Amongst the many hundreds of manuscripts left behind by Russian theologian Mikola Mandelstahm
are a number of thin volumes explicating the philosophy
of the Ancient Greek
. Below is reprinted, in extenso
, one of Mandelstahm's texts in which he meditates on some of Heraclitus' fragments on flux
and the ontological
properties of motion
, including the famous Fragment #21 in which Heraclitus states that 'we cannot step into the same river twice'. In his reading, Mandelstahm anticipates in many important ways the later ontological excavations of Friedrich Nietzsche
and Martin Heidegger
(who focused in on the same passages in Heraclitus). In Mandelstahm on Heraclitus : Return
, the thinker picks up his contemplation where he leaves off in the entry below.
"Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed" (F20). "You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on" (F21). Heraclitus thus describes being
as a force
that is aeternally
flowing and changing
, for Heraclitus, is in a state of ceaseless flux. Everything is always flowing and nothing stays fixed. First, then, we have a conception of being that denies the possibility of a terminal
or equilibrium state
. For, in a terminal state, things would find a constant and thus be at rest. This is the true meaning of a teleology, or a functionalism that comes to a halt.
Heraclitus counters this assumption: "It is in changing that things find repose" (F23). There is rest in change only. The formula for Heraclitus' ontology is: all being is becoming
. There is no being that is not becoming
. Everything is eternally in motion. Everything is always between what it was and what it will be. This, between, though is not an equilibrium state or a place where a thing can be at rest. The present moment is an in-between, but not a state of rest. It is an in-between that is in constant motion
"This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be--an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures" (F29). The universe always will be an ever-living fire
. Everything is characterized by fire. Fire is the element
of flux. Fire brings change. And so I have come to recognize that perhaps even time
itself, and each moment which passes by sometimes slowly or sometimes quickly, is characterized by an internal change. The present moment is an ever-living fire. The present moment is not characterized as being at rest between the past and the future, but rather as being in motion between the (immediate) past and the (immediate) future. Time gives way and never stays fixed. There is never a point at which time stops and rests. The present is already contained in the past and the future; the same is true of the past and the future in their relation to each other and the present.
The conceptual difficulty we may have here in reading Heraclitus is perhaps partially linguistic
. The Heraclitian conception of time as a ceaseless flux is perforce negated by the modern
conception of time as existing in three states: past, present, and future. Contrary to what we have been taught by our daily routines and economies, Heraclitus says that time does not move from the past to the present and then to the future. Rather than moving from separate states of being, time flows and is a becoming. What is referred to as the present or as the present moment cannot be conceived of as a static or fixed concept because being is not the mode of being according to Heraclitus. There is no is
upon which we can fix a name that refers itself to temporal staticity. All that exists concerning time is: a was, a becoming, and a will be. An understanding of the present that predicates it as having a fixed identity is radically false by Heraclitus' ontology.
The present, then, is in ceaseless flux. Nothing is fixed. Everything is always giving way. All phenomenon
will remain eternally flowing in time and will never meet their terminus or a state of fixed being. All being is becoming. What quality gives rise to an existence in which the present is an in-between motion? What is the ontological premise by which eternal change is made possible, and not only made possible, but necessitated?
I shall now rest, to meditate
on these matters later.