Epicureans, Stoics and the Code

In this Post: Even featuring the Tea Party!
The history of philosophy is constantly punctuated with battles between two practically orthogonal ways of thinking. A case of this philosophical dichotomy that was particularly well thought and well fought was that between the Epicureans and the Stoics. This ancient joust of ideas is quite pertinent today. Epicureanism, with its atomism, dualism and extreme nominalism, can be taken as a roughhewn template of the thinking of the modern sciences. Charles Sanders Peirce remarked on this opposition between the Epicureans and the Stoics and noted “Epicureanism was a doctrine extremely like that of John Stuart Mill.” In the twentieth century, English philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Peter Frederick Strawson took up the relay. Judging by the obituaries, Strawson would have to go down as a very successful Epicurean as he was noted for leading a remarkably pleasant and happy life in step with an equally pleasant style of philosophy

As for the Stoics, Peirce was scornfully dismissal. However, the author takes a different view and claims that the Stoic paradigm provides a template for a new science capable of unifying all of the disparate present day sciences. This is the way the Stoics themselves saw their doctrine, as a unifying holistic view of unifying all fields of thought from ethics, linguistics and physics through to logic.
Now it’s hard to find a philosophy more diametrically opposed to Epicureanism than Stoicism. Both philosophies might claim to be materialist and to admit a fundamental role for determinism. Both shares the view that the ultimate goal of philosophy is explain how to live happily. However, in the details and every other aspect, they are diametrically opposed. To one commentator the differences run so deep that the Epicureans, compared to the Socrates oriented side of humanity such as the Stoics, appear to be “different human types” (Kleve, 1983).

What fascinates the author is that it appears possible that these “two different human types” can even be medically induced. This may sound grotesque but by disabling one hemisphere of the brain, the resulting personality and competences of the viable hemisphere will either resemble a cocky tunnel vision, Epicurean for the left side, or a lofty, melancholic, globally aware but rather awkward Stoic for the right side. The disabling may be the result of a stroke but can nowadays be medically induced at will. Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, with twenty years of experience ranging from stroke victims to Schizophrenic patients, examines in depth this paradigmatic specialisation of the hemispheres in his book. He does not make the link to the Epicurean Stoic divide but does provide an in depth picture of the two radically different paradigms at play in the divided brain. He makes the claim that a similar paradigmatic divide has coursed through history of Western civilisation. Modern times have seen the increased dominance in human affairs of the left side hemisphere, the side that we ascribe to the Epicurean style paradigm.
McGilchrist suggests that knowledge of the specialisations of the divided brain can throw new insights into the philosophical arena and vice versa.

The different ontological status of the two hemispheres impinges on the meaning of all the philosophical terms that are used by us to understand the world, since both hemispheres think they understand them, but do so in different ways…

If there is this correspondence between the biological divided brain and the historic philosophical divide then it brings in a new kind of critique: These two philosophical paradigms are opened up to observational and experimental study in the clinic. McGilchrist describes many of what have become rather stereotypical differences between the hemispheres. However, he also emphasises one of the most dramatic difference between the hemisphere paradigms. Unlike the right side, the left side literally is conscious of only one half of its world, a phenomenon that McGilchrist calls hemi-neglect. It seems that the left hemisphere, the “Epicurean” side, is making do with a cut down view of the world, a half world even.

The Epicurean paradigm is not only observable in the biological brain, but also in the political brain where the left hemisphere dominant political stalwart advocates right wing politics and vice versa. In the political arena, the Epicureans are often thought of as apolitical. Perhaps a more succinct characterisation is that they are implacably against government interference and regulation in all its forms. A modern Epicurean would prefer market forces to the political. There would also be a visceral opposition to the Supreme Court taking an innovative and creative interpretation of the Constitution. The Constitution is a set of rules that should not be changed. The Epicurean paradigm is rule based, not system based. This paradigm is implacably for small government. R. W. Sharples remarks, “Epicureanism does seem to have about it something of the closed world of the religious sect.” (Sharples, 1996) In the limit, they can become like the current Tea Party in the US and its look alike phenomenon in Australia. The paradigm has broken loose and is out of control. It challenges the very legitimacy of the other hemisphere. It wants to completely shut the right hemisphere down. Who needs it?

