My own mental wellbeing, welldoing.

In the young wood, Westhope, where the sparrowhawks wheel. Photo by me.
This, chosen as one of the Guardian readers top 2010 photos.

I just want to note this moment in terms of my own mental health. As an ecophilosopher, I do not separate myself from my thoughts. It would be like ripping me apart, limb from limb. I write about life-love as a devotion, and I am similarly devoted to my cause. These are exceptional and difficult times, and it is important to recognise despair and kindle hope. If someone attacks my core devotion, and any attempt to recognise despair and kindle hope, they are attacking me.

I can take legitimate critiques of the results of my philosophical work, particularly critiques of my literary inadequacies, but not the fact that I work at all. I can take legitimate criticism of neologisms I craft, but not that I craft them at all nor the approach I take. I can take criticism of the contributions I make on social media, but not that I am a woman doing these things. Being overlooked is, I think, one of the biggest struggles of women at work. Neither do I appreciate ideas stolen from beneath me. They are gifts, of course, but I expect some reciprocal credit, especially from revered and financially successful writers.

Being a woman on social media is harder than being a man. That’s not what frustrates me most, drives my anger, self-doubt and depression. It is that my daughter faces all of this, and more. It’s tough enough facing a life with a tsunami of complex problems swallowing our beautiful Earth. That women (including trans women, especially black women), are not treated with equal respect into the future is desperately wrong.

I have written before about my experiences of 2008, so I don’t want to rake it all over. In short, I had as severe an episode of trauma as one can have without ending it all. After finding my mother’s body after her suicide, I nearly followed her into those depths of eternal nothingness. The shock and the guilt. If it were not for the light of my beautiful young daughter, the unbroken affection for and from Ben-dog, and the right help found by my husband at the time, I would not be here at all. I remember the searing feeling of a tear in my frontal cortex *, that moment of choice.

Moving home from Cardiff, Wales, to Hereford, England, straight after an appendectomy, has meant this last few weeks have been hard. Anxieties about my type 3 cancer returning bubble away. And I work hard to recognise them as such. The good news is that I returned to the woods behind the house where I grew up, where I found Mum, and I felt good about being there. I was not terrified, nor miserable. I still know these woods intimately, after all these years. I noticed where the new owners have taken out single trees for their wood burner. But there, in the young wood (see photo above), in the company of my now 16 year old beautiful daughter, I recorded my thoughts for Melissa Harrison’s brilliant podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things, episode 25 on Healing, and you are welcome to listen to it here.

Despite progress, I am still vulnerable to shocks. I struggle with keeping my anxieties on a leash. The deep sadness of a failed marriage, and a frustrated love. There is no perfect life after trauma, but there is perfection in the imperfection. I am still dependent upon medications that also drive appetite as a side effect. Covid and weight have a co-morbidity. I have put on too much weight, so I am reducing my dose, reducing my weight. I am unsettled, whilst also beginning PhD studies. But these studies are important to me. I am holding them very close, in the spirit of Frankl’s love and meaning, my own welldoing.

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  • Since documented by my Psychiatrist at the time, and discussed at a conference with my consent.

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Audio:

 

 

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Water, microbes, life, climate ~ exploring Fluminism.

 

24661005390_e71ddf7187_bPhoto by me.

When water pulses through our blood vessels, and through all existence, it branches and converges with an array of forces. By hydrodynamics and changes of state, it braids sky with earth, underworld with ocean.

Seven billion human souls are dependent on water, yet we are a small measure of its flow. Beauty and complexity abounds, in the form of life, in and around it. Beings flourish in the smallest of mountain springs, among the echos of the karst underworld, in the greatest living rivers and down in the deep blue sea. When water falls as rain through a forest canopy, it soaks through the humus, and all awaiting lifeforms spring up, out and, importantly, together. A wave of nutrients flow outwards, carried by water’s own intrinsic nature, but also by the animals it nurtures. When water gathers to channels and wells, life bathes and there seems more certainty in the world.

Water gives life, and some say life made some of the water. Earth is a shiny blue dot lit up by a star, a place in space where water has gathered uniquely from within rock and deep without, pulled from a vast universe of dark matter and energy.

Zillions of microbes gathered at first in water to settle and then to colonise Earth. All other life has evolved to encompass them. They do not simply live alongside, but on us and within us, directing moods and determining the sex of some species.

Water is flow. Microbes are flow.

Raindrops fall with gravitational force, impacting various structures of leaves and soils in complex ways, dispersing microbes and carrying them afar in the bioaerosols created. I observe that evaporating snow may work in similar ways. Water and microbes are interconnected.

Life IS climate, climate IS life. There is no separation. All is flow.

A mathematician would perceive inordinate complexity in a matrix of interconnectedness. There is no single rule, save there is no single rule. Bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and viruses all converse in chemisignals. The world is never, ever truly silent. And we are never physically separate, but wholly interconnected.

Microbes relay messages to the collective. They commune. Microbes are mind, and determined, a challenge to Darwinian thoughts of success derived from catalogues of failure. Success, it seems, is intent and attempt, rather than failure after failure. This new knowledge of microbial wisdom supports cooperative evolution. We, as humans, are an extention. We, and our genome, can determine our future in order to fairly flourish. Suffering will always be part of the matrix, though we can choose to reduce it by our own actions. There is responsibility, not administered by authoritarianism but by generous, informed self-will. I am now interested, at least, in noimetics, but flow, as dynamic and interconnected life, is a constant love, because that is the quintessential nature of the evolution of life.

