Ecclesiastes: … whatever else it may be, life is short and nothing that we achieve lasts for long: ‘fast-fleeting’, ‘impermanent’, ‘Everything dissolves into nothingness.’…
Geering: Your proclamation of the impermanence of everything sounds rather Budhist to me. But though the Buddha lived about two hundred years before you, I think it was highly unlikely you were familiar with his teaching. Therefore this theme of impermanence must be a strikingly original insight of your own… that makes you sound very modern… How is it, then, that you were so far ahead of us in discovering the impermanence of everything?
Ecclesiastes: I studied all human activities - everything that happens to people on the face of the earth. [In doing so, I was struck by the ceaseless change that went on, and simply reported what I saw.]
Geering: Do you mean to say that in the course of this study you never imagined that any of your insights came from some supernatural source? Your own prophets, for example, talked about hearing the word of God coming to them? …
Ecclesiastes: [No, I relied on no other sources, human or divine. As I said], all this I saw for myself as I applied my mind to everything done on the face of the earth.
Geering: This mean you reached your conclusion on the basis of the evidence of your senses. Today we call knowledge derived from our own direct and repeated experience ‘empirical’. Empiricism is actually the basis of modern science, a widespread enterprise that began to develop in the Western world only after the 16th century, nearly two millenia after your time! Until then, people’s knowledge had come almost exclusively from the cultural traditions into which they were born, and it was not thought wise to question it. ‘Thinking outside the square’, as we say now, was strongly discouraged and sometimes severely punished….
The few brave souls who did so in the 18th century were condemned as ‘freethinkers’, but since that time more and more of us have been claiming the freedom to think for ourselves. Indeed modern educational methods encourage people to be independant in their thinking. Even though you lived in the ancient world, it seems to me that you could well be regarded as an empiricist and a freethinker.
Ecclesiastes: [Good gracious. I did not know I was such a dangerous fellow! First you tell me I’m a biblical heretic and now that I’m a freethinker.]