Heraclitus, Fragment 4 (D 17)


“Most men do not think (phroneousi) things in the way that they encounter them, nor do they recognize what they experience, but believe their own opinions. (Kahn)

“Many people do not ‘understand the sorts of thing they encounter’! Nor do they recognize them (even after they have had experience (of them) — though they themselves think (they recognize them).” (Robinson 17)

This fragment seems to indicate that Heraclitus had a sense of what behavioral psychologists today call confirmation bias or framing mechanisms. Observing objects we often do see them the way they are, but instead interpret them according to our predispositions or prejudices. We often see not what is there but what we want to see. Experience alone is not a teacher. We already bring some pre-understanding to our perception. The call to be objective is to try to set aside one’s own opinions and to try to view things from the “common” perspective, the universal perspective, of which Heraclitus speaks in Fragment 3.

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