Saturday, June 20, 2009
Evolution and Thermodynamics - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.19
Meditation IX.19 - Evolution and Thermodynamics - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
All things are changing: and you yourself are in continuous mutation and in a manner in continuous destruction, and the whole universe too.1
(1) This meditation is a clear conjoint articulation of two underlying natural physical principles which are the bedrock of Stoic philosophy. That all things in the universe are changing, and also in continuous destruction, is as clear an expression of the second law of thermodynamics (the entropy principle) as we might expect from the ancient world. Today we would call this the heat death of the universe. The Stoics also noted however that the underlying causality bringing about the dissolution and destruction of the universe also gives rise to its rebirth in fire, in a series of never ending cycles of deaths and births. This ancient idea is not inconsistent with contemporary pulsating cosmological models (big bangs followed in time by big crunches) - the Ekpyrotic model in particular (please see Meditation IX.14, p.29, in the book for a detailed discussion on this).
The idea that everything in nature mutates as well as changes is consistent with the Darwinian modality of natural selection - the underlying mechanism that gives rise to speciation through mutation and adaptation. Stoicism was not saddled with the idea that change should bring about anthropomorphic improvements - that human beings, for example, get better and better with change. Stoic observations focus only on the idea that change is inevitable. We are born; we change continuously; every change is a kind of death; and, in the end we die.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.