Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Our Immutable Nature - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.23
Meditation VII.23 - Our Immutable Nature - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
The universal nature(1) out of the universal substance(2), as if it were wax, now molds a horse, and when it has broken this up, it uses the material for a tree, then for a man, then for something else;(3) and each of these things subsists for a very short time. But it is no hardship for the vessel to be broken up, just as there was none in its being fastened together.(4)
(1) The "universal nature," Logos, is intelligence, and she is one, not many. Nowhere in the Meditations is this intelligence described as intelligent. In other words although the nature of Logos is characterized as both feminine and divine (everlasting and invulnerable) she is never personified as an intelligent being with will (see also Meditation X.14 - The Divine Feminine). She is will. She is intelligence. She permeates all of nature, but she is not a person in the normal sense of that idea. The Stoic conception of the divine thus differs radically from the religious conception of a personal God. She differs also in a very fundamental way in that our human nature is identical with the universal. This divine from the universal is in us always.
(2) The "universal substance" is pneuma, the active ingredient of the material universe. This is the substance that animates all of the universe and all life. As discussed elsewhere, this substance would today be identified with the forces and fields of physics.
(3) Nothing ceases to be when things change. Nothing falls out of the universe. The flow of change that requires this continual evolution and recycling is itself a principle of nature - the law of entropy.
(4) Marcus asserts that "universal substance" is conserved. This is a fundamental principle of nature - and in fact still is two thousand years later - although the principle of conservation is understood today in more explicit ways. In modern physics a conservation law asserts that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves. Examples of natural conservation laws today include: the conservation of mass-energy, linear momentun, angular momentum, electric charge, color charge, weak isospin, probability density, CPT symmetry and Lorentz symmetry. Because the qualities that define the essence of the universal substance - and the universal nature - are invariable (they are conserved), the nature suffers no harm when molded into something new. Nor does the nature suffer harm when is broken up or changes or dies. This crucial principle of Stoicism is the underpinning for the courage and fearlessness that characterizes Stoic action: neither injury nor death can cause you harm.
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.