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Can You Step into the Same River Twice

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Heraclitus first used the saying “you can never step into the same river twice” in around 500 B. C. to illustrate his theory of flux and that the world was always in change, and that nothing is a constant. The saying states that although the river may always be called the same thing, and always be seen as one object by people it is in fact always changing and the water within the river is always different. Through this he attempts to explain to people how everything in the universe is changing even if we view it as a constant object.

Although this theory appears to be one of constant chaos and change it is actually one of underlying unity and singularity, it simply explains that the ‘knowledge’ which we believe we obtain from our senses is in fact incorrect as these should lead us to believe that the river is always a different one however the truth is that it is always the same one. Heraclitus’ pupil went even further and claimed that you could never step into the same river even once as it is always changing around you and isn’t the same for an instant.

There are two potential types of change in the universe: Passive change where things around you are changing and active change where you are changing yourself. It was the combination of these two ideas of change, which leads to the conclusions of Heraclitus’ theory of Flux. Something can be the biggest at one time however if something bigger is introduced it is no longer the biggest, it could even become the smallest if the things smaller than it are removed to. This form of change without the object itself changing means that anything can change at any time even if it appears never to change depending on what you relate it to.

This backs up Heraclitus’ theory of Flux, as it appears that anything can change because it depends upon what you relate it to. A problem with this idea of passive change is that whatever you compare it to the object in question does not change at all; only the words used to describe it and so many people would say that this couldn’t be regarded as real change. The other way in which the theory of Flux works is through active change. Through active change the theory works as nothing stays exactly the same forever and so it can always be said to be slowly changing from one state to another.

The problem with this line of argument is that whilst things do change from one state or form to another eventually this does not mean that they are constantly changing and so things can be exactly the same for some time. One advantage of this theory which can be thought of from a more modern scientific view is that in anything there are electrons within the atoms making it up which are constantly moving and so the object is in fact in a constant state of change along with the atoms vibrating. A continuation of Heraclitus’ theory is that all ‘knowledge’ obtained from our senses is entirely user relative.

This is demonstrated through the saying “The path up and the path down is one and the same”. This describes how our senses can fool us and whilst we believe that a path is either the path down or the path up, it is in fact all the same path and is one thing. This is a very simplified version of how our senses can tell us one thing whilst the reality is something different, and of how one thing can appear to be two different things depending upon how it is viewed, Heraclitus regarded this as another form of change.

From Heraclitus’ theory he may be suggesting that true knowledge comes from our mind rather than our senses as although a river changes the water within it, as is the definition of a river, and a path appears differently depending on from where one views it our mind tells us that they are the same thing and that the river is always the same river no matter what specific body of water makes it up. In conclusion if the theory of Flux is taken to be true the question of whether it is possible to step in to the same river twice comes down to what defines a river.

If it is the water within it then it is impossible to step into the same river twice, but if the definition is instead the course taken by the river, its path and its history of paths, then it is possible. This agrees with the idea that true knowledge of something needs thought and reflection upon the data taken from the senses as if the senses were used directly only then the river would obviously be always changing.

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