THE ONE AND THE MANY

(This essay is dedicated to Ralph Pred, mentor and friend, who taught me almost everything I know and who would probably disagree with almost everything in this essay. Thank you, Ralph.)

The job of philosophy is to account for the details of experience. How can it be that the world we know is the way it is? For this, Western philosophy has traditionally relied on the interplay of two distinct ‘substances’: God and world, spirit and matter, mind and body. This approach is known as ‘dualism’ and the challenge for dualists is to explain how two completely distinct substances can actually interact.

Other systems have attempted to account for the world in terms of a single substance. This is called ‘monism’ and the challenge for monists is to account for the incredible variety of  our experience.

From time to time, a philosopher or theologian proposes ‘a third way’, designed to overcome both challenges. In the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre and Alfred North Whitehead among others offered ‘third way’ solutions; but in the late 18th century Rabbi Schneur Zalman had already proposed a solution eerily similar to Whitehead’s.

In his great work of systematic philosophy, Process and Reality, Whitehead identified three ultimate notions inherent in the concept of Being: One, Many, Creativity. Creativity is the process by which the one become many and the many become one.

There is one ‘substance’, creativity, but two perfectly distinct modes of expression: unification and diversification. Creativity reflects the simultaneous desire of the many to become one and of the one to become many.

There is an unmistakable Trinitarian aspect to this. Being is simultaneously One, Many and Creativity just as God is simultaneously Father, Son and Spirit. Creativity ‘proceeds’ from the One and the Many much as Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Nicene Creed).

The world is a ‘multiplicity’ of events (which Whitehead called ‘actual entities’). Ultimately, only actual entities ‘exist’.  Everything else exists as a property of an actual entity. Each actual entity is a fully integrated bud of pure experience. Although it can be analyzed, it cannot be divided.

An actual entity comes to be what it comes to be through a process Whitehead called ‘concrescence’. The concrescent process occurs in stages but there is nothing within an actual entity that corresponds to our concept of ‘time’.

Each actual entity (unity) becomes what it becomes by conceptually and physically ‘prehending’ the attributes of other actual entities (plurality) and by integrating those inputs into a unique synthesis (unity). Once that synthesis is complete (unity), the actual entity becomes part of the multiplicity (plurality) and is available for ingression into other, emerging actual entities (unity).

Each actual entity is the product of its prehensions of actual entities and a constituent in the concrescences of other actual entities. Thus, actual entities are ordered hierarchically as well as a sequentially.

The ultimate nature of ‘creativity’ demands that this process be without limitation. Therefore, there must ultimately be one actual entity that is prehended by every other actual entity (‘Primordial’) and one actual entity that prehends every other actual entity (‘Consequent’).

According to this logic, Consequent must prehend Primoridal. Therefore, Primordial and Consequent are not two actual entities but one, which Whitehead calls ‘God’. Primordial and Consequent are the two ‘Natures’ of this ultimate actual entity.

In Whitehead’s system every actual entity incorporates God as God incorporates every actual entity. While it is true to say that God created the world, logically it is just as true to say that the world created God. God is not an exception to Whitehead’s ontological scheme; he is its inevitable logical conclusion.

Creativity gives rise to novel actual entities. According to Genesis, the logical state of the world prior to creative advance is “void and without form”. Creativity fills that void with a desire to incorporate the positive values operative in the Primordial Nature and a yearning to make a positive impact on the final matter of eternal fact, the Consequent Nature.

Thanks to universal creativity, this desire and this yearning coax ‘actual entities’ out of that void. All actual entities share a common origin (Primordial Nature) and a common destination (Consequent Nature). Yet each actual entity is a perfectly free and independent whole. As such, each actual entity charts its own unique path between its origin and its destination. Ultimately, each actual entity makes a unique contribution to the universe; this is called its ‘superject’.

Each actual entity is responsible for its own ‘concrescence’: the prehensive selections it makes, the degree of intensity it assigns to each, and the ‘subjective form’ with which it clothes each such selection. As subject, every actual entity inevitably becomes aware of itself. This introduces a new focus, the self, which often diverts the original trajectory of the concrescence.

Ab initio, every actual entity shares a common origin and a common destiny. Yet the resultant superjects often conflict dramatically with one another.

