From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

Today, an essay by Elena Malec: From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column. For a Theory of the Sociocultural Evolution of Human Knowledge.

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

The Endless Column by Brancusi


In the parable of the tower of Babel an unattainable inclement God rejects mankind’s aspiration to the heights of knowledge and mindful worship. Antiquity and the Old Testament refuses man’s power of reasoning the truth, the supreme challenge in divine form. But the tower man plans to build to the glory of his God is a tribute, a majestic gesture, an offer of man’s wits and prowess, of man’s devotion and sacrifice to his God.

God as the supreme Goodness, supreme Beauty, supreme Truth does not escape man’s capacity of knowledge, is not impenetrable but rather believed to be so, offended by man’s enterprise. In reality the message is quite clear as it comes from a sacerdotal caste that prefers keeping man under the spell of a revealed God and truth rather than a rational one.

Antiquity has passed with its marvels in stone, marble, clay or plaster, medieval times raised a monument to God in exemplary conduct and life of sages, saints, martyrs, and ordinary pious people, but there was the modern era which brought the mind’s triumph over man’s limitations of previous millennia.

What does Brancusi’s Endless Column represent but the expression of mankind’s unlimited spirit, the quest for the knowledge of the supreme Goodness, Beauty, Truth, a perpetual quest as long as this supreme is in fact infinite. Human spirit is now free to reach infinite heights of Beauty, Goodness, Truth.

The traditional Platonic triad of ideas, concepts, values of Beauty, Goodness, Truth form the core of an axiological unity which is in focus here.

The hypothesis of this theory is that the essence of the human quest in achieving social harmony manifested by embracing these

basic values across the millennia. The value-triad appears at a certain historical moment as a unity and at the same time only one component is exalted. The value-triad Beauty, Goodness, Truth as applied to sociocultural evolution is approached here in terms of time and space, as far as data and facts of civilization(s) and culture(s) allow, synchronically and diachronically, at the level of phylogenesis.

In depth examination of the sociocultural evolution from 3000 BCE to 2000 CE leads to the identification of three types of educational models: ESTHETIC, ETHIC, SCIENTIFIC which correspond to ANCIENT societies, 3000BCE – 500CE, MEDIEVAL societies, 500 CE – 1500 CE, and MODERN societies, 1500 CE – 2000 CE, respectively.

Regarding the periodization of history, I consider the leading values, BEAUTY, GOODNESS, TRUTH giving the character of an era. Thus the Ancient world will develop its Esthetic model from 3000 BCE to 500 CE as the next cultural model the Ethical one represented in Asia by Buddhism and in North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East by Christianity is almost established by the 5th c CE .

The Modern world begins in the West around 1500 CE with the spread of Humanism and Universities, a shift from the Ethical model to the Scientific model of education.[1 ]

In figure 1 it is shown the world line of sociocultural evolution which parallels that of the orbit of Earth depicted in two spatial dimensions X and Y and a time dimension. This world line is a helix in spacetime. So is the world line of sociocultural evolution.

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column


The world line of human knowledge shown here developed predominantly one central value, moved from one ethos to another in historical periods of time.

The evolution of humankind never occurred at the planetary level but in geographical pockets. The aesthetic, ethic, scientific as forma mentis can be found outside their respective historical periods of time, outside their age, Antiquity, Middle Ages, the Modern age.

For instance the golden era of Hindu temple architecture and art is comprised between 600 and 1600 AD, that is the Ethical age of mankind, the Middle Ages and beyond.

In the same sense the modern era that brings along the scientific value, the scientific truth, will also be of unprecedented growth and expansion of the major world religions, ethical systems. In the Scientific age the Ethical model of Christianity spreads to the Americas, Australia, Africa. Thanks to European Quattrocento’s printed press and later missionary work the Bible becomes the most traveled book on Earth.

