Monday, May 7, 2007

Prometheus' Guilt

Not everybody knows the gods anymore, but most of us remember Prometheus. In an incredibly brazen and risky act, Prometheus stole fire (warmth and cooking) from Zeus on behalf of humankind. Then, says wikipedia,
To punish Prometheus for this hubris (and all of mankind in the process), Zeus devised "such evil for them that they shall desire death rather than life, and Prometheus shall see their misery and be powerless to succor them. That shall be his keenest pang among the torments I will heap upon him."

Eating raw animal meat was never fun, and I don't particularly like being cold in the winter -- so it is right that we honor Prometheus; it must be. After all, everything that increases our comfort and decreases hardship must be a good thing. Unless...

Any thoughts? Can anyone make an argument against Prometheus from a humanist perspective? From any other perspective?


Wishydig said...

So fire is a heightened level of activity in oxygen molecules that allows them to combine with other substances. That's how everything falls apart: from the immediate combustion of an explosion to the slower rusting of a tailpipe to the uncontainable free radicals that might explain the finiteness of life.

Let's define fire as the acceleration of time for small but growing amounts of matter. We don't like red meat so we accelerate its path to pure carbon just enough to keep it tasty. We need to digest fibrous vegetables more easily so we let them decompose. The fermentation and creation of sugars can make them sweet. Until the byproducts take over and make them rotten.

Fire convinces us that we can create and isolated time frame to speed some things up just enough to enjoy more in the set time frame in which we reside.

But it creates a goal of quantitative fulfillment.

It can keep us warm if we have no other source of heat. But so can planning and travel in cooperation with the sun. If we learn to plan according to the one fire that affects us but which we cannot affect. We can only adjust our place in relation to it. Prometheus didn't introduce fire to humanity--he just put it within grasp.

Has the modem increased human understanding because it has accelerated the bits that can reach each mind in the form of data?

Wishydig said...

(Okay so bits are data...How about "in the form of statistics? I don't know...)

Casey said...

The answer is: maybe.

So fire (and by "fire" I mean technology now) helps us do certain things faster, and we become enslaved to the idea of quantitative fulfillment. Repeat process with other techs.

What about Prometheus' punishment?--he has to watch us all be miserable without being able to help us. What's that mean? Why is that the punishment? Could we somehow help ourselves?

Wikipedia said that Zeus could not take fire back from humanity because the gods do not renege on their gifts... but could we give it back in exchange for Prometheus' state of mind?

Ew... and go back to eating raw meat? We really got ourselves into a bind scheming behind the gods' backs.

Wishydig said...


This is the same problem I have with the Genesis story of the fall. This idea that the torment was divinely decreed as punishment overlooks the inevitability of torment as a natural result.

When the man and Eve found out about mortality they weren't suddenly (and only then) destined to die. They just realized they were.

Likewise when fire was delivered into human hands it didn't then become a force of destruction.

What I see here is the desire to put all deities outside the bounds of time. If they can say "well then I'm going to do [X]" when [X] has already been determined, they must be omnichronic (or polytemporal).

Casey said...

Omnichronic is an awesome word.