Tucked away at the very heart of the empirically framed worldview of our modern sciences, one can find nestled quiet-as-a-mouse a philosophical intuition, one might even dare to suggest a spiritual insight, about the nature of Reality. Einstein’s descriptive language for relativity is wrapped in already-ancient mythological notions of equivalencies, conversions, & transformations. Matter, which is certainly overwhelmingly “there” to our senses, is the equivalent of energy—its transformative capacity, which is not always, and indeed quite seldom, apparent to our senses at all. In the inclusively empirical framing of this scientific imaginaire, one is surprised to discover a narrative as old as Man himself—that the intrinsic hope of technology abides in the possibility of matter’s redemption; that matter can be, and indeed is, convertible to energy; and where the material dimension of an entity can undergo explosive transformation, thereby actualizing an elemental energy state. This ‘scientific’ vision expressed through an unprepossessing e=mc2, which contains an almost sleight-of-hand mytho-metaphysic, revolves around an atomic core of Transformative Reality whose principle is, that transformation is a see-saw between potentiality and actuality, a give-and-take that works itself out in an arena not defined by a becoming (→) Other; it is rather, a being (=) fully Self.
(There is actually much kinship between Science’s hope for transformation, and the transformative activity of teaching, where the teacher hopes (against hope in many cases) that the apparently inert masses sitting at their desks in student form, can and will become transformed into energetic performers of learning!)
Erroneous equivalences. On a quite basic level of thinking and the expression of thinking, sometimes making equivalences reveals itself to be a mistake… such as mistaking a mistress for a wife… just because both happen to be women. This type of false equivalency presents itself in a variety of interesting and sometimes humorous ways. In the category of Informal Fallacies, which are errors related to how we present arguments in support of an opinion, there are equivalences that are incorrect because they assume an equality to exist where there really is none. This may be as banal as comparing apples to oranges, where we somehow think, incorrectly, that these two almost entirely different items can be meaningfully compared with meaningful outcomes.
A first example of this type of thinking mis-take is, obviously, the False Equivalence. One wiki-source defines this using the following illustration:
“…there is no equivalence between the two sides when one is supported by evidence, and the other side with little or no evidence, of which most is of low quality. In other words, in false equivalence, someone will state that the opposing arguments have a passing similarity in support, when, on close examination, there is large difference between the quality of evidence
Fox News presents a debate between one scientist who thinks human caused climate change is supported by vast amount of evidence, and another non-scientist who thinks that the data is all manufactured and there is no evidence. Then Fox News states that the debate is unsettled, relying on false equivalence, when the evidence supporting climate change is both high quality and high quantity.”
A second example of false equivalency is called Equivocation, where one uses in support of an argument “an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.” The site goes on to give some relevant illustrations of this sort of non-thinking:
Example #1: I want to have myself a merry little Christmas, but I refuse to do as the song suggests and make the yuletide gay. I don't think sexual preference should have anything to do with enjoying the holiday.
Explanation: The word, “gay” is meant to be in light spirits, joyful, and merry, not in the homosexual sense.
Example #2: The priest told me I should have faith.
I have faith that my son will do well in school this year.
Therefore, the priest should be happy with me.
Explanation: The term “faith” used by the priest, was in the religious sense of believing in God without sufficient evidence, which is different from having “faith” in your son in which years of good past performance leads to the “faith” you might have in your son.
Exception: Equivocation works great when deliberate attempts at humor are being made.
Tip: When you suspect equivocation, substitute the word with the same definition for all uses and see if it makes sense.
Language About Real(ity) Equivalencies. Unequal and therefore erroneous equivalencies aside, though, the throne room of science’s empirical palace is formulaically expressed in e=mc2, an equivalency if ever there was, where “e” equals (=) the “total energy of the body, an intrinsic energy known as the “rest energy.” And yet pre- and con-cisely framed in this mathematical formula is also cached a very non-scientific intuition about the possibility of a metaphysic of a very different, non-material sort. Obviously, however, Feynman does not make this philosophical insight explicit in his above definition (Feynman, Physics, §15-11), nor in his empirical support — “This theory of equivalence of mass and energy has been beautifully verified by experiments in which matter is annihilated—converted totally to energy: An electron and a positron come together at rest, each with a rest mass m0. When they come together they disintegrate and two gamma rays emerge, each with the measured energy of m0c2. This experiment furnishes a direct determination of the energy associated with the existence of the rest mass of a particle.”