Imagination is an evolved gift, we can imagine goals, articulate them in a collective consciousness, like the microbes. And with both rationale and affect, set out to achieve them. There is fluministic love in ‘doing’ these things for the promotion of life’s interconnectedness. Those that imagine and act on this better world are Fluminists. This love is a doing word.

We also know that water and microbes can be a force majeur that overwhelms and destroys. We’ve seen it across the world this last month. Some have felt it. The destruction, loss of life and loved-ones, not just human, has been traumatising. Water and mudslides have ripped into community, clawing and scraping the toxins left recklessly about, draining them into the rivers and eventually to the sea. There will be more human disease as the climate shifts and life migrates. There has always been, but we will see new forms and strengths in others, and across other species ~ animals and plants. The collective immunity will take time to adapt. The way we apply our own lives to the interconnected flow is shown frequently to be a dis-ease. We can change. It will take commitment and a collective mind, like the microbes. It will take Fluminism and Soliphilia.

To not commodify, but to sanctify.
To aid and multiply life flow, not destroy it.

These are my noimetic meanings. I can only hope they ‘affect’ you in some essential way.

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The sound of rain on leaves….

The Rainbow Serpent, Aborginal Art…

 

 

For the love of imperfection

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“When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world ~ no matter how imperfect ~ becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.”
~ Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

My walking boots have taken me downstream lately, to several water meadows,
where tall, riparian vegetation and dependent insect life ripple to breezes like shallow, verdant seas. As I kick along deep troughs formed by smaller mammals, Skipper butterflies shimmer forward from their lofty look-outs and out to either side. Before they settle, they tussle for the top spots, as butterflies do whether I am present or not, in an extraordinary aerial display of defiance and speed. I love watching them. I love their tenacity, though they sometimes pay for it in broken wings and missing antennae.

Wabi sabi is commonly interpreted outside Asia as recognition of the value of visual imperfections in the nature of the age-worn, crackleature and objects weathered by the elements. We may find physical deterioration artistically satisfying, joy in the uniqueness of things by their flaws. For example, I once received a brand new picture frame in the post. When I opened the package, the wood was dented, having had some kind of tussle with a mail-train door (I would imagine). I kept that frame rather than return it, admiring the dent as Zen-like and unique, whilst saving logistical resources at the same time. I look at the damage now, framing a print of a snow leopard high on a Himalayan cliff, and smile.

Wabi sabi, as a Japanese aesthetic ideal however, is far richer in meaning than these superficial flaws. The visual cues are a mere scratch at the surface. There are deeper, emotional stirrings in action, and even the Japanese find few words to describe them. “Consciousness transcending appearance”, an acceptance of a form of “atmospheric emptiness”, a wistful mix of loneliness and serenity whilst garnering a sense of “freedom from materialism”. At the same time, there’s an inherent weight or mass in meaning and intent. Wabi sabi may be more of a ‘doing’ word than many might think.

You’ll already know, wabi sabi is not an aesthetic commonly adopted in marketing strategies. We are courted to pay for perfection from an early age. Our faces, our houses, lawns and cars must be in impeccable order, blemishes neither tolerated nor encouraged. Ageing skin or chaos in nature are hard to bear for these gurus with money boxes to fill. Even landscapes are airbrushed, in reality and in symbolism. Foundation creams and herbicides come to our “rescue’ and at a cost (beyond money).

Neither is imperfection the culture of nature photo competitions. A shot of a broken butterfly wing, no matter how atmospheric, would rarely pass first round of elimination. Cherry blossom and autumn leaves might be celebrated, of course, but only in full glory and not when run into a road or pressed into the mud of a woodland trail. Some attention is paid to transience and impermanence, but dying, death and bodily decay are certainly off the menu.

Such a relentless pursuit of sublimity is a competition all life is bound to lose. We are constantly being set up for a fall. Non-human life should not have to measure up to such false, anthropocentric standards. Life is a tussle, and so few are left unscathed. Broken wings and missing antennae are common place. We may love these beings as we love our own, warts and all, for they are our kin.

“Wabi sabi” are two kanji or Chinese characters shared by the Japanese and Chinese language. Originally, wabi 侘 meant ‘despondence’, and sabi 寂 meant ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’. These are emotions not portraits or landscapes, vases or tea cups. Ancient Chinese artists and writers ascribed to the aesthetic long before it was brought to Japan via Zen Buddhism and the Tea Ceremony, though classical literature, brush painting and poetry have been key to its development as an ideal and interpretive device.

山寺や
撞きそこなひの
鐘霞む
From a Mountain Temple
the sound of a bell struck fumblingly
vanishes in the mist

(haiku by the 18th C Japanese poet Yosano Buson (与謝蕪村) )

Whether one is an artist or a lover, mechanic or a parent, we attempt to communicate our personal understanding of such deep, private emotions with the ones we care about. And when we are at our most transparent and authentic, we succeed. This can take courage, of course. Our flaws are perceived by the sensibilities of our patrons and/or loves and, with fortune, are accepted unconditionally. If we fake it, we invite alienation and regret. We can learn to love all imperfections as “rich and beautiful,” and there will be endless opportunities.

Wabi sabi exists of the organic as well as the inanimate. On a dark, rainy day, skippers are subfusc, well on their way to becoming a constituent part of the soils of the flood plain. When the sun shines, they are transformed into brazen flames of orange, flickering and fully alive. Remind me to take beautiful photos of them on those duller days, with their broken wings and missing antennae ~ I will be richer for it, in all that is love and serenity.

