Searching for the underbelly of existence

Posted on: 8th September, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

Anne Crossey is a painter living in West Cork. She has a primary Degree in Philosophy, a Masters in Western Esotericism, and a Masters in Philosophy, specialising in Psychoanalytic Theory (T.C.D.). Anne is the co-organizer of TEDxWestCork, She runs the West Cork Philosophical Society which meets fortnightly at Baby Hannah’s, Skibbereen. 7.30pm. For more info. Email:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

Stephen Hawking,

A Brief History of Time

These recent weeks have been the era of the Ice Bucket Challenge so it seems a fitting idea to start with a quote from Stephen Hawking. As a graduate student, Hawking started showing symptoms of general clumsiness, tripping, sometimes falling over. His family became concerned when he was home during his Christmas holidays and insisted he see a doctor. Aged 21, he entered the hospital for two weeks of tests to discover what was wrong with him. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that causes patients to lose control of their voluntary muscles. For most of his time in the public eye, he has been confined to a wheelchair and since 1985 has had to speak through his trademark computer system, which he operates with his cheek. Nevertheless, Stephen Hawking brought quantum physics into almost every household with his bestselling book, ‘A Brief History of Time.’ Discussions about black holes and speculation about quantum gravity became ‘de rigueur’ for philosophy students in smoky pubs all over the world.

Hawking himself, I like, because he has the attitude of an ancient philosopher. “My goal” he says, “is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” This is where philosophy began — why is the world, the universe, as it is, what is it, and what does it mean?

The pioneers of philosophy as we know it, stemmed from the land of Homer, within an area known in the present day as Turkey, formerly known as Smyrna: ancient Ionia formed the cradle of Greek philosophy. Stretching from Phocaea in the north to Miletus in the south, it included the islands of Samos and Chios.

Though the ancient Greeks basked in art and beauty and sunshine and the heroism of their athletes, it would be a mistake to assume that they ignored the dark underbelly of existence. They were profoundly aware of the cycles of change, ‘of birth and growth, decay and death’. Thales of Miletus, considered the forefather of all western thought, was said to have predicted the eclipse of the sun mentioned by Herodotus, since been dated to May 28, 585 BCE. He died shortly before the fall of Sardis in 546 BCE. There are many anecdotes about his life: one that he fell backwards into a well while stargazing, another that foreseeing a coming shortage in olives, he cornered the market for oil and became a very wealthy man. He constructed an almanac and introduced the Phoenician practice of steering a ship by the Little Bear. All of this can be read in Diogenes Laertius’ ‘Life of Thales’.

According to Aristotle in the Metaphysics, ‘the most important point is that Thales declared the primary stuff of all things to be water…indeed, that he raised the question of the One at all.’ Thales would not have considered himself a philosopher — he was an astronomer, a man of knowledge, a thinker. Science and philosophy were not segregated in the ancient world — indeed neither yet recognised in itself a distinct existence. Philosophical and scientific curiosity was only gently awakening in the West and wasn’t yet limited by categorisations and the academic rationalism that was to so disenchant the modern world. Thales was driven by an earnest desire to understand the world he lived in.

For him, water was the substance that underlies everything — for without water land remains completely sterile — it is essential for existence. Within a seed Thales saw moistness, he saw water evaporate to become air, he found you could dig deep enough and the earth becomes sodden, turns to water itself. In the hot climate, when something died or ceased to be, it dried out. Water — if you stop to think about it, it isn’t so silly that he might have seen water as underlying all material being.

In fact it doesn’t matter. The important thing about Thales of Miletus was that he conceived ‘things’ as varying forms of one primary and ultimate element. He first conceived the notion of Unity in Difference and this theme became absolutely central to Greek philosophy. It is central to monotheism. Even today, with our Hadron Collider, we are still searching for the ultimate material that underlies everything that we experience as the diverse manifestations of life and matter in the Universe. From Thales to Stephen Hawking, from water as the unified theory of everything to ice buckets unifying a cause online. Nothing changes.

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11th October, 2017  ·  

Submarines, American Sailors, and the Underwater War in Irish Waters, 1917-1918
by Dr John Borgonovo in The Parish Centre, Clonakilty
on Thursday Oct 26 2017 at 8.30 pm

In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats brought the United States into WWI and created a crisis in Britain. To defeat the submarine menace, an American naval fleet was dispatched to County Cork, bringing about 10,000 sailors with it. This talk will explain the circumstances of this extraordinary event, and how Cork residents dealt with their unexpected American guests.

Dr John Borgonovo is a lecturer in the School of History at UCC. His publications include Spies, Informers, and the 'Anti-Sinn Féin' Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1920-1921; The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918; Exercising a close vigilance over their daughters: Cork women, American sailors, and Catholic vigilantes, 1917-18; Something in the Nature of a Massacre: The Bandon Valley Killings Revisited (with Andy Bielenberg). His latest publication (with co-authors John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy) is the highly acclaimed and magnificient Atlas of the Irish Revolution. In July of this year, he organised a very successful conference on Winning the Western Approaches - Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland 1917-1918.
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11th October, 2017  ·  

Apple Juicing Day in Clonakilty next Sunday Sept 30th. All welcome to bring their apples from 2-6pm to the Clonakilty Community Garden (on entrance road to Clonakilty Lodge).

Building on the success of its inaugural 2016 event, local voluntary environmental organisation Sustainable Clonakilty invites people to bring along their apples and press them to extract their own juice to take home, using the group's Apple Press.

Volunteers will be at hand to assist in the procedure. Bring along your apples washed; clean containers to freeze your juice (milk/juice bottles or cartons, plastic bottles with caps); clean, sterilised glass bottles to pasteurise with swing caps or suitable for 26 mm diameter metal cap.

A limited number of new 3 litres juice bags that are suitable for freezing and pasteurising, can be purchased for a nominal fee on the day also.

This is a free community event and donations will be welcome to cover costs.

For further information, please contact Xavier at or text at 086/0476124.
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26th September, 2017  ·  

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