View Full Version : The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

31st August 2011, 02:45 PM
http://forums.randi.org/imagehosting/thum_515984e5eaa18b2221.jpg (http://forums.randi.org/vbimghost.php?do=displayimg&imgid=24006)
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, 06:19 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==

Introduction xi

The Sixth Century 1
Knowledge and Astronomy 4
The Gods 15
Miletus 18

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

Conclusion 179
Notes 183
Bibliography 191
Illustration Credit 199
Index 201

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.