Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The continuity of thought - Chico Sciuto

Ladies and gentlemen, you might know that, according to the latest genetic findings about the derivation of the human being, we all have a common origin. Subsequent and very slow changes led to different modern cultures.
Obviously there are tall or short people, with narrow or large nostrils, white or black skin, blond or brown hair for always adapting themselves to the different environments of our planet. Similarly, there are different cultures adapted to these different environments.
Like the biological adaptations, even cultural adaptations are inherited for the one half from the mother and the other from the father. The following life experiences and education, can broaden our culture - sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.
Nevertheless, from a certain point of view, the mankind is always the same.
First of all, I will try to better explain these similarities and differences. Afterwards, I will examine some similarities and differences between East and West.
I come from Italy, the land where not only ancient Romans lived, but also ancient Greeks. An ancient Latin thinker, often forgotten, was Menenius Agrippa, who made an important comparison. Menenius told the soldiers a story about the parts of the human body and how each of the parts has its own purpose in the overall function of the body. Mouth, teeth and hands thought that the stomach might or could somehow feed itself. So they decided to interrupt the feeding of the stomach. Soon, the other parts of the body were weakened and unable to function, so they realized that the stomach did have a purpose and they could not survive without it.
In the story, the stomach represented the patrician class, while the other parts of the body represented the plebs. Personally, I think that this fable is so farfetched, as if though we would attempt to compare a single man to the whole of mankind.
More recently, about two hundred years ago, an important Italian thinker, Giuseppe Mazzini, had a similar vision of the relationship between the people. He wrote: “The mankind […] is like a man who always learns. Individuals die; but that much of truth they have thought, that all the good they have produced, does not vanish: The mankind collects it and the people […], benefit from it. Each of us is born today in a world of ideas and beliefs, that have been elaborated from all the previous generations: each of us carries, without even knowing it, a more or less important element to the life of the next generation. Humanity’s education proceeds in the same way as, in the East, people build piles of stones where every traveler passing by adds another stone.”
These two examples show to us that the human thought is not only something unitary, but also continuous in space and time.
In fact, whereas Menenius considers the thought of some people living in the same place, Mazzini speaks of the thought that is transmitted through time universally from generation to generation.
From what I’ve said so far, it is clear that humanity is comparable to one great individual. Every single man is a small part of mankind and in the same way, as every cell in our body contributes to the functioning of the whole body, in exactly the same way every person contributes to the functioning of the whole of humanity. Nobody can live without the other, as no cell can live without the rest of the body.
Each man is different from the other because he lives in a specific place, in a particular time, has his own personality and does his specific work. But each man is similar to the other, because he has the same needs in life as others.
Every man, conducting his own specific activities, helps to achieve the common good and the progress of all. It is not necessary that he does something outstanding: even an unknown worker, who put only a small stone in the Great Wall of China or in an Egyptian pyramid, has helped building a great work.
Therefore, since each man builds something during his life, no matter if big or small, it follows that all humanity is one great being that always evolves.
The whole humanity is truly a Great Being, living in every spot of our planet and surviving over time.
Just as it occurs in our body, where the individual cells die but the body survives because new cells are born, the individual person dies, but humanity survives.
It needs to be said, that the ingenious inventions of word and writing have been fundamental in spreading the human thought in space and time. Later on, the evolution of culture, that gets capitalized as money, did the rest, making us differ from other animals.
As proof of what I said, there are several examples, each of which I call “sequence of thought”.
It is all about thoughts, initially formulated by one person, then transmitted to other people, processed and still sent again several times, perfecting themselves over and over. That is how human knowledge is born and keeps evolving. That is the origin of the thought of that Great Being that is regarded as the whole of humanity.
The "sequences of thought," are definitely numerous and are present in every field of human knowledge: Science, Technology, Art, Philosophy, Literature, Music, etc. I would like to mention here only four "sequences of thought", that seem most significant to me.
