Tuesday, August 31, 2004


In Mr. Mariano's lectures, it was quite clear that he was making a clear delineation between the viewpoints of Parmenides and Heraclitus . Inasmuch as the former is an advocate of the immutable One, Heraclitus was supposedly the advocate of the fleeting and temporal Many.

For the longest time, the debate between One Truth and many truths has persisted, yet has established nothing conclusively. There seems to be an incontrovertible conflict that exists between the two notions, as though only one can be possible and never the other. By saying Parmenides and Heraclitus are respectively the advocates of the One and the Many we naturally pit the two against one another, insofar as we do not seem to find any unity between the teachings of the two.

However, let us not allow ourselves to jump to conclusions. Heraclitus could very well have made an attempt to elucidate the idea of the One and the Many within his philosophy, and as such, does not necessarily repudiate Parmenides' beliefs. What we wish to see in this research is whether or not Heraclitus has managed to put the One and the Many together into harmony, and how he manages to do this. In looking more closely at Heraclitus' body of work, however small such a body may be, we will gain a glimpse into his insights and ideas without necessarily passing on judgment on his beliefs without having done proper investigation.

In the realm of ancient Philosophy, Socrates and Plato expertly manage to discuss the notions of the One in a refined sense, as though they have improved upon the existing work of Heraclitus and made it even clearer through the so-called “Last Days of Socrates”, albeit varied discussions on the One and the Many can also be found in “The Republic”. Despite that, Heraclitus’ notions still hold their own charm, and have a pristine forcefulness that Plato has not quite captured.

The modern secondary resource that we will employ in this elucidation would be Martin Heidegger, whose work, “Being And Time” , borrows immensely on the pre-Socratic notions of beings. His understanding of unfolding, or Aletheia, as it were, would be of great use to our line of research, as it appears that his notion of Aletheia ties in so well with the Logos. Heidegger's discussion on truth as an unfolding incorporates the notions of the One and the Many quite harmoniously.

On a parallel note, one of the most popular film franchises of all time, the Matrix trilogy, clearly borrows heavily from Heraclitean thought. In our attempt to extract Heraclitean thought from this material, we intend to find a very bold commentary about the role of the One and the Many in how they portray the conflict between Neo and the former Agent Smith. Through the film, we inadvertently gain a further insight into the Heraclitean ideas being tackled by this on-screen conflict.

Note that the Matrix trilogy makes hardly any assertions about Philosophical ideas in general. Rather, they simply make a creative spin on an idea that they are merely parroting from the original thinker, and rarely do they input any of their personal beliefs or ideas, so as to keep the Philosophical roots of the Matrix far more grounded. As such, the researcher's views and interpretations of the conflict between Neo and Smith is less of a speculative work into Heraclitus than it is an actual parallel discussion on a metaphorical level. As such, we are meant to take this discussion less as an interpretative work than it is a representation of Heraclitian thought.

The Wachowski brothers made no attempt to conceal the obvious allusion to the One vs. the Many in their depiction of Neo and Smith. As the researcher has noted this particular segment of the films with great interest and has even written two separate papers about it, then it is quite clear that the Matrix, while no doubt a box office success in Hollywood, is not necessarily without splendid substance at the core, though the core is clearly not of their original concoction.

The “Debate”

It would appear, on first observation, that there is quite a disparity between the opinions of Heraclitus with that of Parmenides. On the surface, Heraclitus' constant discussion of the very temporal and changing notion of the world clashes heavily with Parmenides' fixed and universal view of the One. Parmenides’ point of view is clearly expressed when he says:

One story, one road, now is left: that it is. And on this there are signs aplenty that, being, it is ungenerated and indestructible, whole, of one kind and unwavering, and complete (Researcher’s emphasis.). Nor was it ever, nor will it be, since now it is, all together, one, continuous. For what generation will you seek for it? How, whence, did it grow? That it came from what is not I shall not allow you to say or think – for it is not sayable or thinkable that it is not. And what need would have impelled it, later or earlier, to spring up – if it began from nothing? Thus it must either altogether be or not be.

Here, we are shown that as far as Parmenides is concerned, there is only One. Any seeming manifestations of the Many are mere illusions that beguile our mind, and as such, must be rejected. Heraclitus, in contrast, in his most famous fragment, would say that “On those who step in the same river, different and different waters flow.” , which clearly alludes to how things are in a constant flux in the world. Indeed, there is a latent conflict from these key fragments alone.

Then again, is there, really? Observe another fragment from Heraclitus that Aristotle quotes in “The World”. Here, Heraclitus proceeds to say that “things which are put together are both whole and not whole, brought together and taken apart, in har-mony and out of harmony; one thing arises from all things, and all things arise from one thing.” There is certainly an attempt to show a harmony between the One and the Many, yet we are not entirely certain how he comes across this. Suffice it to say that at this point, we are becoming more and more certain that there is really no true debate between Parmenides and Heraclitus to speak of, and further investigation into this would prove this point.