From the Gutenberg Bibles to the scientific revolution will pass only two centuries. It was the scientific revolution and the astronomical revolution namely which anticipated the paradigm shift of the third millennium. [2]

But the sociocultural evolution never took place in an uniform manner. In the age of quantum physics there are regions in the world with an ethically focused society (ex.Iran, Pakistan), driven at the state level by a medieval ethos as well as religious states based on a world view produced in Antiquity, (ex. the Hinduist state of Nepal).

In the Early modern era the Renaissance has placed man in the center of the Universe and so did communism. Even when God is replaced with man the pyramid remains as a symbolic structure of human aspirations.

Traditionally the paradigm of human knowledge, human spirit was represented in the pyramid, the tower of Babel, a structure that dominated for almost 3000 years the Western Judeo-Christian philosophical thought.

Whether the tip of the pyramid is a God, a pharaoh, the Pope, the Fuhrer, Chairman Mao, Bill Gates or Robert Murdoch the structure is a finite one, a closed one.

The third millennium changes this perspective, the paradigm shifts from the pyramid, from the tower of Babel to Brancusi’s Endless Column, that is from the finite structure to the infinite form, from the closed society to the open society.

The tower of Babel has been traditionally associated with man’s arrogance to reach God. When in fact this is the sense of man’s quest since he started walking in vertical position, reaching the heights of wisdom and knowledge. By looking at the stars, the moon and the sun, man becomes a vertical human being. The Endless Column is visual art form, the quintessence of Pico della Mirandola’s “De hominis dignitate”, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Cervantes’ “Don Quijote”, Goethe’s “Dr. Faust”, the triumph of human spirit, the infinite resources of human genius, the search for the idea, the perfect model, which is not static, temporal, not an optimal model but rather an ever bettering human model, self-perfecting and perfecting the ways of knowledge and understanding of the universe at the macrocosmos and microcosmos levels.

The third millennium is the age of pluralism. Enough of one God, one man, one church, one nation, one race domination. Agents of change helped create a paradigm shift moving aesthetics, ethics and scientific knowledge to pluralism, inclusion, tolerance, multidisciplinary approach, open answers.


Civilization and Culture

Speaking of civilization and culture is not possible without a definition of our terms.

Civilization is the knowledge of creating the material conditions necessary to living in human societies(Sumer, Egypt, Indus Valley, Maya).

Culture is transmitted knowledge in oral or written form, i.e. language and script (the Vedas).

Civilization is the step from natura naturans to natura naturata, from adapting to a natural environment to the modification of it through building not just of dwellings but rather public structures(shrines, temples, city buildings). A civilization is a culture in the human action. A civilization can be destroyed without destroying or losing its culture. Gordon Childe [3] mentiond the preservation of the cultural capital of the Egyptian calendar as well as the Sumerian division of the day and the hour still in use today. I would add the example of Minoan civilization that ceased after 1400 BCE. The palatial centers of Knossos and Phaistos got into oblivion and ruin, but the Minoan culture was continued by the Mycaeneans, and the 19th c. and 20th c. excavations revealed the material evidence of the Minoan culture on Crete, the earliest known in Europe.

Civilizations can be living cultures, the Jewish culture, lost cultures, Atlantis, Phoenicia or rediscovered cultures through archeological excavation and research, Greco-Roman antiquity, Etruria, etc.

China and India are the oldest civilizations and cultures in existence without interruption in the same geographical space since ancient times, ca 3000 BCE to the present day. While the Chinese language and script are still in use today, Sanskrit, the oldest of Indian languages is a dead language, yet it is used in Hindu ceremonies nowadays.

So we can speak of Indian or Chinese civilization and culture in general; but we can also speak of an ancient, medieval or modern Chinese or Indian culture or civilization. In this sense I would call ancient, medieval and modern as types of a sociocultural model of civilization. All cultures/civilizations belonging to a certain type share common features.

Culture is thus transmitted knowledge in its threefold dimension: ART, ETHICS, SCIENCE.

