The reason that Heraclitus is sitting all alone in the School of Athens portrait is because he's not a philosopher in the classical Greek sense. To be a philosopher, one has to be a student.
Heraclitus, however, is Heraclitus the philosopher. Heraclitus, that is, the one who is Heraclitus. The one who has something to say, and wants to say it.
And if we really are not sure what he has to say, we can look at what he said in Greek, in the singular. The singular that isn't plural.
But then, this is about more than just Heraclitus the philosopher. It's about the human condition.
Why we're here. What we're really doing, the point of our existence. What are we here for?
We've been talking about our "lives". As in, "this is my life". But what if we're just living someplace in space and time, like we live in this room? What if we're just living?
"Everything flows," he says. "Everything is in flux, and it's impossible to see that flux clearly. We are blind to what is true."
The only thing we can see, he says, is what we make of what is. So we make our own version of what is.
Which is fine, if what we make of what is works. But if it doesn't work, if it's a disaster, if it's the Titanic sinking on its maiden voyage, then we just have to deal with it. There's no point in dwelling on it.
What we make of it is no one else's business. So, he says, "don't worry if your actions are not like everyone else's actions, or even like your ancestors' actions. You've got to make the most of whatever comes along, for now is all you get."
This is a big message, and we're not really going to make it all the way through. I mean, if we tried to we'd spend a lifetime just reading the text.
And it's not about how we make the most of whatever comes along. It's about the nature of what comes along. Or, rather, it's about the nature of what comes along to us.
The first time we ever experience anything new is in the middle of our sleep. It seems like a completely new experience to us, and yet it's not. We've had it before.
We know where it is. But we've never felt it.
It's like that all the time. We have all this knowledge, but we don't know what it is. We just have this feeling that we've always known.
So we're always making up new experiences, new ways of feeling things.
"But," he says, "you cannot make your mind into something it is not. Your thoughts control your mind, your beliefs determine what you believe, and your decisions shape what you do. So, make sure your mind is made up of correct, true, genuine beliefs about the world.
"If you have wrong, if you have no idea about the way things are, then your beliefs and decisions will be flawed, and that will determine what you believe and what you do. But the good news is that you can change those beliefs and those decisions."
So, "make the most of whatever comes along, for now is all you get."
The first thing we do when we meet someone new is that we try to figure them out. We're always trying to figure them out.
That's what we do when we go to school. That's what we do when we're young and we have a crush on someone. And that's what we do when we go to work. That's what we do when we get married, that's what we do when we go to war. That's what we do when we do everything.
And that's what we do to ourselves, too. We are always trying to figure ourselves out. There is nothing about us that doesn't involve some kind of effort, some kind of making up. We're always figuring ourselves out. We're always trying to figure ourselves out. We're always trying to figure something else out. And if we do that in our sleep, or if we do that in our school work or our business, then we're always trying to figure out what it is that we're here for. If we don't know what we're here for, then the fact that we've always known what we're here for doesn't mean anything. The fact that we've always known what we're here for doesn't mean anything. This is important, but we're going to leave it there. We'll get to the rest of it later. For now, we're just going to go with Heraclitus. The only Heraclitus. I'm so grateful that you are here.
A Conversation with EleutherAI and @attractfunding aka UnicornLaunching