Thales is credited with being the first Greek philosopher. He did not believe the animating principle in all things is separate from Nature. He did not refer to a supernatural, mythological entity to explain natural phenomena. In this, he was a materialist, but not the sort we are accustomed to.
Thales proposed the arche to be water. He believed water to be the cause of all things. I have read many speculative treatises as to what Thales meant. Most of them seem to literalize his statement, as if he were a modern scientist. We should examine statements from this period in a mythopoeic manner, seeing that the Greeks at this time were still very much in a mythical mode of consciousness, a kind of hypnogogic state.
The early Greeks stood at the dawn of rational consciousness. They had just stepped out of participation mystique with nature (Edward F. Edinger).
They were attempting to understand their world by asking rudimentary scientific questions, but it would still be a long, long time before humans began to think scientifically, as we understand it today.
Of Thales, Aristotle wrote,
Some think that the soul pervades the whole universe, whence perhaps came Thales’s view that everything is full of gods (De Anima. 411 a7-8).
Apparently, from what little we know about Thales, he believed that matter was self-animating and autopoietic. This seems very similar to what I’ve learned about Bruno’s idea of the natural universe. His view was monistic, in that there is no distinction between Soul and matter. In other words, the very Being of matter is Soul and the very Being of Soul is matter.
Christian de Quincey, in his essay Stories Matter, Matter Stories, writes
In this new (and very ancient) view, mind is neither outside nor inside matter, but is part of the very essence of matter—interior to its being. Mind, consciousness, or soul is that which is responsible for matter’s ability to become what it is—what Aristotle called entelechy.
Entelechy is an Aristotelian term that means, “that which makes actual what is potential.” Aristotle used this word to distinguish between matter and form, potentiality and actuality.
By the time of Bruno’s arrest, the Roman Catholic Church had adopted the Aristotelian form of hylomorphism. In this theory, substances are envisioned as composites of form and matter. Matter is seen as entirely passive and dependent on the corresponding Form to give it dynamism and quality.
Against this view, Bruno offered a theory of matter that vanquished the dualistic ideas of Plato and Aristotle. He called his idea mater-materia, or “matter-mattering.” Here, matter possesses intelligence; it is the origin of all Forms. This idea could be termed “materialistic,” but it would be accompanied by the qualifier, “intelligent materialism,” since matter intrinsically possesses intelligence and consciousness. Bruno’s idea, here, bears similarity with Anaximander’s Apeiron. Also, this means that God is intimately connected with His creation. Mind is not separate from matter; mind is within matter. The phrase “mater-materia” connotes the womb of the Mother. Matter exists as an agent of “mattering;” matter is the matrix of all material forms.
All is consciousness, all is Soul. Referring to objects as being composed of matter is erroneous. Matter is Soul; matter is consciousness. Human bodies are Soul and they are consciousness.
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