The Consequent Nature prehends the Primordial values and the superjects of every other actual entity. Guided solely by those Primordial values, the Consequent Nature incorporates each contribution with an appropriate degree of intensity and with an appropriate subjective form. Ultimately, the task of the Consequent Nature is to harmonize input from all other actual entities to create an integrated, harmonious and indivisible whole, consistent with the Primordial values.

One hundred and fifty years earlier, in Tanya, a foundational work of Hasidic Judaism (1771 – 1797), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liada wrote:

  • God is One and Unique, unchanging and without end…God is the one Life present in all life.

In his commentary on Tanya, Rabbi Shapiro wrote: “The theology of Tanya is nondual; that is, the One and the many have to be reconciled in a greater Whole. This is done by envisioning God as dynamic rather than static. God does not change from one thing to another. God is change that makes one thing and another.”

In pre-Socratic philosophy, Parmenides is recognized as the ‘apostle of permanence’, while Heraclitus is seen as the ‘champion of change’. In Tanya, as well as in Process and Reality, permanence and change are flip sides of a single process: creativity.

The Primordial Nature is by definition unchangeable; it is what it is eternally and by God’s will it cannot be other than it is. The Consequent Nature, on the other hand, is continuous change, perpetually incorporating novel actual entities and harmonizing the contributions of each into the whole. Yet the Primordial and the Consequent Natures are one actual entity (God): the one becoming many and the many becoming one.

Rabbi Shapiro: “YHVH, the four-letter Hebrew Name of God, represents the transcendent, and Elohim represents the immanent…YHVH is Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun meaning ‘gods’…Elohim is the One manifest as the many…YHVH refers to God’s essential unity.”

  • To attain true joy, contemplate God permeating all things. Realize that this world is nothing but divine glory and that all things are empty when seen from the perspective of God. God is the sole reality, and wherever you look it is God and God alone.

This is not pantheism but panentheism. God is not the ‘forms’ themselves but the content of those forms.

Rabbi Shapiro: “To say that one thing is God while another is not is to place a limit on God that reduces God to god. We are in the habit of saying that God is in heaven, or God is in me, but the greater truth is that heaven and earth, you and all creation, are in God and of God…”

  • The purpose of all creation: that the One should dwell as the many.

Rabbi Shapiro: “…Realize the true nature of reality as the outpouring of divine creativity.”

It is not just ‘the purpose of all creation’ but the essence of creation itself. God (unity) creates the world (multiplicity) and endows that world, those entities, with total, radical freedom. The One that is everything becomes as nothing; yet it fills everything.

Christianity takes this a step further. God-the-one is not only God-the-many, but via Incarnation also One-among-many. (“And the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14) As the many, God is the Kingdom of Heaven; as the One, God is Christ.

  • All beings have their essence and root in divine wisdom.

The Jewish concept of Wisdom (Sophia) is closely related to the Christian concept of Word (Logos). According to Proverbs, Wisdom plays a critical role in God’s creative process; according to John, Logos plays a similar role.

Rabbi Shapiro: “This wisdom is already within you, indeed it is you.”

  • Wisdom rests within all things, as it is written, “God founded the earth in wisdom” and “In wisdom you have made them all.” Further, wisdom fills all life, as it is written, “Wisdom gives life to those who possess it.”…Wisdom reveals the Presence of God.

Rabbi Shapiro: “Everything from quarks to quasars has its own level of consciousness, its own innate wisdom and intelligence.”

Rabbi Shapiro: “All people are innately capable of intuiting the unity of God manifest as the multiplicity of creation. This capability is called…wisdom…The challenge is not to earn wisdom, but to access the wisdom already inside you.”

  • Perceiving nothing but themselves, they proclaim themselves gods, saying, “I am, and there is nothing besides me.” Thus arrogance is the heart of idolatry. But arrogance is rooted in delusion, for there is nothing but God.

Rabbi Shapiro: “God’s nonduality necessitates the existence of a multiplicity of ‘I am’…The problem is not that you say, ‘I am’, but that you mistakenly assume ‘there is nothing besides me’.”

Solipsism is the belief that I am all alone in the universe. It entails a rejection of ‘other minds’ and, in my view at least, is a species of nihilism.

The characteristic ontology of the post-Enlightenment period runs something like this: “I came to be, I am interacting with others and the world, and one day I will cease to be.” Others and the world are reduced to elements in our transient and transitory experience. Effectively, this is solipsism, this is nihilism. This is also the arrogance of idolatry: there is nothing besides me…when in fact there is nothing besides God. We have it exactly wrong.

