This article was last modified on October 12, 2010.

Prodding the Materialist: A Dialogue Between Antiphon and Lucretius

On a rainy day outside of Athens, two wandering philosophers duck into a gazebo and begin a chat that they had attempted to start many times before… again, they find them selves at odds over many of life’s most puzzling questions.

Lucretius: Antiphon, I have journeyed far and it is good to rest my eyes on you again!

Antiphon: Is it me you miss, Lucretius? Or my BODY?

Lucretius: Both, and not for the same reason.

Antiphon: (laughs) I am sure.

Lucretius: Of course, as a materialist, I can see you as merely a physical body and nothing more. It is mostly your inner self I care for, though.

Antiphon: I give you thanks, that makes me feel less slaggy.

Lucretius: You may have the finest body in all of Athens, but flesh is a pound for a pound…. the expressions we call “minds” are unique.

Antiphon: Indeed, minds ARE unique and wired for success.

Lucretius: Are so-called “minds” wired for success? Some perhaps.

Antiphon: Do you feel like: a) you are part of the world physically b) you are not part of the world physically c) your experiences belong to you d) your experiences do not belong to you e) your experiences SHOULD belong to you but something puts a block on it, whether it be a negative spiritual angel or your OWN self…

Lucretius: Egads, that’s a huge question. A and D.

Antiphon: Zounds, that is an interesting answer.

Lucretius: How so?

Antiphon: You already established you are part of the world physically, yet you don’t feel like yourself

Lucretius: I don’t think that’s what I said.

Antiphon: Your experiences do not belong to you.

Lucretius: Not in any real sense, no.

Antiphon: So does that not mean you don’t feel like yourself? Or does it mean something else?

Lucretius: I think it means something else.

Antiphon: Explain, please.

Lucretius: Well, I’ll try, but you gave me a limited framework to begin with.

Antiphon: I am going to make a cup of coffee, but will keep my ears open, so take your time.

Lucretius: Suppose you have a very nice rock, roughly the size of a baseball. And due to the wind, or some other interaction, the rock is hurled off a cliff into the sea. Now, that rock is a part of the physical world. But I would not think it would be correct to say the things that happen to that rock are a part of that rock. Yet, the rock must “feel” like itself, as much as a rock is capable of doing so — it is, after all, a rock, and can “feel” like nothing else. I am much the same. I do not so much believe I own my experiences as I believe that experiences happen to me, and I am a passive rather than active participant. Yet, I feel as much like myself as I could hope to feel.

Antiphon: It seems I have oatmeal and not coffee, but oh, I see. So who owns your experiences if you don’t, and who ‘throws’ them at you?

Lucretius: I don’t believe they have an owner. And the thrower? Fate, I suppose.

Antiphon: From your analogy with the rock, it didn’t hurl itself downwards and did not fall, so there has to be a thrower. Can fate throw anything if it is an end result, not a beginning?

Lucretius: Well, okay, maybe” fate” is not accurate. Maybe fate is the overall process. Just as the rock has something acting upon it, so would I, depending on what the situation is.

Antiphon: But what is IT? What is that SOMETHING, I mean?

Lucretius: It would vary from situation to situation — the rock may be acted on by gravity, or rain, or a mischievous child. Innumerable things affect the body at each passing moment.

Antiphon: But… is the child like the rock, just passive? And the rain, just passive? Doesn’t something have to be active? And are you exclusively passive? Or all other people?

Lucretius: I think every and all things are passive, with no need for any known active force.

Antiphon: It doesn’t make sense that we are all passive if there is no active force anywhere in the universe.

Lucretius: I hold it to be possible that at one time there was an active thing, but it seems just as logical that there never was. It’s really not knowable either way.

Antiphon: Interesting; how is it logical that there never was? I am maybe missing something.

Lucretius: Well, suppose that we have an active thing that instigated all the passive things. Then, of course, the next question is to ask where this thing came from. So, either we have some thing that came from nothing, or an infinite chain of actions that are really passive. They’re both fairly nonsensical and either is just as likely.

Antiphon: (laughs) I like that. So we have two possible beginnings which are both nonsensical. Unless…

Lucretius: Unless?

Antiphon: Unless “nothing” was created by that driving thing, which is much more logical.

Lucretius: How so?

Antiphon: We cannot even create matter out of “nothing”, so how is it most logical that a driving active force came from “nothing”?

Lucretius: It’s not. But then where did it come from?

Antiphon: (laughs) Beyond linear time and space, so it was everywhere all the time. And I think “nothing” was created as one of its opposites.

Lucretius: I do not find that very plausible, but either way, as I said, it’s not provable, and therefore just as likely as any other option.

Antiphon: That is true, very true. Our minds are very inflexible as well (maybe not that wired for success).

Lucretius: Agreed.

Antiphon: Because we can only conceive of ideas behind inconceivable ideas.

Lucretius: Yes. I recently read an analogy that I think is brilliant.

Antiphon: Try it out on me.

Lucretius: Imagine the brain/mind of a rat, and the thoughts it is capable of.

Antiphon: I am.

Lucretius: Now imagine the brain/mind of a human and the thoughts it is capable of.

Antiphon: I love the human essence, but rats are good pets. Carry on.

Lucretius: Yes, very much. The point is this: the rat likely thinks there is nothing of the world beyond what it is capable of knowing.

Antiphon: But don’t we think the opposite? That there is much we don’t and can’t know?

Lucretius: Some think this, some do not. But the analogy suggests that it is quite possible that a mind that has not yet evolved has an even better grasp than we do, so we should not be so egoistic. I admit you are better than most at being open to possibility.

Antiphon: Are you sure? I feel like I’m a closed sock-drawer, but not by choice.

Lucretius: I don’t think so.

Antiphon: So, to the rats! Since they think they know all there is to know, they are better at being content? Is that the point?

Lucretius: I work very analytically, very logically, but that is simply Euclid working in a non-Euclidean world.

Antiphon: What/who is Euclid?

Lucretius: That was not the point, but probably true. Euclid was the inventor of geometry.

Antiphon: (laugh) I am not getting the TRUE point. (laughs) Who says we live in a non-euclidean world?

Lucretius: Mathematicians.

Antiphon: Okay, maybe we should save that conversation for another rainy day… because my brain on math will take a while.

Lucretius: Okay.

Antiphon: So, tell me the true point about the rats. I didn’t fully understand what you meant. How do they have a better grasp?

Lucretius: They don’t. You understood the point fine: there is (possibly) more to this world than Horatio can dream up in his philosophy.

Antiphon: Oh, so it could have been explained without rats.

Lucretius: Yes, but we are to rats as the truth is to us.

Antiphon: Oh. Then… what is the point of logic as a ruling force in this world?

Lucretius: It is simply the best tool we have. In comparison, sight may not hold all the answers to the world — but it will teach us more to see than to not see.

Antiphon: But since the infusion of logic as a ruling world-force, we now turn our blinders on as it is the only answer when coming to illogical outcomes. So maybe logic is here to teach us that there comes a point when the illogical may rule (the world)!

Lucretius: I don’t know if there’s ever a point where illogic could rule the world. Logic is sort of a fundamental principle — all of nature uses it, but some things understand on a deeper level. It’s possible we may someday develop a more advanced logic, but it would not make the old logic false, as the mathematics will not change — all reality, after all, is merely mathematics translated into sensory material.

Also try another article under Philosophical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

One Response to “Prodding the Materialist: A Dialogue Between Antiphon and Lucretius”

  1. Antiphon Fraulein Says:

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