Saturday, May 9, 2009

06 Zeno of Elea

The debate had started on what really exists:
Is it the permanent flux of changes as presented to our senses
or is there some constant being behind all this, which we can't register with our senses, but which can be logically deduced and known by our mind?

Zeno of Elea, born about 490 B.C., was a follower of Parmenides. He supported Parmenides view that plurality and motion were only appearance. The underlying questions are "what can we know for sure....what is certian knowledge"
and "how can we arrive at certain knowledge"

It is a logical consequence for people who werent willing anymore to derive all certainty from gods. To formulate it somewhat dramatically: if we forget the gods from the Olympus, what gods have we left to understand life? Only two: our senses and our mind.

Along with Parmenides Zeno said that the genesis and disappearance of something is an illusion: all is one, never changing and eternal. And his argumentations for this view were brilliant. His main point was the concept of divisibility. If being is one it cant be divisible and if something is divisible, it can't be the real thing.

Brace yourself.....A typical Zeno reasoning: If there were many existents, they must be so small as to have no size.

[A1] If there were many things, each of them would have to possess(as minimal conditions ofr existence) unity and self-identity
[A2] But nothing can have unity if it has size
[A3] for whatever has size is divisible into parts
[A4] and whatever has parts cannot be one
[A5] Hence, if there were many, none of them could have size.

It may sound all a little abstract and you may wonder what it is all about. What Zeno tries to proof by logical deduction is that, when you claim that what really exists consists of many 'parts' instead of being one and infinite, it would lead to the conclusion that the existents had no size, which would be very odd.

Of course you feel uneasy with this reasoning.....something is not right. And that is true. What do the words 'one' and 'many' mean here. How are they defined? Is is really impossible for an existent to be one and many at the same time. Do the words 'one' and 'many' exclude eachother?

To give you one thought regarding [A4]: The United States of America is ONE (nation) and MANY (states). What means ONE and what means MANY? They seem simple words and Zeno probably was focused on the mathematical characteristics of numbers. Maybe (simplified) something like 1 cant be 2 and 2 cant be 1.

It was not yet the time for conceptual and semantical analysis. Semantics is concerned with the analysis of the meaning of words. For Zeno It was the time of the discovery of the powers of the mind in deductive reasoning, the discovery that this reasoning lead to conclusions which were undeniable, while the senses offered only observations and hence conclusions, which were not certain at all.

In our scientific and technological aera we may wonder why the Greek didn't achieved the insights we appear to have nowadays. They were brilliant in their logic. But here, I think, you see the relation between abstract thinking as such and the fact that it is a human being, living in his social and cultural context. Looking back on history we can focus on the mere content of theories, but I also love to keep in mind, that it was a man in his time, who ate and slept, was educated, played as a kid with his friends and so on.

It means that there still are so many discoveries of the mind to come.

And did Achilles catch up with the turtoise.....? I wont tell you...if you really want to know, a nice research project..:-) Let me reveal to you one answer. Zeno said NO...after Achilles gave the turtoise a lead.