No wonder we live in a culture of alienation and angst. While we might not state it this way, we live our lives as though we were all alone in the universe: “I am, and there is nothing beside me.” How terrifying! We are choosing to live life as if we were already in Hell. (C.S. Lewis: The Great Divorce)

Rabbi Shapiro: “You are like a person dying of thirst who sits next to a tall glass of cool, fresh water. So convinced are you that there is no water, you completely ignore the reality right in front of you…It is the same with God’s oneness. As soon as you realize the Presence of God in and as all things, including yourself, your sense of separation and the anxiety it produces are gone…You realize you are God calling to God.”

Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for you (God) are with me.”

  • When you live Torah, speak Torah, and think Torah, you are fully alive. Living Torah is love, for the positive practices (the 613 mizvot of Torah) are grounded in love, and living them is loving God, for God and Torah are one.

Jesus: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Rabbi Shapiro: “Live Torah by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

In Judaism, Torah (‘the law’ or ‘the way’) has a role similar to Whitehead’s Primordial values. When you remain focused on those Primordial values (mizvot) and let them guide your actions, you are ‘fully alive’ and you ‘love’.

Rabbi Shapiro: “The way of the inbetweener (actual entity) is the way of Torah, doing mizvot to realize the unity of all worlds in the singular reality of God.”

To the extent that the superject of an actual entity reflects the values of the Primordial Nature, it makes a positive contribution to the Consequent Nature. The ‘inbetweener’ is co-redeemer of the world. We find the same concept of co-redemption in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

  • When you think a thought, you are greater than that thought. But when that thought is of Torah, which is rooted in God (and is God), that thought is greater than you, and you become absorbed into the thought, and in this way you and God are one.

The same concept is at work in the Christian doctrine of Eucharist. The communicant ingests the body and blood of Christ in the form of a wafer of bread and a sip of wine but what actually happens is that the communicant is incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body.

  • Everything has its opposite, as it is written ‘God has created one thing and the other’…Yet even the other side is necessary…that the other might come to know the One.

Rabbi Shapiro: “God has no choice but to be God, and being God means manifesting everything and its opposite.”

Still, the opposite of a mizvah “is not, in and of itself, evil”. After all, all actual entities arise from a common desire for what they judge to be good.

Per Augustine, the opposite of ‘good’ is not ‘evil’ but the absence of good. Nothing can be purely evil because Being itself is good. Pure evil therefore cannot exist. Furthermore, all actual entities have a common origin and a common destiny. So when Tanya speaks of the ‘opposite’ or ‘the other’, it is understood that there is an ultimate limit (God) to such otherness.

  • The wicked is the antithesis of the righteous, for the one is obsessed with self while the other is free from self. Yet not everyone who succumbs to evil does so to the same degree.

Nothing succumbs to evil totally and permanently.

Rabbi Shapiro: “Refraining from anger and offering kindness to everyone are how you live the way of the inbetweener.”

The role of the inbetweener, the actual entity, is to make a contribution to God’s Consequent Nature consistent with the values of his Primordial Nature. When the actual entity remains focused on its origin and its destiny, it acts selflessly and the arrow hits its mark. But as the actual entity shifts focus to itself, it begins to act more selfishly. The trajectory of the arrow is altered and it misses its mark…but only by some degree.

  • Our Sages teach, “Without God’s help the evil inclination could not be overcome.”

Pure selfishness would be a black hole. It would totally cut us off from the rest of the world. But our twin focus on God’s Primordial and Consequent Natures keeps us on a trajectory that, if not perfectly straight, at least avoids annihilation. On the other hand:

  •  The inclination toward selflessness is ‘a part of God above’.
  • Whenever a passion arises that draws you toward evil (self), say to yourself, “This is the way of the wicked that will separate me from God.”

Total separation from God, if possible, would be the equivalent of non-being.

Rabbi Shapiro: “Sin arises from selfishness. Selfishness arises from a sense of fear and scarcity.”

Spiritually, we go into a defensive crouch. We see the world and others as threats rather than aids. We see community as competitive rather that cooperative. We retreat from interdependence to independence and ultimately to isolation.

Rabbi Shapiro: “Your sense of independence is absorbed into the larger sense of interdependence, and both dissolve into the nonduality of God as the only true reality.”

  • “Torah and God are entirely one”…Thus when your hand distributes funds to the poor, it becomes the hand of God and a vehicle of godliness.”