And yet Einstein’s mathematical articulation of reality as a mass-energy exchange, which is science’s core mythos, is, both in fact and in deed, no more inherently or exclusively Factual than, for example, the apostle Paul’s anticipation of the interchange between the physical body and the spiritual body (σῶμα ψυχικόν and σῶμα πνευματικόν) in I Corinthian 15:44, or the chakras of the Eastern sages, Theosophical astral bodies, or than any other mytho-wrapped narrative that attempts to circumnavigate and then to chart for human understanding the energetic processes of Real Reality. The languages of reality are deceptive and incomplete, which means that scientific knowledge is actually quite demarcated, a point of view argued by Thomas Kuhn in his paradigm-creating book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (47): “If… the student of Newtonian dynamics ever discovers the meaning of terms like ‘force,’ ‘mass,’ ‘space,’ and ‘time,’ he does so less from the incomplete though sometimes helpful definitions in his text than by observing and participating in the application of these concepts to problem-solution.”
Ivan Illich (1926-2002), Austrian philosopher, priest, activist, and inveterate critic of Western culture, in his circa 1983 seminar lecture given at El Colegio de Mexico (pp. 14-15), which is now entitled, “The Social Construction of Energy,” confirms this view of scientific “knowledge” in his brief history of the mythology of “e”:
During the first half of the nineteenth century, physics construed something akin to the division of labor: value equivalents between heat, electricity, and mechanical movements were measured. (…) The search for something like a gold standard in nature thus led to a new kind of experimental metaphysics: to laboratory proofs of entities that cannot be observed. The objective existence of something that just changes its form in ever more precisely observed and measured appearances became itself the new scientific mythology. Though no one, of course, observed it -and for a decade there was no agreement on the term that should name it- [A consensus formed, however, that] defined this something as nature’s ability to perform work. “Work” in these five years from 1842 to 1847 became a physical magnitude, and energy its sources. Work was defined as the production of a physical change, and energy was assumed as its metaphysical cause.
(…T)he same scientific myth found its expression in three images: the womb became the source of life, the universe the source of energy, and the population a source of labor force. (…) As “Arbeitskraft” was imputed to human activity insofar as it is productive in the economy, energy was imputed to nature insofar as it produces work. Through the imputation of energy, nature was recast in the image of the newly constituted human as worker. Nature now understood as the depository and matrix of a work-force called energy mirrored the proletariat, the matrix of available labor force. And the steam engine lurked behind all reality.
Einstein, throughout his life, was unambiguous about entities like “e”: they “cannot be derived from experience by logic but must be understood as free creations of the human spirit.”
In religion, a paradox is a seeming contradiction according to principles of normative thinking, but which the Church asks us to believe as a matter of faith. The classical illustration of a Christian paradox, for example, is Triune equivalency—one Deity expressed through 3 Persons, which are only One; God the Father ≠ God the Son ≠ God the Holy Spirit, but each One = God. There are any number of paradoxes, seeming and real, in science as well. With only the very slightest of deferential nods to Kurt Gödel’s 1931 theorems, illustrations abound around the incompleteness of empiricism’s e=mc2 mythos.
A first paradox in science exists already on the level of simple definition. What is matter and what is energy? According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, unhelpful ironies abound on the question, because it would seem that “these symbols are not used univocally by physicists and philosophers.” According to wiki sources, matter for physicists, as opposed to the rest of the world it may be supposed, is that which “occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy.” So, matter is a “substance,” mass, that has inertia and occupies physical space. We could play at this game all day long: matter is a ‘thing’; energy is a ‘thing’; a cow is a ‘thing’; a car is a ‘thing’…. Vagaries aside, though, the important distinction to keep this definition working for physics, and to keep it from degenerating into hopeless paradox, is the notion of ‘rest mass.’ Our source continues without any obvious sense of euphemism, that there is a certain “definition difficulty” at play here:
A source of definition difficulty in relativity arises from two definitions of mass in common use, one of which is formally equivalent to total energy (and is thus observer dependent), and the other of which is referred to as rest mass or invariant mass and is independent of the observer. Only "rest mass" is loosely equated with matter (since it can be weighed).
