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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.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."