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What Nietzsche really meant: The Apollonian and Dionysian
One God stands for order, logic, and reason. The other stands for chaos, madness, and drunkenness. Nietzsche thinks you need both.
We all know the kind of person who likes to impose order on every situation. They want reason, logic, precise definitions, and despise chaos. Likewise, we all know people who throw order to the wind, follow every impulse they have, are drawn to chaos, and hate restraints on them.
While most of us would look at these kinds of people and see nothing more than personality differences, Friedrich Nietzsche saw an enduring dichotomy inside all of us which emerges from nature itself and can be applied to art, psychology, ethics, and politics.
The Apollonian and Dionysian
In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche examines art, particularly ancient Greek plays. While he didn’t write the last word on the subject, he did use the book to introduce a concept which would continue to appear in his thinking long after he dismissed his earliest work as “badly written, ponderous, embarrassing, image-mad and image-confused.”
The two forces of nature he introduces show up everywhere. While their most famous iteration was as pillars of Greek culture, they can also appear as drives within us and even as historical forces. He names the two halves of this dichotomy the Apollonian and the Dionysian, after two Greek Gods.
Apollo, the God of the sun, truth, light, and logic, is the namesake for the first, ordered, half. This is the half that covers everything which is structured. Sculpture, an art which is pure form, is the most Apollonian art.
Rational thinking, which is based on logical structures, is also Apollonian. Since this drive tends to put things into their place, it also tends to individualize and distinctly separate people and ideas from one another.
Nietzsche thinks dreams are the most Apollonian state we can experience. He bases this on the idea that we understand what we see when dreaming isn't real, but merely an image. It has been suggested that he was a lucid dreamer to explain this strange notion.
Dionysus, the God of wine, festivals, and madness lends his name to the later, frenzied, half. Music is the pure Dionysian artform since it doesn’t appeal to our rational mind but rather to our emotions. The Dionysian doesn’t categorize and tends to blur the boundaries between the self and nature.
The esoteric and mystic cults of the Greeks, many of which were dedicated to Dionysus, offer an alternative to the rationalism of the Apollonian and were noted for their “sexual licentiousness.”
Drunkenness is suggested as the pure Dionysian state. He gives us a fantastic description of the Dionysian when he explains:
“Transform Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy’ into a painting; let your imagination conceive the multitudes bowing to the dust, awestruck- then you will approach the Dionysian.”
Nietzsche suggests that folk music is especially Dionysian and that “it might also be historically demonstratable that every period rich in folk songs has been most violently stirred by Dionysian currents.” This explains a lot about the 1960’s.
Two men ride home after the Woodstock Music Festival; three days of music, free love, and drugs that dissolve the boundaries between self and the cosmos. A more Dionysian event is hard to come by. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
How can these drives ever be combined?
Getting these two drives to work together is difficult, but not impossible. Nietzsche saw their fusion as ideal, as it allowed the tremendous frenzied energy of the Dionysian to be applied constructively inside an Apollonian framework. He thought the ancient Greeks, perhaps uniquely, were able to blend the two drives in their culture.
In Greek tragedies like Oedipus Rex, dreadful concepts like death, fate, and unfairness were expressed in a beautiful and ordered way through plots and dialogue. The audience viewed these concepts in a Dionysian way since they were watching an unrelatable main character experience them as explained by the chorus.
The chorus' unity and detachment from the action helps the audience to separate from themselves and consider the ideas in the play in a depersonalized way. This allows the viewer to deal with unpleasant ideas in a way that is gentler than frank, Apollonian discussion.
The ability of Greece to fuse the two ideas didn’t last forever though, eventually, the Greeks drifted towards the Apollonian again, to Nietzsche’s disappointment.
He argues that the movement from plays which focused on great heroes towards subjects that the audience could relate to allowed audiences to judge the people on stage and restored their self-consciousness when watching plays. The audience, now individualized, could no longer get the same comfort from theatre as they could before.
Is the Apollonian bad?
It’s not bad at all, but Nietzsche knew that we need both. The loss of the Dionysian in drama and society is, therefore, a loss to our own ability to be complete people- let alone the effect it has on plays.
The Apollonian gives us reason, order, law, and harmony. These are often very good things. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
How can I use this?
Even if you’re not a playwright or a classical scholar trying to make sense of Greek Civilization, these concepts can still be of use. We all have both an Apollonian and Dionysian side to us. While many thinkers have downplayed the Dionysian and sought to promote only the rational, structured parts of us, Nietzsche thinks this isn’t just folly but detrimental. He mocks those who try and avoid the Dionysian, saying they :
“turn away from such phenomena as from “folk-diseases,” with contempt or pity born of the consciousness of their own “healthy mindedness.” But of course such poor wretches have no idea how corpselike and ghostly their so-called “Healthy-mindedness” looks when the glowing life of the Dionysian revelers roars past them.”
But this doesn’t mean that you should utterly give into the drunkenness, madness, “sexual licentiousness,” and boundless chaos of the Dionysian. Instead, it means that you should accept that part of you wants those things and strive to harness that energy towards a more constructive goal.
Does this have use elsewhere?
Ruth Benedict has used the dichotomy to describe different cultures in her anthropological work. Camille Paglia wrote a controversial book suggesting men and women embody the archetypes and that there is a biological cause of this. Freud, whose ideas covered similar ground as Nietzsche's, described the Id in Dionysian terms.
While Nietzsche later dismissed his first book, the ideas he put forward in it are still of great interest. His understanding that we all have forces of reason, irrationality, structure, chaos, individualism, and cosmic unity within us all would later inform his psychological insights.
While his theories on aesthetics might not have been the end all answer he was looking for, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy remains a useful way to view art, psychology, and society.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.