Heraclitus said “Change is obvious, therefore, to hell with logic.” Parmenides said, “Logic is obvious, therefore, to hell with change.” Still using Peikoff’s own words, Parmenides’ philosophy can be summarized by the principle “What is, is, and what is not, is not, and what is not can neither be, nor be thought about.” Hard to deny that logic.
How amazing the power of order! The right order, of course; that which only a great writer achieves. For what is writing but finding the correct sequence of words amidst the chaos of possibilities? If you give a typewriter to a monkey, they say, and let him pound the keys for the whole of infinity, he will almost surely compose the “Iliad“. Yet man-the-thinking-ape needs only a handful of years to create his masterpieces. It’s not just about words or sentences or characters or plots. It’s almost like some premeditated crime, with all its malign machinations embedded into words, anticipating its consummation in an awe-inspiring passage. It was writing about darkness — and thinking about the darkness within — that I remembered “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and one of the best scenes I have ever encountered.
Thales gave rise to philosophy by relying on sensory experience and reason. The next philosopher in line — Heraclitus — not only trailed a different path, but ignited a chain-reaction that ran through history toppling like dominos all that man tried to erect with his reason. It all began with the problem of change and multiplicity; it all ended with my thirteen-year-old niece asking petulantly: “Why can’t I simply decide I am a boy?”
Philosophy is asking the big questions. But if they are already answered by the State or by the nearest priest, why the effort? From the great dynasties of Sumer and Egypt, the explanation of the world had been given by the king-gods. Life was inexorably hard and painful, and man should rather turn his attention to the other world, to the afterlife. This greatest of all evasions of man was not an invention of Christianity – just remember the pyramids, those gigantic tombs. Better to bow, pray and beg than to try to understand and explain the world. It was in 6th century B.C. Greece that it all changed, and that began with Thales.