22. The World According to Heraclitus [QP]

In the earliest reaches of Western philosophy, Ancient Greece hosted a platform for mystical thinkers with naturalistic ideas. We had Thales, who believed that the world emerged from water, Empedocles, who believed that the world was made of earth, water and air and then we had Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 B.C.E – 489 B.C.E), who believed that the world was constituted fundamentally from fire and from the union of opposites. This pre-Socratic philosopher has unequivocally influenced philosophers such as Plato, Bergson, Kant, Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger and so on.

Picture a matchstick having just been lit, that instantaneous ignition whereby the flame illuminates the world is how Heraclitus imagined the world came into existence. It sounds strikingly similar to the Big Bang Theory and yet this theory of ‘energy compressed into itself’ emerged 2000 years prior to this widely accepted theory. This fire, is an excellent metaphor for how frequently the world is changing and how any attempt to try to comprehend it with its characteristic multiplicity will lead to us being burnt:

“That which always was,

and is and will, will be ever-living fire

the same for all, the cosmos

made neither by god nor man,

replenishes in measure as it burns away.” – Heraclitus, Fragments

Besides this uniquely accurate representation of the emergence of the universe, Heraclitus also observed that the world seemed to be clashing and that the source of human greatness and variety were these opposites constantly colliding with each other. “As day yields night, winter summer, plenty famine, war peace.” This calls to mind the dialectical process envisioned by Hegel and Marx whereby human history has invaders and defenders of an establishment whose roles are constantly changing and evolving. Thus this dissonance, between opposite, is poetic and essential in grafting human consciousness and its equally existing sub-consciousness. Heraclitus is simply calling upon people to recognise that whatever truth we might have in mind; the opposite can almost certainly be true as well. He phrases this rather enigmatically:

“I am as I am not.” – Heraclitus, Fragments

It is a probably a good thing that we do not believe that the world is not physically or metaphysically made of fire, but that its essence is certainly constituted of this incandescent, burning zeal is an eye-opening perspective. In these cryptic fragments, Heraclitus’ world sketches and inculcates the precursors for principles of natural selection, the Big Bang Theory, dialectical idealism, psychoanalytic models and many more widely accepted ideas; proving that he was in fact centuries ahead of his time. Dismissed by his contemporaries as the “Weeping philosopher” and to be praised by hundreds of philosophers in the centuries to come, we can really appreciate the huge influence that he has had on philosophy:

“One thunderbolt strikes root through everything.” – Heraclitus, Fragments


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