One key feature of the Epicurean type paradigm is its denial of the existence of any dynamic regulatory system in its sphere of consciousness. It replaces the regulatory with a surrogate system in the form of a set of rules. For the Epicurean type paradigm, to every systemic action there is no countervailing reaction: There is only the rule that if you kick a rock it will hurt your toe.

On the biological brain front, McGilchrist remarks on the left hemisphere’s tendency to confabulate when confronted with its own ignorance and then add the fable as a valid rule although it may not be true. The off the cuff confabulation quickly becomes part of the left side paradigm’s theory of its world.

The Epicurean paradigm dominates present day sciences. This is particularly the case for mathematics. Every branch of formal mathematics is totally determined by its own set of axioms. Modern mathematics is totally rule driven. Epistemologically speaking, every branch of mathematics forms its own little Epicurean rule doting sect. This is a serious matter.

By understanding the Epicurean paradigm, its strong and weak points, and particularly what it lacks, one can get some understanding of the other paradigm that stands diametrically opposed to it. However, this is not a war zone no matter what some on the left hemisphere side might think. An essential component of the right side paradigm is a deep understanding of the role and importance of the left side paradigm.

Unlike the Epicurean like left side paradigm, the right side does not rely on static rules for the basis of its reasoning. The surrogate rule based system is replaced by the real thing, a dynamic reasoning system interacting and aware of a changing world. This comes at considerable cost. The overheads are high. In a slowly changing world, a snapshot rule system may be sufficient and free of the onerous overheads. This is the strategy of the left side paradigm. The problem the left side encounters is how to obtain updated rule systems. Healthy practice is to borrow from the right side. But there is a tendency to go it alone and not even change the rule set.

However, there may be more than pragmatic, performance considerations at play. The holistic right side view of reality might provide awareness of the whole situation, but this is ground, not figure. For many situations, figure may be more pressing than ground, provided it operates within the guidelines of the Master hemisphere, the right hemisphere. Every general needs a good lieutenant. This right hemisphere paradigm is a Stoicism type paradigm.

A brief summary of the Stoicism paradigm must take into account the central position occupied by their physics. Now, many people sympathetic to Stoicism often add in the disclaimer that, of course Stoic physics was all wrong and nothing to do with the science of our day. Such a comment is curious considering that the central tenant of Stoicism is that the only rational basis for ethics is that supplied by physics, ethics being a key aspect of the Stoic doctrine. If their physics is hopelessly awry, then their ethics and even their very reasoning must be in the same boat.
One recent writer, Lawrence C. Becker, makes this very apology. His literary strategy is to pose as the descendant of the Stoics that has had to make doctrinal accommodations with the present day sciences. He writes:

Modern science presented significant challenges to our metaphysical views, and during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we gradually abandoned our doctrine that the universe should be understood as a purposive, rational being…Natural science no longer gives grand teleological explanations. Thus we cannot plausibly propose to “follow” nature, as the ancient motto had it.(Becker, 1998)

The science of the ancient Stoics was naïve and erroneous. Modern science has come up with all the answers. The universe is not based on any life principle but, as “natural science” will have it, is just the ashy aftermath of a great dirty explosion. The end result is that, despite all of Becker’s the creativity of attempts to revamp a new Stoicism compatible with current science, he necessarily ends sliding into the Epicurean paradigm diametrically opposed to his original intention. Current science is atomistic, dualist and a philosophy espoused by Bertrand Russel, Peter F. Strawson, and so many others of modern times, the same position espoused by the ancient Epicureans.