By way of conclusion, then, physicists are clear that matter qua ‘rest mass’ equals (=) total energy when someone is looking, but that it also has its moments of independence, which means, it would seem, that it does not quite equal (≠) energy.
Another “definition difficulty” for physicists apparently, is how to define energy, which seems to be, generally, that it equals (=) “the stuff we need to accomplish physical actions.” Nice misdirect on this one – kind of like saying that a cow = a four-legged thing, which → in total meaning: cow = thing. Energy = stuff. Thank you very much for the clarification. As if one massive and excessively vague misdirect were not enough, we are further informed that the definition we have been given, viz., “the stuff we need to accomplish physical actions,” is not really a definition of what Energy is in and of itself, nor even about how it behaves, but rather, what Energy is used for. Massive misdirect #2. Which yields in total meaning that “energy is not a thing per se,” but is a sign that “refers to a condition or state of a thing.” Alrighty then.
A non-specialist wiki source on Energy’s definition fares little better on the paradox front, and indeed, perhaps comes out of the wash even worse for wear and tear. Because there we learn that
Mass and energy are closely related. Due to mass–energy equivalence, any object that has mass when stationary in a frame of reference (called rest mass) also has an equivalent amount of energy whose form is called rest energy in that frame, and any additional energy acquired by the object above that rest energy will increase an object's mass.
The “definition difficulty” is obvious—if energy is the equivalent of (=) mass x c2, then mass is not “closely related” to energy, mass must equal energy. My sister and I are closely related; but we are not equivalences (≠). Mass is not “closely related” to energy; they are equivalencies (=), if Einstein is to be believed.
But then science closes the hermeneutical circle cleanly, thus creating a full-blown mythology, with the definition of energy as eternal per the principle of the conservation of energy, because “e” can neither be created nor destroyed, while matter is reduced to, in effect, “e’s” transformative states. Aristotle’s (4th century B.C.) metaphysical descriptions are alive and well in the 21th century, but hidden behind the white lab coat and equivocal new-speak of the scientist! PhysicsCentral says this:
The first law of thermodynamics doesn't actually specify that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, but instead that the total amount of energy in a closed system cannot be created nor destroyed (though it can be changed from one form to another). It was after nuclear physics told us that mass and energy are essentially equivalent - this is what Einstein meant when he wrote E= mc^2 - that we realized the 1st law of thermodynamics also applied to mass. Mass became another form of energy that had to be included in a thorough thermodynamic treatment of a system. (For a very important note on the difference between matter and mass, see here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equivME/#2.1).
Philosophy’s Attempts to be an Empirical Science. The various forms of Logical Positivism, or Logical Empiricism, in Western philosophy are associated with names such as Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Gödel, Willard Quine, A.J. Ayers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Karl Popper, but also with Henri Poincaré, Gottlob Frege, and Bertrand Russell. Positivism in philosophy reflects contemporary philosophy’s attempts
to legitimize philosophical discourse by placing it on a basis shared with empirical sciences' best examples, such as Einstein's general theory of relativity. Its central thesis was verificationism, a theory of knowledge which asserted that only statements verifiable through empirical observation are cognitively meaningful. Efforts to convert philosophy to this new scientific philosophy were intended to prevent confusion rooted in unclear language and unverifiable claims.
Unfortunately, the positivist efforts to birth philosophy as an analytical or empirical tradition have not yielded much interesting fruit, and attempts to equivocate philosophy with an empirical or social science have led to numerous intellectual fiascos, such as those described in Alan Sokal’s Fashionable Nonsense/Intellectual Impostures. The pressure to portray philosophy as a science remains quite the dominant paradigm in academic philosophy, however, if one may judge by the fact that Sokal was at first only able to publish his book in minor presses (first in 1997 with Editions Odile Jacob, in French; and then in English in 1999 with Picador USA), and it was only reprised some 10 years later in his 2009, Beyond the Hoax (OUP, 2009) with, finally, the imprimatur of an academic publisher.
