For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been immersing myself in philosophy. This is something I’ve wanted to devote a chunk of time to for a while but it suddenly began to feel urgent towards the end of last year. I’ve found myself reading and listening with a sort of thirst, and I’ve felt, well, fortified by it.
In part, I think this is a reaction to the world around me and in part, to how I’ve been spending my time lately, in particular, spending far too much of it scrolling through social media on my phone picking up fleeting impressions of a terrifying world and reacting to those events accordingly (quickly, fearfully). I’m making efforts to access news differently too, but that’s a different post.
Anyway, I’ve decided to make this a project, and – somewhat arbitrarily – to devote a year to it. Not the whole year, of course. I’ll still be doing the day job, being a mother, writing books. I’m also not going to attach any particular goals to this project. I’m not going to study it in the way someone studies for an exam. I’m just going to read – and listen since I envisage I will get quite a bit of this my audiobook and podcast – and see what I retain. I’ll share the odd snippet and maybe pose some questions, maybe reflect on the exercise, we’ll see.
So, today, I was listening to a programme about various pre-Socratic thinkers and I thought I’d share this quote from Empedocles. Empedocles believed there were two moving forces in the universe, Love and Strife. He said this:
The force that unites the elements to become all things is Love, also called Aphrodite; Love brings together dissimilar elements into a unity, to become a composite thing. Love is the same force that human beings find at work in themselves whenever they feel joy, love and peace. Strife, on the other hand, is the force responsible for the dissolution of the one back into its many, the four elements of which it was composed.
In other words, Empedocles envisaged a universe in which the four simple, unalterable forms of matter – fire, air, earth, water – were drawn together by Love to form all material things and these things were in turn broken apart and dissolved back their constituent elements by Strife. Love and Strife were thus, he thought, the two agents of change in the universe.
Why am I sharing this particular little snippet? Well, it’s not because I’ve decided to become a follower of Empedocles (legend has it he committed suicide by throwing himself in Mount Etna, so really, no). I suppose it’s partly because this one element of his vision of the world and the forces within it chimed with me (probably for obvious reasons – the world feels pretty full of Strife right now). But mostly I shared it as just one illustration of something that brings me solace – and that’s knowing that there have always been, will always be, humans who question. Who burn with curiosity. Who aren’t satisfied with the answers offered to them, even when they are told that they must not question.
That’s reassuring, don’t you think?
One last thought: when I put that question mark at the top of this post, it was a placeholder for an image I was going to select later. I wasn’t sure how the post was going to turn out. Now, it is the image for this post.