The first of these sequences, leads us from Pythagoras to Albert Einstein. I like to imagine Pythagoras who, at the age of 50, after several migrations, drew triangles and squares, perhaps on a wax tablet or perhaps on the sand, on the shore of the sea of Croton, in that part of Greece now called Italy. In the following centuries his thinking has evolved, being transmitted from one mathematician to another, finally reaching Albert Einstein. He made us discover, among many other things, that we cannot draw on our planet a 1.000 km-sided square, because the earth is round: The two sides on the meridians would have equal length, but those on the parallels, a different one.
The second of these “sequences of thought” is to look at how the human vision of our planet has evolved and, in parallel, the vision of the whole universe.
As a newborn child observes what is closest to him and widens his vision, in the same way humanity first realizes its existence, then that it lives on a round planet and finally understands what the position of this planet in the universe is.
This way, human thought goes from Aristarchus of Samos through Eratosthenes, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, Galilei, Newton, Halley and Hubble, to many other today’s scientists, often unknown, each one playing a small part of a great common work.
The first one, Aristarchus, was born on the Greek island of Samos, like Pythagoras and many other ancient philosophers, many ancient “friends of science”. About 2.200 years ago, Aristarchus exposed the first plausible model of the universe, which puts the Sun in the center and the Earth rotating around it. Unfortunately, his astronomical idea was rejected for a long time in favor of the geocentric theory of Aristotle and Ptolemy. But after 1.700 years of forgetfulness, Copernicus confirmed the ideas of Aristarchus. Later on, the other scientists I mentioned, performed more and more precise observations and calculations. So today the humanity, no more like a child, has a wide view of its position in the universe.
However, as it always happens, all sectors of culture are connected to each other. On the one hand, these people could not have functioned without the essential contribution of those technicians who invented lenses, telescopes and various other instruments, and who belonged to other "sequences of thought." On the other hand, themselves influenced other areas of the human thought: For example, the one of the explorers.
So, my third "sequence of thought" combines Eratosthenes (276-195 BC), Marco Polo (1254-1324), Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), Ferdinand Magellan (1480 - 1521) and many others that followed.
We can consider Eratosthenes as an element of the newborn humanity. Already at that time, some cultured people suspected the Earth being round, but it was Eratosthenes who calculated the circumference first. After a millennium and a half, Marco Polo traveled to China, to the opposite end of the known Earth. One more century and a half later, following the same thought, Columbus tried to reach China by sea, but travelling in the opposite direction, since it was clear the planet is spherical. The wise men of Salamanca advised him against it, arguing that the Earth was too huge for that kind of trip. However, he was convinced it was smaller, and left. Unfortunately there was America in between, which neither him, nor the people of Salamanca, nor anyone else had expected to be there, although everybody knew that the Earth is round. That’s how the no more child but adult humanity, became aware of the planet. Subsequent explorers have since then completed his vision.
I would like to mention many other "sequences of thought," but time is running out. I will therefore only focus on the fourth and last one, that is closer to us. It began in ancient times, but developed quite recently: photography, meaning the vision that we have of ourselves, the image of ourselves the others see, an image of us not reversed by a mirror.
Everything started when Aristotle simply described the phenomenon of the camera obscura. (I remind you that, in Italian, "camera" means "room".) Many years later, the Arab Alhazen (approximately 965 - 1039) studied how the rays in the "camera" propagate. At the same time in China, Shen Kuo (1031 - 1095) did the same, although there were no contacts between the two. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) used the camera obscura to draw buildings and landscapes from life. Canaletto (1697 - 1768) did the same when he painted his famous views of Venice. But the revolution came shortly after, when Louis Daguerre (1787 - 1851) had the brilliant idea of chemically fixing the images. Later, George Eastman (1854 - 1932) industrially produced photographic material. The Lumière brothers (1862 - 1954 and 1864 - 1948) brought up the movement and today, with the modern digital technology, all people can merrily take their selfies. And now, let me smile: perhaps even Aristotle, if he were alive today, would take a nice selfie…!
In each of these "sequences of thought" you can imagine how each individual I mentioned, similarly to others, has been playing both: His general life (birth, growth, reproduction, death) and his daily life (eating, sleeping, working , having fun). But we have also seen how humanity’s culture has progressed: It has become different with the help (no matter how big or small) of each man.