The Logos and Aletheia

One exceedingly brilliant concept that was raised by Heraclitus in talking about the Many was that everything was changing and fluctuating for a reason. This was to say that none of these changes in temporality are happening at random, but because there is an underlying principle that guides all of it, a method to the madness, as it were. This is precisely what we have come to know as the Logos, which translates as a unique play of three things: reason, word, and gathering. As each of these can alternatively stand for the Logos, it becomes quite interesting for us to note that the Logos is thus an ingenious way of putting these three concepts together in a very harmonious manner.

Martin Heidegger has a fairly interesting way of looking at the Logos, which will tie up later on with his notion of Aletheia. According to him, the Logos “as speech really means d?loun, to make manifest 'what is being talked about' in speech.” Here, we find a “letting” for a thing to show itself as itself, which, as we will later see, is closely tied to Aletheia. Nonetheless, the beauty of Heidegger's notion becomes more remarkable as we continue to realize how the Logos is operationalized for Heraclitus.

Let us now turn back to what Heraclitus himself has to say about the Logos, which further underscores the point that Heraclitus has never made an attempt to repudiate the notion of the One. Hippolytus this time quotes Heraclitus, “listening to the Logos rather than to me, it is wise to agree that all things are in reality one thing and one thing only.” Here, we see how Heraclitus points out what the Logos manages to do, and it becomes fairly implied in this fragment that the Logos becomes an underlying principle that makes all things, however many they may seem actually become one in reality, which is a complete repudiation of the notion that Heraclitus is focused solely on the notion of the Many.

Aletheia is the Greek word for “unconcealment”, and it is one of the words that Martin Heidegger puts to extensive use, borrowing heavily from the pre-Socratic understanding of the word. He uses this term in a revelatory sense, instead of a creative sense. He points out the revelatory sense in lieu of creative to repudiate any attempts to view truth as completely subjective or completely objective. He maintains a certain ambiguity even in his discussion of such. “To say that an assertion 'is true' signifies that it uncovers the entity as it is in itself. Such as assertions asserts, points out, 'lets' the entity 'be seen' (apothansis) in its uncoveredness. The Being-true (truth) of the assertion must be understood as Being-uncovering.”

In tying this up with the Logos, Heidegger's conception of Aletheia connects very well with the Heraclitian conception of the Logos in that both espouse an underlying principle of order to things. In this respect, we begin to see more and more why the One and the Many in Heraclitean thought are in harmony: despite the claims to an illusory changing world, we begin to see that the changes in the world are still guided by an underlying principle that ensures order and prevents a chaotic pace of things. Moreover, Aletheia, while seemingly passive in allowing things to manifest themselves as themselves, is actually not so, in the fact that there are things that cannot be truly themselves through our inaction, such as a river that gets polluted. In order for this river to reveal itself for what it is, we are called upon to extend our effort to make it possible for it to reveal itself as itself. Given the etymology for the Logos, at this point, the similarities between Aletheia and the Logos becomes nearly unmistakable.

Enter The Matrix

In the Matrix trilogy by the Wachowski Brothers, a peculiar battle between the lead hero and lead villain in the film, Neo and Smith, exists. When Matrix Reloaded came along, this was the battle between the One and the Many. Neo is the ultimate being in the Matrix, yet he encounters an infinitude of beings in Smith, and it was never clear who could possibly win in a battle such as that. If an immovable object were to meet head-on with an unstoppable force, then who would prevail?

But then, a closer inspection of what both characters represented led the researcher to the educated hypothesis, even before the trilogy was concluded, that this battle was an allusion to the conflict between one Truth and many truths. While it doesn’t take a genius to notice this allusion, it does take some measure of deductive reasoning to accurately pinpoint its implications on the ending of the film itself.

In the researcher's essay entitled “Neo Vs. Smith: The One Vs. The Many”, he points out how the One and the Many, given the point of view of William Luijpen , are supersumed by Aletheia:

Returning to the gap between the One and the Many, it can be resolved by realizing the twofold nature of Aletheia... by saying it encompasses both subjectivism and objectivism, we can then say two things about truth (Since it has Aletheia as a prerequisite.). Firstly, truth is relative, which agrees with the adherents to the Many. Despite this fact, truth may indeed be relative but it is not so in a relativistic manner. This is because truth does relate to a person, but this does not mean that what is true for one is automatically untrue for another... on the flipside, we can say that truth is absolute, but not so in an absolutistic manner. Truth cannot be absolutistic in a Platonic sense, because truth is a neverfinished event. If truth were absolutistic, then truth is already fixed, immutable, and finished for all time (A contradiction to the notion that truth is never-finished.). This absolutistic notion conforms to the idea of the World of Eidos, an idea that goes against the grain of unconcealment, as unconcealment works in temporality. If truth were absolutistic, what is the need to unconceal anything? It is already immutably true to begin with, from past, present, to future.

