RE: SETI-L: Lucretius & Psionic ET Machines

Clements, Robert (
Tue, 21 Sep 1999 11:48:16 +1000

Scientifically, probably not (although this rather depends on how Popperian
your definition of science); but in every other Turing test: almost
certainly yes.

Although the absence of source materials make overspeculation tempting (one
of our best sources on these thinkers is Sextus Empiricus; who postdates
them by 500yrs; & who's whole agenda is to prove that they're a pack of
dingdongs anyway...), the preSocratic tradition in thought certainly _seems_
to have mixed observation, analogy & reasoning in a particularly appealing
manner. It's obviously appealing - & probably not completely inaccurate - to
call it protoscientific; but i'd rather that it was treasured for is own
sake rather than simply for its apparent echos of a very different future.

One of the most best egs i can think of to explain the process is Thales's
famous demonstration of his hypothesis (as we would put it) that all matter
is - in some way - living.

Thales's base assumption was that the presence of life was demonstrated by
movement (a popular Greek thought; & by no means implausible in itself; but
-as we now know - hardly a complete analysis of the situation); & he based
his demonstration on the a counterargument was that nothing is more dead
than a rock (also a perfectly reasonable basis for discussion); but common
observation showed that magnetised loadstone (undoubtably a rock; &
therefore apparently dead) could cause iron filings (equally Norweigen Blue
in Thales's argument) to move... therefore one or both of these sublimely
dead materials must be - @ least in some minute sense - living.

However wrong Thales's actual conclusions were, this is - @ least - a
quasiscientific intellectual process; & Thales demonstration that the
universe is full of life (not the SETI sense, in this context) is the first
umambiguous eg of this process we know of. While the demonstration is
regrettably one of the few fragments of Thales's thought which can
unambigiously attribute to the great Miletian, the modernism of his
reasoning makes this demonstration one of the most stunning achievements in
the history of thought....

The process which developed atomism seems to have been similar; & may have
started with observations that processes existed which had effects which
could not be measured by the naked eye (Lucretius mentions a number of these
in his poem). Russell points out - with sublime paradox - that the atomists
seem to have use simple, realistic observations to rationally deduce the
presence of the nonexistent (or void; as in the famous atomistic division of
the universe into atoms & void); although they certainly got a big assist
(as US-American sportscasters would say) from more mystical thinkers like

(It's said, by the way, that a thinker named Mochus the Phoenician - who
lived in the time before the Trojan War... ie, only Zarquon knows when -
predated the Greek atomists in his thinking. I'd love to know how Mochus
ended up where he did; & whether his atoms were mystical or derived from
atomist-style observatory thought)

One assumes that the dualism implicit in the image of a universe constructed
from atoms & void inspired the image of a multitude of worlds (ie, _The Girl
in the Golden Atom_ turned inside out two millenium before); & - given that
rationality didn't contradict the hypothesis (remember: the whole point
behind atomist reasoning was that processes could exist which couldn't be
seen; so the fact that you couldn't see these worlds was logically
irrelevent); & because analysing the processes which would be required to
create such worlds weren't currently on the natural philosphy agenda - it
seems to have been as easy for the atomists to visualise a multitude of
worlds as it was for others to have trouble visualising the barbarians
across the mountains....

(Democritus's pondering of an atom the size of the universe obviously
derives from his attempts to explain physical properties from the size,
shape & arrangement of his stoms & void. If atoms could be round or angular,
why they couldn't they be the size of the universe?)

It therefore follows that - as Lucretius's speculation derives so strongly
from preSocratic intellectual tradition (with another interesting source
Xenophanes... the supposedly minor thinker who got nice Greeks seriously
POed by suggesting that if horses had gods, they would look like horses; &
for an encore also deduced from the presence of fossil fishes in the side of
mountain that the mountain was once under water... a by no means
inconsiderable intellectual achievement for this time) - there's
(regrettably) no need to assume that he was buzzed as a child by Zaphod

(A final interesting aside: according to Plutarch, one of the
preevolutionary tinkers, Anaximander, argued - apparently from the fact that
the human infant is so completely helpless - the first humans must'ave been
incubated by - or perhaps actually were - some kind of fish; & grew up in
this fashion: "till they were able to help themselves, they then came forth
on the dry ground"... technically, the wrong answer in just about every way;
but the reasoning - if quoted correctly (& this caveat must be stressed
whenever one talks about preSocratic thought) - seems startlingly right)

All the best,
Robert Clements <>

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 1999 11:25 am
> To:
> Subject: SETI-L: Lucretius & Psionic ET Machines
> Robert,
> That was a mouthful and interesting as well. But the burning
> question in my mind, did he understand the idea? Or was he just
> speculating with a genetically aberrant
> (e.g., super-intelligent) mind for the times? Or maybe he too
> observed an ET machine operating in the atmosphere of ancient
> Earth? Of course this raises many questions, one of which seems
> to be answered by the apparent phenomenal observations of many
> witnesses who make claims which seems to suggest that a
> bi-directional link existed between the observer and the
> observed phenomenon-machine at time of observation. Perhaps that
> could explain the his apparent aberational thinking?
> Best Wishes,
> Walt Williams, 99.09.20
> =======================================
> ------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
> From: "Clements, Robert" <>
> To: "''" <>,
> Subject: RE: SETI Lucretius.
> Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 08:30:38 +1000
> The preSocratic tradition (to use Guthrie's useful definition:
> technically, Lucretius is a Helenistic philosopher postdating
> Socrates by several centuries; but he's following atomist thought
> originally developed by Leucippus & Democritus & developed by
> Epicurus) in Greek philosophy is filled with astonishing
> speculations of this kind: one of the most was by Democritus, who
> is said to have speculated on single atoms the size of the
> universe. Greek thought was profoundly (almost paranoically, in
> the case of Parmenides; which Plato followed as diligently as
> Gorgias parodied him heartily) rational; & therefore tended to
> assume that if something was rational, it (in a most basic sense)
> somehow was... a way of thinking which made speculations like
> this particularly rewarding. Evolutionary speculations -
> including the wildly fantastical (but logically coherent)
> visionary approach of Empedocles - were also commonplace; which
> only goes to show that ancient Greece was nowhere near
> contemporary Kansas.
> The University of Hanover in Indiana is working on an online
> history of philosophy; but the none of the atomist thinkers are
> currently online. The URL is:
> All the best,
> Robert Clements <>
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: []
> > Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 1999 1:14 am
> > To:
> > Subject: SETI Lucretius.
> >
> > In a message dated 9/20/99 10:19:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
> > writes:
> >
> > > Lucretius, Rome's most distinguished philosopher-poet,
> > > >who lived from 95-55 B.C., said that:
> > > >
> > > > "...since infinite space stretches out on all sides, it can
> > > > be in no way considered that this is the only heaven and
> > > > earth created... ...we must realize that there are other
> > > > worlds in other parts of the universe, with races of differ-
> > > > ent men and different animals... ...don't be frightened by
> > > > the novelty of an idea..."
> > > >
> >
> > What an amazing quote. It is so perceptive that I have trouble believing
> > it.
> > How in the world did he get it so right, and then have it forgotten for
> > about
> > 2 millennia? I would have liked to meet the man.
> >
> > John Marcus.

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