Quotes about Heraclitus
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In Science we have finally come back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who said everything is flow, flux, process. There are no "things." NOTHINGNESS in Eastern language is "no-thingness". We in the West think of nothingness as a void, an emptiness, an nonexistence. In Eastern philosophy and modern physical science, nothingness — no-thingness — is a form of process, ever moving.
That which Heraclitus avoided, however, is still the same at that which we shun today: the noise and democratic chatter of the Ephesians, their politics, their latest news of the Empire, … their market business of today —for we philosophers need to be spared one thing above all: everything to do with today. We reverence what is still, cold, noble, distant, past, and in general everything in the face of which the soul does not have to defend itself and wrap itself up.
We have a sense that Heraclitus thrills to the perpetual flow of differences in the world: change is endemic, opposites flip into one another depending on your point of view, fire consumes what was there before and gives back something quite different. Nothing remains: the world exists in its pattern of dying and rising to new life, not in its material remnants. These patterns extend into religion, ethics, politics, and his analysis of language, on all of which he seems to have something to say (though it is often hard to grasp exactly what he means).
Perhaps Heraclitus lived before Parmenides, perhaps he lived after, perhaps he lived at the same time. Whichever way, his sayings cry out to be read in their own right, as a radically anti-materialist project unlike anything previously known. They bitterly resist the attempt to package them along with the pre-Parmenidean thinkers; they flourish in a situation in which we are able to juxtapose them with alternatives, such as Parmenides's world view, for which they may indeed have been a foil.
Coleridge observes that all men are born Aristotelians or Platonists. The latter feel that classes, orders, and genres are realities; the former, that they are generalizations. For the latter, language is nothing but an approximative set of symbols; for the former, it is the map of the universe. The Platonist knows that the universe is somehow a cosmos, an order; that order, for the Aristotelian, can be an error or a fiction of our partial knowledge. Across the latitudes and the epochs, the two immortal antagonists change their name and language: one is Parmenides, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Francis Bradley; the other, Heraclitus, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, William James.
When Heraclitus said that everything passes steadily along, he was not inciting us to make the best of the moment, an idea unseemly to his placid mind, but to pay attention to the pace of things. Each has its own rhythm: the nap of a dog, the procession of the equinoxes, the dances of Lydia, the majestically slow beat of the drums at Dodona, the swift runners at Olympia.
It is not Matter itself that is here meant, but the ultimate Cause of things incorporeal, which also existed before Matter. Moreover, it is asserted by Heraclitus: "Death unto souls is but a change to liquid." This Attis, therefore, the intelligible Power, the holder together of things material below the Moon, having intercourse with the pre-ordained Cause of Matter, holds intercourse therewith, not as a male with a female, but as though flowing into it, since he is the same with it.
If A is A, a philosopher should equal a philosopher. But that's not the way the cosmos works. Similar things set themselves apart from one another.... What's more, opposites are joined at the hip. Einstein says that most creative acts come from opposition. They come from pitting yourself against someone with another point of view. They come from the law of differentiation. And that was true of Aristotle and his law of identity, his law of noncontradiction, his construction for the base for A is A. Aristotle came up with his idea... to fling a finger in the face of another philosopher [Heraclitus]...