 

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Sense and Sound ~ stimuli and reflex

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“And our ears tell us that the whisper of every leaf and creature speaks to the natural sources of our lives, which indeed may hold the secrets of love for all things, especially our own humanity.” Bernie Krause

Huka Falls on the Waikato River is a boiling blood-riot of water sound. Pull off Thermal Explorer Highway, just north of the city of Taupo, New Zealand, and the cacophony of this eleven metre high waterfall leaps out, and then sucks you in to its vortices with disdain. It’s an auditory spectacle. If you were curious, and leaned too far over the footbridge, you’d be dragged in and crushed by arms of seething, blue foam (Huka is Maori for ‘foam’). If death did not come quickly by drowning, you’d perish by thunderous noise. It’s earth-deafening. You’d be broken into shrapnel.

At age 46, it’s not an everyday occurrence when a huge chunk of key understanding, largely hidden in life, reverberates through my entire being with a deep, resonant rumble. It’s happened twice this last month (lucky me). I write here about only one revelation and will write again about the other. But this one is important. It is the power of sound.

Whilst sitting peacefully at ancient shallow ponds to the West of Cardiff, Wales, I see their flat, silky surfaces puckered by a few whirly-gig beetles. These little beings spin around and around. If I listen intently, I can just hear the bubbles of a newt surfacing for air. A leaf may fall from the oak that spans high above my log-seat, somersaulting down into the surface tension in apparent silence, though other life-forms may have the sense to hear it. There are the songs of passerines, of course, romanticised by many a poet, and not forgetting the old, grey heron, who flaps his wings to escape my gaze. Sometimes, the leaves rustle like surf. The loudest noises, it must be said, stem from Welsh Black cattle that graze in fields over the fence. These pseudo-aurochs bellow, tongues out, making their presence known. Their sound is somehow timeless.

The Huka Falls and these Cardiff ponds are just two auditory experiences I can share in some detail. We have a lifetime of accumulated memory of sound. But I think we largely take these references for granted. Image dominates our 21st C Western culture. Even pop songs are ‘make or break’ depending on the ‘pop’ of videos. Bernie Krause used to make music, a synthesiser player for top names (The Byrds, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison) and many Hollywood films of the 1960s and early 70s. Now he is an ecologist, sound wizard and key advocate of the conservation value of soundscapes, a rich three dimensional analysis of ecosystems that the use of the human eye simply cannot match. With some irony, technology is adopted to record and interpret data, though I imagine the sound of an electric mic is very quiet. I listened to his TED talk this week, and it was a revelation.

Our senses, if working well, are fine biological instruments, connecting mind and exterior world with webs and chains of cellular matter and electricity. ‘Messages’ flow from receptor organs to the brain and, at certain times, right back to our skin and muscles in the form of action and reflex. Aristotle is thought to have classified the five main senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell), but now we understand that there are more senses than the big five which use differing combinations of receptor organs.

Immanuel Kant, German philosopher of the period of ‘Enlightenment,’ proposed that knowledge of the outside world depends on our distinct modes of perception. In order to define what is ‘extrasensory’ we need to define what is ‘sensory.’

What a pity!

In one swipe, with a blunt knife, Kant cut us away from our environment and other living beings, when perhaps indigenous cultures had/have retained that important sixth sense. There is wisdom in intimacy with the rest of the natural world, unbroken song-lines. The fractures remind me of the nature of progress in human evolution. Maybe basic in our modern make-up is the need to disconnect in order to appreciate the very opposite. As Heraclitus in his ‘Unity of Opposites’ implies;

They do not understand how that which differs with itself in is agreement: harmony consists of opposing tension, like that of the bow and the lyre. (Freeman’s translation)

Barry Lopez writes often about the notion of home verses away, in that the patterns he observes whilst travelling away can bring insight to troubling issues at home. What’s more, whilst away, one is given to appreciate a new perspective on ‘home’. Novelty, new perspectives and the plasticity of the mind are important psychological components to wellbeing ( let us not get stuck in deep ruts).

Back to Huka Falls, and the novelty of sound. The water drains from Lake Taupo and swells up with oxygen, swirling into a turquoise ferment. The river powers into a narrow canyon, just fifteen metres across, noise deepening as a ripping 220,000 litres per second flow by (enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds, so say the tourism brochures). You cannot hear birds or bellows. You cannot even hear one’s own thoughts. It really is power-sound that rumbles through your very fabric. This is a prime example of what Bernie Krause describes as a ‘geophony,’ sound emitted by non-organic phenomenon here on planet Earth ~ a rich audioscape, that we may not even be able to sense fully, from the crackles of aurora to the grinds of the seismic.

Human action, human technology, the sounds of modernity? Bernie calls this ‘anthropophony,’ so it is distinguished from the ‘natural.’ Some human sounds are, of course, controlled, like music and speech, others are chaotic and fragmented. Our unique biological, cultural experiences converge to interpret, for example, in Rudolf Steiner’s educational system of Eurythmy ~ gestures and interpretative movement to sound and in the telling of stories. Our bodily sounds need not be excluded from the “biophony”, sounds emitted from living beings, as we are part of nature. To Bernie, however, the tools we use are ‘other,’ so these are where his line is drawn. What is clear, in the Anthropocene, we are seeming to make a lot more noise!

There are physical, mental and spiritual aspects to our existence. Do our senses overlap, deeply resemble or integrate with all three of these aspects? Each of the five senses consist of organs with specialized cellular structures that have receptors for specific stimuli. These cells have links to the nervous system and thus to the brain. We know that sensing is active at primitive levels in the cells and integrated into sensations in the nervous system, not least by the central nervous system (the spinal chord and brain). Yet we do not fully understand consciousness. God speed, we are all conscious and able to be conscious of one another and other living beings. One ought to be conscious of a snake bite, a storm coming or a broken heart as we are the touch of a healing hand or a loving hug. Is consciousness another fully connected system, into which we are all able to join? Perhaps, we have no choice.

