Cosmos on Bruno

The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.

This is the opening line of the television series ‘Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey’ that aired on the Fox Network in 2014.  The statement is clearly inspired by a verse from Revelation, “to Him who is and who was and who ever shall be”.  (Rev. 1:4, 8)

Around 10 minutes of the first 50 minute episode were dedicated to telling the story of Giordano Bruno, the self-heralded apostle of a universal philosophy of reason and an early adopter of many enlightenment ideas.  He believed that the universe was infinite and that there were other worlds with earths just like our own. He believed in a gradation of being and suggested that life may even have evolved from lower life forms.  Bruno believed that the Bible was a book of religious mythology like Homer’s Illiad.

But what Cosmos fails to mention is that Giordano Bruno was also a pantheist and a devotee of the magical arts.   He spent most of his energy developing a theory about mind and memory that had no scientific merit.   Many of Bruno’s ‘scientific’ ideas were actually borrowed from bonafied scientists like Copernicus and Kepler who investigated the world from a Christian perspective.   In contrast to these scientists, Bruno conceived of the world as a living organism infused with divinity “working and growing differently in different subjects through diverse physical forms in certain arrangements”.  Bruno rejected the Christian God because he was a pantheist and not because he was a scientist.  I suspect that this is true of many in the Academy today as well.

The 1st episode of Cosmos takes us to the edge of the universe and tell us, ‘here is where it all began’.

… our entire universe emerged from a point smaller than a single atom. Space itself exploded in a cosmic fire, launching the expansion of the universe, and giving birth to all the energy and all the matter we know today. I know that sounds crazy but there is strong observational evidence to support the big bang theory…

Cosmos is content to pull a universe from a hat but most human beings are compelled to go one step further and ask, Why?   Why did it go bang?  Who pulled the rabbit from the hat?  If there is nothing above Nature, as Cosmos presupposes, then one is forced to conclude that Matter assembled itself into complex and specified forms.  It is not much of a leap from here to speculate that the universe is a living organism with a mind of its own or is in some way suffused with creative power.  This is the magical universe of Giordano Bruno and is the underlying reality of all pagan religion.  Dawkins and Tyson may not believe in the efficacy of magic but their cosmogony fully accords with it.  It is perhaps no coincidence they chose the renaissance magician par excellence, Giordano Bruno, as their hero.

Several places in the episode Tyson expresses awe at the way that life began.

Life began somewhere around here… 3 1/2 billion years ago. we still don’t know how life started. For all we know, it may have come from some other part of the milky way. The origin of life is one the great unsolved mysteries of science.  [Tyson standing beside the ocean and pointing to a tidal pool]  That is life cooking, evolving all the biochemical recipes for its incredibly complex activities…. Life was breathing, moving eating, responding to its environment. We owe a lot to those pioneering microbes. Oh yeah, and one other thing, they also invented, sex.

Why did Tyson add that last line?   In fact, there is no satisfying biological explanation for the origin of sex, or for bio-chemical evolution for that matter.  Tyson is peddling gaudy trinkets to teenagers.  This show represents the depths to which crass materialism has brought us.

Apparently, the Fox Network was not sure whether the show would be profitable but they chose to air it anyway.  Why?

Fox’s CEO Kevin Reilly considered that the show would be a risk and outside the network’s typical programming, but that “we believe this can have the same massive cultural impact that the original series delivered,” and committed the network’s resources to the show.  (Cosmos, Wikipedia)


Giordano Bruno and Arthur D. Imerti, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004). From the Introduction

Additional Notes:

Tyson: We [the ignorant masses] were the center of the universe – a universe made for us.  There was only one man on the whole planet who envisioned an infinitely grander universe. And how was he spending new year of the year 1600?  Why in prison, of course!  There comes a time in our lives when we first realize that we are not the center of the universe; that we belong to something much greater than ourselves, it is part of growing up, And as it happens to each of us, so it began to happen to our civilization in the 16th century.

Girodano’s speech to Oxford according to Cosmos: (I am not sure where this is sourced.  From what I have read, the content of the speech is unknown)

Bruno: I have come to present a new vision of the cosmos. Copernicus was right to argue that the earth was not the center of the universe. The earth goes around the sun. It is a planet just like the others. but Copernicus was only the dawn. I bring you the sunrise! The stars are other fiery suns made of the same substance as the earth. And they have their own watery earths, with plants and animals no less noble than our own.