If reality lives up to history, then the future history of philosophy will eventually begin to step away from some of its more stellar and incomprehensible intellectual beacons, especially if these latter lead us astray in the storm. A proverb has it that one can judge a tree by the fruit it bears. From the wiki-description of Sokal’s book, it
includes long extracts from the works of Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Paul Virilio, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Luce Irigaray, Bruno Latour, and Jean Baudrillard who, in terms of the quantity of published works, invited presentations, and citations received, are some of the leading academics of Continental philosophy, critical theory, psychoanalysis or social sciences. Sokal and Bricmont set out to show how those intellectuals have used concepts from the physical sciences and mathematics incorrectly. The extracts are intentionally rather long to avoid accusations of taking sentences out of context.
Given Einstein’s quasi-transcendentalizing intuition about the energy foundation of reality, e=mc2, when AJ Ayer famously announced in the editorial introduction to his 1959 text, Logical Positivism, that 1) analytical philosophy was philosophy’s hope for the future, and that 2) metaphysics was dead—it seems obvious that he was somewhat over-optimistic on the question.
Thought Experiment. What is the “e” equivalent of one human who weighs approximately 190 pounds? Our source for this thought experiment tells us that our measurement for E is in Joules, and that Joule units of measurement are kilograms x meters squared per seconds squared, so that we need to convert this mass in grams to our mass in kilograms. So: (190 pounds =) 86,184g × 1kg/1000g = 86.18kg. Einstein’s equation is E=mc2, which, when our values are plugged in, gives us the following “e” value:
E= (86.18kg)(3.00 × 108m/s)2
E= 7.76 × 1018 J
E= 7.76 × 1018 J
So, continues our source, one 190-pound human equals 7,760,000,000,000,000,000 or approximately 7.8 septillion Joules of energy. Now if we were to convert this into a TNT equivalent, one 190-human equals 1.86 MILLION kilotons of TNT worth of energy. In comparison, only 21 kilotons of nuclear material were needed for the atomic bomb that annihilated Nagaskai, Japan in 1945.
Bryson writes in his A Short History of Nearly Everything, (UK: Black Swann, 2004, 161) that “there is a huge amount – a really huge amount—of energy bound up in every material thing.” On just a little narrower scale—humans are an amazingly deceptive bit of “e,” in potentia if not always in actu. And so begins the story.
Speculative possibilities for “e” equivalencies. Language may certainly shape how we conceive of and articulate Reality in its various permutations, but linguisticity is not the hermeneutical equivalent of (≠) any of those reality states. And so we come to the prickly philosophical question: are there plausible metaphysical implications of e=mc2? Unconstrained by the parameters of the empirical narrative, can it be meaningful, instead, to frame material reality, mass, and energy equivalents, in, for lack of less implicated language, “spiritual” or philosophical terms. Philosophical positivism’s pronouncement that metaphysics is dead, is dead. And the various empiricisms, having anchored themselves in their overly restrictive narrative about the interpretative possibilities of e=mc2 as a theory of equivalency, are hopelessly entangled in a conceptual web that tugs on the strings not only of material reality, but also and necessarily of metaphysical – energy or spiritual reality. At the end of the day, scientific empiricism sits naked on its interpretative throne as nothing more than the emperor with no clothes on. It is a matter of record, however, that our emperor remains quite the paradigmatic fashion statement for explaining human knowledge and potential.
And yet some 30 centuries before Einstein got around to articulating his theory of equivalencies in the form of e=mc2, the Hindu sages had already long conceived the notion of artha, which is essentially that the essence of all Reality is ‘reciprocity’. The various applications and social out-workings of the idea of artha (e.g., wealth, career, activity to make a living), which tend to be couched in terms of cultural relevancy, also tend to miss the speculative point of artha.
According to the artha-mind, reality ‘happens’ through exchange, through a negotiation of equivalencies, which in turn implies a pre-existing governing principle of innate justice. This is the same family of idea as the Greek Diké. It is the principle of justice that pervades the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers, and especially Parmenides and Heraclitus, from whence it will wend itself into the Socratic vision of the world, into Plato’s framing of the world, and so, finally, into Christianity. It will also naturally lend itself as the foundation for all the natural law theorists.
