Heraclitus was born
somewhere between 535 and 540 B.C. in Ephesos, and died 475 B.C.
Very little of his work has been preserved - what is left are dozens
of quotes, or rather fragments of text that have been quoted by others.
Heraclitus' philosophy can be captured in just two words: "panta rei",
literally everything flows, meaning that everything
is constantly changing, from the smallest grain of sand to the stars
in the sky. Thus, every object ultimately is a figment of one's
imagination. Only change itself is real, constant and eternal flux,
like the continuous flow of the river which always renews itself.
those rivers one steps into are not the same; other and yet other waters keep flowing on.
into the same rivers we step and yet we do not step, we exist and
at the same time we do not exist
after all, one does not step into the same river twice;
waters disperse and come together again ... they keep flowing on and flowing away
in the end, there is only flux, everything gives way
everything is in flux and nothing abides;
everything flows and nothing stays fixed;
everything is constantly changing and nothing stays the same
Science and the Universe
Heraclitus was a contemporary of Pythagoras, Lao-tzu, Confucius, and
Siddhartha, the Buddha; some say that the term "philosophy", love of
wisdom, was first introduced by Pythagoras, who lived from approximately
580 BCE to 500 BCE. Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, argued
numbers to constitute the true nature of things and all relations to be
Pythagoras is often regarded as the founder of modern mathematics and
geometry. The Pythagorean Theorem states that in a right-angled triangle,
the square of the hypothenuse (opposite side) is always equal to the sum
of the squares of the other two sides. The Pythagoreans also argued that
earth was a sphere revolving around the sun in a predictable way.
Heraclitus rejects suggestions that there were universal laws governing
nature. Heraclitus rejects all such laws as artificial - static
perversions of reality. Also, Heraclitus does not accept an origin of the universe.
much learning does not teach understanding, otherwise it
would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, Xenophanes and Hecataeus.
when awake, people think there is one, common kosmos
when awake, they see things that die - they are creative only in their sleep
but there is no kosmos, as everyone seems to believe; no
such thing was created by either gods or people - instead, there is,
was and always will be eternal fire, raising as well as quenching
expectations of order
there is exchange of all things for fire and of fire for all things, as
there is of wares for gold and of gold for wares
An early version of Einstein's e = mc2, as some say?
Would Heraclitus have accepted any constant, other than
change itself? Light travelling at a constant speed, while nothing can
travel faster? Wouldn't Heraclitus have felt more
comfortable with the randomness of quantum mechanics?
the fairest universe is but a heap of rubbish piled up at random
Is the political system moulding scientists, making them prone to
believe in an origin of the universe, indeed
that there was something called "universe" in the first place? Are
scientists supporting the system that feeds them, and that inserts bias and
indoctrination into their views?
How does politics influence science, or health care, or education?
Are professional qualifications an indication of bias towards a specific
political system? Scientists are typically paid by government
either directly or indirectly, such as through universities and defense industry laboratories.
The secrecy of the military and the bureaucracy of government combine into
a military-industrial complex that defies accountibility.
Add the call by universities for independence from whatever party is
in government, and how much accountibility is there in this system?
Similarly, aren't medical, legal and educational professionals - all so
heavily dependent on government funding and regulations - inclined to
support a political framework that lets them spend huge amounts
of taxpayers' money without much accountibility?
Doctors cut, burn, and torture the sick, and then demand of them an
undeserved fee for such services.
Indeed, the cure may be worse than the disease! So, why
should one be privileged to practice as a doctor, while someone
is prohibited to do so? This old question remains as valid today,
as it was in Heraclitus' time. Just look at the story of the life of
Ephesians might as well hang themselves, every man of them, and
leave their city to be governed by youngsters, for they have banished
Hermadorus, the finest man among them, who said: "No one of us should
claim privilege over the rest; if there should be such a one,
let him go and live else-where"
Hesiod distinguished good and evil days, not knowing that every day
is like every other
Indeed, why should we be prohibited from, say, working on a Sunday?
Even if this was just an arbitrary choice, what is the basis for prohibition?
Do universities, and the political system that supports them, produce
professionals who are prone to support arbitrary regulation concealed as
religious or scientific dogma, for the sake of privilege for some
in areas like medicine, law, accountancy and education, without much
Many philosophies and belief systems are based on the idea of
a universe with a single point of origin that is governed by
universal laws, resulting in privilege for those with
"competence" in these laws. Heraclitus rejected any such idea.
Heraclitus was once asked to write a constitution for Ephesus, but
he refused. The Persian King Darius once invited Heraclitus to his court
to explain his ideas. Heraclitus declined. When people wondered why he
spent time playing knuckle bones with children, he replied "Why should
you be astonished, you rascals? Isn't it better to do this than to take
part in your civil life?"
Heraclitus rejected the views of many of his contemporaries,
such as Pythagoras. Similarly, the Sophists
later rejected the views of their contemporaries, including Socrates,
Plato and Aristotales.
Even today, many scientists and politicians feel uncomfortable with
change as a concept and, as a result, they fail to formulate the
comprehensive policy that is needed to effectively facilitate the
transition to more sustainable development. Examples of how change can be
successfully incorporated in policies are this call by
Quintessence for feebates,
this Global Warming Action Plan,
and this call by Sam Carana to
Change all this!