Notes to Poem:
Platonic Lambda Sonnet

Peter Y. Chou

Commentary on Poem "Platonic Lambda Sonnet":

West Wind danced from heaven to the ground
    when God breathed into man a living soul

I've borrowed the Biblical account of man's creation— "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."(Genesis 2.7). Zephyrus or Zephyr is the Greek god of the West Wind. It is the gentlest of the Four Winds (Anemoi), messenger of Spring and fructifying wind. Zephyrus lived in a cave in Thrace. Botticelli's Primavera (1478) shows Zephyr, the West Wind, transforming his bride, the nymph Chloris, into Flora, spring itself (Primavera). In "Ode to the West Wind" (1820), Shelley summons Zephyr for divine inspiration. I'm doing likewise here, opening this sonnet with "West Wind" dancing in celebrating man's creation. (Image Source: Zephyrus, West Fork Zephyr)

Where's the soul in the body to be found
    as none is revealed in the Torah scroll?

The Torah also known as the Pentateuch, refers to the Five Books of Moses in the Old Testament— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Torah scroll is a copy of the Torah written on parchment by a trained scribe. According to Jewish tradition the Torah was revealed to Moses in 1312 BC at Mount Sinai. Complete Concordance to the Bible: New King James Version (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1983, pp. 912-913) shows 321 citations of "soul", but mostly in abstract terms, without specification of its locale in the body. (Image Source: Ancient Torah Scroll, Bible History Online)

Sages discerned the soul inside the heart
The rishis or sages of the Upanishads said the soul resides in our heart— smaller than an atom and larger than the whole universe. The Upanishads (circa 800 BC-400 BC) are sacred Hindu texts from sages on the mysteries of the soul. Katha Upanishad I.2.20: "Atman [soul], smaller than a barley grain and greater than the wide universe, is hidden in the human heart. One who is free from desires beholds the majesty of the Self through tranquillity of the senses and the mind and becomes free from grief." The Upanishads: Katha, Isa, Kena, and Mundaka, Vol. I, translated from the Sanskrit by Swami Nikhilananda, Harper & Brothers, NY, 1949 (Bonanza Books, NY), pp. 141-142. (Commentary by Swami Nirmalananda Giri). (Image: The Upanishads, 1965 Penguin Edition)

Descartes inferred it's in the pineal gland
René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French mathematician and philosopher. He discovered analytical geometry and is famous for the saying "I think, therefore I am." But he was highly interested in anatomy and physiology as well. In his last book Passions of the Soul (1649), Descartes regarded the pineal gland as the seat of the rational soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)— "My view is that this gland is the principal seat of the soul, and the place in which all our thoughts are formed. The reason I believe this is that I cannot find any part of the brain, except this, which is not double. Since we see only one thing with two eyes, and hear only one voice with two ears, and in short have never more than one thought at a time, it must necessarily be the case that the impressions which enter by the two eyes or by the two ears, and so on, unite with each other in some part of the body before being considered by the soul. Now it is impossible to find any such place in the whole head except this gland; moreover it is situated in the most suitable possible place for this purpose, in the middle of all the concavities; and it is supported and surrounded by the little branches of the carotid arteries which bring the spirits into the brain." Modern research shows the pineal gland or the "third eye" in the brain produces the serotonin derivative melatonin, a hormone that affects the modulation of wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions. Its shape resembles a tiny pine cone (hence its name). (Image Source: Descartes postage stamp, issued by France, 1937)

It is Atman our essence— That Thou Art
Mahavakyas are "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, the foundational texts of Vedanta. The four Upanishadic statements indicate the ultimate unity of the individual (Atman) with God (Brahman). The Mahavakyas are: (1) prajnanam brahm— "Consciousness is Brahman" (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of Rig Veda). (2) ayam atma brahma— "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of Atharva Veda). (3) tat tvam asi— "That Thou Art" (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of Sama Veda). (4) aham brahmasi— "I am Brahman" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of Yajur Veda)

in our DNA double helix strand
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) consists of two long polymers of nucleotides, with backbones of sugar and phosphate molecules. These two strands are wound into a double helix. The sequence of four nucleotide bases forms the genetic code that determines the amino acids in proteins. Thus our DNA contains the genes of our ancestral parents like a spiral staircase going back to Adam or the "first Atom" (Hydrogen which began the universe in a Big Bang). Chapter 85 in Papyrus of Ani of Egyptian Book of the Dead tells about transformation into the soul of Atum, an early Egyptian deity who was responsible for creation of the universe. Atum emerged as a bubble of air in the vast, limitless ocean of darkness— the undifferentiated primordial waters (Nu) that existed before creation. Later, Atum was linked with the setting sun, who gave birth to Shu (Wind) and Tefnut (Moisture). (Egyptian Book of Life; Egyptian Cosmology). It's interesting that Adam, Atom, and Atum sound alike, and are associated with the beginning of man on earth (Adam) and the creation of the universe (Atom and Atum). John Polkinghorne defines the soul as "the information-bearing pattern carried by the matter of the body", thus referring to DNA. See Robert Pollack's "DNA and Neshamah: Locating the Soul in an Age of Molecular Medicine" (2003). (Image: DNA double helix, UC Berkeley)

