I started indulging an interest in ancient history a couple decades ago. This is an example from a larger article I have been working on but can't seem to get complete.

The issue is living water.

To us water moves because of gravity. It flows downhill. There is nothing special about that. It also had to be incredibly obvious to the ancients that is what was going on although in long rivers like the Nile it might not have been so obvious but even they knew of the cataracts where water flowed downhill. The incredibly accurate slope of the Roman aqueducts over tens of miles shows they not only understood the idea but had mastered everything there was to know about it.

Yet moving water was living water and distinct from water that did not move. Living water had a spirit. Living water had a religious significance. Consider baptism can only be done with moving, aka living, water, the water of life. And stagnant water was swamp, dead water than smelled of decay. Stagnant water was undrinkable compared to the moving water of life. It is associated with death and disease. Although our connection is much different as to cause it is the same correct association.

If you get your head around this idea you can get to their general idea that things which move are alive or evidence of the action of living things. Clouds, wind, rain, tides, occasionally the earth, lightning, all are alive. To the credit of the ancients the nebulous living things like winds had rather nebulous gods to go with them. Lightning and storms get gods, the gentle breezes not so much.

Yet to us moderns living means something entirely different as in breathing, heart beat, green not brown. The issue is not understanding our ancestors. The issue is we cannot look at the world and perceive it as our ancestors. We cannot perceive moving things as living just because they move. Our view of living is much narrower than their view.

Thinking is observing and connecting observations and drawing conclusions. We look at non-living moving things and connect them with inanimate causes. Our ancestors would look at the same things and connect them with other living things. We cannot do that. We might think about it and imagine connections but they do not pre-exist in our heads. We cannot think like them. What would be a "perfectly natural" connection for them leaves us scratching our heads on how and why they made the connection.

But as with aqueducts and swamps even though the foundational concepts were completely different they lead to general successes. Running water in Roman cities brought life to the cities. It was not a metaphor for them. It was a direct reference to moving, living water. The moving waters of the Nile brought life to the land which then grew food which bought life to people.

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The ancients thought the Earth was a flat disc at the centre of the universe. They blamed thunderstorms on the 'witches' they burnt alive. They thought diseases were a punishment from god. They gave it all up to the supernatural. I'm glad we longer think like them.

I use ancient in the traditional sense of prior to the fall of the Roman empire in the west, early 5th c. AD. Witches were medieval.

I am not suggesting thinking like them is a good idea. In fact it sucks. BUT getting a handle on how they thought helps us understand them and why they came up with so many ideas strange to us and missed so many things obvious to us.

The Roman idea of sacrifice to gods was not to propitiate the gods but that the gods were obliged to reciprocate. A sacrifice was power over the gods. Sort of like taking a favor from the Mafia.

So, why is piss called by many cultures "the water of life?"

Only worm piss last I read Dune. If you are serious you are ahead of me. Got a reference or two?

Actually this could be a good example. We know urine is water carrying off waste products. For them the body turned water into urine. The body also turned beer and wine into urine. Beer and wine were not water with alcohol and other materials. Water, alcohol and urine were entirely difference liquids, waters actually, as in earth, air, fire and water. Water into urine, wine into urine were every day occurances. Water into wine? That was a little different.

Missing rivers needs explanation. Dried up rivers is fine but missing makes no sense at all. But they have not had enough desertification to account for so many rivers drying up. It sounds more like they changed the definition of river.

To repeat we are producing more food than ever before in human history.

What is the problem with doing that?

We've changed. But we can imagine how ancients thought and felt, better than they could imagine us in their future. Still, we'll never understand and empathize with them completely, from our easy chairs and climate controlled shelters.


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