Being: A Bold Idea from Metaphysics



Defne Doken, Staff Writer

Take a moment to clear your mind. As a busy high school student, you are most likely hyper-focused on the next deadline or assignment. Is your mind cleared yet? There is nothing in your mind, right? Or is there still something? What is nothing? What is something? What is the true nature of the world around us? 

Modern science tells us the obvious: everything is made of atoms. Yet, how can you know that your perception of the world is telling the truth? All of it is filtered through the human senses. Technically, colors do not exist in the real world, that is, outside of our brains. Color is an illusion of the mind as a reaction to light interacting with our eyes. Is this the case with everything we have observed thus far? Parmenides, an ancient Greek philosopher from the Pre-Socratic era, thought exactly this.

Parmenides is considered the father of metaphysics and rightfully so. His ideas are profoundly complex and thought-provoking even to this day. Parmenides questioned the very logic we use to examine the world around us. Most importantly, he deduces that “What is not” or what we know better as “nothing” cannot exist.

According to Parmenides, since you cannot describe “What is not,” it is irrational and thus does not exist. Think about it this way: imagine nothing. Whether you think of empty air or darkness, there’s always something there. Using this postulate, we can make other deductions and will eventually journey to the core of Parmenides’s belief: the facade of change.

Parmenides’ ideas can roughly be translated into the following: since “what-is-not” does not exist, if something were to change, its old form must enter “what-is-not.” However, since “what-is-not” does not exist, nothing could change because it would have to enter the realm of “what-is-not.” Thus, the past and the future also do not exist because what-is-no-longer and what-will-be are forms of what-is-not, which is irrational. You cannot make such statements without implicitly referring to the non-existent nothing. Thus, everything is one and can never be anything else. The universe is a single, unchanging whole. It is finite. According to Parmenides, this unchanging equal whole is called “Being.” Parmenides theorizes the world is simply our own perception and nothing actually moves or changes; the separation of the “Being” is a facade of our minds. Everything is made out of Being, which is a combined whole. Our minds separate Being into substances (trees, water), yet these categories don’t truly exist.

What exactly is the point of this revelation? In all the current rush of end of year stress and AP exams, Radnor students most likely aren’t spending their time wondering about the nature of reality. It’s not like Parmenides had to deal with APs. However, whether you agree or not, Parmenides’s ideas are fascinating because they seek to disprove the very foundation of thought that we rely on in day-to-day life. The most important point to take from this article would be that this idea is bizarre, yet it cannot be disproven. Indeed, there is no way to disprove something that you cannot observe. How can you know what is outside of your own senses? “Being” only exists in its truest form outside of our perception. “Being” is unreachable. Of course, using philosophical razors, we can conclude Parmenides’s idea to be unlikely. Yet, he succeeds in making us question the nature of reality. Just because the theory of “Being” is unlikely, doesn’t mean it’s untrue.