Similarly, Jesus said, “But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand it doing.” (Matthew 6:3)

Rabbi Shapiro: “The ultimate challenge of Torah is to ‘be holy as I YHVH am holy’…Knowing this, we engage the world justly, kindly and humbly. Torah is a way for us to discover who we are and what we are to do.”

  • Creation is the interplay of opposites. The highest realm of godliness is balanced by the “other side” of selfishness, and just as the first reveals unity, the latter reveals diversity.

Rabbi Shapiro: “What God wills is to be God. To be God means to manifest the myriad potentialities of life…God cannot be limited to those things we call spiritual…God does not choose between opposites. There is no choice in God. God cannot choose to be other than God, and therefore God cannot choose to be other than the Whole. Created in the image and likeness of God, you too contain opposites. Your task is not to eliminate one side or the other, but to lift both in service of the Whole. This means overcoming the ignorance of separateness as a way that allows the self to be for itself and others at the same time.”

  • The blessed Endless One permeates all reality, yet the forms it takes forget their true nature and fall prey to the delusion of alienation. This is called the Exile of the Schechinah.

Typically, as an actual entity (inbetweener) becomes aware of itself, it begins to substitute its own values for the Primordial values and its own goals for the Consequent Nature. However, as Rabbi Shapiro points out, it is possible for an actual entity to assume the identity of a servant of God. In that case the actual entity can serve itself and others simultaneously.

  • Loving your neighbor as yourself reveals the unity of neighbor and self, for no one is separate from another, and all beings are equal, having a single source in the One who is all…Torah’s sole purpose is to remove the veils of diversity to reveal the divine unity, that you might then love the One by loving the many.

Rabbi Shapiro: “Performing selfless acts of kindness is a direct path to God-realization, for it reveals the unity of self and other in, with, and as God…Torah doesn’t say, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’…Loving another as yourself moves you beyond self to soul, beyond the isolated ego that sees self and other as apart from God, to the integrated soul that sees self and other as a part of God.”

Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself! We imagine that these three imperatives are in conflict. Far from it! They are one and the same.

Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:35 – 40)

  • Acts of kindness are the light the self brings to the world. This is the “it” you are commanded to do (Duet. 30:14)

Rabbi Shapiro: “In the world of action, only action matters. Feeling is not enough. Thinking is not enough. You must act. And when you act well, your actions illumine the world.”

  • The heart of one mirrors the heart of another. As love between friends circles from one to the other in an endless round, so too the love of God.

It is Love that stops time or rather overcomes it. Love is Presence. True love “circles from one to the other in an endless round.” We take it for granted that Love “circles from one to the other in an endless round’ in the Blessed Trinity. We forget that we too participate in the Trinitarian process. Love between an individual and his neighbor can circle from one to the other in an endless round. Likewise, love between an inbetweener and God. We too have the power to realize Presence…we too can overcome time.

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LUCRETIUS

In approximately 60 BC, the Roman poet Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura). In the tradition of Parmenides’ On Nature, Lucretius’ poem is an ontological epic. Lucretius reprised the themes of many ancient Greek philosophers – Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Neo-Platonists, Stoics and, of course, his own Epicureans. He reprised their themes…but he proposed radically new solutions, solutions that eerily resonate with ideas we generally attribute to the 20th century.

Lucretius was an atomist. He believed that all objects (he called them ‘bodies’), sentient or otherwise, are made up of ‘primal germs’. These primal germs are solid, eternal, indestructible and unchangeable. By themselves, these germs do not have characteristics that can be perceived by our senses.

  • “Primal germs have solid singleness nor otherwise could they have been conserved through eons and infinity of time for the replenishment of wasted worlds.”
  • “Nature, reserving them as seeds for things permitteth not of rupture or decrease.”
  • “Nature all dissolves into their primal bodies again, and naught perishes ever to annihilation.”

The primal seeds exist on a scale that is imperceptible:

  • “Far beneath the ken of senses lies the nature of those ultimates of the world.”

But they are not infinitesimal.

  • “Were there not a minimum (size), the smallest bodies would have infinites, since then a half-of-half could still be halved.”

Clearly, Lucretius is aware of Zeno’s Paradox and solves it by introducing an ancient version of the Planck Scale.

There are a specific but unspecified number of distinct germ types, distinguished from one another only by their ‘shapes’. These differing shapes make it possible for germs to interlock. When differently shaped germs interlock, a ‘body’ is formed. Only bodies have sensible properties.