The Discussion

[13:16] Osrum Sands: 1/2 thing a
[13:16] You: yes it is Osrum
[13:16] You: Well..I guess this wasnt the easiest talk
[13:17] oola Neruda: Herman... i'm sorry... i do not know what the achilles and turtoise "thing" is ABout
[13:17] You: But most important to learn from it is that the human mind started to use logical deduction as a method of acquiering knowledge
[13:18] hope63 Shepherd: herman, may i cite seneca? he said if i accede to parmenides there0's nothing left but one..if i accede to zeno, not eventhe one is left
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: LOLLOL
[13:19] You: Well...he had a point there
[13:19] Hope McAlpine is Online
[13:20] You: Most important is to see that philosophical certainty...or true knowledge was derived from deduction and not from the senses
[13:20] hope63 Shepherd: you should tell about achill herman
[13:20] You: Ok...
[13:20] You: The paradox with Achilles was thus...
[13:21] You: Achilles was famous for his running speed
[13:21] You: but yet Zeno claimed that when Achilles gave a turtoise a lead , he would never be able to catch up with the turtoise
[13:22] You: simply stated the trick was to claim that Achiles first had to cross half the distance to the turtoise
[13:23] You: but then the turtoise would move on in the meantime, sothat Achilles had to cover half of that distance again, and half of the next and so on ad infinitum....
[13:24] You: Before he could cover the whole distance he first had to cover half the distance and the half of th e half of the half and so on
[13:25] Aaron23 DeCuir: this reminds me of the mathmatical concept of converging on a limit - its a precursor to 'the calculus'
[13:25] Gray Cardiff: infinity herman
[13:25] You: indeed...
[13:26] You: but why is Zeno arguing like this, for everyone could see that Achilles only needs two steps to catch up with the turtoise
[13:26] Gray Cardiff: a concept impossible for human to imagine?
[13:26] Lighthorse Wilkinson: In defense of Parmenides?
[13:27] You: First point was to proof that the senses give false knowledge
[13:27] You: yes in defense of Parminides
[13:27] You: and his second point was to explain the essence of what is
[13:27] hope63 Shepherd: herman.. i think its a good example to what degree the philosphers we learned about so far well all mathematicians.. and fascinated by the irrevocable "truth of numbers..
[13:28] You: an eternal, never changing One
[13:29] You: As I said before too, I guess Zeno was focused on numbers and their characteristics
[13:29] You: It is an important question,,,and I guess it still is.....
[13:29] Lighthorse Wilkinson: Sorry I was late , you may have discusse dthe fletchers' paradox. Is his treatment of time there like the distance in Achilles parodox?
[13:29] You: How mathematical is reality
[13:30] You: or as the Greeks supposed mathematics IS reality
[13:30] You: but dont take that to literal...
[13:30] You: They still were involved in a rather material look at reality....
[13:30] Kristopher Apfelbaum: but mathematics only applies to those features of reality that can be quantified
[13:30] You: yes indeed..
[13:31] You: but on the other hand are we trying to quantify as much as possible of reality....we call it statistics..:-)
[13:32] You: so a new question is: to what extend is reality quantifiable
[13:32] You: The greeks took the first steps in this quest
[13:32] You: and it is fascinating to see what they already created
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: and today we use this. no nuclear physic is thinkable without that basic idea..
[13:33] You: We have accepted the quantifiability of reality......
[13:34] Kristopher Apfelbaum: utilitarians believe that whatever produces the most happiness is best. But one of the main criticisms of their theory is that we have no way to quantify happiness.
[13:34] You: but that doesnt answer the philosophical questions
[13:34] You: No...
[13:34] You: but we also could take a pragmatic stand and say: when it works it is OK
[13:35] You: and I guess in daily live we are that pragmatic
[13:35] Kristopher Apfelbaum: but what do we do when it doesn't work?
[13:35] You: In science to some extend
[13:36] You: That isnt a problem....because then we know for sure it doesnt work
[13:36] You: we look for a new solution
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: if it doesn't work.. we made a mistake..
[13:37] Manoly Demina: then look to another solution
[13:37] You: this problem of theories that dont work we will encounter in modern philosophy
[13:37] Manoly Demina: and try again to work
[13:38] You: so we dont need to rush to answer all our questions today
[13:38] Arthur13 Rimbaud: I see your point Kris...simple and cogent
[13:39] hope63 Shepherd: i think you could mention herman that the zeno paradox occupied and occupies todays scientifics..
[13:39] You: Oh yes....
[13:39] Kristopher Apfelbaum: yes, comtemporary philosophers are still offering different solutions to the sorites paradox, for example, which many think originated with Zeno
[13:40] You: you all woud fall asleep because of the techniqual ways that problem is handled.....very clever logicians are still puzzled by it or at least discussing it
[13:40] You: but knowing that this is the case is enough for us here I think
[13:40] Kristopher Apfelbaum: agreed
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: should it be mentioned that socrates considered zeno as the source of dialectic method .. as we'll certainly meet him soon..and the method by proof by contradiction..
[13:41] You: An interesting point in this might be that we may be amazed about the fact that someone 2000 years ago formulated a problem which we still cant solve
[13:41] Kristopher Apfelbaum: i believe it was aristotle rather than socrates
[13:42] You: That was Aristoteles indeed
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: well. may be.. but soc is considered the master of the dialectic method..
[13:42] You: but next time we will meet Socrates....
[13:42] You: not a number guy at all.....
[13:42] You: he just wants to know...:-)
[13:43] Lighthorse Wilkinson: Indeed.
[13:43] hope63 Shepherd: lol.. i think he was a down to earth guy.. with his
[13:43] Lighthorse Wilkinson: To know is the quest.
[13:43] You: yes....
[13:44] You: and all that reasoing....I think the Greek made a sport of it as well....
[13:44] Lighthorse Wilkinson: Yes, brilliant minds.
[13:44] You: by demonstrating logical arguments that were falacies but looked convincing.
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: the sport of contradiction to find answers that can be contradicted again..
[13:44] Lighthorse Wilkinson: And so the debate/
[13:44] You: Socrates was grilling these guys who tried to do that
[13:45] Gray Cardiff: nothing changes herman lol
[13:45] herman Bergson smiles
[13:45] You: Indeed Gray
[13:45] Lighthorse Wilkinson: The marriage of perceptions.
[13:45] You: Well....let's wait for socrates then
[13:45] Gray Cardiff: look forward to it
[13:46] You: He already looked over my shoulder all the time (picture in the viewer on the wall)
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: lol
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:46] You: Thank you for your attention and good discussion...
[13:47] You: if you want to continue ...outside is a nice and comfy place for that
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: thank you Herman for the presentation
[13:47] You: Thank you and see you next time:-)
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: thank you herman.. i think things are building up in our minds..
[13:47] Kristopher Apfelbaum: thanks herman
[13:47] Aaron23 DeCuir: thanks herman ;)
[13:47] Gray Cardiff: thanks and good night herman
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: I am only sorry I missed the first few classes
[13:48] Manoly Demina: thx herman
[13:48] Manoly Demina: ok
[13:48] You: Dont forget theblog
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: oh ues
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: yes*
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:48] You: All texts are there

Posted by herman_bergson on 2007-10-14 10:44:30

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