I consider here ART, ETHICS, SCIENCE as social forms of knowledge and BEAUTY, GOODNESS, TRUTH their respective values. These are the primary cultural values that can be found in any given civilized society.

Although the triad of values can be found in all types of cultural models of civilization only one of these gives the social ethos of a societal model, i.e. BEAUTY in the ancient times, GOODNESS in the medieval times, TRUTH in the modern times, respectively.


Who dictates a social ethos?

Societies are not given, pre-determined, they are established in the human action, developed or destroyed by human action, erased from the face of the earth or submerged by physical phenomena. Human action aims at a societal model. It can be argued that this societal model is at least in theory an optimal model. Human action aiming at a societal model becomes planned action. The social ethos is in this planning the driving force to carry out a model. Societies are thus structures in the process of accomplishing a model, namely a functioning dynamic model.

The social ethos is realized in the process of teaching-learning displayed in the human action carrying out a model. A sociocultural model is an educational model.

The Christian moral ethos of the Roman Empire is announced three centuries prior to the edict of Milan 313 throughout the empire by the life and activities of martyrs of different ethnic groups and the life and activities in the catacombs or in the underground cities of Cappadocia. The shift in social ethos follows a pattern of spiritual evolution, marks a transition from the pagan Antiquity in which the central value is Beauty to the medieval forma mentis in which the central value is Goodness. Before being the official religion of the Roman Empire Christianity is embraced spontaneously by the masses. Christianism as a new social ethos is not imposed at the political level but rather adopted as a state religion( Armenia, the Roman Empire) due to its popularity and widespread character.

Buddhism, Christianity, Islamism were in the first place a new moral ethos and only secondly they became religious, economic [4], social, political ethos.


Sacralization, religious values, the esthetic ethos, the ethic ethos

Sacralization is a mental process of veneration, adoration, worship.Sacralization is a relation established between a human being, a group of human beings and the object or being (later the abstract notion) of veneration.

In its earliest primitive stage sacralization appears merely as an emotional or kingship rapport (totemism, animism, pantheism).

In sacralizing humans attribute holiness to real or fantastic objects, beings, mental constructs, nature, the Universe. Sacralization is thus an accepted role of human subordination to a power at the cognitive level.

From a philogenetic perspective the first form of cognition is magic. From magic emerged art, religion, science (curative medicine being probably the earliest empirical form of scientific knowledge).

At a later stage of sociocultural evolution sacralization is incorporated to religions, spiritual practices, systems of beliefs which deny humans the cognitive capacity and rather rely on occult processes of illumination, revelation, divination, trance, prophecy aiming at obtaining the ultimate truth.

If magic is syncretic knowledge so is religion or philosophy, spiritual practices of oral or written tradition. On another stage of human evolution sacralization applies to concepts not related to religion or spirituality (homeland, flag, anthem, etc) or abstract notions as Freedom, Justice, Happiness, etc.

Religion whether is Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islamism, Taoism, Lamaist Buddhism, etc. consists of a cosmology (science of the universe) or a cosmogony (a creation myth), an ontology (theory of the Being), a gnoseology (theory of knowledge) and an ethical code of behavior for its adherents. If one strips away religions of their cosmogonies, ontologies, gnoseologies and system of moral values than what we remain with is a story which can be regarded as art, as literature. To this piece of art, of literature we attribute a sacred character and we have already created a religion. Religions are axiomatic. Religions offer a vision of a finite, dogmatic truth. Religions reveal or conceal the ultimate truth, they are the truth itself or the placeholder for an impenetrable, unattainable truth.

In this sense I would say that religious values are syncretic values with a sacred function.The predominant character of religions is a moral model. Thus religious values can be assimilated to ethical values.Philosophy is speculative thinking with a scientific function.Philosophical values are also syncretic values, ethic, esthetic, scientific. These border values, religious and philosophical, are values that do not have a specific determinant. Religion can be ethical, philosophical in content. To this ethical, philosophical content it is attributed a sacred character.If the esthetic value is built upon the concepts of Beauty/ Ugliness, the ethic values is determined by Goodness/Evilness, the scientific value builds upon True/False, where is the place of religion and philosophy then? In a space between the ethical, the esthetic, the scientific which make Goodness, Beauty, Truth the three values that matter in any system of values.

