Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 23 – The Motion Of The Atoms Continues Without Resting Place, and At Great Speed

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Welcome to Episode Twenty-Three of Lucretius Today.

I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. Be aware that none of us are professional philosophers, and everyone here is a self-taught Epicurean. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book, “Epicurus and His Philosophy” by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.

Before we start, here are three ground rules.

First: Our aim is to bring you an accurate presentation of classical Epicurean philosophy as the ancient Epicureans understood it, which may or may not agree with what you here about Epicurus at other places today.

Second: We aren’t talking about Lucretius with the goal of promoting any modern political perspective. Epicurus must be understood on his own, and not in terms of competitive schools which may seem similar to Epicurus, but are fundamentally different and incompatible, such as Stoicism, Humanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, and Marxism.

Third: The essential base of Epicurean philosophy is a fundamental view of the nature of the universe. When you read the words of Lucretius you will find that Epicurus did not teach the pursuit of virtue or of luxury or of simple living as ends in themselves, but rather the pursuit of pleasure. From this perspective it is feeling which is the guide to life, and not supernatural gods, idealism, or virtue ethics. And as important as anything else, Epicurus taught that there is no life after death, and that any happiness we will ever have must come in THIS life, which is why it is so important not to waste time in confusion.

Now for today in this Episode 23, we continue in Book Two to discuss the atoms, with Charles reading the text:

Daniel Brown 1743 Edition:

But now, come on, remember you attend, while I explain by what motion the genial seeds of matter produce the various kinds of bodies, and dissolve them when produced, and by what force compelled they act, and what celerity of motion they possess to force their way through all the mighty void.

For certain it is that no seeds of matter stick close and unmoved among themselves; for we see every thing grows less, and perceive all things wear away by a long tract of time, and old age removes them quite from our sight. And yet the mass of things still remains safe and entire; and for this reason, because the particles of matter which fall off, lessen the bodies from which they fall, but add to those to which they join. There they force to decay; those, on the contrary, they increase: nor do they remain in this posture. And thus the universe of things is continually renewing; generations succeed one another, one kind of animal increases, another wastes away; and in a short time the living creation is entirely changed, and, like racers, delivers the lamp of life to those that are behind.

But if you think the seeds of things can be at rest, and, being themselves unmoved, can give motion to bodies, you wander wildly from the way of true reason. For since all the seeds of things are rambling through the void, they must necessarily be born along either by their own natural gravity, or by the outward stroke of something else; for then these seeds tending downward meet with others, they must all fly off, and rebound a different way, and no wonder, since they are hard bodies and of solid weight; nor is there any thing behind to stop the motion. But, that you may perceive more plainly how all the seeds of matter are tossed about, you must recollect that there is no such thing in the universe as the lowest place, where the first seeds may remain fixed, because I have shown fully, and proved by certain reason, that space is without end, without bounds immense, and lies extended every way.

This being plain, there can be no rest possibly allowed to these first seeds, forever wandering through the empty void; but being tossed about with constant and different motion, and striking against other bodies, some rebound to a great distance, others fly off, but not so far; such of them as rebound but for a small distance, their contexture being more close, and being hindered by their natural twinings, these compose the solid root of rocks, and the hard bodies of iron, and a few other things of the same nature; but such as wander widely through the void, and moved by the blow, fly further off, and rebound to greater distances; these compose the thin air, and the Sun’s bright light.

Besides, there are many seeds keep wandering through the void that are refused all union with other seeds, nor could ever be admitted to join their motion to anything else. An instance or representation of this, as I conceive, is always at hand, and visibly before our eyes. When the Sun’s light shoots its rays through a narrow chink into a darkened room, you shall see a thousand little atoms dance a thousand ways through the empty space, and mingle in the very rays of light, engaging, as it were, in endless war, drawing up their little troops, never taking breath, but meeting and exercising their hostile fury with constant blows. And hence you may collect in what manner the principles of things are tossed in this empty void; so small an instance will give you an example of these extraordinary motions, and open a way to your knowledge of greater events.

But here it is fit you should apply yourself more closely to observe these bodies which seem so disturbed in the Sun’s beams; for it appears by these disorders that there are certain secret principles of motion in the seeds themselves, though invisible to us, for some of these motes you will see struck by secret blows, and forced to change their course, sometimes driven back, and again returning, now this, now that, and every other way; and this variety of motion is certainly in the very seeds, for the principles of things first move of themselves, then compound bodies that are of the least size, and approach nearest, as it were, to the exility of the first seeds, are by them struck with blows unseen, and put into motion, and these again strike those that are something larger; so from first seeds all motion still goes on, til at length it becomes sensible to us; and thus we see how these motes that play in the Sun’s beams are moved, though the blows by which they are driven about do not so plainly appear to us.

And now, my Memmius, you may in brief, from the following instance, collect how rapid is the motion of the first seeds; for when the morning spreads the Earth with rising light, and sweet variety of birds frequent the woods, and fill each grove with most delightful notes through the soft air, every one perceives, and the thing we see is plain, how suddenly, and in a moment, the rising Sun covers the world and shines with instant light. But that vapour, that glittering ray, which the Sun sends forth, does not pass through mere empty space, and therefore is forced to move slower, as it has resisting air to part and divide as it goes; nor are the principles that compose this ray simple first seeds, but certain little globular bodies made up of these first seeds that pass through the air; and these first seeds being agitated by various motions, these little bodies which are formed of them are retarded by different motions within themselves, and are likewise hindered from without by other bodies, and so are obliged to move the slower.

But seeds that are solid and simple in their nature, when they pass through a pure void, having nothing to stop them from without, and being one, and uncompounded through all their parts, are carried at once, by an instant force, to the point to which they first set out. Such seeds much exceed the rays of the Sun in their motion, and be carried on with much more celerity; they must pierce through longer tracts of space in the same time in which the sunbeams pass through the air; for these seeds cannot agree together by design to move slowly, nor stop in the air to search into particulars, and be satisfied for what reason their several motions are thus carried on and disposed.