Entropy and Time. And our alchemical First Matter. The charming thought of Pherecydes, Pythagora’s reported teacher, about Time not as a mere destroyer.
Since Aristotle, the concept of Arrow of Time has always been present among scientists and philosophers. Only recently the idea of a time’s flowing direction reverse has been taken into consideration in the Multiverse theory. But for an alchemist is not enough, since, at least for the most visionary of us, Time might be our First matter.
A greek thinker whose legendary life is lost in the great antiquity, Pherecydes of Syros, has left some interesting and inspirational fragments on the subject.
Reports on the life of Pherecydes of Syros, not to be confused with homonymous Pherecydes of Athens and Leros ( though many ancient authors did not distinguish) make him to be born in Syros, an island of the Cyclades, close to Delos, and to have reached the “acme” of his life (apparently 40 years old) during the 45th olympic games (600-597 b.C.) . He is considered the link between mythological tales and the pre-Socratic thought. In my article on Anaximander (1) I mentioned the uttermost contribution of pre-socratic thinkers to hermetic symbolism formation. As I hold Pherecydes fragments to contain interesting clues on more than one symbolic meaning, I will dedicate to him more than a single post. This is the first.
Although Pherecydes is considered one of the seven Greek wises remembered by Diogenes Laertius, he is inexplicably quite unknown today. Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives wrote of Pherecydes being a Theologus (theologian), but his fragments concern heroic myths and genealogies. In sixth century b.C. he composed “Heptamychia”, which is considered to be one of the first works of Greek literature in prose. We know him mostly for two reasons: for having had the greatest significance in teaching on the subject of metempsychosis ( in fact he was the first mediterranean thinker to do. Cicero and Augustine assert that he was the first to teach the immortality of the soul).
The second reason was because one of his disciples was reportedly Pythagoras. This tradition was handed down from other ancient, but not contemporary, authors. Ex: DIODOR. X 3, 4 [Aristosseno: see chap. 14, 8] “Pythagoras, having learned that Pherecydes, his teacher, was sick at Delos and was dying, sailed from Italy to Delos. There he took care of the old man for some time and lavished every care to save him from the disease. But Pherecydes was won by his old age and severity of the disease and Pythagoras buried him with all diligence, and after having honored the rule that a son gives to his father, he returned to Italy”.
Over and above Pythagoras, Pherecydes had many disciples. While he said of himself to have been a self-taught researcher and to have found some hidden phoenician books. He was also the founder of a Orphic community.
“Heptamychia” (but we will see in coming posts that it took also other names and why) is now a lost work. Anyway some fragments were retaken by other writers. Some of these fragments ( but especially one) of this lost writing tell us of Time-Chronos as we have never read. Years after Pherecydes death, his idea of time will be put into question and then rejected by other Greek philosophers who relegated the time between “things caused”. But what if Time is causing and not caused? Today we recognize the Pherecydes conception of the first time as an entity with its own peculiarities and different from the eternal time typical of the mythological period. But this is restrictive, as we will see. Before reading Pherecydes fragments with new eyes, we will skip all philosophers thoughts of the last two thousands years to get to a brief summarize of the current Time conception, since Pherecydes of Syros words seems much more comprehensible through the modern scientific theories.
Anyone who carefully analyze objects and living beings can realize that everything that exists tends, over time, to change its shape, structure, albeit slowly, and therefore appearance. And in most cases, more or less slowly, dissolves in its simplest components. The main cause is due to the fact that all the particles that make up all things try to break free from the subatomic bonds which hold each other in a peculiar form at a given moment, not only to form things and living beings, but also to keep as long as possible the same state and appearance.
So the particles, that make us and things, try, with some force, to break these invisible cords that hold them together. Why materials do tend to break down, you have not yet understood. This is called entropy and is unstoppable and inherent in all things in the universe, and therefore the whole cosmos is subject to the action of entropy. So, the universe will tend toward maximum disorder and thermic death. But when this happens, will the time end up flowing? How is the correlation between entropy and the flowing of time? is time to cause our aging or entropy? Because in reality is entropy to destroys us.
In 1974, the british researcher Brandon Carter drew a clear distinction between weak and strong entropic principles. Years later, the two principles were better delineated in all their postulates respectively by John Barrow and Frank Tipler. Reports on the second law of thermodynamics, further emphasized the apparent dichotomy linked to natural phenomena: they appear reversible over time at elementary particles level, while in the macroscopic scale do show a striking irreversibility. This aspect attracted the attention of many physicists and mathematicians, who tried to find the precise boundary between the micro and macrocosm where begins the temporal irreversibility of physical phenomena.
Because of the evanescent aspect, in many civilizations Time rose to divinity. In some cultures was often imagined as a powerful deity able to slowly change everything that exists. And in the meanwhile it also became a “scientific” entity to be studied, since with its flow was able to modify the habitat and living beings.
In almost all ancient mythologies, Time is usually equated to a flow of life often represented by the water’s flow. Ancient Greeks imagined that Earth was disc shaped and surrounded by a river, Ocean, which had neither beginning nor end. Its waters flowed perpetually. Homer described the river Ocean as source and origin of all the gods, and therefore also generating Time. With the name Kronos is called the time of profane experiences, while the aspect of the time referred to religious experiences and abstractions was called Kairos.