Simulacra, gods and the dead

  • Hello friends,


    I have a question on EP physics. Please correct me if I am wrong in my premisses and conclusion. I want to resolve something I find to be contradicting.

    According to EP when the body dissolves in its atoms the entity dies and will never live again.
    The gods are perfect entities and therefor never die.
    We know of the gods because in our dreams we receive simulacra of the atoms making up the bodies of the gods.

    Now, I know EP says that we do not see the dead but we see simulacra “residue” so to speak. The dead are, well, dead.


    My question is: what is the difference between the gods and the dead? If we know of the gods because we see them through simulacra in our dreams and they are alive, why does EP not use this proof to postulate the dead are also alive (eg with the gods in Intermundia) because we see them through simulacra.


    Hope to hearing from you guys.

  • The gods are perfect entities and therefor never die.

    This is probably insufficient, as written, to capture the big picture. The gods remain alive, not because they are perfect, and because "perfect" somehow implies immortality, but because they have achieved a method of replenishing their atomic structure so that their overall existence remains in place without necessity of ending. The gods may be said to enjoy "perfect bliss" or "perfect pleasure" but to say today that "the gods are perfect" implies all sorts of other attributes that the Epicureans did not state belonged to the gods.


    If that point is not clear then let's discuss further.



    We know of the gods because in our dreams we receive simulacra of the atoms making up the bodies of the gods.

    That is only a part of the full picture of what we know the Epicureans said. If you will refer to the Velleius section of Cicero's "On the Nature of the Gods," there you will find the most detailed information we have on what Epicurus taught, which involved anticipations, isonomia, and the view that Nature never creates only a single thing of a kind.


    Yes there are passages in several texts which indicate that "images of the gods" are a source of information, but those images (like the anticipations themselves) would be subject to the same issue that you are concerned about - there is always a potential for distortion and inaccuracy in any single perception from any source.


    I think it is fair to say that "Images" as a source of information about the gods would necessarily be received from a very long distance away (the gods are in the "intermundia" which we can't see or otherwise sense with the five senses) and in addition to distortions of many types II think you are right - those images might be floating around from dead gods, just like from dead people.


    I am with Dewitt that a fair reading of all the texts indicates that the anticipations would be the most reliable way to reach basic conclusions about the gods. Anything that comes from images would be especially subject to correction by comparison to the ultimate conclusions we would draw with higher confidence from the anticipations - such as that the gods live in perfect pleasure and peace and safety and therefore have no need for friends or enemies among humans.


    I think the most reliable summary of information we have about the gods would be the section "The New Piety" in DeWitt's "Epicurus and His Philosophy" (which I think you have, right?). I concur with DeWitt that the Velleius material, which was delivered specifically on the point you are asking about (What do we know about the gods and how do we know it?) is good evidence that "anticipations" are the major and overriding source of information, since it seems clear that Velleius rests the thrust of his argument in that department rather than on images.

  • Thanks Cassius .


    Immediately went to my copy of DeWitt and started rereading.


    To summarize in my own words. EP states we can reach conclusions about gods through the anticipations. Gods are blissful and are not immortal per se, but have reached a level of competence which enable them to stop their body from 'falling apart' and die (so to speak). As simulacra in dreams about gods are insufficient proof of their existence and/or their properties we cannot infer that by simulacra in dreams about dead people, dead people have exist or have the same properties.


    Correct?

  • I don’t recall where we find the original source, but from Wikipedia:


    Epicurus maintained that he and his followers knew that the gods exist because "our knowledge of them is a matter of clear and distinct perception", meaning that people can empirically sense their presences.[108] He did not mean that people can see the gods as physical objects, but rather that they can see visions of the gods sent from the remote regions of interstellar space in which they actually reside.[108]


    How should we understand this? Some people feel they have clear empirical perceptions of the divine, and many do not.


    I found an analogy recently that I was thinking might apply. There is a condition called “amusia” that affects as much as 4% of the population. Such people are not able to recognize music, as such, let alone enjoy it. They do not recognize music as having any beauty of form, harmony, or emotional expression. It is not a pattern that expresses any kind of intelligence to them. Yet the rest of us cannot NOT recognize music, no matter how much an amusiac might insist that it is just completely random noise. Nor would it be possible to teach an amusiac to appreciate music.


    So to return to the original question, what if you had a very “clear and distinct” perception of a ghost? This means you cannot convince yourself that you were hallucinating. I think beyond just writing it off by saying “Epicurus taught that there is no existence after death, therefore I saw nothing”, one could consider other possibilities. For example, there is the “Stone Tape” theory about hauntings that says that ghost are actually “memory traces” left in the environment. That’s one possibility that allows for the Epicurean no-life-after-death and no supernatural beings.


    Just me throwing woo into things again, right? ;)

  • Remembering always that all I can say is what I think makes the most sense from the material I have read, here is my view:



    To summarize in my own words. EP states we can reach conclusions about gods through the anticipations. Gods are blissful and are not immortal per se, but have reached a level of competence which enable them to stop their body from 'falling apart' and die (so to speak).

    Yes, that is pretty much exactly correct per my reading. What I would add is that the "conclusions" that can be reached about the gods through anticipations are probably pretty limited, to the view that such beings exist, and that since the goal of all life is total pleasure (with zero pain or as little as possible) then beings which have reached the zenith are leading lives that are fully pleasurable to them and are not concerned with rewarding human friends or punishing human enemies. In other words the conclusions that we can be confident about are pretty high level and the more detailed speculation you get into about how they spend their time, beyond the basics, the less confidence we can have in that particular speculation, such as "the gods speak Greek" or look like humans,


    As simulacra in dreams about gods are insufficient proof of their existence and/or their properties we cannot infer that by simulacra in dreams about dead people, dead people have exist or have the same properties.

    Now that one I think is mostly correct in both parts of the sentence but your are linking them in way that might need to be unwound. Yes I would say that Epicurus would hold that images of gods received in dreams is not sufficient proof of their existence. Yes I would say that Epicurus would hold that images of dead people (or anything else) received in a dream are not sufficient proof of the reality of what has been dreamed. Now whether the images received in dreams of gods vs dreams of people have any relationship that might need further discussion, because I get the impression that dreams of dead people and other things are generally dreams involving things that we have actually seen in the past, while awake, in distinction to dreams about gods, which pretty much by definition we have never seen while awake. So there is probably a distinction worth thinking about there.

  • Just me throwing woo into things again, right?

    No, I don't think that is throwing woo into things, but for example in this case I think we need to question that wikipedia article's choice of words, this one in particular:


    WIKIPEDIA: He did not mean that people can see the gods as physical objects, but rather that they can see visions of the gods sent from the remote regions of interstellar space in which they actually reside.



    I would question the accuracy of this sentence, which in fact seems to me to be a little contradictory, in stating first that we can't "see" but then that we can "see." I question whether "see" is the right word even though "vision" is the word that I see is used to translate the passage from the letter to Menoeceus. This is Bailey:



    This is where we need a Don to help us track down any critical Greek wording on "see," but my view is that these images are likely not the same kind of images that we talk about being received by "looking at that tree over there." If the gods are in the intermundia (which is probably a fundamental premise of discussions on gods, since it wouldn't e possible to life a perfectly happy life here on earth) then we aren't going to be able to "see" them directly with our eyes like we can see other things.


    A related question would be: what do we "see" in dreams? Are we using the eyes for that?


    I am thinking that the "knowledge of them by clear vision" must involve something other than the eyes, which I gather is why DeWitt talks about the brain as a "supersensory" mechanism (if I remember his term correctly). The whole nature of the "images" discussion seems to contemplate them traveling all across space in all directions at all times, regardless of whether we choose to turn our head and focus our eyes in a particular direction or not. That would be much like today we are constantly surrounded by radio and television waves which contain information, but which we can't interpret without electronic equipment.


    Plus, I think it's probably true that the "images" discussion in general probably includes smells and sounds as well, since the whole discussion of all the bodily senses seems to involve particles traveling across space as the means of transmission.


    So no I don't think that this discussion necessarily involves "woo" because I think that there is a lot of detail about images in the texts which are not being given effect by people who stop at the consideration of them as being "through the eyes." This is where I think the DeWitt approach is most important - we should dig through the details of the texts with fresh and unprejudiced eyes, without dismissing what we see at first glance as being "wrong," because Epicurus' frame of reference is so different from ours. I am convinced that Epicurus never "made things up" to suit his conclusions, and if he gave consideration to a particular phenomena like gods or divinity he did so because he thought there was something real there which needed examination.


    I am perfectly prepared to believe that the explanation he gave to the phenomena might not be exactly correct, but at least for me I start with a strong presumption that the phenomena does exist in some way. We just need to work to dig it out, which is something that centuries of christians have had no real disposition to do.

  • As a note to @Martin on an issue I think he raised, I think the "gods are in the intermundia" point above bolsters Martin's observation. We have to accept the conclusion that the gods are in the intermundia, rather than here on earth, for a variety of reasons, and one thing that implies is that the gods are going to be so far away that we won't expect to be able to "see" them with normal vision any more than we can see the details of stars or planets. Were we to think we see a person-sized being in front of us talking to us, then no doubt we are experiencing something, but that person-sized being in front of us would not be expectable be a true "God" from the intermundia. In fact I think I will use the "conceivable" word there. Seeing a true god in front of us in human form would be "inconceivable" given our premises about true gods.

  • No I am sure you are completely right - it is an “internal vision” that is intended, even by the wiki post. I think the word “images” is misleading too. But then, with all the talk about the gods having human form, maybe Epicurus really did intend to convey that he saw, e.g. Venus, as though in a dream - as a visual object. Or was he describing “sensing” the gods clearly in other ways?

  • I heard my name :)


    The "clear vision" translates enargēs εναργής in the Greek. Here's an excerpt from my rough draft on that section of the letter. Enargēs is in verse 123f:


    123d. πᾶν δὲ τὸ φυλάττειν αὐτοῦ δυνάμενον τὴν μετ᾽ ἀφθαρσίας μακαριότητα περὶ αὐτοῦ δόξαζε.


    Remember δὲ "and, so" comes second in Greek but first in English.


    The imperative verb comes last again: δόξαζε πᾶν = doxaze pan "You think, believe, imagine everything!" Believe what about everything?


    τὸ φυλάττειν αὐτοῦ δυνάμενον τὴν μετ᾽ ἀφθαρσίας μακαριότητα περὶ αὐτοῦ = to phylattein autou dynamenon tēn met' aphtharsias makariotēta peri autou


    φυλάττειν = to phylattein "to guard, maintain, preserve, etc." δυνάμενον = "being able, capable, strong enough to do, can"


    Bringing all 123d back together: "Being able to preserve its own imperishability and blessedness for itself"


    "(You, Menoikeus,) Believe everything about which a god is able to preserve its own imperishability and blessedness for itself."


    123e. θεοὶ μὲν γάρ εἰσιν. θεοὶ μὲν γάρ εἰσιν. = theoi men gar eisin.


    If we take out the μὲν (and look for the inevitable δε in the next phrase) and move γάρ "because, for" out of the way, we can pare this down to:


    θεοὶ εἰσιν. "Gods exist." "There are gods."


    The implications of those two words have had entire essays (if not books) written about them. We looked at this a little in 123b with ζώον. But Epicurus is not equivocating here: Gods exist. What he means by this we simply have to discover from his extant works and fragments.


    123f. ἐναργὴς δέ ἐστιν αὐτῶν ἡ γνῶσις: Here's our δέ "on the other hand."


    ἐναργὴς [δέ] ἐστιν αὐτῶν ἡ γνῶσις: = enargēs estin autōn hē gnōsis. "And the knowledge (ἡ γνῶσις) of them (θεοί "gods") is ἐναργὴς." But what does ἐναργὴς mean? It has two primary definitions:

    - visible, palpable, in bodily shape, properly of gods appearing in their own forms (in Homer); so of a dream or vision; ex., ἐναργὴς ταῦρος "in visible form a bull, a very bull"

    - manifest to the mind's eye, distinct


    This fits right in with our problem with puzzling out how the gods are ζώον. Are they physically-existent material beings? Are they existing only as mental perceptions manifest merely to the mind's eye? We still don't have a clear idea of Epicurus's meaning!


    123g. οἵους δ᾽ αὐτοὺς <οἱ> πολλοὶ νομίζουσιν, οὐκ εἰσίν: = hoious d' autous <hoi> polloi nomizousin, ouk eisin.


    LSJ has this to say about οἵους: "Especially in Attic often stands for ὅτι τοῖος, τοία, τοῖον, so that the relative introduces the reason for the preceding statement… "if it is to be intimated that the reason is self-evident, and the assertion is beyond doubt, then δή is added…" (Note: Which it is here! δ' is ellided but is actually δή.) <οἱ> πολλοὶ is exactly what it means in English: "hoi polloi" the common people, the masses. It literally translates as "the many." Paraphrase: "The gods 'do not exist' (οὐκ εἰσίν) in the way that the 'hoi polloi' believe them (i.e., the gods) to."

  • Thank you for that information on the Greek, Don.


    This is one of those places where I have to watch that I don't overstate the case, but I think it is mandatory, essential, and a key to the entire philosophy that Epicurus would not allow a major premise or observation to stand contradicted by another one, and leave the contradiction unresolved. Meaning, once he concluded that the gods were of such nature that they were (1) nonsupernatural, and (2) living in perfect peace, with the implication of no favorites or enemies among humans, and (3) by their nature in the intermundia or in some other way not here on earth where their type of existence would be excluded, then I think he would rigorously maintain that everything else has to be understood in accord with those premises.


    So while we always have to be careful not to take things to an extreme that the words we have won't bear, I think the key to interpretation of the other passages is to work from the beginning on what is meant by "images" and also by "anticipations" and work toward a position that is logically consistent with those earlier "physics" positions about the nature of the gods.


    I think all sorts of the term "idola" or "images" or "spectres" is possible, with the main limiting factor being that Epicurus was looking to explain how things occur naturally, and that "action at a distance" can never be supernatural, so must involve the flow of something between object and observer. That leaves a huge variety of options to choose from so long as it doesn't involve supernatural universe-creating god(s), and given that I understand Plato was postulating "lesser gods" as a means of world-governing then Epicurus might have left open that there are beings who are not gods who nevertheless could (if we could prove it) be flying around the universe. Of course what I am talking about there is more on the order of "Martians" and other sci-fi material, but I also gather without wearing too much tin foil that even the current observations of UFOs might not be ridiculous to entertain.


    However to bring this back to base I think a large part of what Epicurus was thinking about was the benefit of contemplating what "the best life" might entail, as a means of inspiration and aspiration and motivation, all of which are necessary at least to some degrees for some people to ward off the ultimate evil of "nihilism."

  • Quote from Cassius

    However to bring this back to base I think a large part of what Epicurus was thinking about was the benefit of contemplating what "the best life" might entail, as a means of inspiration and aspiration and motivation, all of which are necessary at least to some degrees for some people to ward off the ultimate evil of "nihilism."

    I think you're onto something there. Epicurus does say we can live a life worthy of the gods (or was that Lucretius?), so the gods serve a purpose just not a favor-seeking, punishment-dealing purpose.

  • Epicurus does say we can live a life worthy of the gods (or was that Lucretius?)

    I think your referencing Lucretius where he talks about using reason to deak with the residual forces that nature implants within us, but of course also it's Epicurus who talked about living "as gods among men."


    I think it's a huge issue as to why, once we find that we can have pleasure even living in a cave on bread and water, we would ever decide to venture out for variations in pleasure. There are many practical reasons, of course, but I do think there is an inner drive to "self-improvement" that is associated or part of this pleasure drive. Variation may not be necessary, but there's no commandment or reason to settle for "simple pleasures" when there are other pleasures that you decide are within your reach at a reasonable cost in pain and that you judge (or feel) would be rewarding for you to have. And of course the aspect of "visualizing goals" seems to be deeply rooted in human psychology.

  • I think it's a huge issue as to why, once we find that we can have pleasure even living in a cave on bread and water, we would ever decide to venture out for variations in pleasure. There are many practical reasons, of course, but I do think there is an inner drive to "self-improvement" that is associated or part of this pleasure drive. Variation may not be necessary, but there's no commandment or reason to settle for "simple pleasures" when there are other pleasures that you decide are within your reach at a reasonable cost in pain and that you judge (or feel) would be rewarding for you to have. And of course the aspect of "visualizing goals" seems to be deeply rooted in human psychology.


    I am currently writing a Ph.D thesis on the politics, law and sociology of distributing scarce resources (more specifically the distribution of 'limited rights' like grants and subsidies by governmental agencies). That is why this quote by Cassius resonated with me.


    Scarcity as a concept was unknown in traditional communities. People pursued goals and used certain means. Only with the introduction of modern economics did problems with scarcity arise. The goals people can choose to pursue became limitles in number. This makes the means scarce by definition. For modern economics, scarcity in means is therefor onotological. John Rawls writes about a dialectic of faculties and desires. He assumes that people always want to improve themselves (more). However, this goal also becomes limitless in the framework of modern society and economics. However, the means, the faculties of (wo)man are limited by nature. Rawls thus legitimizes scarcity and legitimizes the current economic system, including its negative effects. One can get very frustrated, even violent, seeing others improve themselves even more. Aristotle, but especially Epicurus, shows that scarcity is not ontological at all. After all, it is not about scarcity in means, but about limiting your goals. PD29 is indicative of this. In current society and economics and in Rawls' conception of self-improvemebt there are the dangers of limitless goals. I think Epicurus really wanted to warn us about these concepts. Indeed, be thankful for the faculties and talents given to you by nature and beware of wanting more than you can become and have.

  • While others may be aware of this, I just discovered this week (listening to the Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics podcast) that an alternate story of Helen of Troy has her living out the war in Egypt while an image or είδωλον is sent by a god to Troy. After the city falls, the Helen είδωλον simply fades away in the wind.

    I find it fascinating that this is the same word Epicurus uses for "images". Granted, words can evolve in meaning but I thought that was an interesting etymological trivia.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_of_Troy?wprov=sfla1

  • To me it's important when considering the gods to keep anticipations in mind.


    Going a little freeform here.... Consider the anticipations as "pattern recognition." The obvious implication of this is recognizing patterns, but the less obvious (and here I'm speculating :/) implication is the urge to solving mysteries, which at some level is recognizing patterns. Nature and life are full of mystery (which of course we should celebrate), and to me it is the urge to solving mysteries of nature which is the true anticipation of the gods. That seems to be the main common denominator between polytheistic, monotheistic, animistic, human, "primitive" and "advanced" conceptions of gods. To me, the idea that the gods speak Greek or are individuals or that there is one all-powerful God, when seen as an anticipation, is evidence of the effect of cultural norms on pattern recognition which in turn had an effect on Epicurus' ideas of the gods. Visions of the gods can come from exposure to the myths just as visions of the dead can come from memories of the living.


    It's also of great use when considering the anticipations to keep the gods in mind. ;)

  • As an aside, there's a science fiction book that takes a completely opposite look at immortals: The Boat of a Million Years, by Poul Anderson. It follows the lives of a few people who, for some unexplained reason, were born immortal. This only became evident to them as they stopped aging and outlived their peers, their children, etc. The drama of the book comes from how they have to interact with society and, eventually, with each other. They're pretty much the opposite of PD1, which makes it an interesting read and an obtuse way to meditate on the Epicurean gods. Also a tonic when thinking about the gods reaches a point of brain freeze!

  • To me, the idea that the gods speak Greek or are individuals or that there is one all-powerful God, when seen as an anticipation, is evidence of the effect of cultural norms on pattern recognition which in turn had an effect on Epicurus' ideas of the gods. Visions of the gods can come from exposure to the myths just as visions of the dead can come from memories of the living.


    It's also of great use when considering the anticipations to keep the gods in mind. ;)

    This would be elucidated by examining the spiritual feelings of children, perhaps raised by atheists, like myself, or outside of any religious context. If spirituality is innate, you would find some such youth seeking out explanations for their instincts at some point. Or, you may find people raised in one cultural religious context, nevertheless converting to other belief systems that better reflect their instincts.


    https://greatergood.berkeley.e…ituality_grow_in_children

  • Consider the anticipations as "pattern recognition."

    I think that we've gotten in the the habit of thinking that "pattern recognition" is a part of anticipations, and I think that is a good start. However as we go further it's not clear to me that this is much more than a start, because what do we mean by "pattern" and "recognition." if we consider it to be a "matching" of something that is already within us then we have to be careful that we're not going Platonic and considering the mind at birth to have ready-made ideas of any kind within it. I don't really have anything better to suggest at the moment but if forced to say something more I would probably use words like a "faculty" that "disposes us to organize what we perceive" in ways that are helpful to our forming of mental images that we then store in our memories and use as operators for further analysis.


    That would pretty well track what Diogenes Laertius was saying, but I'm thinking that what is missing in Laertius is a discussion of "how the faculty works" and what kind of "dispositions" do exist within it that influence the pictures that we eventually form. If we were to consider the faculty of anticipations as a process of forming these images within our minds then it might not be far-fetched to consider the possibility that this process could be influenced directly within the mind by infliuences from outside that don't come through the eyes, ears, nose, skin, or tongue, but more like I gather scientists experimenting with doing by use of ....(what, I am not sure how they are doing it, but I presume somehow electrical or magnetic?) stimuli.


    So basically I am saying that calling anticipations pattern recognition is probably the start of the analysis rather than the end.

  • I keep going back to those experiments with infants and toddlers on fair play, "justice", etc. We humans seem too have an innate sense of justice and fair play as well as awe and amazement. That's where my analysis of the prolepses starts.