Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Parmenides of Elea

A Pre-Socratic Philosopher

Why Parmenides? Why return to learn from one I gave such a scathing review of so recently? Why write about one who's philosophical rival, Herclitus, I find myself in much agreement? Precisely because I disagree with Parmenides I have the most to learn from him. If I can push aside my prejudices that hang like heavy curtains in a theater, blocking the view to the stage, perhaps I can see the play.

If I may quote the perhaps fictional shade of Neo-Platonist Philosopher, Hypatia of Alexandria: "To know one philosophy is to know none." Between Heraclitus and Parmenides I originally prefered Heraclitus by a large margin. But our discourse in class showed me that I had been blind to what Parmenides was saying, and I did not agree with Heraclitus as much as I at first thought. Listening to my fellow classmates I realized I had let the rhetoric of Parmenides stuff up my ears, and I could not hear the kernal of Truth he held. Therefore I have three things I must do: acknowledge where my prejudices come from, then return to Parmenides without the blinding darkness of pre-conceptions, and finally to learn from Parmenides.

My prejudices are easy to discern in this case, yet still difficult to eradicate. Parmenides Philosophy strikes me as having the same foundation as the argument used by the Religious Right in this present time for so many issues: what they believe is true, and any facts to the contrary will be ignored. Therefore, seeing this, I brought with me all the baggage of present-day politics to the ancient philosophy of Parmenides. I blocked out any agreement I had with Parmenides, and focused on the disagreements. I cast Parmenides in my mind, not as W. C. Fields as I had characterized in my previous homework, but subconciously as any one of a number of minor political-religious zealots with egos and agendas far beyond their stature mentally or emotionally, but unfortunately not beyond their financial reach.

So, casting aside those notions I revisit the house of Parmenides. The most striking thing to me at this fleeting moment is that I fell prey to his Third Path of Inquiry that he warns so strongly against:

"#3. The one on which mortals, knowing nothing, wander, two-headed, for helplessness in their breasts guides their wandering minds and they are carried, deaf and blind alike, dazed, uncritical tribes, for whom being and not-being are thought the same and yet not the same, and the path of all runs in opposite directions. For never shall this be proved: that things that are not are. But do restrain your thought from this path of inquiry, and do not let habit, born from much experience, compel you along this path, to guide your sightless eye and ringing ear and tongue. But judge by reason the highly contentious disproof that I have spoken."

So with hopefully open eyes and clear ears I find that I now wonder if in his other statements he is struggling with the concepts of Zero and Infinity. I had a hint of it before, as a blind man scents the presence of another, but I had the particulars all wrong. Can he be trying to define Divinity within mathematical conext? Or do I still focus on the shadowy after-images of my own pre-conceived notions when I seek only for Parmenides? Is he speaking only of what he considers the faulty belief of Opposites? I have to ask someone who knows more than I, and so I ask you as Teacher: Is he speaking of Zero and Infinity in any way, even though as concepts they were not yet named, or is that just me? In either case, his words have caused me to think more on exactly what Zero and Infinity are.

Aside from Zero and Infinity, the aspect that strikes me most is still the conflict between the viewpoint that what "Is" must always "Be" and cannot be what "Is Not," and Heraclitus' opposing argument that Reality is Paradox and must be ascertained by Collective Perception because Objective Thought alone leads elsewhere. Am I seeing the conflict between Deductive Thought (Parmenides) and Inductive Thought (Heraclitus) being played out for me?

Parmenides claims no thing has an Opposite, for a Thing must always be Itself and not the Opposite of Itself. He claims that a Thing and its supposed Opposite are still the same Thing, and therefore what "Is" can not be what "Is Not."

At the utterance of this last phrase outside of school these past two weeks I have found a universal response -- that of running away. The common response has been to flee my presence with all semblance of haste, just as I had retreated from Parmenides in my prejudice.

Is Parmenides' Objective Truth actually Deductive Thought? He makes some good arguments: he illustrates the wrongness of Subjective Thought (Doxa, superstition) by revealing its assumption that Day and Night are Opposites. But Day and Night are indeed aspects of the same Greater Thing (the Earth spinning in Space as it orbits the Sun), and both are not the absence of the other but more a different intensity of the same substance (i.e. light). But that they are a Single Thing or Opposites, what does it matter? Inductive Thought can see that same Reality.

Heraclitus: 114. "Hesiod, whom so many accept as their wise teacher, did not even understand the nature of day and night; for they are one." (57)

So is Parmenides really arguing against Heraclitus, or has Parmenides fallen prey to his own prejudices as I did, and has ascribed to Heraclitus' Philosophy some definition that is false? Parmenides rails against mortal superstition in his Doxa:

8d (Sentence 1&2) "Here I stop my trustworthy speech to you and thought about Objective Truth. From here on, learn the subjective beliefs of mortals; listen to the deceptive ordering of my words."

Does he consider that Heraclitus uses deceptive words? But Parmenides goes on from there to detail a host of superstitions that, I suppose, were common to the uneducated in his day. But Heraclitus was not without insight, and I do not see the superstitions of the masses in the words of Heraclitus. So Parmenides entire Doxa has nothing to do with the perceived argument between him and Heraclitus. Parmenides uses examples of mistaken beliefs to illustrate what he means by Doxa. But in so doing he lays a trap for himself, because if he espouses Deductive Thought, as I think he does, then he is the one who comes from a set of Beliefs to fit Reality around. Heraclitus, as linked to Inductive Thought as I see him, is the one without preconceived notions. If I am wrong on this premise I am hopeful a third day of class will show me the error of my thought. But in this fleeting moment (now gone), I am sure of my conclusion.

