And I shall tell thee another thing. There is no substance of any of all the things that perish, nor any cessation for them of baneful death. They are only a mingling and interchange of what has been mingled. Substance is but a name given to these things by men. R. P. 165.
So wrote the fifth century B.C. Empedocles in the beautiful Sicilian city of Agrigentum.
Of all that “comes to be” or “perishes” there is really only a mingling of things and an unmingling of things.
Hydrogen and oxygen come together in different proportions and we cry out “Ahhh… water has been born!”
We throw a little party and make celebratory toasts.
And then you, through a process of electrolysis, separate the various components until not a drop of water is left but instead we have various containers of hydrogen and oxygen.
I cry out “Alas…woe…water is dead!”
But you say “No, no, no…you have no far reaching mind Langley, you fool!…there is no death here, but what you have observed is a mere separation of what was always actually there in the first place”
“There is only a mixture and a separation. But no substance perishes! There is no death of substance because there is no such thing as substance among the things that perish or come to be! All of the original substances are still intact but merely separated!”
And as I dry my tears you continue,
“It is as ridiculous to throw a party, and celebrate, when everlasting substances (such as oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus) come together to make a new human person- as it is to weep and cry and mourn and have a funeral when these substances separate.”
“After all….birth and death are nothing other than a mixing and un-mixing of things that never die!”
“Don’t get so emotional about things which are nothing other than mere geographical arrangements!”
Ahhh… Empedocles…thank you!
But they, when these have been mixed in a way suited to men or to the race of wild beasts or to bushes or birds of prey, say then that this has been born; and when these have been separated, they call it wretched death. They do not name these things rightly, but I also follow the custom. (Empedocles, DK 9)
Fools. For they have no far reaching minds who think that what before was not comes to be or that anything dies and is destroyed utterly in every way. (Empedocles, DK 11)