Life Cycles beyond the Human: Biomass and Biorhythms in Heraclitus


All parts of Heraclitus’ cosmos are simultaneously living and dying. Its constituent stuffs (“biomasses”) cycle endlessly through physical changes in sweeping patterns (“biorhythms”) that are reflected in the dynamic rhythms of Heraclitus’ own thought and language. These natural processes are best examined at a more-than-human level that exceeds individuation, stable identity, rational comprehension, and linguistic capture. B62 (“mortals immortals”), one of Heraclitus’ most perplexing fragments, models these processes in a spectacular fashion: it describes the imbrication not only of humans and gods but of cosmic masses more generally, and its language mimics the natural relations that it names, or rather intimates through its grammatical and syntactical indeterminacy. The remaining fragments amplify the uncertainties and the exhilarations of Heraclitus’ worldview along the same lines. His approach to nature raises urgent questions about how human beings fit into the cosmos, not least by challenging our intuitive conceptions of life and death, our material makeup, and our entanglements with our natural surroundings. In doing so, he provides vital lessons for contemporary ecological awareness, and proves to be an unexpected ally.

Publication date: 
April 1, 2024
Publication type: 
Journal Article