Monday, September 20, 2010

"Everything flows”

          I was sitting in a bar in Assos , I think it was the summer of 472 BC. , they had just completed the temple of Athena up on the hill above the city and everyone was celebrating. Assos was the major port and trade city of Mysia , so every body that was anybody was there for the opening of the Temple.
          I usually don’t pay attention to arguments in bars but it was Greece and you know how they love to argue. There was this little guy named Heraclitus of Ephesus, who had had a few and was waxing morose about the nature of the world. He stood up at his table and shouted Ta Panta rhei,! "Everything flows”. We all laughed as we thought it was his cute way of ordering another beer. But you know these dam Greeks..
           The guy just can’t shut up his focus shifts continually between two perspectives – the objective and everlasting processes of nature on the one hand and ordinary human beliefs and values on the other. He challenges everyone in the bar to come to terms, theoretically and practically, with the fact that they are living in a world 'that no god or human has made', a world he describes as 'an ever-living fire kindling in measures and going out in measures'. His great truth he claims is that 'All things are one', but this unity, far from excluding difference, opposition and change, actually depends on them, since the universe is in a continuous state of dynamic equilibrium. Day and night, up and down, living and dying, heating and cooling – such pairings of apparent opposites all conform to the everlastingly rational formula (logos) that unity consists of opposites; remove day, and night goes too, just as a river will lose its identity if it ceases to flow. He then shouts at the top of his lungs, "You cannot step twice into the same river!”
           Just then a tall lanky looking guy with a turban stands up, I think he said his name was Siddhartha Gautama and grabs this guy Heraclitus by the toga and starts shouting about how Heraclitus was ripping off his stuff and how there were copyright laws and such. Heraclitus takes a swing at the guy and I find myself in a bar fight in the only place in the world were a couple of drunk philosophers could cause a riot. Just as its getting good this guy Ananda who was drinking with the tall guy jumps up and breaks up the fight just after the guy from up north lands a sound one on Heraclitus’s jaw.
           Times being what they were I decided to take the guy from Nepal’s case and off we go to see the magistrate. All in all I think I did a good job, in the end the only thing left published by Heraclitus and his work consisted of little more than 100 epigrammatic sentences. Mean while I got his cousin, we decide on the pen name “Buddha“ for the tall guy,  Ananda unlimited publishing rights for the next 2500 years. Not Bad for a country lawyer if I do say so myself.

Heraclitus of Ephesus
Greek Philosopher   540–480  BC
(Asia Minor)

Siddhartha Gautama
563-483 BC
Lumbini in the small kingdom or principality of Kapilvastu,
both of which are in modern day Nepal

Hay, it could happen...


  1. I think it did happen, though maybe not in such a direct exchange :) Miletus and surrounding were on the trade routes. It was also home to what is sometimes referred to as the beginnings of Western philosophy.

    Instead, I suspect it was the earliest area from which we have written information. What would we believe if the library at Alexandria hadn't burned - sigh :(

    But it was a hotbed of "new thinking" in it's time. See Heraclitus was the first place I encountered phenomenonal theories, as I remember. "All is change" led me off on a lifelong philosophical chase. His choice of fire as the basis for all is interpreted as materialism, but I wonder if it wasn't the best way to describe change for his time and place - a skillfull means, if you will.

    We'll probably never know whose approach influenced who. But it is facinating to know that somewhat similar lines of thought existed in those times and places.