Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What is and isn't ...

... Raymond Tallis on Parmenides.

It may be time ... to go back to the time when our cognitive godfather set us on a road to the secular understanding that has been so wonderfully elaborated over the 2,500 years since. We need to return to the Parmenidean moment to see whether, without losing all the gains that post-Parmenidean thought has brought us, there might be another cognitive journey from that which western thought has taken.

I think it worth noting that around the same time as Parmenides - earlier, in fact - Heraclitus had introduced the term logos, which actually has much the same meaning as the Chinese term tao, itself introduced at around the same time by the Lao-tse. Parmenides and Heraclitus are thought of proto-philosophers, but there seem to religious implications in what they were saying.


  1. Hi Frank,

    Thanks for pointing me to Parmenides. I cannot recall what reading I have done about him in the past, and so appreciate the focus. I went as far as here: Wikipedia: Parmenides; and found interpretative translations of what he wrote categorized.

    Different from what Raymond Tillis says, it seems Parmenides was attempting to show us how this "road to the secular understanding that has been so wonderfully elaborated over the 2,500 year since," would be a gross mistake of judgment.

    Parmenides was a mystic. He says:

    Thinking and the thought that it is are the same; for you will not find thought apart from what is, in relation to which it is uttered.

    For thought and being are the same.

    This is essential, and is the experience we each have. I accept "thought" here to include all that is cognitive, whether unmistakably spiritual or not. It is our first and only experience. What is outside the cognitive, is not. This includes the electromagnetic universe with its relativity, quantum mechanics, and strings. Those are cognitive contructs and exist in experience, not in and of "themselves"--as "they" do not exist as such, but only in the thought. As an aside, we dive into them, "as if" they exist in that "not". However, let's now, in Parmenides' name, say "no" to the naught.

    It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not.

    So, Parmenides says, let's speak instead of this "what" that is our being. Othwerwise:

    Helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breasts; they are carried along deaf and blind alike, dazed, beasts without judgment, convinced that to be and not to be are the same and not the same, and that the road of all things is a backward-turning one.

    That backward-turning road is to think that our consciousness exists as smoke or a mist burning off from what we misinterpret as existing, space and time. The road goes the other way.

    As Christians, we learn that God is unchanging, ever-existent, unmovable. Parminedes the mystic says:

    How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown.

    This leads a Christian to the doxology:

    Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
    As it was in the beginning, is now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

    Compare the mystic Parmenides:

    Nor was [it] once, nor will [it] be, since [it] is, now, all together,
    One, continuous; for what coming-to-be of it will you seek?
    In what way, whence, did [it] grow? Neither from what-is-not shall I allow
    You to say or think; for it is not to be said or thought
    That [it] is not. And what need could have impelled it to grow
    Later or sooner, if it began from nothing? Thus [it] must either be completely or not at all.

    [What exists] is now, all at once, one and continuous... Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike; nor is there any more or less of it in one place which might prevent it from holding together, but all is full of what is.

    And it is all one to me
    Where I am to begin; for I shall return there again.

    Everything leads back to the source, and that source is not in the material world, the "not" or that "that". It is in the realm of being, the only realm.

    Parmenides had a Christmas message, it seems.

    But here, Tallis misunderstands:

    This is easiest to spot in the assertion in Fragment 3 that "Thinking and the thought 'it is' are the same"; in other words, that it is impossible to think of something that does not exist. This is, of course, incorrect: we are always thinking of things that have no reality outside of our thought.

    Tallis cannot help but make a metaphysical game of it. He should instead accept the truth of what Parmenides says. The experience of something is the thought of it. Being rules. Tallis goes backward to thnk that what is "out there" exists. So, instead of formulating any argument against Parmenides, something which he does not have, he simply rebels against him, and pretends Parmenides has not made his point, even if in misunderstanding.

    I used to think that Plato is the most misunderstood poet-mystic of all time. Maybe Parmenides is.


  2. Hi Rus,
    This afternoon I read the same thing and had much the same thought. I kept thinking of Yahweh's identification of Himself to Moses: "I am Who am."