Pacatus Level 03
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  • Member since Dec 17th 2021

Posts by Pacatus

    It's still wintry where we live: no new leaves or buds yet. But we have crossed the threshold of the vernal equinox, so "The Darktime Cord Has Slipped Its Knot" --

    The darktime cord has slipped its knot -- the days
    are lengthening again. And though the trees
    still are bare of all but the crispest leaves,
    there is promise promised in just the hours
    that keep the light -- and gather moments more
    each day, like pages added to a book.

    But I neither mind the winter, nor mourn
    the night. Ricks of wood, split and stacked in fall,
    extend the hours we need not hibernate.
    Apples we harvested at summer's end
    and dried, homebrewed wine bottled months ago,
    novels we recall we wanted to read --

    and time to share ourselves: these keep us well
    through shrinking days -- and days that start to swell.


    A quasi-sonnet, written when we were living the simple country life.

    My reading of the Pyrrhonists (eg. Sextus Empiricus; but maybe through the lens of modern neo-Pyrrhonians) is that they did not accept any other schools' claimed criteria for "truth" (nor the denial that there could be such a thing: Academic "skepticism"). But they did accept appearances/sensations as criteria for decision/action. Sometimes, it seems to me, that the Pyrrhonian criticism of Epicurus is confused -- but hinges on what is meant by "truth"* in each of the schools of thought involved. [But the distinction between deductive and inductive logic does not seem to have been well developed.]


    * Don, I seem to recall that aletheia (?) in Greek meant that which was unconcealed/unhidden -- or revealed?

    This will take some time to peruse. But the opening reminded me of a comic photo I saw of two modern Stoics under arrest for throwing stones at Epicureans in the local park. Their complaint: "Why should they have all the fun?!"

    (Though I think that Cicero was more an Academic Skeptic than a Stoic?)

    Actually, the equivalent Latin (and English!) term would be "universe". From the Elementary Lewis Latin Dictionary:

    Universus is surely the most direct and proper translation into Latin. From unus (one) and versus (turned, as in “turned into”). [From and Wiktionary.]

    But another (more expansive, less literal) possibility, it seems to me, is mundus, apparently a calque from the Greek kosmos, which carries the further implication of order (cosmos as opposed to chaos). In my own playing with the Latin (for my own contemplation as a total schlock), I have used totus mundus: the whole world.

    “Latin mundus "world" was used as a translation of Greek kosmos (see cosmos) in its Pythagorean sense of "the physical universe" (the original sense of the Greek word was "orderly arrangement").” []

    Re kosmos: “Pythagoras is said to have been the first to apply this word to "the universe," perhaps originally meaning "the starry firmament," but it later was extended to the whole physical world, including the earth.” (


    NOTE: I am taking some time to read through older threads on here, to stimulate my own thinking.

    A Personal Epicurean Outline

    1. The nature of the Universe

    The universe is physicalist in nature: matter and energy.

    I rely on science, while realizing that empiricism is generally probabilistic and subject to revision, even paradigm shifts (the fear of which seems to mire many people in the supernatural promises of religion.)

    The “atoms” of Democritus may well be sub-atomic particles and wave functions, or vibrational strings. The Epicurean “swerve” may well be understood in terms of the uncertainty principle in predicting subatomic events. Or the fugue-like patterns of chaos theory (complexity, interconnection, and sensitivity to initial and changing conditions).

    I do not have the expertise in the physical sciences to side with one view as opposed to another when they are in disagreement, so I keep an open mind -- a kind of epistemological pluralism of possibilities. Anything else would seem to me to be presumption on my part (though perhaps not for others more knowledgeable).

    2. The nature of knowledge

    A valid deductive argument is one for which the conclusions follow necessarily from the premises. To loosely play on Wittgenstein, the opposite of logical (in this sense) is not “false” it is non-sense (e.g., the fallacy of affirming the consequent). A sound deductive argument is one for which the premises are also true.