Heraclitan Triumvirates, or Greek Aphorisms (Sometimes in Thirds)—(Esquisse). It is interesting to note that on the question of “e” all the mythologies, empirical and other, do the same balancing act on the conceptual tightrope strung along the extreme outer edges of Reality where materiality and non-materiality do their dance. In his imitable fashion, for example, and often implying wonderfully complex images encapsulated in three-word core phrases, Heraclitus, called the Obscure (6th century B.C.), invites us to imagine “e” as a thunderbolt. And as strange as this idea may appear to the contemporary imagination, Heraclitus’ language still remains more clearly informative than that of Martin Heidegger reflecting on Heraclitus, which we will see when we get to it. But first things first. Let us first turn our attention to the thunderbolt.
Our text is from Heraclitus, Fragment 64, and reads: (τὰ δὲ) πάντα οἰακίζει Κεραυνός, which is to say in normal-ese, “The thunderbolt steers all things.” The ‘thunderbolt’ in this context is a bit of a curiosity; but as always with Heraclitus, the work of creating meaning is always squarely cut out for the interpreter. Unfortunately, Diels & Kranz (Fragmente, 165) render this brief text with, “Das Weltall aber steuert der Blitz,” which translates as: “Lightning steers the Universe.” The German translation, however, fails to render Heraclitus’ ideas as much as it translates the German imagination about the nature of the Cosmos. The notion of Weltall (universe), for example, in which abide notions of Universe, Cosmos, Totality, etc., is entirely absent from our Heraclitus text, although clearly entirely present in our German editors, D&K. Heraclitus does not give us any unifying object or principle here for us to construct a vision of a Universum, but rather he gives us only a neuter plural direct object (τὰ πάντα), which is translated most eloquently when rendered simply—‘all things’, in the sense of ‘each and every thing’ individually. Equally informative is that D&K translate Heraclitus’ Κεραυνός (thunderbolt) as Blitz, which is lightning, and clearly linked to modern notions of energy; but lightning is not necessarily the same idea as the bolt of lightning (blitz(schlag)), which has ancient mythological overtones. Kirk, Raven and Schofield (197-198), fr. 220, give us, “Thunderbolt steers all things,” which is significant because of the lack of definite article for thunderbolt, which thus harks forward again to the modern scientific worldview’s idea of electricity and energy. Without its article, we are being informed that the ‘thunderbolt’ is being elevated from its normal rank among the plebeian concrete nouns, and given the lofty status of abstract nom.
An Aside in Pursuit of Trivia. A thunderbolt (Heraclitus’ κεραυνός; keraunos) is, apparently, not the same thing as a lightning strike, whether Heraclitus knew this or not. The wiki universe defines the lightning strike as “an electric discharge between the atmosphere and the ground,” or in and between clouds. In contrast, a thunderbolt, keraunos, is lightning accompanied by a loud thunderclap. For a bit of background information on our Heraclitan noun, concrete and abstract, according to those in the scientific know (i.a. Bryson, 323-324), the lightning bolt
travels at 435,000 kilometers an hour, and heats the [ambient air-plasma] to 49726,85 degrees Celsius. [The average duration is 0.2 seconds made up from a number of much shorter flashes (strokes) of around 30 microseconds.] “the massive flow of electric current occurring during the return stroke combined with the rate at which it occurs (measured in microseconds) rapidly superheats the completed leader channel, forming a highly electrically conductive plasma channel. The core temperature of the plasma during the return stroke may exceed 50,000 K [Kelvin=The kelvin is defined as the fraction 1⁄273.16 of the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water (exactly 0.01 °C or 32.018 °F). In other words, it is defined such that the triple point of water is exactly 273.16 K.], causing it to brilliantly radiate with a blue-white color”; [The Kelvin scale is an absolute, thermodynamic temperature scale using as its null point absolute zero, the temperature at which all thermal motion ceases in the classical description of thermodynamics.]