In ancient societies the ethical, the philosophical, the religious, the scientific values are transmitted through ART. Monumental art is born in antiquity in all known cultures and civilizations, whether that masterpiece is architectural, pictorial, sculptural or literary.The function of ancient art is primarily educational. Educate through BEAUTY. Ancient art introduces order into life, a cosmic and social order .

The three monumental literary works of Antiquity are the Chinese I Ching ca 2852-200 BCE, the Hebrew Scriptures ca 1000-500 BCE (the Wellhausen School) and the Hindu Vedas ca 1500-500 BCE. These are national cultural models, a Weltanschauung created in the Esthetic age of mankind and indeed they are literary monuments even if their values are syncretic, philosophical, scientific, ethic, religious, esthetic.

I Ching, the Hebrew Bible, the Vedas are of the same stature as the Mesopotamian ziggurats, the Egyptian pyramids, the Minoan Palaces, the Greco-Roman temples, the Aztec or Inca pyramids. They are monuments of the cultures they represent, Chinese, Jewish, Indian respectively.

In Antiquity, China, Israel, India expressed its forma mentis in written form. Their cultural models in the Esthetic age are not built in stone but rather in words.


If we do not know a certain name or a certain date for the creation of the Sumerian or Egyptian religion we can speak with approximation of the creator and creation of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Manicheism, Islamism.

The ethic educational model is announced by the major world religions, in reality great ethical systems of Buddhism, Christianity, Islamism which are carried out in medieval times through the central value of Goodness. Earlier and more rapid than Christianity the spread of sects and schools of Buddhism starts in the 2 century BCE. In the 4th c. CE Buddhism is already present in most of India (3rd c. BCE), Sri Lanka (1st c. BCE), Thailand and Burma (1st c. CE),China, Vietnam (2nd c. CE), Korea, Nepal (4th c. CE), while Christianity becomes state religion first in Armenia (301 CE) next in the Roman Empire (edict of Milan 313 CE) and is the predominant Ethical model in most of the Hellenized world before the rise of Islam in the 7th c. CE.

In the Middle Ages religions are the vehicle of a new social ethos, the moral ethos. The educational function of the new religions is a response to an ethnically diverse world or a consequence of the dysfunction of political, economic, social empires and kingdoms of Antiquity. Political instability create the necessity of a different educational approach: teaching and learning by example, by a moral model, by achieving moral virtues, by doing good deeds, by following normative teachings of exemplary masters, Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed. The new religions do not conflict with the preexistent religions or systems of beliefs in the sense that they do not consider themselves exclusive, ex. Christianity adds to the Old Testament the New Testament, Zoroastrianism is a reformation of Indo-Iranian religions (Mazdeism), Buddhism is adapted in China and Tibet to meet local needs and indigenous beliefs and practices, Islamism incorporates most of the wealth of oral tradition of bedouin Arabs and that of local cultures of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, African berbers, India. The Middle Ages changes the character of the moral norm from ethnic to multiethnic, it is the leap from a national religion, Judaism to an international religion, Christianity, from a local value of Goodness to a universal value, from a local church to a universal church (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church). Meanwhile a national religion like Judaism undergoes a reverse process: from temple to synagogue. The synagogue becomes a religious embassy of an ethnic group established abroad, outside its country, geographical space. From 500 CE to 1500 CE and beyond the three moral models enterprise a monumental work of dogmatic consolidation, creation of shrines and schools, and proselytizing and converting populations from three continents, Asia, Africa, Europe, in the name of the supreme Goodness through faith.

Middle Ages is the theater of religious wars not for the triumph and supremacy of a faith or moral teaching but for the economical survival of impoverished societies of new peoples arriving at the end of Antiquity at the gates of Rome or Jerusalem. The West was Christianized in order to be civilized, in the same way the nomad bedouins of Arabia were Islamized. Educate in the faith for a better control of unruly, destitute populations was the social mandate of the medieval era. Buddhism and Christianity appear as spontaneous responses of societies to the crisis of Antiquity, India, the Roman Empire. The new religions are not made at order but they emerge as a need of spiritual healing and hope and solidarity of large diverse masses afflicted by misery and exploitation. From shield of the miser in Antiquity they become a weapon of the state, the ruler, the politician, India’s King Asoka (3rd c BCE) adopts Buddhism as a state religion, sending missionaries to Kashmir, Persia and Ceylon and Central Asia along the Silk Road. In the West the edict of Milan 313 CE modified the status of Christianity from a cultic practice to that of a state religion, an institutionalized moral norm throughout the Roman Empire.

Buddhism, Christianity, Islamism do not clash in the Middle Ages at the individual level, local level in its moral function but in what they have as ideology of a certain political power, within a political system, ex: in China the coexistence of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism was possible from the Han dynasty (3rd c. BCE) to Emperor Tang Wu Zong (9th c CE) known for his persecutions; in his time Buddhism was forbidden in China for social and economic reasons. Over 4600 temples were destroyed and 260,500 monks and nuns were forced to give up their religion. The clash between Islam and Christianity did not arise in the realm of moral values but in what economic and political reasons were concerned, competition for the spheres of influence. Muslim Spain could accommodate the three religions Islam, Christianity, Judaism as long as Christians and Jews paid taxes. While Christian Europe clashed with Islam mainly because the ecclesiastical class of the Catholic West felt the threat of being taxed or reduced in numbers and authority. An economically stagnant Medieval Christian West financially weakened by the Crusades of 11th-13th centuries, a split church (the great Schism of 1054), plagued by heresy (Cathars, Waldesians, Brethren of the Free Spirit) will respond with the creation of the Inquisition and the universities for the education of professional clergy. Encouraging dogmatic study in Medieval Europe aimed at reinvigorating a fading faith in the system, the Christian model, by consolidating its institutions while pursuing the more pragmatic goal of fighting its way through the Islamic block to the source of Oriental commodities, the spices, the silk, the tea, the paper of India and China. In its turn Buddhism as a moral medieval model that spread in the Indian peninsula and along the Silk Road as early as the 3rd c. BCE was displaced by Islam in 1200 CE. The confrontation between the two religions as societal models does not take place at the moral level of values and dogma but at the level of power and regional domination.

The Mongol Empire of Central Asia, for instance, oscillated from religious tolerance in times of Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan to periods of Buddhism in time of Hulegu Khan and his son Abaqa Khan to periods of Islamic faith and fervor in time of Timur Lenk. Islam imposed itself not by the superiority of its doctrine but by force. Holy war is an integral part of Islam, non violence is a central Buddhist value.

In the 15th c. Europe is already mature for the new societal model. The sociocultural ethos will be science, the new value, Truth. A new theory of knowledge acquires prestige among scholars, the theory of the double truth (Averroism, Siger de Brabant).

How do values change ?

A sociocultural model is stable or dynamic depending on the form used to express a Weltanschauung, a world view. The most stable forms are the esthetic and ethic invested with a sacred function.The esthetic and ethic can be forms of the social or individual consciousness or simply values.The esthetic and ethic forms of consciousness can have syncretic values, esthetic and ethic value, esthetic and ethic function but also a sacred function.

By form I understand here structure.The stable structure is the momentary or final equilibrium (the zenith) of a prior development either mental, theoric or social, practic.The intellectual, the social structures are structures in evolution. The structure has a function.When a structure is replaced by another structure the function can stay the same. (ex. Ancient art has a sacred function so does the ethical form in the Middle Ages.) Stable structures have norms or rules which do not act independently.There are structures having values plus norms with a sacred function ( at the ideological level).

