Empedocles (ca. 490–430 B.C.) was a physician and a disciple of Pythagoras. He claimed his soul had been migrating for quite a while: “For already have I become a boy and a girl and a bush and a bird and a silent fish in the sea” (Barnes, 2001). Instead of one physis, Empedocles suggested four elements from which everything in the world is made: earth, fire, air, and water. Humans, too, he thought, consist of these four elements, with earth forming the solid part of the body, water accounting for the liquids in the body, air providing the breath of life, and fire providing our reasoning ability.
Besides the four elements, Empedocles postu- lated two causal powers of the universe: love and strife. Love is a force that attracts and mixes the ele- ments, and strife is a force that separates the ele- ments. Operating together, these two forces create an unending cosmic cycle consisting of four recur- ring phases. In phase one, love dominates and there is a perfect mixture of the four elements (“one from many”). In phase two, strife disrupts the per- fect mixture by progressively separating them. In phase three, strife has managed to completely sepa- rate the elements (“many from one”). In phase four, love again becomes increasingly dominant, and the elements are gradually recombined. As this cycle recurs, new worlds come into existence and then are destroyed. A world consisting of things we would recognize could exist only during the second and fourth phases of the cycle, when a mixture of the elements can exist. Along with the four elements, humans also possess the forces of love and strife, and these forces wax and wane within us just as they do in other material bodies. When love dominates, we have an urge to establish a union with the world and with other people; when strife dominates, we seek separation. Clearly, the ingredients are here for the types of intrapersonal and extrapersonal con- flicts described by Freud and others much later in human history.
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