The ‘thunder’ bit of the thunder-bolt equation is, on the other hand but still according to wiki-sources, a “sound caused by lightning.” (It is amazing that such a phrase really needs quotation marks…). Our source continues, however, by being a little more informative: “The sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within a bolt of lightning. In turn, this expansion of air creates a sonic shock wave, similar to a sonic boom, which produces the sound of thunder, often referred to as a clap, crack, peal of thunder, or boom.”
Perhaps more relevant to Heraclitus’ historical frames of reference, however, is the segue from a thunder narrative that imagines thunder as “the sudden increase in pressure…” to another mytho-narrative that reminds us that, etymologically, “[t]he name of the Germanic god Thor comes from the Old Norse word for thunder.” In this sense, according to old Greek narratives the thunderbolt is a weapon wielded by Zeus, which was given to him by the Cyclops when they were released from Tartaros to help Zeus defeat the Titan gods.
So, the trio of (light + sound + speed) meaningfully renders (=) Heraclitus’ keraunos for the community of modern scientific empiricists. But philosophically, both meaning and implications remain elusive concerning the aphorism “The thunderbolt steers all things,” much in the same way as with e=mc2. In their 1966/67 Heraclitus Seminar (1979, 1-5), Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink try to come to our rescue by discussing some of what they consider to be the interpretative possibilities of Heraclitus’ Fragment 64. Unfortunately, the reading of their discussion is yawningly uninteresting and pedantically uninformative.
Perhaps an important element of the hermeneutical puzzle would have been the bigger-picture piece of information that the source for Fragment 64 of Heraclitus is the 3rd-century Christian theologian Hippolytus, (A.D. 170-236). But this was completely ignored by H&F in all the fury of their cerebral self-gratification session. The quote is found in Hippolytus’ The Refutation of All Heresies (Book IX, and especially Chapters iv-v), where Hippolytus considers Heraclitus’ teachings/ideas/aphorisms to be heretical in terms of the teachings of the Christian church. It seems that he took umbrage with this Fragment 64, because when Heraclitus says that “thunder… directs [all things], meaning by the thunder everlasting fire, …he also asserts that this fire is endued with intelligence, and a cause of the management of the Universe….” Our Christian Hippolytus clearly did not like the idea that Greek antiquity would replace by, would create an equivalency between, the idea of GOD and an intelligent, essentially fiery, impersonal thunderbolt with management skills. More food for interpretative thought—another time.
Putting aside Hippolytus for the nonce, let us consider how or whether in their Heraclitus Seminar Heidegger and Fink move us forward in our thinking about “e.” In their probatory brain-storming about Heraclitus’ Fr 64, “The thunderbolt steers all things,” H&F come up with the following (entirely modern) Big Idea: that the obvious meaning of the aphorism is that the thunderbolt embodies light/energy. After this initial no-skill required interpretation, their follow-up reveals itself to be more clearly relevant to epistemology than to metaphysics or natural philosophy. But that said:
1. The flash of lightning as revelatory, versus just the presence of light. [perception/knowing/being as interactive and transformative]
2. Things appear/are only in the intense flash against the background of profound darkness. Otherwise there is just darkness/invisibility
3. Correction: It is not a question of the Universe, as D/K say, das Weltall, but rather of things in their plurality.
4. The lightning bolt as myth? Zeus?
5. The lightning bolt as x [πῦρ λέγων τὸ αἰώνιον = keraunos, by which one means the eternal fire], and as y [φρόνιμον], which D/K translate as vernunftbegabt. [intelligent]
6. What the bolt does =
a. steers, governs, manages, guides. – [οἰᾱκ-ηδόν, Adv., (οἴαξ) in the manner of an οἴαξ] – on this sort of a path…. Cf. H&F, 10-11,
b. [κατευθύνει] – keeping on course [toward its end, is implied]