The idea that geometry constitutes the substructure of all that we experience as our ‘world’ is found in Plato (Timaeus) but more recently in the work of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (Synergetics) and in a 21st century theory of physics called Tetronics.

Because no primal germ can link directly with another germ of the same type (i.e. shape), all bodies are comprised of differently shaped germs.

  • “Nothing there is that’s not of mixed seed.”

But not all different germ types can interlink. Certain combinations of shapes are compatible for union, others are not.

In looking at the world, we are immediately awed by its seemingly limitless variety; and yet not everything we can possibly imagine can actually be. In fact, when we think about it further, there are more combinations of traits that are impossible than possible.

Lucretius’ model accounts for this beautifully and economically. If we liken primal germs to the letters of an alphabet, the shapes of those germs would constitute the word formation and sentence formation rules of the corresponding language. As we all know, most combinations of letters do not produce words; most combinations of words do not result in sentences. Still, the great variety of potential words and sentences allows an almost limitless range of thought.

Thinkers have long marveled at the fact that things, though greatly varied, yet are distinct. Variation is not continuous; it is quantized. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould referred to this phenomenon as “punctuated equilibrium”. Plato resorted to his famous “ideas, ideals or forms” to account for it; Christians use the concept of Logos to explain it. Lucretius’ reliance on geometry is more economical in keeping with Occam’s Razor.

Lucretius’ understanding of matter is remarkably near to what we believe today. His primal germs are a cross between sub-atomic particles and atoms. His bodies correspond to our molecules. All in all, Lucretius gives us a model that is very close to the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

Unlike primal germs, bodies have properties. Lucretius attributed such properties to the different ways in which different germ types interlock. Like a modern day chemist, he explained differences in the behavior of different ‘bodies’ and differences in the states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) in terms of the structure of the bonds formed among germs.

Lucretius distinguished properties from accidents:

  • “A property is that which not at all can be disjoined and severed from a thing without a fatal dissolution…weight to rocks, heat to fire.”

Accidents, on the other hand, are not essential to the identity of the body. In concert with modern day social thinking, Lucretius cites slavery vs. freedom and poverty vs. wealth as examples of accidents.

Lucretius’ theory of accidents leads to a fascinating concept of time:

  • “Even time exists not of itself; but sense reads out of things what happened long ago, what presses now, and what shall follow after…All past actions may be said to be but accidents, in one way of mankind, in other of some region of the world.”

For Lucretius, only the Present essentially is. The Past and Future exist only in so far as they are manifest in the Present. For example, the Past may exist in the Present in the form of memory and the Future in the form of desire. It is a short jump from here to the Hasidic notion that the world is continually coming into being ex nihilo.

Lucretius’ time is epiphenomenal. In fact, it is merely ‘accidental’. Unlike a ‘property’, it is in no way essential to the identity of the event itself.  Instead, temporal sequence (past and future) is assigned to events after the fact: “Sense reads out of things…” An event’s place in such a sequence is an ‘accident’ of the event itself and of the region of space in which that event occurs. This is a remarkable deconstruction of time not seen again until the late 20th century.

Lucretius’ concept of time as ‘accidental’ lays the ground work for his ontology of absolute freedom:

  • “Every act at bottom exists not of itself, nor as body is…but rather of sort more fitly to be called an accident of body and of place wherein all things go on.”

It hardly needs be pointed out that according to this model causality is also an accident and therefore determinism is a total non-sequitur.

  • “Cause succeed not cause from everlasting, whence this free will for creatures o’er the land, whence it is wrested from the fates, – this will whereby we step right forward where desire leads each man on…In these affairs ‘tis each man’s will itself that gives the start.”

Lucretius may be seen as the first philosopher of absolute freedom, something not seen again until the 19th and 20th centuries. The existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, believed that etre pour soi is characterized by totally unconditioned freedom. Likewise, Alfred North Whitehead believed that every ‘actual entity’ originates with a conceptual selection of target values and then freely chooses its own unique path toward the manifestation of those values.

Lucretius’ world does not consist only of matter (germs). Germs need space in order to combine and bodies need room (both internally and externally) in order to grow, move, interact, combine, decay and ultimately dissolve. Therefore, Lucretius adds a second fundamental ontological category, the Void. By equating space with the Void, Lucretius ensures that space must be infinite:

  • “Space has no bound nor measure and extends unmetered forth in all directions round.”