Sight is probably the most developed sense in humans, followed by hearing ~ a generalisation. There will be exceptions to the rule, not least from those who experience the neurological phenomenon of synesthesia, where the senses cross-wires.

Consciousness and mind may create their own forms of reality (although they may not be truths), based on the memories of sensory data fused with our responses. Words, forms, shapes, patterns, colours; they become entwined in a rich complexity (life is complexity). But our senses may well extend out into the environment, the inherent interconnectedness with all that is our one biosphere. Were it not for Kant, Western approaches may still have been in tune with the extended self. In nature, there is a compelling argument, that we humans are deeply entwined with the combined ‘other,’ Dylan Thomas’ quietus of the ‘Green Fuse’, or more distinctly, Glenn Albrecht’s ‘Ghedeist’ (a word full of hope), the positive interconnectedness between all beings via the spirit-force, for a collective good, which all life may play a part. The nature of its inherent ‘doing’ makes this a powerful word indeed.

I am returning to the overall ‘ecophony’ of the Cardiff ponds, where the combined sound of the ecosystem has its own rhythm, its own dance. Though quiet, save for the dawn chorus, it is a wall of sound. I do not sit there in silence. I am sure that, in the detail, data would dance for any soundscaper with the technology to listen and record, beyond human biological ability. And we ourselves could engage in a eurythmy in recognition of both the losses and the gains of our own impacts here upon the Earth. The senses combine and so do our reflexes. I feel a great love for the individual biophony there, a love for the wilder beings residing there. What I love, I wish to protect. Apart from aesthetic qualities, and human musical harmonies, I am now more aware that my love for nature and sound is united in entwined threads extending way beyond my body, and I have Bernie to thank for this.

Finally, Kinesthesia is the awareness of muscle and movement of the joints, enabling coordination to walk, talk, and use our hands with strength, rhythm, and delicate precision. It is what allows us to touch our ear lobes whilst our eyes are shut, or to know where to scratch if we have an itch. I think there may be a kind of kinesthesia in our collective consciousness too, we just need to be reminded (and coached), that it is there and it is powerful. Put it to good use, and we may ‘hear’ good things come from it.

For now, I’ll leave you with more on Bernie’s ‘ophonies’… tap into the Ghedeist, and enjoy.

What might Heraclitus mean by claiming that, ‘We step and we do not step into the same rivers, we are and we are not.’? Discuss as an issue concerning our knowledge and perception of the world.

Introduction

Heraclitus was borne from an early age of human enlightenment, at a time when the study of religion and poetry proved simply not enough to satiate a human hunger for knowledge and understanding of nature and existence. Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, though linguistically direct, were not omniscient and, given the few bones or fragments known to us via successive writers, Heraclitus appeared unwilling to dispel spiritual existence altogether. His work may be viewed as a bridge between ancient, divine poetry and modern, philosophical and scientific thought, a radical and valuable place in human development.
Heraclitus was critical of the few great Western thinkers before him. Pythagorus, he suggested, had a highly selective formula for wisdom and maintained a ‘bad craft’ of learning. Understandably, his words have been interpreted by others as misanthropy. But the value of his critiques, the notion of radicalism as catalyst for the change, may be key to the assemblage of our knowledge to date. He himself may well have been a misanthrope, and wished Homer ‘beaten’, but we would be wrong to constrain our assessments of great ideas by inferred personal weakness. We’d have to dismiss much of attained human understanding to date.
Priest says the pre-eminent role of philosophy is to ‘challenge, question and object’, to be prompted ‘out of mistakes, stupidities and complacencies’ and so to encourage creative and constructive ideas. Levy hopes that by encompassing the history of philosophy, or let us say, remembering, perhaps continental and analytic disciplines can unite in a combination of relevance AND depth. Where better to look than the history of Heraclitus’ mysterious river fragments, the linkage between this fragment and his elegant notion of ‘Logos’, as the principle of order and knowledge.

‘…in the midst of all nature’s constant flux and opposites, Heraclitus saw an Entity or one-ness. This “something”, which was the source of everything, he called God or Logos’. ( Jostein Gaarder).

The Milesian school of thinkers, chiefly, Thanes and Anaximenes, had already begun to define all things by uniformity and searched for cosmic laws outside the influence of the gods. Heraclitus is noted as a monist in that fire is the underlying and universal substance of all things. I question this assertion. Heraclitus’ fire is sacred, therefore, divine and not necessarily material, that ‘the unity of things was to be found in their essential structure or arrangement rather than their material’. Herein lies a fathomable heresy: There is no substance.

Heraclitus’ fragments amount to over one hundred separate sentences, probably part of a more finished work entitled, ‘On Nature.’ They have been documented by successive authors, not least in Plato, Cratylus and by Aristotle. The Stoics, with their metaphysical ideas on divine fire like the Pyrrhonists, referenced him also, and we may continue to see Heraclitus’ influence down through the centuries, philosophical threads woven through time and the human cause.

The River Fragment

There seems two major literary references viable as Heraclitus’ original words.
B12. potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei. On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius) or The G.W.T. Patrick translation ‘To those entering the same river, other and still other waters flow’.
B49a. potamois tois autois … Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not. (Heraclitus Homericus)
Although I am asked to respond to B49a, scholars such as GWT Patrick and Prof. James E. Mahon are minded that the first translation is more likely to have been derived from an Ionic Greek syntax during the 69th Olympiad. Kirk, Raven and Schofield’s view is that there is uncertainty on authenticity but a translation as follows reveals a more ‘natural and unforced Ionic (language) and having the characteristic rhythm of archaic prose’. They translate,
‘Upon those who step into the same rivers different and different waters flow.’