7. Where the bolt is, whether inside or outside the [τὰ πάντα], and the hermeneutical circle. Cf. H&F 15ff.
The full Fragment 64 considered by H&F is: “But lightening controls the universe, that is, directs it. By lightning he understands the eternal fire. He also says that this fire is rational and the cause of the whole world government.” A bit from Fragment 65 is an editorial flow-over from Fragment 64:
(64) γίνεσθαι λέγων οὕτως· τὰ δὲ πάντα οἰακίζει Κεραυνός,
τουτέστι κατευθύνει, κεραυνὸν τὸ πῦρ λέγων τὸ αἰώνιον. λέγει
δὲ καὶ φρόνιμον τοῦτο εἶναι τὸ πῦρ καὶ τῆς διοικήσεως τῶν
(65) ὅλων αἴτιον
τουτέστι κατευθύνει, κεραυνὸν τὸ πῦρ λέγων τὸ αἰώνιον. λέγει
δὲ καὶ φρόνιμον τοῦτο εἶναι τὸ πῦρ καὶ τῆς διοικήσεως τῶν
(65) ὅλων αἴτιον
(D/K, 1989, 165. “Das Weltall aber steuert der Blitz d. h. et lenkt es. Unter Blitz versteht er nämlich das ewige Feuer. Er sagt auch, dieses Feuer sei vernunftbegabt und Ursache der ganzen Weltregierung.”
“The lightning(bolt) guides the Universe, which is to say that it steers it. By ‘lightning(bolt) Heraclitus means the eternal fire. He also says that this fire is gifted with intelligence and is the cause of the entire world government.” (Translation by Phrontisterion))
As said, the reading of H&F’s discussion about this Heraclitan text is spectacularly tedious and pedantically vague. However, it does serve to reveal their worldview, even if it dissembles that of Heraclitus; and the worldview of H&F includes the idea that there is a “world government” (D/K = Weltregierung). Heraclitus, on the other hand, only speaks about the cause or reason of “all things” (τῶν (65) ὅλων αἴτιον)—which is just another one of those collective noun moments gone awry between the Greek world and the modern German readers of that ancient world. But after awhile we should really become accustomed to such shifts and slides in worldview, for, as Heidegger reminds us in a 1942 letter to his friend, the art historian Kurt Bauch, (in Briefwechsel (München: Karl Alber, 2010), 77-78) there is an other, mystical and romantic equivalency between the Greeks and the Germans, which is the German conviction that they are in fact the inheritors and embodiment of (=) the Greek belief and experience of the world. So writes MH:
Wir werden das Land des Abends für eine Nacht des Morgens sein. [...] Und dies können nur die Deutschen sein, weil in ihnen die anfängliche Bestimmung des Griechentums aufbewahrt und in ersten eigenen Atemzeugen zur Ahnung des Geschichtlichen entfaltet und jetzt für sie zunächst auf die Nacht hinweggenommen ist.
(“We –our [West]land, shall be the Evening [Abendland=West] for a Morning[land’s] night [Morgenland=Middle East/East]. […] And such as these can only be Germans—for in them the earliest destiny of ancient Greece is preserved; it is unfolded in their own very first pantings toward the sense of the historical; and it is now for them, for a short night, taken away.” (Translation by Phrontisterion))
In the ancient Greek of Heraclitus, Fragment 64 is actually pretty straight-forward as a mytho-poetic narrative. In translation, however, whether in German or in English, Fr. 64 reads strangely like a new-age tinted, contemporary science text that shows a distinct lack of clarity in its meager attempt to give definition to the notions of Matter and Energy.
The principal wisdom narratives of the world tell stories of equivalencies between reality That is Seen and reality That is Not Seen. They bespeak, in their own words and frames, fundamental physical and metaphysical principles and processes, and poetize about that which exists or happens on the outer edges of the Real. This is clear in the articulation of the Sanskrit artha, the Greek “Thunderbolt steers all things,” and in the modern scientific e=mc2.
Related Phrontisterion readings:
Further readings on Alan Sokal:
· Alan Sokal, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, /Intellectual Impostures (USA: St Martin’s Press, 1999).
· Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, (NY: Random House, 2005).
· Diels & Kranz, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Band I, (Hildesheim: Weidman, 1989).
· Kirk, Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd edition (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
· Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink, 1966/67 Heraclitus Seminar (AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1979).
· Richard Feynman, Lectures on Physics, Vol. I (US: Basic Books, 2010).
· Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition (US: International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, 1970).