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bison

Heraclitus' River and the Nature of Reality

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bison

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that one can not step in the same river twice. He held that as the water is ever flowing, it will not be the same water, nor the same river, upon the second wading-in. The tempting, obvious answer is that of course it is still the same river, and that Heraclitus was merely playing with words, or nit-picking. Still, if one explores this question with greater care, some interesting problems, doubts, and questions about the seemingly common sense answer given above may be uncovered.  

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XenoFish

Think of the river as time, even though we may do the exact same thing, it isn't the exact same thing. 

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bison

Thanks for your reply, XenoFish. I'm not sure  that the river is a 'thing', a discrete object. If I think about it, it seems more like a process, an idea.

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XenoFish
4 minutes ago, bison said:

Thanks for your reply, XenoFish. I'm not sure  that the river is a 'thing', a discrete object. If I think about it, it seems more like a process, an idea.

I think of it as representing the flow of time. It's about all that I can come up with really. 

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bison

Some people say it's the same river, despite the different water, because it still has the same banks. But the flowing water erodes and changes the banks. A river can even change its course in this way, given enough time. If the water is different and the banks change, then where, I wonder, is the object that we would call a river?

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Rlyeh

Unless you freeze the river.

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bison
Posted (edited)

Thanks for your reply, Rlyeh. I guess the rivers don't freeze in the balmy clime of Heraclitus' Greece!  Still, the ice wouldn't be entirely static. It would thicken on a cold night, and melt a bit when the Sun shone on it. The freezing and thawing cycle would also works changes of the banks of the river. Ice expands as it freezes. It can change the texture of the soil with which it's in contact. It can even split open rocks with cracks in them.   Heraclitus' vision was of a reality in a constant state of flux. The river was a useful example of this.

Edited by bison
improved punctuation.

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Tatetopa

The Greeks were  justifiably more widely acclaimed for their philosophy than their engineering.

The patient and leisurely scholar or the physicist has time to take Heraclitus at his word and ponder the implications of his statement.  And they are still applicable to the world as our physics currently knows it.

The practical man, and the engineer perhaps take that rich thought, cut out a chunk and make an approximation that they can use in everyday life.  Where is the fishing hole?  Where is the best place to ford a wagon across?  Will the river still be passable during snow melt and runoff?

In a sense, our world is not the underlying "real" world of forms and ideals, it is just what can be simply extracted and is accurate enough to get us through life. Not so long ago, that simplicity was necessitated by the  limitations of pencils, paper, and maybe a slide rule.

Our vision systems and mind do it with pattern recognition shortcuts, fallible but lifesaving in an emergency.

We don't live in Heraclitus' world except when we encounter the building blocks of the universe, then his observation is prescient. Otherwise we make do with a blurry smear of reality that gets us by; hopping from stone to stone  across pretty much the same river every day.

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bison
Posted (edited)

Thanks for your post, Tatetopa. In the past, I've been skeptical about the veritable existence of ideal forms, back of 'practical reality'.  Now, I begin to suspect that there is something to this. One intriguing question that comes to mind is this: If a river, for example, is an idea instead of an object, and rivers existed before there were people around to have the idea of a river, who or what was thinking of that idea?

Edited by bison
improved punctuation.
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Rlyeh
12 hours ago, bison said:

Thanks for your reply, Rlyeh. I guess the rivers don't freeze in the balmy clime of Heraclitus' Greece!  Still, the ice wouldn't be entirely static. It would thicken on a cold night, and melt a bit when the Sun shone on it. The freezing and thawing cycle would also works changes of the banks of the river. Ice expands as it freezes. It can change the texture of the soil with which it's in contact. It can even split open rocks with cracks in them.   Heraclitus' vision was of a reality in a constant state of flux. The river was a useful example of this.

Technically nothing is the same and everything changes.

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qxcontinuum
On 4/11/2020 at 3:13 PM, bison said:

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that one can not step in the same river twice. He held that as the water is ever flowing, it will not be the same water, nor the same river, upon the second wading-in. The tempting, obvious answer is that of course it is still the same river, and that Heraclitus was merely playing with words, or nit-picking. Still, if one explores this question with greater care, some interesting problems, doubts, and questions about the seemingly common sense answer given above may be uncovered.  

It was a metaphor about time and our actions within. River is representing the flow of time 

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Alchopwn
On 4/12/2020 at 5:44 AM, bison said:

Some people say it's the same river, despite the different water, because it still has the same banks. But the flowing water erodes and changes the banks. A river can even change its course in this way, given enough time. If the water is different and the banks change, then where, I wonder, is the object that we would call a river?

This is much like the Ship of Theseus:

"If it is supposed that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle was kept in a harbour as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is if the "restored" ship is still the same object as the original.  If it is then supposed that each of the removed pieces were stored in a warehouse, and after the century, technology developed to cure their rotting and enabled them to be put back together to make a ship, then the question is if this "reconstructed" ship is still the original ship. And if so, then the question also regards the restored ship in the harbour still being the original ship as well."

More simply, if one breaks an axe handle and buys a new one, then later you break the axe head and fit a new one, is it still the same axe?  Yes, and No.

These are all skirting around the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta and hence the issue of the natures of identity, novelty, permanency and illusion.

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