The mysterious genius
September 18, 2011 by Bill
If you do not know one of the most brilliant minds in the history of civilization, it is time you were introduced. I am talking about HERACLITUS of Ephesus (500 b.c.e.) who 2,500 years before Einstein declared that energy is the essence of matter, that everything becomes energy in flux, in relativity.
“All things change to fire,
and fire exhausted
falls back into things.”
The writings of Heraclitus have been the inspiration for Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Socrates, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Heidegger, as well as Carl Jung.
The early Greek thinkers asked the most serious question of how the world was made from a void and how it was sustained. Heraclitus also asked questions about us, as human beings, as Homo sapiens, how to best survive and live in harmony with such an awesome creation.
Ahead of Emerson by 2,500 years, (who said the same thing later) he said “Nothing is secure. Nothing is stable. Everything is in flux. In paradox he said that declarations will always be self-contradictory, relative and subjective. Like Pascal’s “Truth on this side of the mountain is falsehood on the other side.” Like the Yin and Yang of Taoism with complimentary opposites, always fluid, flexible, never absolutes. Like “all values are relative to the mind that entertains them.”
Heraclitus was a genius in bringing our language into cosmological thinking. Of all his writings, one of my favorites is: “People dull their wits with gibberish, and cannot use their ears and eyes. They lack the skill to listen or to speak.”
There are no absolutes. Everything is in change. You cannot know the world by logic or mathematics. As Jung put it: “Logic and reason are the two great diseases of our time.” Or Pascal: “the heart has reasons that reason can never know.” And Heraclitus: “By cosmic rule, all things change… the sun is new again, all day… the river where you set your foot just now, is gone… those waters giving way to this, now this.”
There are so many brilliant and sparkling jewels in his thoughts, my frustration is in deciding which ones to quote to stimulate your hunger for more.
There is never any sloppy emotionalism in the thinking of Heraclitus. He goes straight to the problems in so much hogwash that passes as “thinking.”
“The poet is a fool who wants no war and no conflict. The mind needs strength.” He would not be a follower of the holistic healers of the New Age. He does not drift into fantasy or wishful thinking, spoon-fed to the masses by religion. Your fantasies will tell you nothing about what comes after death. The unknown is not revealed by something we call “faith.”
For Heraclitus, wisdom, like fire, is the essence of the cosmos. “Wisdom” is far beyond learning, or being clever; wisdom, he says, “is the oneness of mind that guides and permeates all things. Wisdom is the action of the mind BEYOND all things that may be said.”
Wisdom poetry is NOT RELIGION. There is no prayer or praise in wisdom poetry. “They raise their voices at stone idols as a man might argue with his doorpost; they have understood nothing of the gods…”
As James Hillman writes: “Ancient and modern readers agree, that Heraclitus is amongst the greatest writers of language.”
You have now been introduced to one of my favorite writers of civilization, who reminds us in closing that:
“You won’t discover the limits of the soul, however far you go, for eternity is a child, playing checkers.”