The soul is not hidden within a cave
It is interesting that the Egyptian hieroglyphic for cave is baba, and the hieroglyphic for soul is ba, so there is a connection between soul and cave. Also Zephyrus, god of the West Wind lived in a cave in Thrace. However, in Plato's Allegory of the Cave from The Republic, 514a (Book VII), we have people chained so they can see only what is in front of them. Behind them is a fire projecting objects on the wall as shadows. Only those who break the chains and turn around can see the fire and objects instead of the illusory shadows. Only when he leaves the cave and does he see sunshine of reality. Plato's Allegory applies to those who are bound to their ego (dark cave) and they become free when they experience cosmic consciousness (sunshine). (Image: Plato's Cave from Great Dialogues of Plato, W.H.D. Rouse translation, 1961, p. 374)

always moving in every breath we take
I've borrowed these lines from Sting's 1983 hit song "Every Step You Take". The single was one of the biggest of 1983, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. Sting won Song of the Year and The Police won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the Grammy Awards of 1984 for "Every Breath You Take". The song ranked #84 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #25 on Billboard's Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs. Lyrics: "Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take, I'll be watching you." The track was written during the collapse of Sting's marriage to Frances Tomelty; the lyrics are the words of a sinister, controlling character, who is watching "every breath you take; every move you make". Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it's about unrequited love, written at the time he and his then wife divorced. It's about the obsession with the lost lover, the jealousy and surveillance that followed. (Image: 7" vinyl record album single of "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, 1983)

it's eternal water and not transient wave
Birth and death occur in time. If we look at the waves in the ocean, they are born, grow, decay, and die. But from the viewpoint of water or H2O, there is no birth (creation) or death (destruction). Hence we realize that waves are temporal while water is eternal. This is the difference between form (body) and essence (soul). Hence the light bulb (form) may burn out and die, but electricity (essence) is birthless and deathless. Likewise gold coins, gold rings, and gold necklaces may be melted down (creation & destruction of form), but gold (eternal essence) remains to be shaped into other gold objects. Meditation on form and essence will lead us to realize that we are not the body that ages and die, but the soul which is eternal.

right before us in every step we make
While our body is visible and tangible, our soul is invisible and intangible. The Platonic Lambda which Plato described in Timaeus 35b as "soul of the universe" seemed quite abstract. When I noticed the man's legs walking by Giacometti's Walking Man at Sotheby's Auction, it suddenly struck me that the soul's shape or form (upside "V" or Greek letter Λ) is right before our eyes manifesting itself whenever we are walking or alive! According to Genesis 2.7: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." That the soul's form (Λ) supports our torso (body) when we walk is like the invisible root that's the foundation of trees. William Blake's Ancient of Days (1794) shows God creating the world with a compass shaped like the Greek letter Λ, similar to Plato's creation account of the universe. See "Speculations on the Soul" (Notes) and "Soul Weight" (Notes). [Image: Man walking by London Sotheby's that auctioned Giacometti's Walking Man I for $104.3 million. Photo by Carl de Souza (AFP, Getty Images)]

Plato's Soul of the Universe
The Platonic Lambda, the Soul of the Universe,
is the sum of the two series (Timaeus 35b):
Sum of the double interval series (powers of 2) =
20 + 21 + 22 + 23 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15
Sum of the triple interval series (powers of 3) =
30 + 31 + 32 + 33 = 1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus) = 15 + 40 = 55
“Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order; for having brought them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by the younger... First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals.” (Benjamin Jowett's translation Timaeus, 35b, F.M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology, 1937, pp. 66-67). See also Number 55; Dante's 55 & Platonic Lambda; Dante & Marilyn.

is placed as the nose in the center of our face

Leonardo da Vinci
The Platonic Lambda which Plato calls "Soul of the Universe" (Timaeus 35b) appeared abstract to me until I realized its concrete example in Giacometti's Walking Man that is present in every step we take. Likewise, if God created man by breathing into his nostrils a living soul (Genesis 2.7), the nose is the prime conduit of air in keeping us alive. So the Soul is not hidden but right in the center of our face. Leonardo's Vitruvian Man (1487) shows a man inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are called the Canon of Proportions, showing the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. (Images: Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait (1515) and Proportion of the Face)
Leonardo da Vinci
Proportions of the Face

                                                Peter Y. Chou
                                                Mountain View, 1-19-2011

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