Speaking of Beauty, Goodness and Truth as values it should be pointed out that they are to be treated here as dual, positive and negative value or being eufunctional or dysfunctional. For example, from the 6th to the 1th c. BCE the syncretic value system of Antiquity as a world view governed by the Esthetic value becomes dysfunctional in Persia, India, China, Israel, Greece.The archaic cultural model of Antiquity is challenged through the rise of religious reformers, philosophers and sages, Zoroaster , Buddha, Lao Tze, Confucius, Jesus, Socrates. Likewise the Ethic value system of Christianity is eufunctional between the 4th c CE and the 10th c CE and dysfunctional after the 11th c CE in Europe.

** *

The new ethos does not appear all of a sudden from the old ethos neither it is independent of it. The old values do not clash with the new values but the previous value by its own development and completion declines, turns into nonvalue. The eclipse of a value is its negative, the nonvalue. This is the moment of crisis of the value system in which the new value does not opposes the old value (initial, prior value) but the nonvalue, the nadir of the previous value, it tries to overthrow it, to undermine the stability of the old value.The negative tends to cancel the positive.The opposition is between the zenith and the nadir of a value. The new value cannot deny an old value the same as it cannot appear out of nothing but it contests its central place within the system of values in a moment in which the old value is exhausted in its forms and its function does not respond to Necessity at the ideological level. Therefore the new value does not eliminate the previous value from the value system but pushes it to a secondary plan, it changes its content. The dialectics of sociocultural values engaged in a social ethos follows the direction thesis, antithesis, synthesis. In the Esthetic age of Antiquity the dialectics of the esthetic form follows the direction thesis- classical Greek art and age of Pericles (5th Century-4th Century BCE), to antithesis in Hellenism (323 to 31 BCE) to synthesis – Ghandaran art (1st Century to 5th Century CE).

In the Esthetic age of Antiquity the esthetic form has syncretic values, an esthetic value and an esthetic as well as sacred function (the pyramids, the temples, the Vedas, etc) In the Ethic age of the Middle Ages the esthetic form acquires a moral dimension, it has an ethic value as well as a sacred function (the church, the cathedral, the temple, the mosque). In the Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic art the esthetic value makes room for the ethic value at the centerstage. The ethic value serves a sacred function.The Ethic age changes the content of medieval art from an esthetic value to an ethic value.

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

Fig. 2

In figure 2 it is shown the world line of the three values, ESTHETIC, ETHIC, SCIENTIFIC, the dialectics of their direction, the sense of evolution and the cultural crises respectively. The world line of the three values is a helix in spacetime.

The ethic value of the Middle Ages passes from thesis, the spread and consolidation of the three world religions Buddhist, Christian, Islamic (5th C to 10th C) to antithesis Averroes (11th C) to synthesis the theory of the double truth , Siger of Brabant in the 13th C.


The scientific form of knowledge, the scientific value, the scientific ethos

“… the history of science is, by large, a history of progress.(Science seems to

be the only field of human endeavour of which this can be said)”Karl Popper. [5]

The scientific form of knowledge together with the esthetic, ethical, religious, philosophical forms of knowledge create the body of human knowledge, of human spirit.

And indeed, esthetic, philosophic, religious truths are total, absolute, perfect, complete, closed.

Scientific truth is partial, relative, imperfect, incomplete with relation to time and space, open.

Scientific knowledge can be accumulation of new knowledge as well as correction and integration of previous knowledge.

In other words esthetic, ethic, philosophic, religious values are perennial, timeless while scientific values are provisional, temporal.