Unity of Opposites, the Logos and Spirit

Heraclitus, of The City of Ephesus, along with a limited number of free and able contemporaries around five hundred BC, looked for permanence in a reality of apparent change. Unlike others he sought not to absolve constancy nor change but celebrated the tensions between. A Unity of Opposites applies to all things, not least the forces within us; life-death, waking-sleeping, youth-age and the change is changing. If change is in flux then the Logos, the oneness of all things, is fluidity, like a river.
The river is an analogy, but it is also something tangible. The river, Heraclitus supposed, shared characteristics with the Logos, something to which we can all relate through time. Others have compared the river to our human soul. ‘For, wishing to show that the vaporized souls are always of an intellectual nature, he (Heraclitus) compared them to a river, saying, “To those entering the same river, other and still other waters flow.” And souls are exhalations from moisture’.

Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not.

Is this Heraclitus’ dictum, law and deduced by logical thinking? I think not. Heraclitus is appealing to the senses in the first instance ‘into the rivers we step’, to draw us in to the coolness and wetness of rushing water, the flow of being. It is a life affirming thing to do. He then appeals to our sensibilities, because we can decide not to step into the flow, to remain without experience of what is most enriching. If we choose not to experience the flow through our senses, then we deny ourselves the fullness of being.
Obliqueness is purposefully constructed for the adventure of philosophical inquiry. We may view the fragment as an open question, presented as a doxa or teacher’s argument. Heraclitus invites us to explore with our our ultimate goal (The Telos), being the uncovering of the Logos. The Ethos is finding our spiritual path to truth and this is a good thing.
Additionally, since nature prefers to hide, as a conscious intent, humans have to be particularly deliberate and ‘awake’ to find and ‘step into’ it. Here stands Heraclitus somewhere along a line of tension between God and Science, a bridge between the Logos as infinite and Earthly as finite.
Perhaps what also sets Heraclitus apart from early Western predecessors is his view that the Logos is within us all. We are part of nature and subject to its fluidity. We are a unity of forces in flux. The pattern of human life and the pattern of cosmic order are the same. And here we may see a connection with the mystics of the East and West. God is within, and so we see a deeply spiritual connection. The Port of Ephesus was also a key trading hub, with ships coming in from the Orient and so likely also to bring novel ideas, from Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius and earlier, perhaps the Vedanta religion from India.

Literal Relevance

Change or universal ‘flux’ is as pertinent and profound today as it was at any other point in time. During the Anthropocene, this age of man-made climate and rapid biodiversity changes, it would be remiss to neglect Heraclitus. We may well find no finite resolution but insight in that all states of existence pass. In many ways science is still investigating truth in this claim, post Einstein’s Theory of Relativity via metaphysical space time theory and temporal logic. But by consciously analysing the fragments, memory may be transformed by modernity, as Hannah Arendt implies, ‘in order to’ progress.
The river analogy demonstrates both the sameness of what we universally recognise as a geographical feature, the different states of the river and one’s relationship to them at any singular point in time or space. The argument holds that a wholeness described can also be made up of several different entities and connections. In the case of rivers, we can perceive and understand through scientific investigation, that they consist of water molecules, energy, light, geology and life all in a state of aerobic and anaerobic process across the fourth dimension, time.
A river, therefore, is a pattern, subject to change, with dynamic phenomena that can be studied in some detail, for instance, by the science of hydromorphology.
But we also allocate Proper Nouns, in order to make a specific river distinguishable from another. To name is to find commonality for reference, culturally or otherwise. It can also unify a collective, as in a watershed, and ultimately enrich meaning and communal responsibility in our lives.
The River Wye in the Welsh Borders used to be known as the Vaga. Some say this derives from the Latin, ‘wonderer’ or the Anglo Saxon, Weag (and Gwy in Welsh), and the river surely has wondered across the land and also in human consciousness. It has been altered by evolving ecologies, particularly by the current dominant ecological stressor, Man. Some parts of its course have been modified for irrigation. Farming methods, riparian tree clearance, pollution, invasive introductions and fishing all continue to play a part. Never-the-less, to humans it remains the ‘Wye’. For all other life, we do not know.
The Cayster River, the Küçük Menderes, “Little Meander”, or the Kaystros, rises from Mount Ida, flowing westward through Homeric Trojan battle fields and into the Aegean at Pamucak beach near Selçuk, Turkey. It once flowed into the Port of Ephesus, which is now silted up. The coastal zone has advanced and the ruins of Ephesus now lie miles inland.
Heraclitus must have known The Cayster very well, which is perhaps why the river fragment exists at all. The river was also key in Homer’s stories of the Trojan War, as backdrop to infamous battles scenes. But one imagines, the two men related to this river rather differently.
At whichever point I visit along the length of the Wye, I often lose perception of my own sense of time. This is a very good thing for me, and may have been so for Heraclitus. There are healing processes at work. Worries and fears dissipate into the strong vortex of life, water and rock that is the ‘river’. It compels and sustains. But an ancient river has worth of its own exceeding all of our combined human needs. It is, from source to sea, in a seemingly perpetual cycle, responding to climate by expanding and contracting, like breath. Its course wanders over, under and through time, melting towards the sea. Geology, morphology, ecology, war, plunder, possession; it has endured the changes. And the river will respond accordingly to our meddling with the atmosphere and climate, building on flood plains and decimating structural woodland, by flood and by erosion. It is in the river’s nature, The Logos, the nature of energy, to want to spread out.
Long into the future, perhaps the winds may change direction, continents will divide again, the Wye’s entire length may disappear, consumed by new geological action and climates. There may be traces of its ancient form and life in the rock, and these may, in turn, erode to dust and silt the rivers a billion years from now. A cycle within cycles.
‘A river revealed in a flash of lightning is as thick and quivering as gelatin. And yet, measured against a millennium, a mountain melts down the sides of the valley and pours into the sea’. (Kathleen Dean Moore)
One person’s lifespan is a blink of an eye to the river. All things relative, of course: My own perceptions of time may be faster than the veteran oak or the pearl mussel, slower than the needle fly or sand martin. And we experience the river as uniquely as we are species. Fast or slow. Yet it is our meeting point. Ebb or flow, whirlpool or riffle, all the senses engaged, memories will be in the making. The Wye is different, yet the same.