Crowd:Are you made or merely ignorant. Everyone knows that that there is only one world.

Bruno: What everyone knows is wrong. Our infinite God has created a boundless universe with an infite number of worlds.

Crowd: Do they not read Aristotle where you come from, or even the Bible!

Bruno: I beg you, reject antiquity, tradition, faith, authority. Let us begin anew, doubting everything we assumed has been proven.

Crowd: Infidel! Heretic.

Bruno: Your God is too small!

Cosmos goes on to recount how Bruno was thrown into prison by the authorities in Venice.  After years of deliberation, the cardinals of the inquisition rendered their verdict.  Cosmos states the verdict as follows: (There is no record of the actual indictments so the following is speculation)

You have been guilty of questioning the holy trinity, and the divinity of Jesus Christ, of believing that gods wrath is not eternal, that everyone will be saved, of asserting the existence of other worlds. All of the books you have written will be gathered up and burned in St Peter’s square.

The inquisition and the Crusades have been flogged to death in modern histories.  A group can always find instances where they were persecuted by others.  Catholic Christians could point out what happened to them in the French Revolution (a far bloodier affair than all of the inquisitions of all the nations in the Middle Ages put together).  And Protestants could point to St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The real interesting question is when and where has tolerance taken root, and under what conditions?

Free Trade?

I just listened to an interview by Charlie Rose of Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, on Bloomberg.

I disagree with Immelt completely.  What he calls free trade is not free trade at all.  It is a rigged system of global trade that favors large corporations to the detriment of local industry.  He repeats over and over again, “We can compete!”  Wrong!  YOU can compete!  But the company that electroplates car bumpers in the rust belt CANNOT compete.  It either moves its facilities to a place where environmental reg’s are more relaxed, or it goes bankrupt.  I remember attending the National Design and Engineering Show in Chicago and speaking with the owner of a large die-casting and electroplating facility.  I did not represent a large corporation with deep pockets and had very little knowledge of the manufacturing process but he still took the time to speak with me.  Afterwards his company provided us with a detailed quote.  They were hungry for work.  Ten years later, they are out of business.  Out of curiosity, I did a quick google search and found this notice:

On Monday, I heard about Joyners Die Casting Company is CLOSING. There will be an equipment auction on December 11, 2014 10:00 am CDT for the Joyner die casting equipment. This is very sad news indeed. Another USA die casting manufacturing company closure. This is a continuation of a long sad trend of US Manufacturing companies that struggle and can not stay in business due to EPA issues, employee issues, legal issues and struggles for quality and profit. All this information is available to anyone searching online. Now there is a loss of $10,000,000 in our United States manufacturing capacity. The ones who hurt the worst are the additional 100 Minnesota manufacturing employees who are unemployed and on the street just in time for Christmas.  (from here)

I know that we wanted to manufacture our product in North America but the costs were 2 or 3 times higher than in China.  Since then, I have sourced production for other items and the story has been the same each time.  North American producers are not competitive.  Part of the reason for this is that trade agreements have unequally yoked the economies of advanced nations to those of developing nations.  It doesn’t help the average citizen in either country but it does makes a few large multinational corporations incredibly wealthy. [1]


Mao’s body was not yet embalmed in his mausoleum when the West began to build factories on the bones of the millions of Chinese peasants that Mao had starved to death.  Farmers who had never been allowed to own land became part of a vast and unprecedented migration into urban areas.  They formed a seemingly limitless pool of low cost labor for the factories now exporting primarily into Western markets.   The increasing urbanization of China’s population resulted in a rise in income but this did not necessarily translate into a rise in the standard of living.  This is because a rural farmer’s income may be supplemented by what he could glean from nature whereas an urban dweller must purchase everything at the market.  The GDP of tribal people living in grass huts is virtually imperceptible but they may still have a higher standard of living than many of the factory workers in China.

What if the Chinese economy had been allowed to develop naturally and the rice paddy farmer had been given an opportunity to get his feet under him?  No doubt China would be much better off.  Instead we have opened our borders to trade with a country that has not yet repudiated the central tenets of Communism.  We have taken advantage of their poverty and in the process, we have yoked our economy to theirs.  Now we will share in their fate.  That is what ‘free trade’ means.

Taken from my hotel window in Shenzhen.  He was there every morning.



