Aegri Somnia Socrates is called the father of philosophy.

If this is true, it is because he was the first not only to question the world with an insatiable curiosity, but also to attempt to awaken a world dozing in the conformity of ignorance and the suffocation of false pursuits and doctrine. He was the first to devote his life to this iconoclastic and unorthodox quest for truth and virtue. Socrates believed that it was his mission (divineperhaps only because of the mores of the time) to try and stir people so that they would be forced to shrug off the false pursuits and worries of the time (money, prestige, appearance, etc.). These were a security blanket of sorts that prevented them from finding what was truly important, that is, as he called it, the “the best state of their souls”. This, in essence, would force them to take a step back and see the painting, as opposed to being lost in all the colors. Socrates thought that the most noble and worthy life that could be led was that of the curious thinker who sought only to know the proper way to exist, and questioned everything established in his individual - perhaps perpetual - search for truth. He believed that this quest would improve the individual and guide them to make right and just decisions. Regardless of whether or not they could attain truth and virtue, they would have been improved because they had cast off false beliefs that allowed for loopholes on moral matters and would carefully and conscientiously scrutinize every act. Socrates credits his revelation to what the oracle told Chairephon, i.e., that Socrates was the wisest of all men. Whether it be myth or fact matters little. Rather it is the dilemma that faces all humanity by virtue of our inability to not look beyond the trivial necessities of the day and wonder about our purpose and the worth of our lives that made Socrates search for a wiser man from whom to learn. Socrates could not accept this idea that he was the wisest of all men, since he was uncertain as to how a man could live an existence full of all human excellence or even what these virtues were. It would mean that no matter how hard he searched, his questions and those of others could not be answered. This meant that all of humanity was doomed to either stumble along in the cold dark of uncertainty or be blinded by their own ignorance from any possibility of truth. It would have been an enormous burden to be the wisest. With being so would

come the responsibility of sharing one’s wisdom with others or else be accountable to the gods for neglecting one’s sacred duty and to humanity for neglecting one’s civic duty. Athens was reputed to be the epitome of classical civilization. The aspect of this reputation that Athenians congratulated and preened themselves most on, was that Athens and consequently all of her citizens possessed great wisdom. However, as Socrates accuses, its citizens found themselves being more preoccupied with accumulating wealth, position and respect then with the type of true wisdom that cannot be taught by sophists in agoras or academies. Socrates set out to prove the oracle wrong. He interrogated the allegedly wise and, in probing deep into their theories, found that they always ended up in contradiction with their own convictions. He reasoned that they were less wise than he, because while he admitted to not being wise in the first place, they thought they were wise, when in fact they were not. They and their followers had found comfort in “knowing” and were very reluctant to question what was established. Socrates’ struggle is paralleled by anyone who tries to go against an established protective institution (be it cultural, religious, or governmental). This rude awakening from a comfortable sleep is what gained Socrates so many enemies (apart from his political connections). In this way, ancient Athens is very similar to modern America. We pride ourselves on being a country were freedom, justice and a sort of wisdom reign. We think of our country as enlightened and our policies are all based on our knowing what is best for other countries. We have committed Socrates’ greatest sin. We think ourselves to be wise when in fact we are ignorant. The Socrates of today compels us to do the same as Socrates urged Athenians – to think for ourselves and not just accept society’s doctrine. Unfortunately, as back in 300 BC, society can only accept so much of this revolutionary thought and we still persecute (perhaps more politely/covertly) our visionaries. If one strays too far from the norm you are likely to be silenced because they are ostracized, institutionalized, or worse forgotten. “Tomorrow’s just an excuse away, so I pull my collar up and face the coldalone” (Corgan) Socrates took it upon himself to break down and destroy the false precepts, beliefs, and goals of humanity knowing he could not replace them with anything that would bring comfort and peace. But by so doing, the way would be clear for correct philosophies, much in the same way that it is necessary for one who is doing a long

complex math proof to go back to a step in which he has made a mistake and forget all the steps and solutions biased on this first incorrect assumption and start from there anew. Socrates makes no claims that the life he has chosen was a particularly enjoyable one, excluding the enjoyment that came from taking pompous established “wisemen” and, through simple honest questions, reduce them into hypocrites whose own philosophy they contradicts. The life of the thinker can never be a peaceful one, because until the thinker finds his truths and a meaning for his life that is justifiable, he must constantly keep himself from languishing in comfortable conformity. Unless he can share and this great knowledge and change the masses, he will live in turmoil plagued by doubts and feverish uncertainties. His challenge is to stand up against the current and, by not following the path of least resistance, live a life of Aegri somnia. Until he can become fully awake until he knows virtue and is truly wise. This is not an entirely miserable existence for what greater purpose what greater goal can man have then to find out what is life virtue and truth? This quest, this awakening if not bright eyed but groggily squinting is worth the sleepless nights and restless thoughts. Socrates would have agreed with Byron in that “those who will not reason are bigots, those who cannot are fools, and those who dare not are slaves.” In ancient Athens, Socrates saw many slaves and those who should have enlightened and encouraged them, i.e., sophists, politicians, religious leaders, were bigots. Socrates has, however, succeeded somewhat, at least in the western world, and he did accomplish his goal of leading an “examined existence” and inspiring others to do so. Now the dilemma- was Socrates right? Is the unexamined existence truly not worth living? Is an examined existence anymore worthwhile for all “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”? Why should we abandon comfort and assurance for stumbling consciousness rank with uncertainties, void of any guidelines or hope of help? Do we even have a choice? There is indeed little comfort to be found in an examined existence, yet life is not truly lived when you live in denial of the most integral part that makes us human, our ability to question with a wholeistic view and a sense of detachment. We can no more live a full existence without questions and search than we could if we simply decided to ignore the existence of our eyes and deny our gift of sight, never seeing what is truly there. We must therefore devote some percentage of our lives to it to give meaning to all

