The Notion of Finding

December 18, 2008

For some reason or other, nearly the entirety of my adult life has been devoted to the restoration and recovery of doctrines that were once vital in the Western intellectual tradition, but were subsequently lost, forgotten, or obscured.

Initially, I was drawn to certain such doctrines in the history of physics, mathematics, and philosophy. I guess it was inevitable that one day I would get involved with a subject that was not only lost and in need of recovery, forgotten and in need of recollection, obscured and in need of clarification, but one that in all likelihood had been deliberately hidden or occulted as well. I am referring, of course, to my obsession over the past fifteen years with finding the original system of Hellenistic astrology.

The notion of finding—having as its object what is lost, hidden, forgotten, and/or obscured—has taken on a special significance in my life, seeing as how it is the one common thread tying together all the investigations that have pre-occupied me over the years.

But what does it mean to find something, beyond the mere act of uncovering it? Although finding is not a way of coming to know something in the same sense that demonstration or proof is, it nevertheless has a cognitive component, because we cannot say we have found something unless we recognize it as something that once belonged to us or to someone else. Finding in the sense I mean here is also different than discovery, which in ordinary parlance involves the disclosure of something new and hitherto unknown; nevertheless, the act of finding to a certain extent renders something like new.

It is the term finding that best describes the full task of the would-be restorer of a lost art. In the case of the history of astrology, there is far more to the restorer’s art than simply uncovering and understanding lost techniques through translation and study. As in all acts of finding, the uncovering of a technique must be accompanied by an act of recognition, which in this case means the recognition of the guiding and shaping intelligence that bestowed the technique in the first place.

However, the finding is still incomplete if there is not renewal of the technique as well. The role of the restorer of astrological technique is very different from that of an innovator. It is at once more humble and more ambitious. The restorer does not seek to discover or create new techniques, but to recover and renew techniques created by others. But it is in the goal of the renewal of technique that the restorer is in a certain sense more ambitious than the innovator. This is because Hellenistic astrology is a broken lineage; we cannot be empowered in its techniques by the founders themselves. The goal of renewal presupposes that one can experience for himself through a written text what another has experienced and recorded in that text—that one can, so to speak, look over the shoulder of the founder of some technique and see through his eyes. Certain modern schools of philosophy would even deny that such a thing is possible, although I believe that with sufficient training in the art of finding it can be done.

It is because of reflections such as these that I long ago made up a Latin motto for Project Hindsight: Renovatio traditionis mente assumpta innovat ‘The restoration of a tradition mindfully renews what has been received.’

In retrospect, it seems to me strangely prophetic that the first restoration task I set myself concerned a lost book by Euclid called The Porisms. It dealt with a third kind of proposition intermediate between a theorem and a problem. Whereas a geometrical theorem has to do with demonstration, and a geometrical problem has to do with construction, a porism was said to be concerned with finding something that already exists.

I now need to ask myself whether in my efforts to restore Hellenistic astrology I was led to find something that was itself another art of finding.