[1] Before 1995, most Haitian agricultural products – including rice – were protected by tariffs as high as 50%. But that year, a deal was forced on Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government by the U.S., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the “Paris Plan,” whose terms had to be accepted before Washington would agree to help return the exiled president to Haiti. Tariffs plummeted to between 0% and 15%, the lowest in the Caribbean at the time. In 2009, some of those tariffs were adjusted upwards, but too little, too late, by most accounts.

In its 2006 report Agricultural Liberalisation in Haiti, Christian Aid called the tariff drops “disastrous,” noting that Haiti went from being recently largely self-sufficient in food to using most of its export earnings to buy foreign food, mostly from the U.S.

“As food imports have increased, local agricultural production has fallen,” Christian Aid writes. “It is now widely accepted that this trend is closely linked with the effects of trade liberalization.” (from here)

Epictetus on Providence

From everything which is or happens in the world, it is easy to praise Providence, if a man possesses these two qualities, the faculty of seeing what belongs and happens to all persons and things, and a grateful disposition. If he does not possess these two qualities, one man will not see the use of things which are and which happen; another will not be thankful for them, even if he does know them. If God had made colours, but had not made the faculty of seeing them, what would have been their use? None at all. On the other hand, if He had made the faculty of vision, but had not made objects such as to fall under the faculty, what in that case also would have been the use of it? None at all. Well, suppose that He had made both, but had not made light? In that case, also, they would have been of no use. Who is it, then, who has fitted this to that and that to this? And who is it that has fitted the knife to the case and the case to the knife? Is it no one? And, indeed, from the very structure of things which have attained their completion, we are accustomed to show that the work is certainly the act of some artificer, and that it has not been constructed without a purpose. Does then each of these things demonstrate the workman, and do not visible things and the faculty of seeing and light demonstrate him? And the existence of male and female, and the desire of each for conjunction, and the power of using the parts which are constructed, do not even these declare the workman? If they do not, let us consider the constitution of our understanding according to which, when we meet with sensible objects, we simply receive impressions from them, but we also select something from them, and subtract something, and add, and compound by means of them these things or those, and, in fact, pass from some to other things which, in a manner, resemble them: is not even this sufficient to move some men, and to induce them not to forget the workman? If not so, let them explain to us what it is that makes each several thing, or how it is possible that things so wonderful and like the contrivances of art should exist by chance and from their own proper motion?  (Arrian, Discourses 1,6)

Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher but the above quotation does not express a typical Stoic cosmogony.  The Stoics held to a mechanistic view of the world in which each part is connected to the other.  Events in heaven are related to events on earth so that a man’s life is directed by the stars – or by fate.  For this reason, it is best to accept one’s lot in life and not to fight it.  But in this passage, Epictetus acknowledges the work of an architect and artist who has made the world for our enjoyment.  This is the antithesis of the mechanistic world of the Stoics.

Ought we not when we are digging and ploughing and eating to sing this hymn to God? “Great is God, who has given us such implements with which we shall cultivate the earth: great is God who has given us hands, the power of swallowing, a stomach, imperceptible growth, and the power of breathing while we sleep.” This is what we ought to sing on every occasion, and to sing the greatest and most divine hymn for giving us the faculty of comprehending these things and using a proper way. Well then, since most of you have become blind, ought there not to be some man to fill this office, and on behalf of all to sing the hymn to God? For what else can I do, a lame old man, than sing hymns to God? If then I was a nightingale, I would do the part of a nightingale: if I were a swan, I would do like a swan. But now I am a rational creature, and I ought to praise God: this is my work; I do it, nor will I desert this post, so long as I am allowed to keep it; and I exhort you to join in this same song.  (Arrian, Discourses 1,16 from <>)

Martin Goodman notes that, “for most pagan Romans the wonders of nature provided evidence not of an overall design but of the activities of individual deities, such as Volcanus; worshiped at Rome from early in the history of the city, he was the god of destructive, devouring fire, whose presence, as Strabo noted in the time of Augustus, was particularly felt near the brooding presence of Mount Vesuvius, which was to erupt so disastrously in 79 CE.”  (M. Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem, A Clash of Ancient Civilizations, 273)  Although Epictetus often refers to ‘Zeus and the gods’, whenever he speaks of the wonders of nature, he gives thanks to God alone.  This might reflect the rapid changes then occurring in the Roman world – recently ‘turned upside down’.  (Epictetus – late first century AD)

To the Unknown God

“When the sea and lands began to be, before the sky had mantled everything, then all of nature’s face was featureless – what men call chaos: undigested mass of crude, confused, and scumbled elements, a heap of seeds that clashed, of things mismatched.”