The search for knowledge is a search for truth. From the dawn of humankind man sought for truth in many ways, magical, esthetic, ethic, religious, mystical, philosophical, scientific. The scientific form of knowledge is the quest for scientific truth and it existed as an occupation of the esthetic man of Antiquity. If we are to credit Karl Popper’s statement “science starts from problems and not from observations”[6] then we can easily explain the development of astronomy and mathematics in most ancient cultures. The astronomical knowledge helped the development of agriculture and navigation while the development of mathematics contributed to the birth of art and architecture, to the creation of pyramids, palaces, temples in the Esthetic age of mankind. The scientific value is present in the Esthetic age and contributes to the consolidation of the Esthetic form while representing its vehicle. The emancipation of scientific values from the religious, philosophical, esthetic values takes place in ancient Greece through the rise of disciplines of thought with an independent object of study: Thales of Miletus, considered father of science(physics), Eratosthenes(earth science), Theophrastus (botany),Hippocrates, Dioscorides, (biology), etc.

In Antiquity and the Middles Ages science as a value does not occupy a prominent place in any known society of the respective eras as long as the form of knowledge that creates an ethos is either esthetic or ethic.The esthetic truth is good enough for Antiquity while the moral truth is good enough for the Middles Ages.The scientific value has a long way yet of emancipating from the esthetic and ethical, religious, philosophical values.In the Esthetic age of Antiquity scientific values still take part in syncretic forms of knowledge, ex. I Ching, the Vedas.

The Middle Ages will eventually bring a growth in the body of scientific knowledge ( Islamic Renaissance) but it does not amount to a qualitative change in the way the scientific value is perceived. The scientific value will not be central in the system of values of any society prior to the Modern Era. The Modern Era and namely the Renaissance humanism will mark a beginning of the age of the scientific ethos. The theory of the double truth (13th c CE) opens up the field of research for philosophy and science as independent disciplines, philosophy is no more ancilla theologiae.

It could be argued that from the discovery of the Americas (1492) through the 19th c the moral ethos, namely the Christian ethical ethos never ceased to raise the moral values of Christianity in a pyramid of values in societies on three continents, the Americas, Africa, Australia. If this is true then the content of the moral values of Christianity changed from a medieval goal to a modern means of cultural education of large masses. The New Testament became a vehicle of the ultimate truth, the moral truth of Christianity. Evangelization is a means of shaping the modern man and not an end. I am partially in agreement with Weber’s thesis[7] that Protestant ethics was instrumental in developing the capitalist ethos, only that this social ethos is a consequence of the cultural ethos initiated with the Renaissance and the Age of Discoveries. The new ethos is the scientific ethos, the (Western) modern man is the scientific man, the man who wants to know by facts, by the power of reason, by scientific proof. Early modern age is in the West the age of the scientific revolution in which ideas and works of scientists like Kepler, Galileo, Isaac Newton appear in print and are disseminated among students of Universities and the general public.

”In the seventeenth century as the number of scientists rapidly outgrew the number of university professorships, scientists increasingly sought to indulge and share their common interests through memberships in scientific societies, academies and clubs in lieu of faculty affiliations. By the middle of the century groups of scientists in various parts of Europe had begun to assemble privately and conduct experiments.”[8]

The scientific revolution will be followed by the Age of Reason, the 19th and 20th centuries will mark significant developments in the evolution of the scientific method and scientific ethos. By the 20th century the scientific ethos became predominant in most known cultures of the globe. The scientific value is indeed in continuous rise

For a theory of human knowledge

Knowledge is multiform, magical, esthetic, ethical, philosophical, mystical, religious, scientific.Thus Antiquity can be considered the age of symmetrical thinking, the esthetic age, Middle Age – the age of normative thinking, the ethical age while Modern Age – the age of exact thinking, the scientific age. Human knowledge has developed so far four-dimensionally, ART, ETHICS, SCIENCE on a time coordinate.( Figure 3)

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

From the Tower of Babel to the Endless Column

While artistic and ethic forms developed during 5000 years in rather a monadic way (Leibnitz), the scientific form ( which is a continuum) is relatively a little developed form, the scientific ethos has a life span of only 500 years. The age of the scientific ethos is not over yet.