Problems

There are difficulties, of course, firstly that language must be used carefully in finely distinguishing one moment from another, aspects of the river and the ones who steps into it, through time. Socrates is said to have been critical of Heraclitus’ vagueness but one might also judge any obscurity as intentional and provocative. Heraclitus’s opaque use of language may have been be symbolic of his frustration with the Artemisian faithful, as if he wanted to provoke discussion outside of the norm of political discussion and challenge religious dogma. Laertus tells us Heraclitus was scathing in his criticism of those who remained ‘asleep’, for the blind faithful can be easily mislead. To have faith is to trust blindly, and Heraclitus wished not to be blind. But his language was not monumental and unmoveable but open to interpretation, ephemeral and fluid. Like a river.
Secondly, The Logos, the word, the One True God, is referred to as a Proper Noun, something which Heraclitus claims to understand and know well, as opposed to all others. This can be viewed as elitism, as Geldard says Popper implies in his book, The Open Society and its Enemies. Elitism is not a virtuous thing unless you are minded that hierarchies and closed systems are good and that all things are not equal. Perhaps the only constant is change itself, so God is change, and this may be Heraclitus’ most heretic claim. Heresy? Geldard calls it aversive thought, through which ‘we might learn via provocation and not instruction’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson also suggests.

Fire and the river; a cycle of rebirth

To Heraclitus, sacred fire was eternal. It is not hard to imagine the significance of fire for people of the Eastern Mediterranean, so near to the South Aegean Volcanic Arc. Around a thousand years earlier, the Minoan settlement at Akrotiri was destroyed by the catastrophic phreato-magmatic eruption of Mount Thera, now known as the island of Santorini. Heraclitus will have most likely read Titanomachy in Hesiod’s Theogony, which was inspired by traditional oral storytelling of the event passed down through generations.
We know that a fire can sequentially ignite and snuff out, which does not occur at the same time unless, perhaps, in parallel universes. But if Heraclitus’s ‘fire’ is energy, or better still, entropy, which he could not have perceived scientifically at the time, then we are seeing something extraordinarily consistent with recent theories of the cosmos. That the energy of the Logos, the constant change, is the arrow of time. Couple this with the idea that the universe itself is in a symmetrical cycle of expansion and contraction, like a hand opening and closing, we can see here a constant state of flux but one that renews again and again in a way that a river is constantly refreshed by evaporation and condensation causing rain in the hills, which drains to the sea and so on.
The Big Bang theory becomes something other than the beginning, but a part of an enormous rhythm of energy amongst matter, where the universe expands and contracts repeatedly like love and hate or the ‘Brahma opening his third eye’ each time all things begin again.
The sequence of days, the cycle of months, the rhythm of seasons, form years. Time flows constantly like a river, like life and death, change and recurrence. As the River Cayster silted at its mouth, eventually rendering the City of Ephesus a distant memory, the river is ever dying and reborn, it preserves the form of ‘river’, one specific to its history, current existence and its future. Without joy, there is sorrow so where there is joy there follows there shall be sorrow.

Strife

The unity of opposites provide the tensions needed in nature for existence. One could take it further still and say that all things exist in a unity of opposites, in that all can either exist or not. Life, for example, flows from the tension between existence and non-existence, the fight for survival; conflicts, large or small, which all encounter and hopefully mediate in order to find peace and to flourish.
Are opposites always to be in conflict? Often there is an assumption that we have to make choices between opposites. Capitalism OR Equality, Rural OR urban. Nature OR agriculture. Perhaps it is not always A OR B as our adversarial political system would so frequently have us believe. A and B are often ill-defined intentionally, to reinforce prejudice and encourage division amongst the populous for the sake of political gain. As an example, we may be forced to choose, say, between energy and black-outs, when it is energy and climate which are actually at odds but intrinsically connected.
I would disagree that these ‘connections’ exist in a permanent state of conflict. However we may find ‘JUSTICE’ somewhere along the line of tension. This could be interpreted as compromise, of course, but maybe in doing so, perhaps, we can see the merit of what Heraclitus was proposing. The identity of a ‘river’ remains in tact, but its structure is in a constant state of alteration. ‘The identity of the river is one of form and physical continuity, but not of material identity or preservation of the same content’ Flux, like a flickering flame, is the nature of time, and time is a multiplier of all things. Yet all things may unify again perhaps via a subatomic strata of existence. But also the river is external to us and universal energy is something in which we step in and out. River, energy, flow may be seen as a symbolic construction. It is here that we may see Heraclitus demonstrating language as a microcosm of the cosmos and we’d do well to pay more attention to it.

Depth

‘Listen to the Logos and not to me’ says Heraclitus and you should expect the unexpected. The Logos informs us, or not, via our own newly discovered alertness. Heidegger says this is what is called thinking “from the start tuned in a negative key” or otherwise known as an apophatic paradox. All that is put to us may be questioned. Nothing is, therefore, taken for granted and so we may become dedicated to the ‘road to truth’ .
Catherine Osborne proposes that Heraclitus may have presented fire as one stage of a sequence, the Bang of the Big Bang, to which all things return and begin again. But if we set his words in the context (Ephesus around 500 BC), Osborne’s assertion of Heraclitus’ vision of fire is a radical discontinuity of matter, like death and rebirth. He may not, therefore, be the monist he is purported to be.
‘His system bears some resemblance to Empedocles’s thesis of eternal recurrence, and what Nietzsche found so familiar in Heraclitus was not a material cosmology but the tension of opposites that defined the world as a kind of warfare.’
The process of organic adaptive change driven by chance, and now proven to a great extent by genetics, is the Darwinian evidence to support Heraclitus, in that it is change, but not necessarily conflict, which drives evolution. We couldn’t say that inorganic, physical tensions of vulcanicity or continental plate-tectonics are consciously in battle, though consciousness does still concern science today.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection, based on variation, inheritance, struggle and adaptation is the first aspect of his contribution to human thought. But it is his second point, on life’s common ancestry, the tree of life in which we may find the interconnectedness between all things and the organic moral community. Does Heraclitus, as Nietzche suggests, ‘raise the curtain on this greatest of all dramas?’ War is not, however, the fundamental truth to all things though it may be the behaviour of organic life from time to time. The pragmatist, John Dewey, like Darwin, saw nature as a system in constant change, as indeed are philosophical problems themselves. Existence is a risk, and we are compelled to adapt to survive. There is uncertainty in choosing which path to follow. Firstly, there is the path of appealing to a higher Being to reveal our destinies. Secondly, there’s the path where we ourselves begin to unveil nature’s mysteries and therefore our own destinies. Taken to extreme, however, the first path can lead to apathy, and the second path could lead to a very anthropocentric world whereby we can learn to control nature only to suit our ends. The two opposites can soon be seen as being in tension with each other. The second path can lead to a great epiphany, by unravelling the mysteries of nature, and is therefore more of a good thing than bad. Heraclitus shows us that ethics and metaphysics are also bound.
Wittgenstein insisted Darwin’s work has had no impact on philosophy and is entirely separate. I can’t agree. If we look at Heraclitus’s philosophical assertions on flux and Darwin’s scientific analysis of adaptation, we can see that both are inherently interconnected by cause and effect. With the principles of progressive evolution and the theory of natural selection, moreover, we can see that tension is essential.
If tension between opposites did not exist then Heraclitus is proposing the universe may fall apart. But peace and war, rather than tension, is limited to organic matter. Absolute peace might mean the collapse of ecosystems but war is not an end in itself. It is just as possible that truth is peace, and that peace is attainable, in the same way that there is a difference between myself and the river into which I step. I am not the Logos, but the Logos is within me and the River.

Conclusion

The Logos may be a quasi-spiritual flow of energy that both surrounds us and pulses within. It is something we cannot be, but it is part of us. We are and we are not. The universe, within and beyond our knowledge may be ephemeral in that it is in a constant state of change. The cosmos contains a series of opposing factors, between which oscillates existence along a connecting line of tension.
It is difficult to separate Heraclitus elegant notion of Logos from his rivers fragment, as one demonstrates the existence of the other twofold; by the unity of opposites (the sameness and differences) and by the amorphousness of flux. It is only by awakening from our own slumbers and making a personal journey that we may reach true enlightenment. That flux and opposites exist, even if we do not perceive them, means that we must partake in actively discovering them.
Heraclitus is right to suggest that each person, nee life form, entering the same river will perceive it slightly or intensely different from any other life form. Literally, both it and we are changing, therefore, change is the constant as it is throughout the universe (via entropy). If the river, as GWT Patrick asserts, means the exhalation of our soul, then this too will evolve, flux and alter each time it is revisited. We grow.
As the fragments are generally short and synonymous they may be interpreted as ideas Heraclitus expects us to challenge. Heraclitus might, therefore, be an instigator of philosophical reactive thought, as by example, Aristotle reacts, ‘ But one could quickly force Heraclitus himself to admit that contradictory propositions can never be true in the same respect…the very saying is false, that the same thing can both be and not be at the same time’.
In turn, we may contest Aristotle. A river can be good for you in that it provides sustenance. It can also be bad for you, when it breaks its banks in a torrent of flood and you are swept away. The river is birth and the river is death, yet it remains the ‘river’.