As Becker well knows, the “doctrine that the universe should be understood as a purposive, rational being” is central to Stoicism. Throw it into the dustbin of history and Stoicism goes with it. Becker, or any of the moderns for that matter, has not even attempted a case against the ancient scientific doctrine. The only argument seems to be is that if it is ancient then it must be inferior to the science of us moderns. In those days, they did not even have internet shopping and motor cars. An alternative approach, and the one promoted here, is to resurrect the ancient science of antiquity and in particular the Stoic version.

The Stoics conceived a world free of anything or anybody behind the scene pulling the strings. There can be no outside organiser. This world is totally unconstrained. There are no pre-ordained rules. The only principle constraining the world is that it be totally unconstrained. Thus, the central principle is of a rational kind. The system is constrained by its own Logos. This principle applies to the cosmos, and equally to any being of the Cosmos.

It is important to note a key subtlety here that distinguishes the Stoic mode of thinking to that of Aristotle. The principle doesn’t apply to Everything as Everything is not a thing. It applies to Anything. The Stoics never proposed a TOE (Theory of Everything). Instead, they proposed a TOA (Theory of Anything). This subtlety rests on the difference between thinking abstractly and thinking generically. The Stoics were not abstract thinkers like so most other thinkers. They were not generalists, they were generic thinkers, they were generitists.

One modern way of describing the principle of such a system is that it is bound by the iron laws of First Classness (FC), a term borrowed from Computer Science. FC is a fiendishly difficult concept to formalise and even more difficult to make iron like. Many examples of FC abound in Computer Science but won’t be mentioned here. Remember though that asking your local guru on the matter will only result in a partial answer. The only thing we will say about FC is that it leads to the common perception that developing systems that do not violate FC is considered Good. Whenever a software developer violates the principle in his work, he knows deep down that he is committing a sin which one day will come back to haunt him. Thus, in the field of software development, the FC concept provides a moral compass to software engineers. It is perhaps, the only moral compass.

Returning to the Stoics, a basic expression of FC in Stoic physics is that the property of an entity must be considered an entity in its own right. If this were not the case, an entity would be ontologically more important than its property, or perhaps vice versa. FC demands a dictator free zone: no one definitively calls the tune.

Now Becker argue as that in the centuries following the Renaissance the advancement of science put Stoicism on the defensive. This is certainly the case in the emergence of classical physics. Classical physics violates the Stoic FC requirement concerning entities and their properties. Classical physics opted for Second Classness constituted of two modes of being, particles and force fields between particles. The force fields were not particles in their own right but a kind of something else. Stoic physics was dead in the water. Physics had become an Epicurean atomistic, dualism.

But then, in the twentieth century came the rise of quantum mechanics. The tables were turned. There were no force fields, just particles. The forces between particles could be explained by an exchange of other particles called gauge bosons, particles in their own right. The movement back towards the original Stoic FC doctrine had started. However, quantum mechanics is still only an empirical “suck it and see” science. None of its findings can be derived from first principles. The source of any such principles of course can only be from the dictates of FC, a slippery beast but not an impossible one.

FC is a principle and has no explicit structure. However, structure, a certain kind of structure, is necessary in order not to violate FC. Some of the ancients knew this going right back to Empedocles. A reverse engineered version of the reasoning will appear in a book I am writing, but we all know what it looked like. Empedocles called them the four Roots. Others have called them the four Letters. The Stoics saw it as the theory of the four Elements. In my book, I argue that the four Letters can be interpreted as a unifying science that includes the four-lettered genetic code as a special case. I call it the God Code.

That any entity in reality can be coded by a four letter, generic code has stupendous implications. That every cell of an organism must contain a copy of the same code for the whole organism is incredible enough. What is even more stupendous is that that this genetic code should be more generic than just for the animate, applying right across the board, applying to anything. None of this would have surprised the Stoics. This was the way too that they saw the world. Present day traditional sciences might be devoid of any “grand teleological explanations” as Becker states, however things will be different for the resurgent new unifying science based on the ancient Stoic doctrine.

