Friday, April 4, 2008

Rhodes (2)

Reviewing these old philosophers, I found small gems of
information when it came to my trying to understand the
greater world and essentially what moves it. Again, just
a quick synopsis derived from lots of notes.

• Thales. He held that matter existed in a fluid stage (actually
more than water). He believed that "fluid matter" was in some
degree alive; and change and action in nature were partially
explained by this aliveness.

• Pythagoras. He held that all things are numbers. His study
of the mathematical ratios of musical scales and planets led
him to believe that the quantitative laws of nature could be
found in all subject matter.

• Anaximenes. He put forth that the basic stuff of the world is
neither water nor boundless, but rather air. He likely chose
the term "air," because at that time it conveyed the idea of
"breath," the "soul" that animated man and animals.

• Democritus. His atomic theory is as follows: 1.) that matter
comes in separate small particles, atoms, which are uncuttable;
2.) that an empty space exists in which these particles move;
3.) that the atoms differ only in shape and volume; and 4.) that
all change is the result of transfer by momentum by the moving
atoms and such transfer can occur only by contact.

• Parmenides. He believe that atoms were small chunks of the
"One Being."

• Anaxagoras. He developed the view that matter is a continuum--
giving both space and time the property of infinite divisibility. Yet,
the world is made of a single "stuff" and there can be no change.
He also believed that in everything there is a part of everything.
Additionally, he addressed what he called "Nous" (Reason or
Mind). He believed that there was a Universal Mind that remained
"unmixed and pure," that saw and knew all things, and that this
Mind originally set the world (the Cosmos) in motion and continues
to power it. And, lastly, he thought that all things had some share
of this Universal Mind--Man, in particular.

• Heraclitus. He believed that the world is like a restless "fire."
It is a living fire that supplies the driving force of the world in
endless change. As surmised by others, this fire imagery is
analogous to Energy.

Whew! Maybe *old* philosophers, but these great thinkers nearly
threw me off my chair! It was all I could do to bend my own little
mind around their challenging thought. After some very long and
arduous consideration, this is how I put more of their thought together.

• In Anaximenes' Law of Nature, he notes that one contrary tends
to develop excessively, crowding out its opposites--but "justice" sets
it back, penalizing it for its encroachment. But as time passes, the
opposite that had been losing out grows strong and oversteps in its
turn, and must "according to the measure of time" be set back within
its own proper bounds.

• As for Heraclitus, all things flow--but "strife is the father and lord of
all." Opposition unites. From tension comes concord. And yet, from
the purposeless cyclic flow of time, there does result *logos*--a formula,
word, ratio, cosmic order.

• Anaxagoras claims that the world is made up of "opposite" qualities,
such as hot and cold or moist and dry.

Examining and re-examining their philosophic thoughts, I realized
that these ancient thinkers were attempting to present a map of how
the world works. And the way that we could come to read this map
was through Reason! As examples...

• "Being that is," according to Parmenides, can be grasped by Reason,
perhaps supplanted with a kind of intellectual intuition; but it cannot
be observed in our common-sense world or expressed in ordinary
language. The mental tools that enabled us to grab hold of this new
mental map was via Abstract Thinking and Logic employing "models,
"laws, and consistency."

• As for Abstract Thinking, this would be enabled by the development of
pure mathematics. Pythagoras pointed to the discovery that numbers,
figures, and relations have a kind of reality of their own. And via
mathematical abstractions we are moving into Plato's Forms.

• As for Logic, from Democritus' atomic theory it was discovered that
the theory itself contained methods and logical rules of its own--by
examining a subject matter into its least parts on to their pattern or

• As for Models, Anaximander introduced models into his study of
astronomy and geography.

• And, finally, Consistency. Parmenides hit upon a most important
principle. Once it is recognized that only consistent entities can exist,
the truth of generalizations can be tested by examining their consistency.

Too, too much! But I asked for it. I'm trying to learn--only to find out
that once I learn one thing, there would be a dozen more things to
learn *infinitum.* All this, and we hadn't even reached the great
philosophical concepts of the Stoics! Eventually I was to discover
that the Stoa brought so much of these earlier philosophies into a
tighter context.

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