Reason and perception

The ethos of learning by doing is one to value, but we are limited by our senses and by
perceptions, as Axanimander found when he perceived the world as a flat topped drum. Eleatic philosopher, Parmenides, argued the opposite, in that our every day perceptions of the world are completely wrong and all is, in fact, One (God). Nieztche says God is dead, the starting point for recognising that a true life is one firmly rooted in reality rather than theory, and that it is only in this real world where we can progress: An existentialist development influenced by Sartre.
There is indeed, a pragmatism in spending our lives in search of wisdom, but Heraclitus, in the unity of opposites, demonstrated that both perception and reason were connected and necessary for enlightenment. Patterns are undergoing change all the time, like a moving kaleidoscope, and so is philosophy itself. Does philosophy still ‘yield the enrichment and increase of power’ that we have come to expect from scientific theories? Dewey asks of philosophy whether clarity and opaqueness are in tension. I think so.
As a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, Heraclitus enables us to imagine that we too are able to gather wisdom, independently of godly guidance or dogma resulting from ignorance of the Logos. We are invited to live our lives as seekers, because searching oneself for truths is to be ‘awake.’ Nietzche, like Heraclitus, viewed wisdom as the most precious moral good. Good and evil are a unity of opposites, with good being revelation of the Logos and evil rooted in the ignorance of it. Within ourselves, there is the tension between Mind and Body, a circular flow between which exists and cannot be separated.
A complete philosophy cannot be assumed from Heraclitus’ fragments, yet we have enough to imagine it. If he did leave his book in the Temple of Artemis, then it was an offering only to the gods with content enduring but pages and ink subject to Earthly decay. Heraclitus may well recognise this as just if he were alive today.
On justice, the Logos should nourish our written laws, somewhere on the tension line between theocracy and Platonic Philosopher King, but Heraclitus chose to abandon the chaotic corruption he was privy to witness in the City of Ephesus, to think ‘cosmically’ whilst being an individual. He made a decision to isolate himself in rural existence outside the City walls, which after all, may not have been an act of misanthropy but an act of necessity in order to think clearly. One may also see this as courageous. His private understanding was not that of a man dreaming of the mundane, but that of a man awakening to the spiritual evolution of human nature.
Emerson refers to the ‘Universal mind’, the consciousness that is ever expanding. In this sense, Heraclitus’ preference for an ‘ethos’ of self-discovery and enlightenment of all things fits well. Better still, there is now a collective drive to accumulate this individual knowledge. The cosmos still consists of unapparent physical and ecological connections and we may look no further than the mysteries of rivers as living systems. As Geldard implies, Heraclitus ‘served as as the bow releasing the arrow of exploration into the vibrant air’.

River Days

Image

Vernal equinox has come and gone for the year and we tip more towards the ball of fire that is the Sun than we do away. Longer days stretch out before us.

My daughter and I chat about our hopes for dreamy days by the river, fresh sandwiches and pink lemonade moments interspersed by cool, wild swims in a seemingly perfect halcyonic existence.

We look forward to natural abundance, to the lime green glow beneath overarching alders, and to finding our feet on slick pebbles through a cool, shallow flow.

There will be the buzz of Dipper and Kingfisher wings. There will be Beautiful Demoiselles alighting on sedges. We’ll hug each other whilst balancing on fallen trees laying across the stream.

Dreams based on memory feed the imagination of what is possible.
Whether via pictorial or descriptive representation, through any or all of the senses, to imagine is as important to possibility as it is to dream.

Environmental ethics: Prioritizing nature.

Image   I often hear this, and sometimes with a dismissive tone: What relevance does environmental ethics have to me and what I do at home, work or at play?  Answer: everything! The term ‘environmental ethics’ is the study, thoughts and explorations of the moral relationships, values and statuses we extend to our surroundings and non-human life. It is part of the study of Philosophy…. Just thinking, but with rigor!

To put it another way, if you exist on Planet Earth, you’ll have a relationship with nature. Our survival depends on it, we need sustenance, water, fuel, even if we buy them at  the co-op, even if we just turn on the hot tap or take a breath of fresh air. But we have responsibilities. Understanding environmental ethics helps to focus our relationship with nature, reason, to set out priorities  (individually and socially), and to be deliberate about our choices.

Newsworthy science is informing us everyday that our environment is changing: Climate, diversity of life, drought, flood. Underlying all thought, including scientific thought, there is philosophy. There should be no prejudice between science and philosophy. The two are bridged by organisation of thought, logic, deduction.

But sadly I see much misconception about Philosophy.  It tends to fall down a deep chasm between science and policy formation. You only need to look at the ongoing furore surrounding biodiversity offsetting. To philosophise is deemed wistful, impractical, whilst Rome (or Sumatra) burns and the planet falls about our ears. Forget philosophy, action is what is required, realpolitik, economics, hands on, realism, pragmatism! Philosophy is deep, organized thought, taking in all these aspects, on which basis… if action is instead based on thoughtlessness, then God save us all!

I would agree that to philosophise can be a waste of time if, for instance, it lacks coherence, logic or is too dogmatic, but not the general subject itself. The fact is the more we understand about the basis and attitudes of people to the environment, the better.

Most people get on with their daily lives making judgments based on intuition, experience, or influenced by those that pay them. To purposefully prioritise ideas into a value system, an ethic, rather than a foggy muddle, will no doubt help to clarify arguments, strengthen debates, policies, society.

Anthropocentric, non-anthropocentric

Anthropocentrism is human-centredness, an ethical framework that grants moral standing solely to human beings. Western philosophy is dominated by anthropocentrism, but environmental ethicists have provided alternative thought. As part of nature, humans are interdependent on nature, not separate. So how can we have a framework for living our lives based simply on human need, or human dominance over nature singularly for our own sake? It seems to me this type of thinking, actions and policies resulting, is what is causing climatic and ecological upheaval in the first place, from the Industrial Revolution onwards. A species selfishness.

So ethics MUST be extended beyond human need. But what of moral standing, that we must be mindful, compassionate and considerate of the needs of entities other than our own kind. Should it be offered to sentient animals or to all individual living organisms? Some feel we should extend moral standing to systems such as rivers, mountains, flood plains, landscapes, ecosystems. Determining whether our environmental obligations are based on anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric reasoning, of course, will lead to different accounts of what our responsibilities and obligations are. With a bit of luck and a fair wind, being more decisive may even move us towards a good, sustainable life here on spaceship Earth.

I also hear: Why can’t we individually hold multiple views? Because pluralistic ethical thought adds to the fog and the muddle. If we set goals, we need to be heading towards them with clarity, not deviating between ideals and changing the goal posts. So please, if you care at all, familiarise yourself with, at least, the basic enviro-ethical spectrum of thought, decide where you stand and act accordingly. We need to be more mindful, deliberate. We owe this to nature, for all that we take from it.

For further reading, try starting at Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Environmental Ethics