you will... the leader of the fifth invader force speaking to the commander in chief...]

      "I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."

      "No brain?"

      "Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat!"

      "So... what does the thinking?"

      "You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat."

      "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"

      -- excerpted from a short sci-fi story by Terry Bisson

      No, bach, there was no alien invasion force either. Nor was there a Hamlet, Captain Ahab, Uncle Tom, Anna Karenina, or David Copperfield. No lesson to be learned from those non-entities! It's all fictional hogswallop.

      I daresay Australopithecus would be proud of you for maintaining the preliterate Pavlovian perspective.

      Oh, and those cave paintings at Lasceaux? Picasso's "Guernica"? Made-up. Fictional. Those events didn't really happen.

    2. that little screed could serve as a prototype for the Lament of the Meat Machine...

      I've read that story. I don't think you actually understand it.

  2. bachfire may be many things but he sure is no poet!

    It is frightening what materialistic reductionism will do to a man!

    1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyApril 14, 2013 at 9:37 AM


      For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
      Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
      And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
      Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
      And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
      Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride...

      Everybody knows the moon doesn't bring dreams. It's just a bunch of bullshit. And people don't "feel" bright eyes. There is no mechanical deformation or temperature change of the skin whatsoever. And eyes aren't "bright" anyway. No emission of photons whatsoever. Just reflection. Get serious.

      That poetry stuff is a crock.

    2. Pépé,

      Idiot. I've told that the inability to get a moniker right is a sign of mental deficiency. It's 'bachfiend', not 'bachfire'.

      Fictional stories are very useful in illustrating truths that true stories aren't able to do, because reality is unfortunately messy. But stories should be 'believable'. My rule of thumb is that a story is allowed one unbelievable element, but that after that, the story has to be consistent.

      My favourite story is Franz Kafka's 'die Verwandlung', which, once you get past the first page in which Gregor Samsa finds himself to have been changed into a giant cockroach overnight. After that, everything is consequent. It also has the most beautiful death I know of in fiction, rivalling that of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

      This fable; too many impossibilities. Starting with Plato, Thomas of Aquinas and Satre sharing a uterus. And from then on, the bullshit gets piled on thickly in layers.

    3. That poetry stuff is a crock.

      "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
      Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
      Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
      With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine."

      A Midsummer Night’s Dream
      (William Shakespeare)


    4. It's 'bachfiend', not 'bachfire'.

      Sorry, I meant backfire. That moniker suits you a lot better...

    5. Pépé,

      For poetry nothing can match:

      It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,
      Clothed with many plants of many kinds,
      With birds singing on the bushes,
      With various insects flitting about,
      And with worms crawling through the damp earth,
      And to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms,
      So different from each other,
      And dependent on each other in so complex a manner,
      Have all been produced by laws acting around us.


      There is grandeur in this view of life,
      With its several powers,
      Having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one;
      And that, whilst this planet goes cycling on
      According to the fixed law of gravity,
      From so simple a beginning endless forms
      Most beautiful and most wonderful
      Have been, and are being, evolved.

    6. Pépé,

      OK if I just call you 'idiot' in future? That suits you better than Pépé?

    7. backfire, your copy/paste sucks! Here is the correct sentence:

      Having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one;

      Besides, you sure do have a problem if you confuse just-so story telling with poetry!

    8. Idiot,

      No, I was quoting the 1st and best edition of 'Origins'. The 2nd edition wasn't as good.

      Anyway, I don't particularly like poetry. I prefer a nicely turned piece of prose.

      I quoted 'Origins' to pull on your chain, and I succeeded

  3. I have read a bit of Sartre over the years. Fictions about drug addicted artists and whores in Paris and things like that. It had a style about it, and it had fascinated my late dad in his younger years . So, out of a kind of duty to the old man I investigated. Not poorly written, but a very seedy subject matter.
    A creative (in a reductive way) chap.
    But a comparison with Aquinas and Plato?
    My goodness. None to be made.
    And that is no attack on Sartre. The moderns in general, perhaps.
    One would be hard pressed to find anything post Renaissance that would remotely touch the Classical and Medieval masters.

  4. The only thing that Egnor contributes to this thread is the headline 'A beautiful parable'.

    A parable is something that actually could have happened in reality. It's a plausible story. Such as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Completely believable as happening.

    In fact researchers managed to replicate it with theology students who were contrived to be in a hurry to give a talk on the Good Samaritan in another building to see whether they'd ignore someone in apparent distress on the way (they did). Not quite the same point as made in the Jesus story.

    This story isn't a parable. It couldn't happen. It's an allegory or a fable.


    Since you seem fascinated by science fiction, have you read Philip Jose Farmer's series of 'Riverworld' novels? The first is 'to Your Scattered Bodies Go', in which almost all humans who have ever lived find themselves resurrected on an alien planet.

    'Souls' play an important part of the novels. All are available as eBooks (probably that's the only way they're available). I plan to read the fifth and last 'the Gods of Riverworld' next week...

    1. bach:

      Just bought the book on kindle, at your recommendation. Looks good. I've been thinking about the afterlife a lot this Easter. Very topical.


    2. Michael,

      Once you've read the first one, you're 'obliged' to read the further 4.

      It started as a Douglas Adams' type trilogy, then the 3rd and last was realised to be too long, so it was split into 2. Then the 5th came along to fill in the gaps in the previous 4 (but appears to start as a continuation of the 4th).

      It's basically a continuous story with no conclusion so far. Hopefully the 'Gods of Riverworld' will have a satisfying ending.

  5. If dentists where under the same kind of public pressure and terrorist threat that abortion doctors are, we would be reading rouge dentist horror stories. If you make abortion illegal, you won’t stop abortion, you’ll just make them all much more like this.