It is important to repeat that, in most cases, the changes are very small, really numerous, made by unknown people and not easily visible to everyone.
Well. As I said at the beginning, after talking about the similarities and differences in general, I will now quote a particular example that compares the East and West.
I told you I am Italian, but I am also an architect and I want to emphasize that the basic needs of architecture are always the same all over the world: First of all to protect oneself from the atmospheric effects (heat, cold, wind, rain, light, darkness, etc.) and, at a later time, to carry out your own activities (eating, sleeping, working, playing, trading, travelling, practicing a religion, etc.).
To these similar needs, of course, we are all forced to react in the same way, but the way this happens differs from country to country. In other words, every civilization builds its homes, shops, offices, temples, bridges, roads etc., but the way of building differs from one civilization to another. It is obvious, in fact, that the architectural styles, which have developed in different parts of the world and through the ages, are diverse. Just compare, for example, an ancient Greek temple with an ancient Chinese pagoda. Both serve as religious service, but religions are various, so the spaces are arranged differently. In addition, even the architectural elements (columns, capitals, roofs, tiles, decorations, colors, etc.) are different because they have evolved modifying themselves more and more through several centuries, often without contact between one civilization and another.
Several are the similarities and differences between Eastern and Western architecture, but I would like to highlight just two examples: The first is the rural architecture, while the second concerns the simple residential buildings.
Everywhere, in lonely moors, there were evil people. For this reason, in ancient times, it was necessary to defend your own homes, as well as working tools and, above all, the animals and the harvest of the fields. That’s why, in the West, fortified farms have come up and these had different characteristics from region to region: The Finca in Spain, the Masseria in southeastern Italy, the Ricetto in northwestern Italy, etc. In China, the Tulou corresponds to these European architectures: it has a different shape, but the same defensive function.
Besides the shape, there is another diversity: While in Europe the owner's house definitely differs from the one of workers, in China all houses look the same. And they already looked the same before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
It is important to note that, while in Europe these rural architectures almost always include a church, the Tulou in China has, in the center, an independent building devoted to the worship of ancestors.
This introduces the second example, because the ancestors’ worship is exactly what combines the old civilian houses in China to those of the ancient Romans in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In both cases, in fact, in the center of the houses there was a small temple dedicated to this cult, which I think is still important today, because by loving the past we build the future. The ancestors’ worship allows us to form the "sequences of thought", I mentioned earlier, and to participate in the progress of humanity.
And now we come to the present day. Architectures, that were different in the past, have now become international and are skyscrapers, highways, viaducts, etc., very similar all over the world. Today, the globalization imposes lifestyles less and less differentiated from country to country. Even the techniques of construction have been unified, as the available materials. That’s the reason why we, more and more tend to an international style of architecture.
So, a long "sequence of thought" could lead us from the most ancient architectures (eastern and western) up to the modern international architecture.
An expression of this modern architecture, the same all over the world, in the East as in the West, is the tallest skyscraper ever built: The Burj Khalifa of Dubai. It is located halfway between East and West, not far away from the place where the tales of "Arabian Nights" have been conceived, which connect the two cultures.

In conclusion:

The cultural similarities enable us to progress by imitation. The differences allow us to adapt everything, customize it and make it more pleasant.
These similarities and differences show us that the same problems have been tackled and resolved in several parts of the world, sometimes in a different way, sometimes in exactly the same way. This explains the need of a greater communication and collaboration among all the peoples of the Earth. And this cooperation should be continued even in the future. But we should never forget that little temple of the ancestors that each of us holds, at least symbolically, in his own mind. We should never forget our common origin, and we should never forget everything that was before.

Thank you !
Chico Sciuto

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