else we do. This type of existence makes no illusions of sure quick answers nor of an easy road to enlightenment. Nor is there a ‘ten step program’ to finding it. This search for truth is the core of humanity and so subjective that even the method cannot be taught. One must be “inspired” into it either by reading the works of others, listening to their music, or by viewing their art or ourselves stumble over it while wandering through life. Socrates tried to exclude every aspect of man except reason to find virtue/truth. By doing so, he also cast off all his humanity and this was the fatal mistake – for philosophy and the search for truth and meaning is very personal, highly subjective and ever continuing process with ever evolving answers. Once man has a taste of truth, he is forever addicted to some varying extent and can never be satisfied with a repeat of his initial ‘high’, but instead grows a unquenchable, ever increasing need for more. It cannot be taught for much of the fullness of meaning fades when it is verbalized. There is no chance of verbal incarnation of truth. The meaning of one word to person A can never be the same as that to person B. First of all, the true meaning of the word (it is debatable whether there ever can be one) is effaced with time and forged with individual experience and prejudice. Secondly, what is blue to me is not what is blue to you by virtue of the varying chemical and electrical components of the brain. Philosophy is the act of living in individual awareness, of everything internal, external, emotional and theoretical. Philosophy is an inescapable part of being. It can be ignored ,essentially hitting the ‘snooze” button, yet you will have to face it at some point as you are dragged kicking and screaming into stark and unforgiving reality. “It is futile for him (man) to try to be nothing but a speculative observer” as Kerkegaard said. Alternatively, it can be sought after with intellectual courage and abandoned in the quest. “Ignorance is the curse of god, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”(Shakespeare -Henry VI). Intellectual courage and true existence is found not in the faithful blind following of certain established convictions and doctrine, but in the never ending willingness to test these beliefs. That challenge of freedom threatens retrospect with self-awareness. This is not freedom in the sense of “The Rights of Man”

or our Declaration of Independence. Often far from making man happy, it fills him with great anxiety and responsibility. So burdensome does this come that the masses exchange this “this fearful burden of free choice” (Dostoevsky) for the comfort and security of the ‘isms’. To exist as a person endowed with freedom, but all the while fighting the anxiety and dark doubt that comes with it, man becomes paradoxical. It is his longing for a clearcut, safe, and simple answer which provides fertile soil for conformity and the slow strangulation of the individual. Man finds his safety in numbers and prefers to attach his fate and mission to the progression of mankind as part of a greater, purpose-giving whole. The way to do so was offered by the ‘isms’ with their “ utopian and pseudo-religious flavor”. All had been born in an effort to bring man closer to this goal of truth, but had sold out to become systems of suppression through consolation. The ‘isms’ with their promises of everlasting progress, happiness as a citizen, and a part of a greater whole just accomplished the systematic scientific degradation of man into a mere cog in the great machine or “Just another brick in the wall” (Waters). Established religion is worse with it’s screen painted with the colors of hope. This is similar to the eastern concept of the “veil of Maya”. In this institution, man at his greatest can only aspire to be the mere carrier of creeds and dogmas - the numb with awe, servants of some higher being whose “grand design” is too awesome for us to begin to comprehend. So why bother? In this institution, man is told to avoid individualism as it’s seen as heresy. All these offered their followers a universal explanation and purpose, allowing man to rest assured in the knowledge of ‘the’ structure of the world. These ‘isms’ appear true because that is what we want them to be. We fear to tread upon the thin lip of the abyss, too great is the fear that it prevents us from peering over. All to often, safe in our life of accepted comfortable

‘isms,’ modern man will become lost in the routine of such a highly developed civilization. This poses the greatest threat of loosing our true personality and, with it, our humanity, our creativity, and our ability to find truth. Even those who choose to doze in serene conformity will, at some point, have their easy explanations and shelters of doctrine and rhetoric collapse on them. Such is the nature of life. We must, as Nietzche urged, “learn to dance on the verge of the abyss”.