Updated: Apr 13

“For it is by earth that we see earth, by water water,

By aether divine aether, and by fire destructive fire,

And fondness by fondness, and strife by baleful strife.”

-Empedocles (Kingsley and Parry 2020)

"Through history and prehistory, people have had an immediate understanding of the difference between a liquid and a solid, without needing scientists to explain the difference to them."

-Dutton (2009)

Evidence that we relate qualities within the given categories lies in how we think of and describe hotter temperatures, brighter lights, and faster speeds as “higher” or “up” and their opposites as “lower” and “down.” Verticality is not involved, or apparent in any way when temperature, brightness and speed change. One can see the relationship between qualities in the same category in various words with more than one meaning. For instance the word "spring" can mean the season of increasing heat, upward movement, sudden movement or a fluid running out of the ground. Also heat is like a fluid in “heat wave,” “sunbath,” “meteor shower,” “baptism of fire,” the Egyptian and Christian mythological lakes of fire and the Greek fire river Phlegethon, which Dante described in Divine Comedy as a river of boiling blood, instead of fire, apparently to match the heat in the veins of the people standing in it forever as punishment for evil deeds committed under the influence of “blind cupidity” and “wrath insane.” Disorder is like a fluid in “riptide,” “the fog of war,” and the words “blow” and “winding.” We call the sun coming up disorderly in “the break of day,” “daybreak,” and “the crack of dawn,” and the sun going down orderly in “the evening.” We call the mornings up in “top of the morning,” the sunset down in “nightfall,” the weather getting warmer up in “spring” and getting colder down in “the fall.” Dynamic change is fluid in “run like the wind,” “sea change” and “winds of change,” bright in “a flash,” “lightening speed” and “the living daylights, hot in “a blistering pace,” “a hot clip,” and “hot pursuit,” disorderly in “fast break,” “warp speed,” and “on a tear,” both bright and disorderly in “flash crash,” upward in “overdrive,” and outward in “spike.” Multiplicity is up, dynamic and out in “high turn out.” But nothing is perceptibly fluid, broken, cracked, upward or outward about light, or hot, spiky, bright, broken, torn or elevated about rapid changes and fast movements.

Brightness and fluidity remind us of each other, as in a “splash of color,” the “shining sea,” the Milky Way, the Cosmic Ocean, the Celestial River, the frequency of liquids and sea animals in constellations (as in the part of the night sky known as “The Sea”) and the luminiferous light-propagating aether, with the word aether coming from Latin and Greek words meaning light air, breath of the gods, bright, shine and burning. Some rendition of “Milky Way” has been the name historically for the bright band of light corresponding to our galaxy amongst the Romans, Italians, French, Germans, Hebrews, Arabs, Chinese and the Micmac tribe of northeastern North America (Wintemberg 1809). Thus the name has probably been invented more than once, so it has a way of catching on, or at least there's something about that sounds acceptable to many people. How the milk got into the sky varies between cultures. In Greece it came from the breast of the goddess Hera. For the ancient Hindus it was scattered by the red cow of the evening.

The Milky Way is also widely associated with dynamic motion and flowing water. The Kiowa, Cheyenne and plains tribes thought of the area as a track for running Buffalo and Horses. In the Cherokee myth a dog runs across the sky spilling corn meal. The Ottawa imagined the galactic light to be the result of a turtle swimming over the sky and stirring up mud, and Wintemberg says:

“Thus, from time immemorial, it has been known as 'the River of Heaven' or of the sky. In Egyptian mythology it was ‘the inaccessible stream.’ The Euphratean name was ‘the River of the High Cloud.’’ To the Akkadians it was the ‘Snake-River,’ ‘River-of-the-Cord-of-the-God-great,’ ‘River-of-the-Abyss-great,’ ‘River-of-the-Shepherds-hut, dust cloud high,’ ‘river-of-the-Divine-Lady,’ and ‘River of Nana,’ the wife of the Heaven-god. The Arabs called it Al Nahr, which signifies ‘the River,’ and it was known to the Hebrews as Nehar di Nur, ‘River of Light.” In Cinga, as well as Japan, it was Tien Ho, the ‘Celestial River’ and 'the Silver river, whose fish were frightened by the new moon, which they imagined to be a hook,' Among the Hindus of Northern India it is known as the ‘course of the Heavenly Ganges,’ In Sanscrit legend, according to Al Biruni, it is called the ‘Bed of Ganges.’ It was also long known as Eridanus, the 'Stream of Ocean.’ Another ancient name for it was ‘Canal’ of the sky. The Sauks and Fox Indians call it the ‘white river’” (Wintemberg 1809).


Works cited

Dutton, Denis. The art instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human Evolution. Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Kingsley, K. Scarlett, and Richard Parry. “Empedocles.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 7 Apr. 2020,

Wintemberg, W. J. "Myths and Fancies of the Milky Way.” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, vol. 2, 1809, p. 235-247.


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