Edgar Miller and Philosophy

April 24, 2015

One incredible bonus to researching the life of Edgar Miller is the copious amounts of writing he did on all matter of subjects. Art, obviously, was a major source of inspiration for putting his thoughts on paper. Yet he also wrote about many other subjects, like history, politics, and the evolutionary nature of humankind.

One such writing he considered so profound that he wrote it out as an elaborate scroll, with decorated margins and beautiful calligraphy, and sent it to his friend Sam Hirsh.

We have transcribed the piece below so you can read it for yourselves. It certainly has a prophetic tone: What are we here for? Is Art the reflection of our love of Nature? Are we all just cells in an even larger organism creating itself to become a unified Earth?

Without using the word, he seems to be predicting the idea of Singularity, which was bubbling up amongst many futurist thinkers starting in the 19th century and taking a much more realistic quality at the beginning of the Computer and Space Age after World War II.

It is remarkable that Edgar thought so deeply on this subject, and it speaks to his nature not simply as a talented and proficient artist, but also as a truly great mind.

(Full transcription below)

Christmas 1957                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Dear Sam,

Once several years ago at the edge of sleep, everything became clear, and the Identity and Purpose of man was self evident. Half asleep as I was, I staggered to my drawing board to fix in words some statement so that this Realization would not be forgotten.

The next morning, on my board I read in mystification the words: "That's it—That's why." What "it" was I hadn't the faintest notion—nor "why."

I remember the story of an Indian chief whose name I have forgotten, although I still retain a clear and living memory of his personality. He told how his grandfather had had a medicine of flying. His grandfather simply spread his arms and looked into the face of the sun and leaped into the air from a branch that overhung the Missouri river at a particular place. When his grandfather climbed out on the springy branch he knew he could fly—so he looked into the sun—and leaped.

The content of reality behind my “Realization,” I'm sure was of much the same stuff as the dream of the chief's grandfather—and yet we fly today—over the Missouri. So I've been interested in the dreams of men and their slow metamorphosis into reality. (How many long years between Daedalus and Kitty Hawk.)

Fire was once such a dream—Was there a man whose love for the sun was so great that it did somehow reproduce itself in his little child—Fire—in the dark forgotten days of the Ice Age?

Are not the “brain children” of men, in paint and carved stone, the end result of an impregnation of the brains of men through love of Nature? Is not that what Leonardo meant when he said "Art is the imitation of Nature?" Surely Leonardo’s perception of Nature was so profound that he knew no better way to imitate Nature than through the pattern of reproduction.

Sometimes we invent a mechanism that gives us information we had never 'dreamed of' and the process is reversed. Then it is a long time before we become so accustomed to the new information that it can become the supporting substratum for a new dream. Such a thing was the microscope. Through it we know that (although we are not yet accustomed to the idea) we are not the simple, solid Person we had thought—but a vast, beautifully integrated community of cellular individuals. So completely unified are we, in fact, that our ideas of ourselves are as unreal as the oversimplified notion of flight of the chief's ancestor.

When we have fully grasped the implications behind this concept we will have gone a long way toward understanding ourselves—and we will have become better equipped to understand and re-examine Society. This new information also makes it possible to look in another direction--as when one of my body cells tries to comprehend the magnitude and pattern of "me."

It is becoming clear that—having created the cell as a building unit; after aeons of preliminary forms, one form is made at last that comprehends (potentially) his creator, and can see creation whole with a mind. This mind has already begun to link the great areas of the Earth together with a nervous system. Circulatory and excretory systems are started. A secondary evolutionary system (in our mechanisms) is functioning—we build super “eyes” like Palomar [Observatory] to extend our vision into deepest space.

Man—all unknowing—prepares himself for the unit cell in a new planetary individual—Earth.

In this world toward which man builds, what must be its first distinguishing attribute? —Is it not Unity?

It is curious that those peoples sophisticated enough to try to explain or justify war have always given some version of this idea for an excuse: “To bring all Europe under the Pax Romana,” “to establish all over the world the worship of the true prophet,” “to make the world safe for Democracy.”

Is war then to be seen as the peremptory pangs of that coming birth becoming more severe and more enveloping as the process approaches climax? Is not this last war that fearful dream seen long ago as “Armageddon” when the last men stand before an incomprehensible form born out of human kind? “The sheep and the goats” in the early shepherd’s way of thinking.

Is not this the same picture out of the past as when the Almost men—the Not Quite men—faced their incomprehensible enemy armed only with fang and sinew against the terrible weapons of fire and stone of the True men? On that day of Judgment all the Proto Men went down forever into silent extinction.

We the victorious survivors remember no terror—only a memory of a Golden Age when we were as gods relative to the Creature we had been born out of. Deep in us we rejoice in the memory of that Golden Childhood.

When the new world is born will the pains of that terrible birth be soothed and forgotten in the Golden Childhood of a New Child born to the Universe?

I wonder if the Son of Man whose birth we celebrate today bears the same relation to that forerunner among the animals, who might have thought of himself as a Son of the Great Apes until he could form the word for Man.

How many Sons of Man have there been? Pythagoras? Lao Tse? Buddha? Mohammed? Whitman?

When shall we see another?

When shall we meet them in ourselves?

 

— Edgar Miller