“But is there any danger that our need to progress will go unsatisfied, and that the growth of scientific knowledge will come to an end? In particular, is there any danger that the advance of science will come to an end because science has completed its task? I hardly think so thanks to the infinity of our ignorance.” Karl Popper[9]

For over 5000 years civilizations and cultures evolved according to a similar pattern, namely that of closed systems of values always with a chief value at the top of the pyramid, Beauty (Antiquity), Goodness (Middle Ages), Truth (modern era) with esthetic values as chief values for the Ancient world, ethical-religious values as chief values for the medieval world, and scientific values as chief values for the modern world. The third millennium of the common era makes possible a shift from the closed system of values to the open system of values, from the pyramid of values to the infinite column of values. Artistic knowledge, ethical-religious knowledge, scientific knowledge can and must harmoniously be developed by people and for people in an open system, that is with an inexhaustible supply of energy which is nothing else but the human spirit.

The humanistic message of our era is that of peaceful coexistence and appreciation of artistic trends, styles, movements, ethical or religious schools of thought or practice, ways and methods of scientific research and study as equally valid forms of knowledge.



1.Le Goff, Jacques Les Intellectuels au Moyen Age,(Paris: Éditions du Seuil,1957 )

2. Koyre, Alexandre From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (New York: Harper,1958)

3. Childe, V. Gordon “The Urban Revolution” in The Rise and Fall of Civilizations Modern Archaeological Approaches to Ancient Cultures ( Menlo Park, California: Cummings Publishing Company, 1974 )

4. Liu, Xinru Ancient India and Ancient China trade and religious exchanges, AD 1-600: Delhi; New York: University Press 1988)

5. Popper, Karl R. The Rationality of Scientific Revolutions, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 )

6. Popper, Karl R. Truth, Rationality, and the Growth of Knowledge (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann 1979)

7.Weber, Max The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

8. Dorn, Harold, The Geography of Science (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991)

9. Popper, Karl R. Truth, Rationality, and the Growth of Knowledge

© Elena Malec

View Comments (6)
  • Ayax

    Absolutely fascinating. Perfect comparison. Ancient culture and the Babel Tower vs. Modern culture and Brancusi Tower. Congratulations Elena Malec. I really appreciate the reading.

    • Thanks Ayax. It’s a great essay, an anthropoligical lesson. Thanks Elena. A honor for Yareah Magazine

  • I am truly impressed with today’s publication. I started work on this essay in 1982 in Bucharest and in Romanian. It took many years to complete this essay which is the first part of my theory on human knowledge evolution. The second part would be a study on self-policing democracy, the future of our societies.

  • Isadora

    Good news. Hope to read this second part. Congratulations Elena

    • Thanks Isadora. Yes, we wait for the second part. It promises to be so interesting as this first one.

  • Thank you Isadora and Isabel.


Elena Malec was born in Bucharest Romania in 1954. She holds a MA in modern languages and literatures from the University of Bucharest.Translated from George Bacovia’s poetry, published in Barcelona in Cuaderns Crema in 1984. Published literary criticism in Romania, verse in the United States.

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Ceramics by Sister Augustine

Author John Schlimm has won a Christopher Award for Five Years in Heaven

Yareah MagazineMay 5, 2016
Ken O'neill. Casino Woman in Red Throwing Dice

Sunday Poetry with Jenean C. Gilstrap. Today: burn baby burn

Jenean C GilstrapApril 24, 2016
Lions painted in the Chauvet Cave. This is a replica of the painting from the Brno museum Anthropos. The absence of the mane sometimes leads to these paintings being described as portraits of lionesses. Source: Wikipedia. Author: HTO - Own work (own photo)

Sunday Poetry with Gypsy Woman, Jenean C. Gilstrap. Today: Home

Jenean C GilstrapApril 17, 2016

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