Here, the researcher implies the fact that given how Aletheia supersumes both The One and The Many, it was unlikely for the battle to end with only one victor. It was either that both Neo and Smith would perish, or that they would unite. Two months later, Matrix Revolution was shown, and the ending showed both Neo and Smith dying, and peace between man and machine finally happening. This proved the researcher's hypothesis, as he said near the end of his essay:

Hence, with the realization of how truth is BOTH absolute AND relative, we can say that the main reason Neo and Smith did not find a clear victor in their battle was because it was being implied that the eternal debate of the One vs. the Many could be led to one of two things:

1. The belief that it is a pointless debate and should not be carried on any fur-ther. This is a sort of concession of futility, or:

2. The belief that this debate leads us to realize that truth is both, not one or the other. This is a recognition of further possibilities, rather than a concession.

What can we then infer from this? Is this trying to tell us that the Wachowski brothers will either make Neo and Smith become allies, or both of them will perish? It’s highly likely for one or the other to happen, more than for Neo to ultimately triumph against Smith by defeating him resoundingly, lest the Wachowski brothers become accused of being advocates of The One, and thus, bi-ased towards that idea. Much less is it plausible for Smith to win against Neo (Barring resurrection undertones, though I recognize that it was done in the first movie.), lest we see yet another tragic ending, or Smith turns out to be the real hero of the story (Two endings that don’t spell “cash cow” to me, from a utilitarian point of view.).

Equally intriguing is the ship that took Neo to the Machine City in the last film was named the Logos, which clearly alludes to the gathering, the word, and the reason that managed to change the world to somehow bring peace between man and machine after all the strife between them. The clear allusion to the restoration of order made possible through the Logos points to the regard the Wachowski brothers have for this Heraclitian concept.

Clearly, as the Wachowski brothers do not engage in interpretations of the philosophical backbone that they use for their storylines, they are simply pointing out that the Heraclitean notions about the One and the Many are not in conflict at all, but are both encompassed by something far greater than the both of them: Aletheia. We have established through Heidegger how Aletheia and the Logos tie together, and as such, we then clearly see that because truth is an unfolding event, then the One and the Many are indeed in harmony with one another. Heraclitus, in this respect, is affirmed over two millennia later by the Wachowski brothers.


In the end, it is fairly clear why Heraclitus is arguably the most popular pre-Socratic philosopher to date. Through his works, arcane though he may appear to be, he has managed to provide us with a very clever way of looking at the world. It is not merely a participation between the world of ideas and the physical world, but an un-folding of Being. In that the world unfolds, the “Being of beings (Which “itself” is not a being.)” gives unto the beings in the world, and these manifestations reflect back to the Being of beings. It is clearly a two-way relationship, which is less demeaning to the physical world than the notion of the world of Eidos happens to be.

Through the Matrix example, we have established that inasmuch as there are fundamental differences between the One and the Many, they still belong to the realm of unfolding, or Aletheia. The Wachowski brothers have borrowed heavily from numerous thinkers, from Nietzche to Plato to Descartes, but in their allusion to Heraclitus, they have managed to depict a perfect conflict (That between the One and the Many.) that cannot end with only one victor or only one loser. Bleak though the end-ing may be, recall the hopefulness of the Oracle at the end of the film while she was looking at the sunrise. It is not that Neo and Smith have both perished in vain: they were merely taken in by something greater than the both of them.

Because of this harmony, we can say that Heraclitus' “fire”, as it were, is not merely advocating change, but given the method to the “madness” of this change, the Logos, we are given an underlying One principle to the Many different truths. Neither is regarded as less: without the Many, the One is of no use. Without the One, the Many cannot draw from anything else. In seeing how the One and the Many are indeed not in disharmony, we can thus learn to regard both in a new and unantagonistic light.


Aristotle, and Robert Hooker trans. The World. Bloomington, Indiana Univer-sity, 1995.

Arius Didymus, and Arthur Pomeroy, trans. Arius Didymus: Epitome of Stoic Ethics. Text and Translations. Bloomington, Indiana University, 1995.

Fabie, Marcelle. Neo vs. Smith: The One vs. The Many. Online essay, accessed from http://matrixessays.com/archives/2003_07.php , 2003.

Heidegger, Martin, and Joan Stambaugh trans. Being and Time. New York, New York University Press, 1996.

Heraclitus, and James Hillman, trans. Fragments: the Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus. Washington, Viking Books, 2001.

Hippolytus, and Alvin Cambridge trans. Refutations. London, McMillan Publishing, 1984.

Luijpen, William. Phenomenology of Knowledge. Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1969.

Parmenides, and David Gallop trans. Parmenides of Elea: Fragments. Canada, University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Plato, and Alan Bloom trans. The Republic. London, Basic Books, 1991.

Plato, and Hugh Tredennick, Harold Tarrant, trans. The Last Days of Socrates. Chicago, Penguin Books, 1995.

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