A way of perceiving the world without prejudice

Sunday 🌞

1334 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader. ]

Curd writes:

“The second player in the atomic system is “the empty” (void). Void is where the atoms are not, and atoms are able to move into the empty. The atomists explicitly call the void “the nothing” or the “what is not,” whereas atoms are called “the something” or the “what is.” Hence they explicitly challenge Parmenides’ proscription against what-is-not; yet there is good evidence that they insisted that the void is real in its own right, and not simply the negation of what-is. Void separates atoms, which allows them to move and come close to one another without melding into each other. The mixing together and separating of the different types of atoms into different arrangements is responsible for all the aspects of the sensible world, and so what looks like coming-to-be and passing-away is merely rearrangement of the basic entities—atoms and void.” (A Presocratics Reader, p.110)

I have several objections/concerns about this.

◊ (#1) Leucippus and Democritus aren’t the first ones to conceive of “the void” or “the empty.” Hesiod suggests this in his Theogony, when he names Tartarus as one of the primal gods. If we subscribe to Hesiod’s Theogony, then obviously the “void” is a part of the “whole” of existence since Tartarus is a part of Chaos (and Chaos just is the name of the “whole” of existence).

◊ (#2) Parmenides would also have come to this very same conclusion about the world as the atomists are purported to have come to — namely that “the mixing together and separating of the different types of atoms into different arrangements is responsible for all the aspects of the sensible world, and so what looks like coming-to-be and passing-away is merely rearrangement of the basic entities.” Parmenides would have thought this since he doesn’t believe that “what looks like coming-to-be and passing-away” are things that happen in the physical world, but are rather things that happen in the mind-cave. According to Parmenides, it is the ideas and images in our mind-caves that “come-to-be” and “pass-away.” But these are illusions, and it only appears to us as if something were “coming-to-be” or “passing-away.” Nothing is really “coming-to-be” and “passing-away” out there in the world. 

For Parmenides, the distinction that he was trying to focus on is between what we can know (ie, the “what-is”) and what we cannot know (ie, the “what-is-not”). What’s important to note is what this kind of distinction implies. It implies and acknowledges that there may be aspects of the physical world that is beyond our perceptive capabilities to grasp. Parmenides point is to say, instead of worrying about all the stuff that you can’t and don’t know, just start with what you can and do know! And so, if you have to start with appearances, then start there. Which brings me to the next point:

◊ (#3) What Parmenides was trying to accomplish with his poem is to show a method for inquiry, not to prove his cosmological conclusions. Parmenides method of inquiry is what he calls the “way of discovery” (since, aletheia is the kind of truth that is discovered and remembered rather than created or invented). It gently leads a person to the truth in steps by means of argument and persuasion, rather than coercing them to blind dogmatic acceptance of fantastical claims. In short, his poem enjoins his reader to proceed in a certain way to gain knowledge; it is not to argue for a conclusive cosmological view. The point isn’t to argue whether a “what-is-not” really exists or not. Parmenides’ point is simply to say that the “what-is-not” can’t be used as a grounds to build up knowledge, since the “what-is-not” cannot be spoken of, described, or talked about.

◊ (#4) Parmenides never actually says that the “what-is-not” is “the void” — he just says that we can’t know the “what-is-not.” And so, the atomists cannot challenge what Parmenides never claimed. For Parmenides, the physical matter is neither “what-is” nor “what-is-not.” For Parmenides, both the “what-is” and “what-is-not” are entities in our minds. But here, there’s an important difference. He’s neither denying any particular aspect of physical matter, nor is he asserting any particular aspect of physical matter. He is simply saying that there’s a way of perceiving the world without the prejudice of images — a way of seeing the world as it is. When we perceive the world that way, then we can see that matter is neither created nor destroyed. We’d see that the reality of the physical world is actually one thing and it is what remains constantly and unchangingly what it isWe would see that the “coming-to-be” and “passing-away” of this or that name are merely illusory appearances, and not the reality of the physical world. The name and the idea of the person Socrates doesn’t exist out there in the world; he exists in our minds as a mental construct. [But just because an idea exists in our minds doesn’t mean that Socrates isn’t/wasn’t important, or that he didn’t matter to the people who loved him.]

And all of what I’ve said about Parmenides is taken from either Parmenides poem itself, or from Plato’s Parmenides.

