Heraclitus of Ephesus, sixth century BCE
Heraclitus of Ephesus

Was it meant to be? I heard about Heraclitus for the first time in July 1998, at a conference on general relativity and gravitation in Sydney University, and a few weeks later I was visiting him in his home town, Ephesus, now in Turkey.

Friends had e-mailed me to join them on their yacht in the Mediterranean. So, in August 1998 I was able to sit on a piece of broken column in the agora of the amazingly well preserved city of Ephesus and convince myself that Heraclitus may well have sat on the same remnant.

Agora  Part of the agora at Ephesus

By the way, it is very convenient to stay in the nearby city of Selcuk only three kilometres away. There are also some very good sights there, including the museum which is particularly interesting and gives one a good idea of what life was like in the time of Heraclitus.

Heraclitus, who was in his prime around 500 BCE (BCE = before common era) held that fire is the primordial substance of the universe and that all things are in perpetual flux. Hence the statement, 'Ta panta rei – all is flux' being attributed to him.

In fact Heraclitus put it even more strongly in saying that, 'What needs to be explained is not change, but the appearance of stability.'

In more detail, what he said was,

This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made; but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-lasting Fire, with measures kindling and measures going out.
I believe that we can take the words, '...was ever, is now, and ever shall be, an everlasting Fire', to embody two quintessential concepts:
  • '...was ever, is now, and ever shall be...', simply means that the universe has always been. That is, there has never been any need for it to start, with a big bang or anything else;

  • ' everlasting Fire.' is Heraclitus's way of saying that the universe is a process. As Bertrand Russell puts it in his History of Western Philosophy,
    '. . . fire is something continually changing, and its permanence is rather that of a process than that of a substance.'
Accepting these statements I believe we can say that the universe has always been and always will be in a process of becoming.

Heraclitus also said, 'Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.' And further, 'There is a unity in the world, but it is a unity resulting from diversity.'

Both of these statements struck a chord with me because many years before I had realised that nothing happens without tension.

Actually the thought occurred to me while I was watching a woman in high heels dancing on the bar in front of me and noticed that her legs were so much more attractive because the high heels forced the muscles into tension. Thinking about it in a more sober environment has convinced me that nothing happens until there is tension.

And, of course, tension is the origin of any force field.

I have summarised how the concepts that Heraclitus espoused 2 500 years ago lead to the paradigm that the universe is a process here, and detailed the paradigm in full here.

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"All is flux," Heraclitus To space-matters
Summary of the ontology of the universe as a process of becoming Who is Gerry O Nolan?
The Universe as a process of becoming