Interpretation of an ancient Persian song: “Dokhtare Boyer Ahmadi”

I have been following the SEIKILOS channel for a while. They revive ancient melodies from across the world, while offering the platform to talented musicians to share their original high quality compositions:

[ The name Seikilos (Σείκιλος) is pronounced as “Sea-key-loss”. ]

One such song is Dokhtare Boyer Ahmadi, which they translate as The Girl from Boyer Ahmadi: I do not understand the language yet here I am about to provide philosophical commentary on what I have just listened to.

I used to be a rationalist. If something was not reducible to reason, it was not reliable. Until one day I paid attention to my behavioural patterns. Why was I chasing sunsets? What was so special in the close-up photo of a flower? How can I be impressed by beauty when I cannot even provide an exact definition of what it is? The absence of a definition does not mean that the concept is arbitrary or, indeed, meaningless. We can still discern patterns intuitively, telling apart the beautiful from that which is not.

The rationalist cannot understand beauty because it is not reducible to reason. Or, to put it differently, it has to be stripped of its qualities to become reasonable, at which point it no longer is what engendered the original impression.

To appreciate beauty we must let go of the dogma that the human being can behave as a fraction of itself. To be human is to exhibit a multifaceted nature, where the reasonable and the aesthetic co-exist not as counterparts but as complements.

Ancient cultures celebrated the multiplicity of the human condition. They knew that the human being can be wise, insightful, creative, harmonious, passionate, as well as destructive. It is entirely possible for a person to sing and make love on one day, only to prepare for war on the next one. This is not about the often untenable binary of good versus evil. Rather, it is a product of complexity: complexity of constitution; complexity of the factors at play.

It is why I believe the attempts to describe humans as either Apollonian or Dionysian caricatures are misguided. There is no choice to be made. The ancient gods are archetypes, poetic representations of patterns inherent to the human condition. They are made by us, in our image, for our needs, to help us communicate the complexity of what we experience in a manner that is symbolic and elegant. The mistake of those who operate aloof from the ancient cultural milieux is to pick sides instead of trying to tend to all facets of their being.

People are not archetypes. They cannot be abstracted away from the particularities of their life and turned into concepts. They cannot subsist in vitro as the thought experiment of some intellectual. They are in the here-and-now of their actions, having to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, in evolving circumstances outside their control, facing trade-offs with available choices that are imperfect. They will reason, they will be emotional, they will be intimate, they will be awestruck.

[ Watch: The golden fleece and impossible standards ]

Returning to the idea of beauty, we often associate it with subjectivity. I think the difference between the subjective and the objective is one of degree. When we place two people in the same conditions only to get different results, we are not dealing with arbitrariness. There still is an underlying mechanism that is shared; a mechanism that triggers feedback loops. We simply fail to appreciate how each person is not a single factor but a system of factors in their interplay. The experiment, then, cannot be limited to how person A responds to stimulus X, because A has to be analysed further into the multitude of subsystems that contribute to its evolving state of being.

When we expect predictability in everything we do, we labour under the assumption that the world is—or should be—simple throughout. It is why we expect/want person B to respond to X the same as A. Accepting complexity in practice means tolerating uncertainty. We recognise how not everything we experience can be explained precisely, while we let go of the value judgement that such “irrational” cases are inherently bad or worthless.

The Girl from Boyer Ahmadi reminds me of how I liberated myself from the shackles of rationalism, to admit to the multifacetedness of my actuality, to experience aesthetics aesthetically, and to be at peace with the fact that I will never have a definition for that which I can nevertheless spot without mistake.