Saturday, September 25, 2010

Just One Sentence

I love the unexpected details that I discover in reading, in this case Margaret Visser's book on gratitude, which tells me, in one of her many interesting digressions, about Anaximander of Miletus, considered the father of cosmology, the "art of picturing the universe as a whole."

The old guy gave the first explanation, as far as we know, of why the cosmos both changes and continues; he saw the continuance of the world as a vicious cycle of justice responding to injustice.

This pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who died in the 6th cent. B.C., wrote On the Nature of Things. The really fascinating thing is that only one sentence from that book has come down to us. But that one sentence seems to be enough.

Here it is, that single sentence: "all things come into being and pass away in accordance with Necessity; for they make reparation to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time."

Not bad as a contribution to the ages, but I can't help but think of all the other philosophers whose work has been entirely lost. What happens to their ideas? And what fragments of other ancient texts are there floating around tantalizingly, hinting at unknown universes of thought?

And I wonder what sentences of mine, or of my favorite authors, I would choose to survive into future millenia. If I had to choose just one sentence, what on earth would it be? Anaximander seems to have been lucky: his single sentence has given him immortality and plenty of material for philosophers to speculate about. Most of us would probably be less fortunate: either all that we've written would be annihilated, or some trivial comment about pop music or TV would survive.

And beyond that, beyond words and ideas, what part of me will survive indefinitely--on earth?

If nothing survives, since I am childless, does it matter? Isn't it my destiny to transcend this terrestrial globe?

One question only produces more questions, which are often more valuable than answers anyway.

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