Primal germs plus the Void account for all the bodies with all the properties that constitute our world.

Only the primal germs themselves are devoid of void (and therefore must be featureless and eternal); the bodies they engender are necessarily made up of germs and Void. Because of this admixture of the Void, all bodies are changeable and mortal. The Void assures this; it is the agent of mortality.

One of the thorniest problems of Western philosophy has been the struggle between monism and dualism. If you believe that everything consists of a single substance, it is difficult to account for the flexibility, variety and changeability of ‘actual entities’ (or events). On the other hand, if you believe that two (or more) distinct substances are required to account for those events, it is difficult to explain how these fundamentally alien substances communicate with one another and modify each another’s behavior.

In his seminal work, The Concept of Mind, 20th century British philosopher Gilbert Ryle argued that a dualistic mind/body model of human behavior amounted to putting a “ghost in a machine”.

In the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre proposed an ingenious solution to this problem: being and nothingness (Etre et Neant). There is a single ‘substance’ which Sartre called ‘etre’ but that substance perpetually confronts its own potential negation, ‘neant’. The combination of the substantial and its perpetual negation is sufficient to account for all of the complex behavior of entities in our world, including mental phenomena, free will, etc.  Lucretius was essentially in the same place…just 2,000 years earlier.

For both Sartre and Lucretius, the existence of Neant and Void as a primary ontological category means that causality has severe limits. For both philosophies, those limits give both ‘chance’ and ‘freedom’ the space they need to operate.

Alfred North Whitehead’s great work of systematic philosophy, Process and Reality, begins with three ‘undefined terms’: one, many and creativity. Lucretius’ germs and Void roughly cover the same terrain as Whitehead’s one and many. Whitehead’s creativity is anticipated by Lucretius with a third fundamental but unnamed ontological category:

  • “No less within the primal seeds thou must admit, besides all blows and weight, some other cause of motion, whence derives the power in us born of some free act. – Since naught from nothing can become…Just as they move today, the elemental bodies moved of old and shall the same hereafter evermore.”

As with Whitehead’s creativity, there is a fundamental unrest in the universe that leads germs to conjoin.

So bodies, consisting of conjoined primal germs plus the Void, constitute the world. Lucretius reasoned that such a world must be spatially infinite and that the number of germs of each germ type must also be infinite.

  • “Throughout the universe, end there is none…Space to all sides stretches infinite and free, and seeds, innumerable in number, in sum bottomless…fly bestirred in everlasting motion there.”

He argued that the world must look the same no matter where one stands and no matter what direction one looks.

  • “For center none can be where world is still boundless.”

In this, Lucretius anticipated the thinking of Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity.

Lucretius’ world is an infinite lattice of uniform density. Lucretius went on to reason that in such a world, where the laws of physics (combination and dissolution) are uniform throughout, bodies, including those exhibiting ‘soul’ and ‘mind’, must exist in all regions.

  • “Thus I say, again, again, ‘tmust be confessed there are such congregations of matter otherwhere, like this our world…’Tmust be confessed in other realms there are still other worlds, still other breeds of men.”

He anticipated by 2000 years one of the strongest arguments for today’s SETI programs.

For Lucretius, soul and mind are joined but distinct. Both consist of configurations of “tiny germs” (tiny because of the levity and speed associated with them).

  • “Nothing is seen to happen with such speed as what the mind proposes and begins.”

Soul is diffused throughout the body while mind has a fixed location.

  • “Mind and soul, I say, are held conjoined one with other, and form one single nature of themselves…soul throughout the body scattered, but obeys – moved by the nod and motion of the mind.”

Both soul and mind are material and therefore mortal.

  • “Nature of mind and soul corporeal is.”

They cannot live apart from the body and so they die when the body dies.

  • “There’s naught of which thou canst declare it lives disjoined from body…for whatever exists must be a somewhat.”

Tracing everything back to the primal germs plus Void, whether mental or physical, Lucretius satisfies the modern definition of a ‘materialist’.

Lucretius also proposes something very close to the modern concept of entropy:

  • “Each thing is quicker marred than made.”
  • “All of things by sure degrees are wasting away and going to the tomb, outworn by venerable length of life.”

Lucretius’ concept of entropy, though early in intellectual history, is certainly not timid or superficial:

  • “So all have birth and perishable frame, thus the whole nature of the world itself must be conceived as perishable too.”
  • “Sky above and earth beneath began of old in time and shall in time go under to disaster.”
  • “I have assumed that earth and fire are mortal things indeed, and have not doubted water and the air both perish too.”

None of this, however, challenges Lucretius core belief in the eternal reality of the primal germs and Void. In fact, combining this entropy with his previous notion of an infinite universe, Lucretius reasons that the primal germs must be eternal. If primal germs, never perishing, were not forever available to generate new bodies, there would be no world now:

  • “By now bodies of matter would have been so far reduced by breakings in old days that from them…nothing could be born…All fore-passed time would now by this have broken and ruined and dissolved that same could ne’er in all remaining time be builded up for the plenishing of the world. But mark: infallibly a fixed bound remaineth stablished against their breaking down.”

If time is infinite and if all order is inexorably subject to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics with no lower bound, then the probability that we would be observing a world characterized by any degree of order would be infinitesimal.

Nowhere is Lucretius more poetic…and disturbing…than when he speaks of death. In spite of his belief in universal and all pervasive entropy, he holds death lightly:

  • “Therefore death to us is nothing nor concerns us in the least, since nature of mind is mortal evermore.”

He accepts death as the ultimate eraser…but finds there no cause for angst:

  • “Nothing for us there is to dread in death, no wretchedness for him who is no more, the same estate as if ne’er been born.”
  • “In true death there is no second self, alive and able to sorrow for the self, destroyed.”

Nor does he rely on any sort of ‘second hand immortality’:

  • “Nor think that aught we see hither and thither afloat upon the crest of things, and now a birth and straightway now a ruin, inheres at rest deep in the eternal atoms of the world.”
  • “Look back: nothing to us was all fore-passed eld of time the eternal, ere we had a birth. And nature holds this like a mirror up of time-to-be when we are dead and gone.”

I think most of us are somewhat uncomfortable with the notion that to die is equivalent to never having been born. We imagine somehow that our existence is real even when it is no longer present. Even confronted with the extreme likelihood that the entire Universe will end in Heat Death, Big Crunch or Big Bounce, we still cling to the idea that there is an objective value to once having been. Whitehead, for example, did not believe in the immortality of subjective experience; but he did believe that the objective contents of our lives are preserved eternally in the Consequent Nature of God.

Lucretius clings to no such notions. With no support from any religious belief, Lucretius accepts death with equanimity. In part at least, this is because of his view that universe is a cycle of regeneration:

  • “Mixed with the funeral is the wildered wail of infants coming to the shores of light.”
  • “Ever the old, outcrowded by the new, gives way.”
  • “Nature ever upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught to come to birth but through some other’s death.”

Lucretius faces the reality of death and looks it squarely in the eye:

  • “Nor by prolonging life take we the least away from death’s own time. Nor can we pluck one moment off, whereby to minish the aeons of our state of death…and he who died with light of yesterday shall be no briefer time in death’s No-more than he who perished months or years before.”

And finally,

  • “One fixed end of life abideth for mortality; death’s not to shun, and we must go to meet.”

This brings us at last to Lucretius’ unusual theology. First, he despised religion:

  • “If men but knew some fixed end to ills, they would be strong by some device unconquered to withstand religions and the menacing of seers.”
  • “…If only he will spare to taint his soul with foul religion.”

Ever economical, he found any sort of religious hypothesis superfluous:

  • “Nature…is seen to do all things herself and through herself of own accord, rid of all gods.”
  • “The earth herself and Nature, artificer of the world, bring forth aboundingly all things for all.”

Finally, he cites the imperfection of the world, the so-called Problem of Evil, to prove that the world is not of divine origin:

  • “In no wise the nature of the world for us was builded by a power divine – so great the faults it stands encumbered with.”

Yet for all that, he does not challenge the existence of the gods. He allows that they might exist but not that they should have any impact in our world. Unlike Homer, whose gods were fascinated by the machinations of men, Lucretius argued that our world is too uninteresting for gods to bother with it.

In this he anticipated the Death of God theology of Nietzsche and the 20th century Death of God theologians.

Today, Lucretius is little read. He’s neither Parmenides nor Heraclitus, neither Plato nor Aristotle, neither Augustine nor Aquinas, neither Locke nor Hume, neither Hegel nor Marx. Too bad – because his philosophy is in many ways revolutionary…and anachronistically modern!

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