The naivety of the theory of the four Elements lies more in the naivety of the eyes of the modern beholder than in the ancient theory. The naivety of modern science lies in its belief that the only source of scientific knowledge is because of empirical measurement. This naturally leads to a dualistic way of seeing the world: The world is populated by material entities, which possess sensual properties. The sensual properties are not material and are not even entities. This is a valid and useful way of conceiving the world. It is particularly useful as it is free of any costly overheads that may come with a more elaborate conceptual schema. All that really matters are the data. However, it is not the only way, and certainly not the most fundamental way of conceiving the world.

The empirical view of the world violates FC because of its dualism between entity and property. Ignoring attempts by quantum mechanics to buck the trend, modern science is based on Second Classness.
This acceptance of a Second Classness view of the world can be traced back to Aristotle. Aristotle interpreted the four Elements of antiquity in a way that would be somewhat similar to the moderns. The four elements were the elementary constituents of matter. Matter was a simple mixture of these four elements.

Aristotle retained some of the ancient form of reasoning in terms of oppositions, but otherwise his approach resembled the moderns. For him each of the Elements possessed particular, plain and ordinary properties. Thus, according to Aristotle:

  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.
  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.

The Elements were material their properties were not. Aristotle’s system was definitely incompatible with FC. The science of the moderns replaces the four Elements with a much more extensive list with more elaborate properties. However, the underling acceptance of the Second Classness paradigm accords with Aristotle is the same. In this sense, modern science can take its lineage, right back to Aristotle.
This is not the case with the Stoics. They rejected Aristotle’s perspective and returned to the paradigm of the pre-Socratic. They refined it and made it their own. Unlike Aristotle, the Stoic embraced a worldview, which did not violate FC.

Figure 21 (a) Aristotle’s four material Elements had properties which were immaterial and hence violate First Classness. (b) The Stoic system must be based on First Classness where anything must be body, including attributes.

First Classness cannot be built out of empirical attributes. Attributes in a system satisfying FC must be arrived at, not by measurement or by the senses, but via reason. The age-old solution to this problem, across many cultures and civilisations has been in the form of gender. Entities in a First Class reality are not typed by perceived qualities they are gendered. Gender is not a perceivable quality. To understand FC, a deep, fundamental understanding of ontological gender is required. Ontologically gendered entities provide the building blocks for any living being.

A detailed, advanced explanation of ontological gender can be found in a later section of this work. It is a prodigiously deep and fecund construct: There is nothing more fecund than the interplay of the genders. For the moment, it suffices to know, as mentioned previously, that a purely feminine entity would be one that has the attribute of being absolutely devoid of specificity. The purely masculine entity is that attribute. Two entities and only one attribute in play: one has it, the other is it.

Which comes first, the masculine or the feminine? The four Elements provide the answer in terms of FC. Nobody comes first or can come first in a system respecting FC. There are no winners. For that matter, there are also no losers. The first step of solving this riddle is to replace Aristotle’s definitions of the four Elements by a system based on gender, as follows:

  • Water is primarily M and secondarily F.
  • Earth is primarily F and secondarily F.
  • Air is primarily F and secondarily M.
  • Fire is primarily M and secondarily M.

Another way of expressing is by using the as functor:

  • Water is primarily M masquerading as F.
  • Earth is primarily F masquerading as F.
  • Air is primarily F masquerading as M.
  • Fire is primarily M masquerading as M.

This might sound obtuse however; one should remember that this is not abstract thinking. In fact, those with even an elementary knowledge of computer languages should find the concept familiar. The following sidenote explains one link and is well worth reading for anyone wanting to understand gender and delve into the unconscious misogynous behaviour of early computer scientists.