That said, there’s no reason why someone who subscribes to the Parmenidean method of inquiry can’t also agree that the reality of the physical world is made of “atoms.” Actually, I would think that Parmenides and the atomists somehow agree rather than disagree. If we take Curd’s introduction seriously, then the atomists were really just talking past Parmenides, rather than to him or even against him. But I think that we ought not to take all of Curd’s introduction seriously, because I think that she misrepresents the situation because of her reliance on the corrupted accounts of Aristotle and his later Medieval groupies.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

1423 | [ On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader ]

It is passages like this one, that cause the confusion — and the damage:

“Leucippus . . . did not follow the same route as Parmenides and Xenophanes concerning things that are, but seemingly the opposite one. For while they made the universe one, immovable, ungenerated, and limited, and did not even permit the investigation of what-is-not, he posited the atoms as infinite and ever-moving elements, with an infinite number of shapes, on the grounds that they are no more like this than like that and because he observed that coming-to-be and change are unceasing among the things that are.” (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics 28.4–26)

◊ To say that Parmenides and Leucippus disagree because the former thinks that the the “what-is” is “one, immovable, ungenerated, and limited” is to misunderstand what the former is saying.

To start, the “what-is” is not ” the universe.”

Now, to say that “what-is” is “one” could just mean that it’s basically made up of one type of thing — eg, atomic particles. But more likely, to say that something is “one” could just mean that it’s one whole thing and is actually not the myriad of things as it appears to us. In other words, the world is “chaos,” and Chaos is itself one whole thing. But Chaos is made up of Gaia/matter, Tartarus/void, Eros/energy, Erebos/number, Nyx/opposites. Still, Chaos is just “one” thing.

Next, to say that something is unchanging doesn’t mean that there is no motion at all. It could just mean that the fundamental particle matter of the world doesn’t itself change when water seems to turn into ice and then again into a liquid and still later into a gas. The particles stay the same, but their configurations change and the way that it appears to us changes. Parmenides is simply saying that the appearance is a perception, and so the apparent changes are an illusion. Hence, no “change.”

And it’s basically the same point with saying that something is “generated.” We think that houses are generated. But “houses” don’t exist in the world of atomic particle matter. A “house” is something that exists in our minds. What is a “house” to a bird may be nothing more than a “bunch of twigs and fluff” to a person. And what is a “house” to a person may be nothing more than a “big obstruction” to a bird. Parmenides is simply saying that since all of these ideas exist in our minds, the generation and destruction of such ideas also happens in our minds and not “out there” in the world.

And finally, to say that something is “limited” just means that the number of ideas we can have depends on how many that we can think of. It could still be quite a lot of ideas, but it’s not going to be an infinitely unlimited number of them. And that’s just because there might be aspects of the world that we aren’t able to perceive even if it’s right in front of our own noses. And this possibility that there’s always going to be something that we don’t know prompts us to try to make certain about what we do know. That is the point of saying that the “what-is” is “limited.”

It’s obvious that Aristotle misunderstands what Parmenides means. And Simplicius’ commentary on a misunderstanding doesn’t contribute to good scholarship. It just leads to the “Dark Ages,” and then to Kant as a reaction, and then to “Existentialism” as another reaction, and then to Hitler, and then that leads to Southern California as a reaction. And the quality of public education in Southern California is no good. I would know; I grew up in Southern California on public education. Nobody knows anything about anything, and society in California is ignorant, superficial, and born yesterday. They have a lot of technology, but nobody can say genuinely what the technology is for. If you ask someone, there’s only the generic cookie-cutter response about something to do with the “good of humanity.” Nobody studies Plato anymore (except for me). They’re afraid of Plato. He’s too potent. So, it’s all either Aristotle or the Torah.

◊ And next, Aristotle says that Parmenides “did not even permit the investigation of what-is-not.” While the language of this is somewhat accurate, the meaning isn’t quite the way that Aristotle makes it out to be. Evidence shows that Aristotle clearly misunderstands the situation. As I had said earlier, the “what-is-not” might as well be a kind of “blind mysticism.” Is Aristotle complaining that Parmenides’ method of inquiry doesn’t permit one to study “blind mysticism”? But that’s ridiculous. Either, Aristotle obviously hasn’t understood Parmenides’ method of inquiry and the reason behind it, or he’s deliberately distorting Parmenides so that he can argue that man down and glorify himself.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

1714 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader ]

“These men [Leucippus and Democritus] say that the atoms move by hitting and striking against each other, but they do not specify the source of their natural motion. For the motion of striking each other is compelled and not natural, and compelled motion is posterior to natural motion.” (Alexander, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics 36.21–25)

Aristotle has no clue about the workings of the universe because he doesn’t believe in the Hesiodic myths. He rejects them because he misinterprets the point of all the wisdom that came before him.

According to Hesiod, the answer to this concern is simple: love, the attracting force. Eros is what causes all “natural motion.”

But Aristotle fails to see this. And instead, he sets up the rhetorical question so that he can answer it for himself: the cause of all “natural motion” is the mind (because he equivocates the soul/psyche with mind/nous). But in saying this, he will only be repeating the point that Parmenides was trying to make centuries earlier: it is the ideas and images in our mind-caves that “come-to-be” and “pass-away,” and so the illusion of a certain kind of motion and change is all in our minds. Except, where Aristotle goes wrong in all his confused running around arguing against this philosopher and that is this: he thinks that the mind is “out there in the world.” He’s an idealist. But Parmenides never goes that far.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

1943 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader ]

In the context of the physics of motion, Aristotle says:

“Some say that the soul moves the body in which it is found in the same way as it is itself moved… In general, the soul does not appear to move the body in this way, but through choice of some kind and through thought.” (Aristotle, On the Soul 1.3 406b16–25)

The soul doesn’t move the body. The mind moves the body — “through choice…and through thought” as Aristotle himself puts it. But the mind is not itself the soul. The soul is the pathway of energy () taken as a whole, from its beginning to its end as one whole. But the soul isn’t a “mind,” since plants also have a soul but they don’t have a mind. For, it’s evident that they do have a soul because plants also move themselves. This solar system likely has a soul. And perhaps the entire cosmos has a soul. So all these things can have a soul — yet we don’t say that plants have a mind, or that the solar system has a mind, or that the cosmos has a mind — since, these other things don’t make choices through thought the way that animals and persons do. And so Aristotle is mistaken to think that “soul” = “mind”. It does not.

The soul is to the matter, as the story is to words. The soul is the journey that the plant, person, or universe makes. Just as the story is in a sense constituted by words, the soul is constituted by the matter.

Now, following from this kind of analogy, one might suppose the the mind is to body, as soul is to matter. But I disagree with this mapping, as it isn’t accurate. In Republic, Socrates says that there are three parts of the soul: mind, body, emotions/spirit. But how can mind be both itself the whole thing, and also a part of the whole? It doesn’t make sense to say this. Therefore, the mind cannot itself be the soul. Instead, the mind is a part of the soul. And ever since Aristotle has made this mistake in asserting that “mind=soul,” there has been an intellectual elitism and it has harmed the world for thousands of years. That “mindsoul” is very important.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

2227 | [On Patricia Curd’s A Presocratics Reader ]

Democritus is said to have said:

“Accept nothing pleasant unless it is beneficial.” (Democrates, Maxims)

But I might also say to Democritus, in the spirit of Socrates: Accept nothing beneficial unless it is also pleasant.

Again, Democritus is said to have said:

“To all humans the same thing is good and true, but different people find different things pleasant.” (Democrates, Maxims)

To this I might say, taking inspiration from Plato: To all humans, pleasure is good and true.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

2302  | [On the Derveni Papyrus]

I see now where and why and how Aristotle might have come to have his intellectualist beliefs.

Stagira isn’t too far from Derveni, which is said to be near Thessaloniki and Macedon, and Derveni is where they discovered the “Derveni Papyrus.” On the Derveni Papyrus, it is written:

“As for , “he himself, therefore, came to be alone,” in saying this he shows that Mind, being alone, is worth everything [as] if the others were nothing. For without Mind it is not possible for the things that are now to be [? through them]. [Further in the next verse after this he said that Mind] is worth everything: [? Clearly] Mind and [? the king of all things are the] same thing.” (Derveni Papyrus, Column XVI)

It is not so difficult to see how Aristotle could come to have certain values, if this is the sort of thinking that prevailed in the Northern region near Stagira and Macedon. Values like, “Mind… is worth everything,” and “without Mind it is not possible for the things that are now to be,” and even more plainly, “[Mind] is worth everything.”

Socrates is quite the opposite. He is a child of the democracy. He believes in things like pleasure and sensitivity, and harmony between the parts of the soul and also in the city-state.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

2315 | [On the Derveni Papyrus]

Column XX is excellent, and I want to remember it here:

“. . . of people in cities, after performing the sacred rites, they saw. I wonder less that they do not understand. For it is impossible to hear what is being said and to learn it at the same time. But people who <have heard the rites> from a person who makes the holy rites his craft deserve to be wondered at and pitied: wondered at because before they performed the rites they think they will gain knowledge, but after performing them they go away before gaining knowledge, without even asking further questions, as if they had gained knowledge of the things they saw or heard or learned; and pitied because it was not enough that they spent their money in advance, but they go away deprived of their judgment as well. Before performing the rites they hoped that they would gain knowledge, but after performing them they go away deprived even of their hope. . . .” (Derveni Papyrus, Column XVI)

And Column XXV says that some words are not intended to be understood by all:

“The following <words> he composes as a blind, [not] wanting everyone to understand.” (Derveni Papyrus, Column XVI)