Our big think-piece for Christmas is a portrait of the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, by the doctor, writer and general polymath Raymond Tallis. Tallis believes that Parmenides’s model of a static, homogenous, undifferentiated universe—as described in a 150-line fragment of his 5th-century BC poem On Nature, which constitutes the entirety of his surviving works—went on to suffuse western thought and underlies much of modern philosophy and science. Parmenides’s achievement, writes Tallis, was extraordinary: “thought and knowledge encounter themselves head on for the first time… such a huge advance is self-consciousness that it is no exaggeration to call it an ‘awakening.'”
Yet, argues Tallis, with much of contemporary science running into dead ends—the search for a grand unified theory of everything, the attempt to understand the mysteries of human consciousness—it may be time to revisit the “Parmenidian moment,” to see if there might be an alternative “cognitive journey” from the one the pre-Socratic philosopher set us on 2,500 years ago.