What Parmenides calls Objective Truth, I assume he defines it as something that can be reached through Deductive Thought as opposed to Perception or Inductive Thought.

I cannot deny Paradox unless I deny my Perception. If I deny my Perception, I then become a slave of the mind that makes the most convincing argument, regardless of the facts. But then, am I better off as a slave of our Collective Perception? No. That point I also learned from the discourse in class.

If denying Perception is closed to me, I am left with denying Paradox. That might be where Parmenides wants to go. Perception reveals the Universe as full of Paradox. Is Paradox Real? Or is it a Perception of Things I Do Not Understand?

Parmenides argument itself appears to be paradoxical to me now, what with conclusions on perceptions being pre-determined. And if it Is, yet Is Not because Paradox does not exist, there is only Doxa, are his words then an example of what he argues against?

I now flee from my own words for now, and go on to a slightly different spiral of thought.

Since multiple people can agree by using Inductive Thought on their Perceptions of Paradox in their separate Realities, it seems that Deductive Thought (or Holy Dogma, for that matter) might not be enough to Know a Thing. However, Perception is not Universal. There can be a Paradox in Perception as well. Multiple people can Perceive different Realties, even conflicting ones. In this case, of necessity, Deductive Thought must be applied to reach a conclusion about what is actually Perceived.

As well, sometimes what I Perceive is Unknown to me, and then I must apply Deductive Thought to have a frame of reference from whence to extrapolate the Definition of what I Perceive, as best I can. Deductive Thought can help me find a Path I could not see.

Perception (Inductive Thought) and Objective Truth (Deductive Thought) are both necessary for us to Know Reality. Is that what I have learned by revisiting Parmenides?

Am I a slave to Perception? Do I deceive myself with my ever-changing Perception? Is there a Constant that is hidden behind Change? Or, is simply the Perception of what is named Opposites, Change and Constant, one and the same Thing in different quantities? That there is no Pure Extreme -- no pure Change, no pure Constant?

Am I stuck in an eddy of the river? Is my Perception limited to this backwater, only dimly aware of the main current of the river? Is my Perception and the Perception of Others like different regions of a river -- some experience the eddy, some the main current, some the space inbetween eddy and current? Do we All think we agree on our Collective Perception because we All agree on the river, but on closer inspection find that we disagree on its Nature? Is this the connection between Doxa and Heraclitus Philosophy that Parmenides wants to make?

What is Paradox? Is it Not Doxa? Or am I mistaken in my assumptions? Am I using Deductive Thought or Inductive Thought? Or are both simply aspects of the same Thing – Thought?

Ouch! Again I flee to another spiral of thought.

Heraclitus: 19. "Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain." (18)

Expect the Unexpected, says Heraclitus. Expectation is Surprise. Change is Constant. Above is Below. Within is Without. Life is Death. Paradox is Reality. Chaos is Order.

8d (Sentence 3) "For they made up their minds to name two forms, one of which it is not right to name at all (here is where they have gone astray) and have distinguished them as opposite in bodily form and have assigned to them marks distinguishing them from one another."

There is no Opposite, says Parmenides. Only the Same in different aspects. Is the Thing an equal mix of what I Perceive to be Opposites, and so in naming the ends of the Thing as Opposites, instead of naming the middle, are we creating illusions?

Is there no Zero, and no Infinity? Is the Universe Finite and All-Encompassing within that Finiteness? Are Zero and Infinity constructs of Faith and Dogma without basis in Reality? Are Zero and Inifinity actually Doxa (i.e. Superstition)?

Do I run from the Objective Truth of Parmenides? Do I flee whenever I approach the Divine -- what I perceive to be the underlying Truth behind all things? Am I afraid of perceiving Reality? Does fear of the Unknown keep me in Perceived Reality, disallowing Objective Truth? Am I deluded by the Collective Perception of like-minded individuals in the false conclusion that our tenuous agreement on our Reality Perception is, in fact, What Is?

Are both Heraclitus and Parmenides right? Are they both wrong? By eithers philosophy the other is what Is Not. But that is a Paradox, and that itself is a Paradox within a Paradox.

Does Paradox equal Paradox? Round and round I go. Is this the lesson? Is this the point I start 'analyzing everything to death?' Constant Change is what I Perceive. Is this Reality? Or have I done too many drugs in my youth? What do the Blind hear? What do the Deaf see? Is the world of the Autistic real or perception?

Reality is Fiction. Nothing is Something. Is this Parmenides or Heraclitus? Is this the point where Heraclitus and Parmenides meet, proving that the Opposite Philosophies are One and the Same? Were they never Opposites, but different aspects of the same Philosophy?

I do Not Know, and therefore do I Know? Where do I go from here? Can I go anywhere from here? Stop me now, is this the birth of Why?

What did I learn from Parmenides? Was I studying Parmenides, or myself? Is Change possible? Is there Free Will? In either case, in this unchanging but fleeting moment I learned that I do not know what I think I know.

Later . . .

The Median! Ah-ha! (a small eureka) The Next Step. Yin-Yang. One extreme drives the Other, gives substance to the Other, together they are One. The Line with Opposites at the ends to represent the Whole is better depicted, for me, as a Circle with equal halves pushing the other half into motion.

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