    Whether any proposition is true in any real-world sense is a factual, empirical question. Real-world knowledge is experiential, empirical and inductive. Although no number of observations can confirm a hypothesis as certain (there is always the possibility of a “black swan”), empirical observation (sometimes extended by technology: e.g. a medical MRI) based on the senses is still the best we have, and sufficient for making prudent decisions. At our level of existence, this means relying on senses (aisthesis), experiences and reasonable conclusions drawn from them.

    Human knowledge is always perspectival (thinking of Jose Ortega y Gassett, rather than Nietzsche, here): we do not have access to any “view from nowhere” or “god’s eye view”).

    This is not to deny intuition as a wholistic immediate grasp of phenomena and patterns (Epicurean proplepsis?). Nor is it to deny imagination in the exploration of possibilities.

    I think it was the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio who wrote of “the feeling of what happens” affirming the role of feelings (pathe) as signals about reality.

    There is no guarantee that the grammar of human consciousness is exhaustive of the syntax of the natural universe. Omniscience is unlikely no matter how far our knowledge progresses.

    3. The nature of how to live

    In our decisions, we exercise a version of “free will” that I call “constrained choice” (from my economics training): the fact that our ability to choose (or to have chosen differently, in the libertarian version) are constrained by circumstances, resources, our knowledge, our ability to analyze, etc. There is no coherent way to “have chosen differently” if none of those also changes -- unless we are “choosing” randomly. But we are still able to choose, to make decisions, to advance our understanding.

    The ultimate human telos is eudaimonia: which I will translate as happy well-being (conflating two popular renderings) -- or sometimes just happiness.

    Pleasure and pain are nature’s guide to well-being. That life is happiest which is the most pleasurable (pleasant), with the least amount of pain (suffering). Tranquility (ataraxia) is part of (even inherent to) the pleasurable/pleasant life -- but is not the telos: happiness is.

    So, living well entails daily choosing to maximize pleasure and minimize suffering -- with attention to Epicurus’ astute breakdown of desires into natural and necessary, natural but unnecessary and unnatural (which may well be harmful). And part of that hedonic calculus involves prudential moderation: recognizing that overindulgence crosses the threshold from pleasure to pain (e.g. a hangover).

    These are all, of course, personal choices based on our own understandings and observation of ourselves (self-reflection) and the senses: there is no-one-size fits all or cookie-cutter for this hedonic calculus.

    For example --

    I am by nature an introvert: that is, I restore my energy and serenity away from the pressures and stresses of the hurly-burly extroverted world (extroverts are opposite, but it is a continuum). That means that I need sufficient time in relative solitude. But I am not a total recluse, and I also treasure a few good friends. (My only respite in a crowd is relative anonymity.)

    Thus, I am particularly amenable to Epicurus’ recommendation to, insofar as possible, live an obscure life (lathe biosas). It is only past programming and cultural conditioning that occasionally seduces me away from that.

    I used to think that the notion of a daily hedonic calculus entailed a kind of (overly) effortful tension. But I am coming to realize that, following nature, it is a natural way to live that can be easy-flowing. And pleasant.

    And, to borrow a quote from Saint Benedict: “Always, we begin again.”

    That's helpful. My reading of the Pyrrhonists is that they took that to mean something like an absolutist or certain position (positive or negative), which it seems you are pointing out, may be a mis-reading? So many of those schools of philosophy had their own jargon and interpretations of others' concepts (e.g., the Stoics pathe versus eupathe).

    I recall the responses when two people who shared the Nobel Prize for physics for the “standard model” of particle physics were asked about string theory (note that I am not a physicist). Sheldon Glashow replied to the effect that it was all philosophy at best, and not science, since it could never be tested. Steven Weinberg responded that he would be surprised if there were not something to it, in part because the mathematics were so elegant. [As best as I can remember the clip from Brian Greene’s Nova series.]

    I don’t have the quote, but I recall Epicurus saying something to the effect that, given multiple causal theories (say, multiple “alternative hypotheses”), none of them should be rejected until actually disproved.

    Epicurus’ physics, though astute, was nevertheless timebound. But I have often found an openness in Epicurus that is at least equal to even that of the Pyrrhonists in their epistemological agnosticism, despite Sextus Empiricus’ denunciation of him as a “dogmatist.” Surely, one can be an Epicurean whilst acknowledging various possible scientific explanations (and without entering the fray).

    I’ve had to be gone awhile, and will mostly just need to hang out for now and absorb the wisdom of others.

    But this recurring “argument” over Epicurus’ “real” understanding of gods struck a chord that made me want to think it out by writing. I think the question is simply unnecessary for following a living Via Epicurea. Though, as scholarly debate it may have some merit, even there it is likely to never be settled.

    I tend to believe that all discourse is inescapably interpretive, viz: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but you should be aware that what you heard is not what I meant.”

    Interpreting written discourse is more fraught when one is unable to enter into actual extended conversation and query. Also (outside of pure mathematics and deductive logic, perhaps) all human communication ought to be taken (to my mind) as imperfect: subject to all sorts of vagaries inherent in the human condition. [Well, certain supernaturalist religions might assert the perfection of certain utterances and texts; but I don’t.]

    Cassius once (or more than once) said something to the effect that (my words, not his) there are no litmus tests here for who is or is not a “True Epicurean (TM).” I likely hold some “neo-Epicurean,” as opposed classical Epicurean, beliefs; and am happy to. I do not want to impose them here, and hope that I am not. If I am, I hope you will correct and forgive.

    I grew up steeped in Christianity, and in my adult years became a liberal Anglican. I read folks like Gregory of Nyssa and Clement of Alexandria; and Protestant theologians like Paul Tillich and Jurgen Moltmann; a bit of Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar in the Roman Catholic tradition; and three of the five volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan's history of church doctrine; etc., etc. I realized in the end that I was searching for some way to believe (in terms of honest assent) the core truth claims. In the end, I could not.

    At the same time, I realized I was deeply steeped aesthetically: the poetry, the art (especially Greek Orthodox icons), the "bells and smells," the eucharist, the music. I tried returning to church for all of that, sans the doctrine -- but they always intruded themselves. I can't do it (even though I think that Epicurus would not object).

    And most of the Christians I knew -- including priests and deacons -- were wonderful people. (But I was mostly insulated from puritanical fundamentalists.) I do not argue with them, nor disparage their beliefs. If asked, I might speak my truth "quietly and clearly" (as the Desiderata says) as best as I understand it (knowing I might often be wrong), as I strive to "go placidly amid the noise and the haste."

    I still listen to Gregorian chant sometimes, and even Taize music. When they are not in English, my mind does not busy itself with translating (even if I recognize some Latin words). I can take that as a lovely form of meditation. But the nostalgia is always there. I suspect it always will be. And that's okay.

    " well as opening your mouth as you exhale ..."

    I just wanted to add that when my wife had a heart attack a few years ago, we learned that exhaling with the lips parted (rather than just through the nose) relieves pressure on the heart. (That's my lay-person's translation.) Thus, it can be a bit more relaxing.


    Thank you so much for that! I recently stumbled on just that phrase (in my own mind) when I was having difficulty: "Enjoy your breath." With some past experience of Centering Prayer and TM, I have sometimes coupled a simple short word/ phrase with the breath, just to remember. But I had forgotten. :( As Ram Dass once said: The most difficult thing can be to remember -- to remember ...

    And this beautiful meditation connects the body and mind in a unified way. Thank you for reminding me ... :) I need to resurrect this simple practice.

    Since I have late-diagnosed (very late: 60 or so) ADHD, for me it's a bit of "one thought at a time."

    Although that diagnosis was a big relief ("You mean I'm not crazy!?"), I personally reject the "disorder" in that last D. It's just the way my brain works, a bit outside the area of central tendency on the distribution; it has benefits and drawbacks, that's all. I naturally "hypertext" more than "knuckling down" my mind (which I did for years, to some detriment of my health).

    I also cut off some social media (Facebook, some online forums; never tweeted) and have simply and peacefully left some former friends when the relationship became toxic. I feel more peaceful about that reading some of your experiences on here. Thanks.