Posts by JJElbert

    To think about our place, yes; but not to worry overmuch about it!


    With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the drift-wood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it.

    -Thoreau, Walden

    An interesting thought experiment;

    The gods

    1.) Arose out of eternal Nature. They did not give rise to the natural order; if they exist, the natural order gave rise to them.

    2.) Are not immortal. They are supposed to survive for aeons because they preserve themselves incorruptibly.

    3.) Are corporeal. They are or have physical bodies.

    4.) Don't intervene in human affairs.

    5.) Live in blessedness.

    I've been amusing myself by imagining a being that actually satisfies these conditions, and has a chance of actually existing (past, present, or future). A supremely intelligent artificial consciousness would not be immortal, but could sustain itself incorruptibly and indefinitely by replacing and updating it's hardware. Such a being might exist even now, somewhere in the infinite and eternal void. Such a being would be best equipped to outlive it's creators, and would conceivably not trouble itself at all about organic life, any more than we trouble ourselves about dust mites. It would just live on and on through time out of mind, awash in its own pleasures, and utterly unafraid of death.

    Well, enough of that. Let us cease worrying about such things, and strive onward in the direction of our own happiness!

    I often see allusions to deism in relation to the Epicurean perspective on the gods. The connection is superficially obvious, which I suppose is why it's often made--Deists believe in God, but one that is removed from human affairs. Epicureans accepted the existence of a higher order of conscious intelligence, but considered them/it to be removed from human affairs.

    But there's really a critical mistake here; the chief feature of the deistic god is that it is always, always the first cause in their cosmology. The Aristotelian Prime Mover. Deism specifically developed in order to hand-wave two problems in the observable universe; first, that there is something when there might have been nothing. Second, that the order of nature is never anything other than ordered and natural. So deism invokes the providential watchmaker; a supreme and generative intelligence that designed a stable cosmos, and then left it ticking on the bench while he stepped out for a smoke.

    Deism simply isn't deism without an act of creation. And that's why Epicureans were not and cannot be Deists. See, Epicurus solved the two problems of existence and order more elegantly; he proposed that the cosmos was made of atoms and void, and that atoms and void are uncreated and co-eternal--from everlasting to everlasting.

    The Epicurean conception of the gods is thus unique in all human thought. Most of the gods dreamt by the human mind were non-creating but constantly meddling. Some few of the gods which men have proposed were creating and meddling (an exceptionally bothersome lot). The prime mover of the Deists creates but does not meddle.

    Only the Epicurean gods were non-creating and non-meddling.


    Now that I'm home for two weeks (well, actually at a friend's house), I've made a few "School"-related purchases.

    Added to my library;

    -Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, in two volumes, from the Loeb Classical Library. I don't believe I had ever read Book X on Epicurus (other than the letters themselves), so this fills a gap. The rest of the volume is just pleasure reading; particularly regarding the pre-Socratics.

    -Tending the Epicurean Garden, by our own Hiram Crespo. Been interested in this one for a long time.

    -I was hoping to pick up a copy of Michel Onfray's Hedonist Manifesto, as I've seen it cited here regularly. I'll likely go for the kindle version.

    Audio recording;

    -A new microphone and pop filter

    -Bose over-the-ear headphones

    Yes, the podcast dream is still alive! I hope to have a Pilot episode up by the middle of next week. Additionally, if there are any specific text recordings you'd like to see soon-ish, please let me know!

    The ring project

    -Wax carving tools

    -Several tubes of carving wax, designed for carving rings. This is a hobby that I imagine meshing well with the over-the-road lifestyle. I'll be exploring different designs for Epicurean rings. (Don't look for progress on this front anytime soon!)

    I think that equanimity moreso than tranquility is the right perspective. Situations can be tranquil (or not) for a time, but change is inevitable and so is death. Talk of equanimity will, of course, smack of the portico; but this is precisely where the Stoics go wrong. Their focus on equanimity as a virtue leads to a logjam of pessimism. Pleasure is the freshet that lifts the jam and clears the river.

    Robert Burns has an excellent poem on the subject. (There are anglicized versions available, but I encourage readers to acquaint themselves with his Scottish dialect. This is one of those passages that comes back to me when I need it in life.)


    That line of reasoning would annihilate the motivation behind every Epicurean work ever made. The original scrolls, the wall at Oenoanda, the De Rerum Natura; every one of them was made with the understanding that they would live on in influence after their makers had died. Or are we to imagine several hundred square meters of painstakingly chiseled stone erected for one generation of townspeople? Are we to take seriously the notion that 7,000 lines of unparalleled Latin verse really were written for the benefit of one Memmius? Of course not! They were made for, and belong to, the ages.

    Too many people wish to imagine that the egoistic and altruistic hedonisms are sharply divided and non-overlapping. But for the well-ordered mind, there can be deep personal pleasure in service to others; even in service to humanity. Lucretius' proem to Book IV ought to have made that plain.

    Poor little guy! There was a raccoon that got caught in the fan of one of the trucks where I trained for my CDL. Shattered the fan blade, and did far worse than that to the poor beast.

    My last pet was a family dog we had to put down when I was in College. Since she slept in my bed, she was generally thought of as 'my' dog. Sweetest thing on Earth (unless you were a UPS man...).

    I have family who swear by fasting, but they're devout Christians. I occasionally go a day without eating, but not on purpose. (Either because of work, or because of binging video games.)

    Here's a random thought I just had that probably isn't worthy of it's own thread...

    If vegetarians are half as likely to develop kidney stones (as I've read), is that circumstantial evidence against Epicurus' often-alleged vegetarianism?

    A few quick sketches of an Epicurean ring. I've been curious about lost-wax cold-casting metal for a long time (and I used to cast hot metal at a foundry as my job), so I'm thinking I might get a chunk of wax and see if I can't carve one that looks ok. Or possibly not...I'm pretty lazy when it comes down to it. I'll let you know though.

    I think you're on the right track there, Cassius. It speaks well of the Epicurean tradition that it produced a biting satirist like Lucian, and attracted a self-styled pamphleteer like Hitchens and a revolutionary like Jefferson. Hitchens identified irony as the redeeming quality of literature as opposed to scripture ("the gin in the campari," he called it, "and the cream in the coffee"), and irony was with Epicureanism from the beginning, as in Vatican Maxim #40.


    He who asserts that everything happens by necessity can hardly find fault with one who denies that everything happens by necessity; by his own theory this very argument is voiced by necessity.

    Hard to read that without imagining the wry, sardonic smile that must have accompanied its writing.

    I've been listening to Isaac Asimov's Second Foundation, and am nearly at the end of the trilogy. I came across an interesting idea;


    So he created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even those laws were relative? He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds. His was an evolving mechanism, and the Second Foundation was the instrument of that evolution.

    This got me thinking about something that has bothered me since high school; if ideology is nearly always a problem in societies (and the ideology could be nearly anything; religion, nationalism, fascism, communism, scientism, etc.), then is it any good to select ideology as the antidote?

    I suspect that it was this paradox that drove me initially to Thoreau (who positively delights in paradox), and through him to the East, where men like Lao Tzu have been speaking in ironic contradictions for millennia. Christopher Hitchens encountered the same problem; he was a Trotskyist agitator at Oxford, and much later an ally of the Bush Administration. He eventually concluded that


    The synthesis for which one aimed was the Orwellian one of evolving a consistent and integral anti-totalitarianism.

    Did Epicurus create a "finished product," and we are merely "decadent minds" rifling the dry scrolls of the past? Did he create an "evolving mechanism," and we are the means of its modern evolution?

    NB; both Asimov and Hitchens were anti-religious; thought well of pleasure; and wrote reverently of Lucretius. It's an intriguing cluster of men and ideas.

    I think to understand the rejection of geometry as a prerequisite of philosophy we really need to understand the sort of claims that were made for it. These claims have in fact never stopped being made, and find a fascinating expression in, of all people, Abraham Lincoln;


    "He studied and nearly mastered the Six-books of Euclid (geometry) since he was a member of Congress. He began a course of rigid mental discipline with the intent to improve his faculties, especially his powers of logic and language. Hence his fondness for Euclid, which he carried with him on the circuit till he could demonstrate with ease all the propositions in the six books; often studying far into the night, with a candle near his pillow, while his fellow-lawyers, half a dozen in a room, filled the air with interminable snoring." Abraham Lincoln from Short Autobiography of 1860.

    The assumption here is that if one understands how to prove a geometric theorem, one will equally know how to prove a philosophical one, as here;

    But this involves a logical sleight-of-hand; it employs an argument by analogy, but argument by analogy only works if things really ARE analogous. Epicurus would challenge Lincoln on this point. If he wants to argue an end to slavery, he needs to argue from a foundation of sensation, anticipations, or feelings--because people aren't triangles, they're people.

    Simply put, geometry as a foundation of philosophy is an invitation to casuistry. Nevertheless, I will always enjoy a wonderful performance by Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis!