The-O ring: Theory, Theorem, Theology, Theosophy?


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

A Playful Intercultural Quest for Fruitful Complementarity


Curiously the prefix “theo” is effectively central to one of the most divisive debates in the current global civilization, namely that between science and religion. On a mathematical blog, the obvious question as asked: Is there some connection between the etymology of “theorem” and words like “theology” or “theist”? (Michael Lugo, Etymology of “theorem”, God Plays Dice, 23 November 2008). Some respondents asserted that they are not related, as for Eugene van der Pijll:

There are two different Proto-Indo-European roots here: dheie-, to look, watch, and dhes-, holy, divine. The first evolved into Greek theaomai, “to watch”, thea, “spectacle”, and theatron, “theater”. Together with orao “to look”: thea-oros > theoros, “spectacle watcher”; and theorema, “performance”, theoria, “attendance at a spectacle”. The other became thesos > theos, god, and thea, goddess. So theorem and theory are related to theater, but not to god.

It might be similarly asserted that “waves” and “particles” are not related — except from the perspective of quantum mechanics. Appropriate to this playful argument, however, it took the perspective of a playful theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, to show dramatically the vulnerability of the O-ring — under certain conditions — as an explanation for the traumatic US Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. Ironically, as in accounts of his famous demonstration to the presidential Rogers Commission, this could be described as a piece of theatre — employing methods which Rogers asserted were a “real pain“. It follows that playful aesthetics may well provide a key to the relationship between the variants of “theo” — as explored below. despite conventional views on the matter.

Beyond the obvious relationship of their prefixes, the issue explored here is therefore whether and how Theory, Theorem, Theology, and Theosophy might indeed be related in some form of implicit cognitive “The-O ring” through a pattern of aesthetic correspondences. This follows a brief indication of the distinctive nature of each and of the problems with which they are associated.

The playfulness of this argument follows from previous recognition of its role in integrative insight (Humour and Play-Fullness: essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity, 2005).

Although playful, the suggestion here is that to ignore some such possibility is to court further disaster, already evident in the highly dysfunctional relationship between religion and science — with all the consequences which they exacerbate, separately and in combination, righteously denying any responsibility in the matter. The issue could be fruitfully explored in the terms of each, as argued separately, but that would seem to be unlikely (Mathematical Theology: future science of confidence in belief, 2011). This exploration could be considered a contribution to that possibility.

The argument here was partly inspired by the continuing sterile dynamic between science and religion regarding the nature of any singular deity and the questionable existence of a multiplicity of deities for some religions. Curiously science, although envisaging and anticipating singularities, has yet to formulate the Theory of Everything to which it aspires — however incomprehensible this may prove to be to most. Science is however unembarrassed by the number of theorems it has engendered — seemingly innumerable.

It is then appropriate to ask whether those theorems are effectively functional substitutes for hierarchies of deities within a “theology of science” — potentially then to be understood as a form of belief system variously attracting worshippers to its many temples. Just as people in crisis may seek intercession through specific deities (angels, or saints), it is clear that there is now a somewhat similar recourse to theories and theorems to explain and manage such crises. There is widespread agreement amongst atheists that human ingenuity, informed by science, will respond in a timely manner to those crises — despite arguments to the contrary (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap, 2000).

The playful dimension is significant to the concluding argument in that the etymology of “theo” is intimately related to “thea“, and theatre (as noted above). This fruitfully introduces the feminine dimension variously excluded from the preoccupation of the modalities with which “theo” is associated. In a second part, the concluding argument is usefully clarified using a variety of illustrations relating the theme to current global preoccupations (The-O Ring and The Bull Ring as Spectacular Archetypes: dramatic correlation of theatre, theory, theorem, theology, and theosophy, 2014). The emphasis there is on how dramatic incorporation of the feminine can enhance “interestingness, suggestiveness and memorability” of the “theo” modalities — otherwise to be recognized as increasingly sterile, infertile and “unfit for purpose”.

The argument as a whole might be caricatured by an adaptation of the title of a famed study of psychotherapy: We’ve Had a 1000 Years of Theo — And the World’s Getting Worse.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 May 2014.

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