The first scientific programming language, developed in the 1950’s was called FORTRAN. A fundamental aspect of all programming languages is the typing of the objects of programation. What is of interest to us is typing by gender. Is there any sign of a gender typing in FORTRAN? The answer is in the affirmative, but only one gender is apparent, a rather de-sexed and emasculated masculine gender. For example, the programmer want to write a formula that uses the variables speed, time and distance. These variables will have human readable names that ultimately refer to places in the computer memory where the variable values can be stored and read from. The attributes of these memory locations can be thought of as the values of the variables. These are the only entities that FORTRAN allows direct program access to: These are the entities of “masculine” gender. The language does not allow programs to directly manage the memory of the computer. The language does not allow program control of where and how the “feminine” gendered placeholders are managed. This meant that the FORTRAN language was infertile: It is impossible to write a native FORTRAN compiler in the language FORTRAN. For a long time the only way to write language compilers was to use a lower level programming language close to machine language. Eventually came programming languages like C and C++. These languages combined high level FORTRAN type computational competence with high level constructs capable of directly managing the computer resource itself.

The typing technique was astoundingly simple. Firstly, we ignore the usual traditional typing for numbers and characters, these are the hard coded types and, from a gender perspective, not fundamental. They essentially reek of Second Classness. What is interesting from a gender perspective is a radically different type called void. In principle, an entity with the type void can be a value of any kind whatsoever. This is a non-trivial case of the implementation of a “masculine” value type. In addition to the void type, there is a second type which has no name and no direct implementation but is written, in combination with other types, as simply a * wildcard symbol. An entity with this type is not a value, but a pointer. An entity of this type is not a value but can potentially have a value by pointing to it. This provides a concrete illustrative example of a feminine entity.

The C and C++ languages implement a limited form of compound gender typing. For example the mixed gender MF type would be written as void* and is commonly used. It corresponds to a pointer to a value of unknown type. The type void*** corresponds to a pointer to a pointer to pointer to a value of unknown type.

Armed with this apparatus, it is possible for a C or C++ compiler to be written in itself, and thus reproduce native versions of itself, something that early FORTRAN could never do.

Typing in present day computer languages is a long way away from a true gender typing system that the Stoics would claim, could implement a living organism, big or small. The Stoics were very sketchy on the details of such a scheme but they had a firm understanding of many of the key concepts. Thus, what are some of the broad characteristics of this gender based cosmic algebra based on the four Elements. All of these characteristics can be explained in terms of the overarching FC requirement. This has led the Stoics to make some claims that appear to be quite outlandish.

Outlandish Claims not so Outlandish

The first outlandish claim was that not only are all entities bodies, but their properties are also corporal bodies. Our discussion above indicates that such a claim is quite reasonable and even necessary it FC is not to be violated. This notion start to become much more formalised when we realise that the very algebra of the system is built from entities where the entity and attribute are indistinguishably intertwined, as spelt out in the algebra of gender.

A second seemingly outlandish claim of the Stoics is that actions are also corporal. Some commentators, and even some Stoics, have taken this to literally mean that the very act of sitting on a chair is a corporal material body. The mind boggles. It is becoming very clear that a science based FC, as demanded by the Stoics, will be radically different to present day sciences that bathe in Second Classness. It demands a different way of conceiving reality and an equally different way of describing it.

In order not to violate FC, we saw that the property of a material body had to be a material body in its own right. The fundamental mechanism for achieving this FC requirement was the by gender typing. This leads to the four Roots of Empedocles, each Root being typed by one of the four binary combinations of mixed gender. From a linguistic perspective, each Letter can be considered as combining the entity and property, noun and adjective, in the same body. Each Root articulates one way to resolve the dichotomy between entity and its attribute, noun and its adjective. There are four ways of resolving the dichotomy. This elementary structure in itself is not sufficient to achieve FC; however, the structure is absolutely necessary. There is no way of bypassing the Four. The only root to it all is the Four Root system of antiquity, the necessary but not sufficient structure that respects FC.