This is how Ovid begins Metamorphoses.  He continues by relating how ‘a god’ came into this chaos and ended the strife.

“He separated sky and earth, and earth and waves…   Unraveling these things from their blind heap, assigning each its place – distinct – he linked them all in peace.”

Ovid attributes the creation of the world to ‘a god’ who is otherwise unnamed.    The unnamed god commanded the valleys to sink down and the mountains to rise up, and ordered the fog and the clouds to gather in the upper regions of the air.   Noticeably lacking is any reference to a theogony – gods giving birth to gods, who become aspects of nature.  Ovid seems to consciously reject Hessiod’s theogony – at least in this first section of his poem.   You would almost think he had been reading the Bible.  And that could be. [1]

There are, however, some noticeable differences between Genesis 1 and Ovid.   Ovid’s unnamed god does not create everything, but only organizes environments suitable for life.  Nor does this god create ‘ex nihilo’ but rather uses pre-existing matter that contains within it already the ‘seeds’ of every living thing.  For Ovid, matter is eternal, and contains within it powerful forces that the god uses to create with.   Furthermore, in recounting how the earth was repopulated after the Flood, he says that man sprung up from stones tossed behind the backs of the two survivors of the flood as they walked down the beach.  Likewise, animals sprung from the earth spontaneously due the magical powers of the primordial soil when heated by the sun.

Beneath that blazing heat, soft marshes swelled; the fertile seeds were nourished by the soil that gave them life as in a mother’s womb; and so, in time, as each seed grew, it took on its own form.

…the farmer, turning over clods, discover some who are newly born, who’ve just begun to take their forms, and others who are still unfinished, incomplete  – they’ve not not achieved proportion and indeed, in one same body, one part may be alive

For, tempering each other, heat and moisture engender life: the union of these two produces everything.  Though it is true that fire is the enemy of water, moist heat is the creator of all things:  discordant concord is the path of life.

Ovid is back in familiar territory now.  Any lofty thoughts of ‘the Architect’ are completely gone.  And Caesar Augustus is amused…  Something that I think was foremost in Ovid’s mind.

But I wonder who this unnamed god is to whom Ovid fails to attribute any mythology or magic?   Was this the god that the Greek philosophers had in mind when they erected an altar with a plaque to ‘the unknown god’?


[1]  The Jews were scattered throughout the Roman empire in Ovid’s day and Ovid had traveled through Asia Minor where a significant Jewish population lived.  It is quite likely that Ovid was familiar with the first chapters of Genesis.  One would be surprised if he was not.

Tcherikover notes that Jewish diaspora communities thrived throughout the Hellenistic world long before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD :

“Thus, in the course of the Hellenistic period, the Jews became dispersed over the whole Greek world.  As early as 140 B.C.E. approximately, the author of the Sibylline Oracles testifies “that the whole land and sea are full of Jews.”  strabo’s assertion that the Jew “had reached every town, and it is hard to find a place in the world whither this race has not penetrated and where it has not obtained a hold,” refers to the period of Sulla, about the year 85 BCE.  Josephus speaks in the same language of the Diaspora communities: “There is no people in the world among whom part of our brethren is not to be found”  (War II, 398), and elsewhere he writes: “The Jewish race is scattered over the entire world among the local inhabitants” (ib. VII, 43).  Philo speaks of the wide expansion of the Jews throughout the world and of Jerusalem as the center of that scattered and sundered nation (Flacc. 46; Leg. 281ff.)”

In regards to Asia Minor (where Ovid lived for a time), Josephus states that Antiochus III stationed 2000 Jewish families in Lydia and Phrygia as a means of securing the borders of his kingdom.  It was not unusual for Jews to serve as mercenaries.  Jews fought on behalf of the Egyptian King Psamtik (594-589 BC) and afterwards fought for the Persian army.  A Jewish garrison was established at Elephantine in Upper Egypt and another was stationed at Leontopolis in Lower Egypt.

The presence of established Jewish communities in Asia Minor is confirmed by the letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor recorded in the first chapters of the book of Revelations.