A friend of mine recently suggested that I read a short book called “Fragments” which consists of the broken works of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus. A quick introduction to this somewhat obscure thinker would help in understanding why I believe his ideas are pretty impressive. He was born around 535 BC and died just before Socrates came around with his own questions. It is widely believed that although Heraclitus was born of a wealthy family he was self-taught, so in the very least we can say he was original.
“Fragments” as the title suggests is a broken list of ideas put forward by Heraclitus in no particular order. One topic which pervades throughout the book is the idea that the human mind is an infinite blessing which is wasted far too often, “People dull their wits with gibberish and cannot use their ears and eyes…Many fail to grasp what they have seen and cannot judge what they have learned, although they tell themselves they know.” These are the tragic attributes he saw in those around him and certainly they still exist today, for who can honestly say they’ve never spoken with the pretense of intelligence from an actual position of ignorance. I believe this also speaks of the importance of the one all important word: “why”. Through the powers of “why” we unlock knowledge and truth. It is a request for understanding and whether it is given or found what matters most is that we have it.
Heraclitus writes continuously about the mind and its potential, “The soul is undiscovered, though explored forever to a depth beyond report.” He moves on to the operative characteristic of a good mind, that being intelligence. He says “Wisdom is the oneness of mind that guides and permeates all things” and that “Applicants for wisdom do what I have done: Inquire Within.” I found this to be an interesting idea, “inquiring within,” and it’s something I have been attempting to employ. Next time you get a feeling which occurred naturally try to catch yourself and think, “Why did I think that?” That is what I see as inquiring within, the search for understanding ourselves so that we may have a good base from which we may expand to understanding anything. Heraclitus closes these ideas by simply stating that “To be even minded is the greatest virtue.”
One final theme I’ll touch on which I found intriguing was keeping oneself hungry. He says “Moisture makes the soul succumb to joy…Dry, the soul grows wise and good.” To me this describes the negative affect being content may have on a person. It says that there is always more to understand and that to give in to the belief that you know it all is to admit defeat to all that remains undiscovered, for as he says “Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing , for the known way is an impasse.” Another way he looks at this idea is in the value of the rewards gained, for as he says “Health seems sweetest after sickness, food after hunger, goodness in the wake of evil, and at the end of daylong labor, sleep.”
I have always found the origin of ideas and thought to be an interesting subject. Imagine you lived in a time when the entire world thought the earth was the center of the universe or that the earth was flat. Would you have the boldness to question it, or even give it deep thought when others see it so clearly? It will and has always been unquestionably easier to simply say “yeah, I guess so” than to give real thought. This is what I believe Heraclitus spoke of, keeping your mind constantly moving because you never know what it may find.