This may seem all very strange to the reader, perhaps even incomprehensible. One way of understanding it, rather than trying to construct the universe parting from the four Elements, is to think in terms of constructing a language to describe and explain the universe. To be more precise, we want a language that can describe a whole living entity, any living entity, any entity that must rely on itself to maintain the integrity of self. No one is behind the scenes pulling the strings. The responsibility of being in existence is the ultimate responsibility of the being itself. According to the Stoics, the universe is one example of such an entity. Us humans and all other life forms are also a part of the mix. The underlying organisational principle for such entities is FC. We claim that this is also how the underlying unifying paradigm of Stoic thought. The Stoics were FC thinkers.
As an outcome of modern biochemical research, we now know that there does actually exist a common, universal organisational language for all life forms and, indeed, the language is based on an alphabet of four letters. This is the genetic code. We have already staked the claim that the genetic code is a generic code and hides an underlying gender based structure. We made the association between the four letters A, U, G, and C of the genetic code and the gender coding MF, FF, FM and MM respectively.

From a left side science perspective, the genetic code seems to be little more than a transcription language mapping sequences of letters in the DNA to amino acid building blocks of protein. Not all sequences code protein, coding for some other functionalities little understood. This is the typical left side science view of language, any language. Left side linguistics is intrinsically rule based. It models a language in terms of rules of syntax with and additional set of rules for modelling semantics, usually not much more than mapping rules for a lexicon. The approach reveals non-trivial syntactic structure for highly analytic natural languages like English. However, for the more synthetic natural languages like the Dravidian languages of Southern India and the Basque language in Europe, the pickings are more meagre. When it comes to the most synthetic language of them all the genetic code, the biological instance of the generic code, the approach produces only the most trivial transcription rules.

A basic tenant of the work reported here is that right side science, that missing universal unifying science, is based on a unique equally universal generic language. The genetic code is a biological instance of this language. This language is extremely widespread. The generic cum genetic description of all living creatures is expressed in this language, without exception. For multi-celled animals, the code is replicated in every cell of the animal. The principle underlying this code is the requirement of FC. According to the Stoics, the living world does not stop with biological. It continues to all aspects and all scales including the universe itself, which is considered a living entity in its own right. A world split down the middle between living stuff and dead stuff creates a dualism. The principle of FC rejects any such dualism. The existential preoccupations of the universe are not different, in principle, to any other autonomous, self-sustaining entity.

Thus, one code codes all biological life forms: That is well demonstrated by empirical science. Ancient thinkers like the Stoics declared simply that there is no restriction to the scope of language of the four Letters. This is not a problem-oriented code. It is generic. The code is capable of coding anything. According to the Stoics, only bodies exists. Any particular body is made up of the four elements. Any such body can be described, generically specified by the four letter generic code.

Returning now to the Stoics and their mind-boggling claim that actions are bodies. In making this declaration, they had no choice: FC obliges. From the perspective of traditional left side science, this claim appears ridiculous. Left side science simply sees a world of entities, which can and do act on one another. The entities are material but the acts are not. From a right side science perspective, that of the Stoics, FC demands that the acts are bodies in their own right.

A world of bodies where the properties of bodies are bodies and the acts of bodies are themselves bodies demands a language that speaks uniquely in terms of bodies. In such a language, the nouns can also serve as adjectives and also as verbs. An example of such a language is the genetic code. Such a language will be truly polysynthetic. Detailed discussion of the polysynthetic nature of the genetic cum generic code will be covered in a later section. It is by understanding this language that one starts to understand the truly revolutionary nature of right side science. The Stoics entertained an embryonic form of the science. After two millennia, it is now time to deliver.


Zeno began by asserting the existence of the real world. “What do you mean by real?”
asked the Sceptic. “I mean solid and material.
I mean that this table is solid matter.” “And God,”
said the Sceptic, “and the soul? Are they solid matter?”
“Perfectly solid,” says Zeno; “more solid, if anything,
than the table.” “And virtue or justice or the Rule of Three;
also solid matter?” “Of course,” said Zeno; “quite solid.”

(Murray, 2007)

The Stoics certainly were not adverse to making apparently outlandish claims. Finally, their most outlandish of all is the claim that Virtue was a material body. Virtue is the keystone of Stoic philosophy and the basis of their ethics. To the Stoic, the purpose of life is to live according to Nature. The key qualification of nature is Virtue. Thus, to live according to nature is to live virtuously, just as Nature does.

Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial