Is reality undergoing constant change or is change an illusion? Heraclitus, Parmenides and Zeno were pre-socratic early Greek philosophers (before Socrates), living and philosophizing around 500 B.C. These philosophers had very different ideas about metaphysics – the branch of philosophy concerned with the fundamental nature of us and our world.
Heraclitus insisted that reality is flux and change – that without change the universe would not exist. Parmenides and Zeno, on the other hand, believed that there was no such thing as change – that everything is permanent.
Heraclitus used analogies of rivers and fire. He says, “You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you” (fr. 41).
Similarly fire has a flame which ‘continues steadily and appears to be the same, yet it passes constantly into smoke, and the flame which takes its place must be fed repeatedly by new fuel. Thus fire seems to be a thing, but it is eternally undergoing change. The principle of all change is the law of opposites or of strife (fr. 62); everything tends to become its contrary and in this way change is produced.’ p.6.
Plato attributes the view that “nothing really is, but all things are becoming” and that “all things flow and nothing stands still” to Heraclitus. p.8. The paradox of this idea is that the law of change cannot change…
Parmenides proposed that ‘we can never say of anything that it becomes; for it would have to come from nothing, and this is impossible. If anything is, it is now, all at once.’
Zeno’s ‘paradoxes of motion’ drew the same conclusion, stating that ‘there are an infinite number of points in any given space, and you cannot touch an infinite number one by one in a finite time.’ Hence movement was an appearance because logic proves one cannot move. Diogenes the Cynic rose to his feet and walked away, as the best way to refute Zeno was to move.
Check out this Three Minute Philosophy:
In sum, Heraclitus had established all is change and Parmenides and Zeno that nothing changes.
What do YOU think? Is the world in a constant state of change, or is time and change actually an illusion?
What do I think? I think the answer to this question depends on the location from which you view: from the perspective of the individual inside, or imagining you are observing from a perspective that lies outside the whole. Whether you see things as static or moving, in a state of permanency or change, depends purely on this location. From a location within the construct, in my position on this planet as it circumnavigates the sun, it seems to me that the only thing permanent for life on earth is change. The natural cycles of our planet seem to be the source of our mental construction of time. And time, appears (illusion or not) to be the skeleton of the reality faced by life-on-earth. So as long as we are viewing the world from our planet, hence within the construct of time, everything will appear to always be in a constant stage of change – everything is a process, not an entity.
J. T. Fraser, The Voices of Time: A Cooperative Survey of Man’s Views of Time as Expressed by the Sciences and by the Humanities (London,: Penguin P., 1968). pp. 8-10.
I took this of a massive bonfire on a weekend down the coast at a friend’s uncle’s country home. It was so awesome.