31st August 2011, 03:45 PM
The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy
by Carlo Rovelli
This stimulating and entertaining book opened up for me the remarkably advanced science of the Ionian Greeks and the life in their independent cities that first birthed and nourished the scientific spirit. Along with so much else.
Besides being enjoyable to read the book is profoundly thoughtful: reflecting on what is essential in the rational/empirical tradition and the community that follows it, as well as on what was unique in Anaximander's revolutionary contributions. Rovelli has firsthand insight--he's one of today's most creative theoretical physicists. You get the feeling that he has been where Anaximander was.
31st August 2011, 07:19 PM
I just got a copy and I really like the book. You could say that the Roman Pliny author of Natural History gave the best short summary of what this book says, some 2000 yrs in advance:
Rerum fores aperuisse, Anaximander Milesius traditur primus.
It is said that Anaximander of Miletus first opened the doors of nature.
—Pliny, Natural History
As a way of reviewing the book, possibly the best would be to simply show the table of contents. It gives a clear idea of what it is about.
You can see from Chapter 10 heading that one reason I like it is that Anaximander was a key innovator in non-god explanation. He and Thales, who both lived in the Ionian city of Miletus around 600 bc, pioneered the business of giving natural explanations of things. Tested by reason and observation, argued about, not invoking mythical figures. Essentially they began the process of defining for us what a natural or physical explanation is.
==sample excerpt from The First Scientist: TOC==
The Sixth Century 1
Knowledge and Astronomy 4
The Gods 15
Anaximander’s Contributions 29
Atmospheric Phenomena 37
Cosmological and Biological Naturalism 42
Earth Floats in Space, ...Suspended in the Void 45
Invisible Entities and Natural Laws 61
Thales: Water 62
Anaximenes: Compressing and Rarefying 64
Anaximander: Apeiron 65
The Idea of Natural Law: Anaximander, Pythagoras, and Plato 70
Rebellion Becomes Virtue 75
Writing, Democracy, and Cultural Crossbreeding 83
The Greek Alphabet 87
Science and Democracy 93
Cultural Crossbreeding 97
What Is Science? 103
The Crumbling of Nineteenth-Century Illusions 104
Science Cannot be Reduced to Verifiable Predictions 107
Exploring Forms of Thought About the World 111
The Evolving Worldview 114
The Rules of the Game and Commensurability 120
Why is Science Reliable? 123
In Praise of Uncertainty 125
Between Cultural Relativism and Absolute Thought 131
Can We Understand the World Without Gods? 143
The Conflict 147
Prescientific Thought 157
The Nature of Mythical-Religious Thought 159
The Different Functions of the Divine 170
Illustration Credit 199
They came up with the idea of a NATURAL LAW, a law that the physical universe follows.
Anaximander invented the first "mechanical" cosmic model, with an unsupported Earth and a sphere of stars revolving around it---the sun and moon on giant wheels. No god in the picture driving the sun around in a fiery chariot, just wheels. His model served as inspiration for a whole series of improved versions (a mere 300 years later someone on an island near Miletus even developed a heliocentric model of the cosmos).
And in his spare time he explained the rain, and proposed natural causes for all sorts of other things.
One of the exciting things is where Carlo Rovelli, a physicist, reflects on what elements in social, economic and civic life may have contributed to the remarkable development of Greek science that began in Miletus. How did the Ionians come by their style of reasoning, their mental independence---willingness to challenge, and concepts such as geometric model, law, proportion?
It spills over into another book I've been reading: Lucio Russo's The Forgotten
Revolution. (About Hellenistic science.) Save that for another time.
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