It is the thesis of Melampus's work that c. 600 BCE Western consciousness entered an altered state of cognition. In the first volume, Primitive Materialism, the earlier state inherited from the Neolithic is described. Here we make selected quotations from the second volume to illustrate the later stage of cognition, associated with developments in Greek Ionia, beginning with the work of Thales of Miletus, c. 624 - c. 546 BCE.
Appearance and Reality, Existence-for-itself.
In Ionian philosophy there emerges the idea that the world exists independently of human consciousness and is made of a separable substance. The world exists-for-itself. Geometrical and mathematical reasoning fostered the emergence of this post-primitive cognition. While a plurality of substances could be considered, the hunt was initiated for the one primal substance out of which all other substances are made.
Thales advanced the theory that in the beginning everything was water, and that earth had been formed by a natural process. He envisaged the world as a flat disc floating in water, and regarded the sun and moon as vapours in a state of incandescence.
The separation between mind (subjective, perceiving consciousness) and matter (objective, external substance) is implicit in Thales’s work, and comes at the very watershed between the two great epochs of consciousness - between primitive materialism and Ionian consciousness.
Atomism. About Leucippus (flourished C5), we know very little, save that he was Ionian. His follower, Democritus of Abdera (c.460 – c.370) asserted that the universe was made of atoms and the void; the void was infinite in extent and the atoms infinite in number, alike in substance but differing in size, shape, arrangement and position. An atom was physically indivisible and impenetrable. In his ‘Nothing is created out of nothing’ and ‘By necessity were fore-ordained all things that were and are and are to be” he anticipated the doctrines of the conservation of matter and the concept of universal law.
Mind and matter. Democritus’s massive corpus represents the fully emergent altered consciousness for which mind and matter are distinct, and the problem of the existence of either or both, and of the relationship between them is posed as the metaphysical problem of Western consciousness.
Philosophy arises. The separation between mind matter is the beginning of metaphysics: What is a substance? Is mind a substance? If mind and matter are distinct substances, then how does the one interact with the other? If mind is not a substance, and matter is, then how does mind as phenomenon arise from matter as substance? What is the will? What is purpose?
IMMORTALITY, Vol. II, Chapter 1.
Infinity and Monotheism
For Homer, who invokes Zeus as the force that ensures oaths are upheld, God and morality are inseparable. But in Ionian cognition, there arises the possibility that the external world, nature, is an unconscious mechanism, whose operations are in accordance with deterministic laws. It follows as a possibility that either (a) there are no gods, or (b) if there are gods, then the gods belong merely to subjective or inter-subjective human nature, or (c) if there are gods, then they are removed from nature, and do not participate in human history.
Another possibility arises: to acknowledge that the Graeco-Roman gods are subjective fictions, the products of “lying fables”, and hence, do not exist, yet affirm that there is another, higher god, who is a pure form of justice, Zeus = Deus = God, who is wholly good, untainted with any form of earthly evil, the creator of the universe, etc. In Homer, Zeus is sufficiently powerful to overrule all the other gods combined, but he is not omnipotent. Homer does not consider the question: since only a god can be an arbiter of human affairs, it is sufficient that the highest authority be strong enough. The Ionian revolution brought into consciousness the concept of infinity; after that, strong is not strong enough; a tendency to justice is not pure justice, as finite is not infinite. Omnipotence is an expression of the concept of infinity.
The emergence of the Zeus-archetype constellated latent monotheism. The Zeus-archetype was forced to ascend to that of universal, omnipotent and all-benevolent governing power of the cosmos, while the imperfections of the lesser gods must render them not gods at all; or if gods, then infernal ones, opposed to the will of the Almighty. Ironic detachment and comment on myth, character, and society were henceforth conceivable and permissible.
At the onset, we have the scathing attack of Xenophanes of Colophon (c.570 – c.475): “Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods all the things which among men are shameful and blameworthy – theft and adultery and mutual deception.” This attacks the Olympian religion, and hovers in its implications between atheism and advocacy of a new religion, where these dark things – theft, adultery, mutual deception – are expunged from the divine order. Xenophanes is the first expression in Western consciousness of a destructive analysis of the origin of the pagan gods.
To Xenophanes is also attributed the following remark: "But if cows and horses or lions had hands or could draw with their hands and make the things men can make, then horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, cows like cows, and they would make their bodies similar in shape to those which each had themselves." This anticipates by more than two millennia the thesis of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 - 1872) that religion is a projection of the human mind.
IMMORTALITY, Vol II, Chapter 3.
Hence, the distinctive features of Ionian consciousness are (a) the separation of appearance and reality that entails the body/soul dichotomy, and (b) the concept of infinity, which historically gave rise to the monotheistic concept of God as omnipotent and all-good.
It is a thesis of Melampus that prior to 600 BCE and the Ionian development, and in that state of consciousness that he designates as primitive materialism, Western man had not yet attained to either of these conceptions.