Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Heraclitus

In my haste to get this blog underway I completely forgot to introduce the ruggedly handsome fellow whose face adorns this page. Heraclitus (535 - 475 B.C.) was the author of the beguiling quotation which gives "The Bow and Lyre" its name. He was an Ionian Greek philosopher of whom little is known, apart from the fragments of his work which have come down to us. He was nicknamed "the Obscure", perhaps because of passages such as this one:
"As a single, unified thing there exists in us both life and death, waking and sleeping, youth and old age, because the former things having changed are now the latter, and when those latter things change, they become the former."
(fragment 88). Heraclitus was apparently trying to reconcile two different (and, if you believe the later philosophers, contradictory) ideas: 1) that everything is in a state of ceaseless flux and 2) that opposites are identical. The former doctrine was famously expressed by the Greek phrase panta rei, or "everything flows". Plato quoted him as having said that "you can't step into the same river twice" (to which some wag replied that you can't even do it once), but this was unfair: Heraclitus only said that the waters were constantly changing, not the river itself. "Everything flows" didn't mean that the universe was inherently chaotic, but that opposites were unified by the transformations that bound them together (hot to cold, wet to dry, etc.) His wonderful line "the way up and the way down are one and the same" (frag. 69) served as one of the Heraclitan epigraphs to T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets", and Eliot echoes the philosopher when he says "in my beginning is my end" ("East Coker", I.)

The other epigraph of Heraclitus used by Eliot for "Four Quartets" comes from fragment 92: "Although logos is common to all, most people live as if they had a wisdom of their own." With this slightly snippy remark, he originated the concept of the logos -- the divine order of the universe -- that would go on to have such a powerful influence on Plato and, later, on the author of the Gospel of John.

Rajeev and I decided to name this weblog "The Bow and Lyre" to express what we hope will be the complementarity of our different interests: his focus will primarily be on economics and technology; mine, on art and society (with politics being shared between us). These disciplines are different but related, in the same way that Rajeev and I manage to maintain a friendship despite living on different continents. In all things, logos -- whether it is taken to mean reason, or the divine order -- is what we are striving towards.


(posted by Neil)

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