Panta rei - everything is changing

Abstract: This article reflects the views of Sophistica. This article gives some background on panta rei and other classic ideas that have been largely supressed in modern cultures. Sophistica advocates a change of heart, especially in regard to the institution of school.


A. Panta rei

Panta rei is how Heraclitus summed up the way he looked at things - everything flows, everything is constantly changing. Nothing should be taken for granted, only change itself can be expected with certainty. Heraclitus lived from 575 to 641 bc and his ideas clashed with the ideas of philosophers like Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. Among other things, Pythagoras taught that Earth revolved around the Sun in a repetitive and thus predictable pattern. Pythagoras believed that nature worked in accordance with universal, scientific laws that could be captured in simple mathemathical formulas.

B. The Oppression by Religion

Sophistica advocates a revival of some of the ideas that were once quite common in ancient Greece, such as the ideas of Heraclitus and the Sophists, which were brutally suppressed by subsequent cultures. Sophistica argues that religion invariably comes with a belief in miracles, magical powers, a single truth, certain destiny and more that is disputable or even in conflict with other philosophies. Most religions have a tendency to oppress opposing views. Monotheism in particular is brutal in this regard, as it accepts only one, single truth, to the detriment of all other views.

Most schools have now finally caught up with the idea that Earth is a sphere revolving around the Sun. Many schools in Western society have a christian background and the position taken by the Pope is regarded as more important than what makes scientific sense. Thus, students are confronted with the fact that Galileo was put before the Inquisition for his belief that Earth revolved around the Sun. However, Galileo had derived his ideas from Copernicus. And few people seem to realize that the idea can be dated back to Pythagoras (580-500 bc). Why is Galileo given such a high profile in regard to the question whether Earth revolves around the Sun? Given the fact that even the Catholic Church did eventually (in 1972) revoke the ban on Galileo's teachings, what is the historical significance of Galileo? Simply that he rebelled against the Church and gave in?

In another example, Pythagoras is glorified at schools for his mathematical work, but few people have heard about Aristoxenus who preferred to rely on his own perception, rather than to accept the science of people such as Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. Quintessence has discussed these issues before in articles such as The Case against Science and Music that breaks the Rules. In this case, one can wonder why schools suddenly do teach the ideas of Pythagoras, while his ideas were bluntly ignored in the Galileo case? The reason, according to Sophistica, is that school is quite selective in its teachings. Religion typically suits old-fashioned schools better than science, but even the more modern schools tend to preach science as the gospel, they tend to present scientific theories as facts. In both cases, more broadminded ideas that often date back to ancient Greece, such as Sophism, are suppressed.

C. Sophistica's Views

Sopistica argues that forcing people to accept a single philosophy is wrong. Sophistica argues that it is quite possible, even preferable for different philosophies to coexist. The intolerance comes from specific convictions such as religious doctrines. To teach such doctrines at schools as the one and only truth is not only an act of intolerance, it supresses ideas that make more sense and that can date back to times before there was, say, a Catholic Church. Some teachers point at the abundant scientific evidence that disproves religious principals. Yet, such teachers generally support compulsory school attendance, with compulsory subjects such as maths and enforced prerequisites, diplomas and certificates.

D. The Case of Socrates

Socrates (469-399 bc) and Pythagoras are often quoted as the founders of modern science. Found guilty of impiety and corrupting the young, Socrates was forced to choose between accepting the traditional morals (and thus rejecting his belief in science) or drinking poison. Socrates chose death, which made the case famous for exposing the intolerance of religion and traditional morals regarding science.

The case of Socrates is interesting because it shows that from the start, science and religion were to a large extent incompatible. The arguments between religion and science continue to date within the education system. Schools typically present the case of Socrates as the first clash between traditional ideas and modern ideas (read science). Importantly, schools act as if there are no other alternatives but these two belief systems. Today's schools focus on a narrow set of scientific and religious dogmas, in the act oppressing philosophy in general, despite the fact that even in ancient times there were many people who had other ideas.

E. The Sophists

The Sophists, whose teachings were common at schools in ancient Greece, opposed both traditional religion as well as the school of thought founded by Socrates. The Sophists argued that science was merely a fabrication of the mind that was philosophically inferior for its rejection of multiple points of view. Occam's rasor is the widely accepted dogma among scientists that, in case of multiple theories, the simpler theory is the one and only truthful one.

The Sophists argued that science did not make sense. Science is searching for a single truth. According to the Sophists, their own perception and experience told them time and again that such a single truth did not exist in nature.

The Sophists looked at things in a specific way. But putting all Sophists in a single philosophical box discredits their diversity. Even calling all of the Sophists philosophers does not give enough credit to the diversity in approach among them. To say that all Sophists were part of one single, specific, homogenous philosophy makes them part of the very scientific and academic approach that they rejected.

F. Implications for School

The ideas of the Sophists should be respected, not as part of officially taught philosophies, but as important ideas. The fact that these ideas were expressed by people who lived in ancient Greece does not make them outdated, in fact, it makes them even more remarkable.

As mentioned before, to teach sophism at school as just another philosophy does not give enough credit to these ideas. Instead, school as a system should be changed, perhaps abolished, in line with the realization that the Sophists made more sense than the doctrines on which many schools were founded. This should be more a change of heart than a systematical change. Sophistica argues that such a change is not only long overdue, it is immanent and inevitable. Even a conservative institution such as school should accept that nothing lasts forever, panta rei!




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