Greek philosophers where the first people in the West to discover and explore nature in a rationalised way. They made educated guesses about the creation of the world and also the creation of the universe. Greece is often referred to as the birthplace of Western Culture, and this explains why. Some of the ancient Philosophers have successfully predicted findings of twentieth century science. The concept of atoms, for example, was first formulated by Leucippus and Democritus, this was around 400 BC. Since then, Greek thought and values have been tremendously influential throughout centuries and has lasted to the present day which we live in.
This essay will argue that the Greek philosophers indeed discovered nature. It will claim firstly, about how Thales could predict the times of eclipse, he also argues that the origin of all matter is water. Secondly it will show Anaxamander who lived after Thales and what his beliefs where relating to the four elements (air, water, earth, and wind). Then It will discuss Anaxamenses who talks of the four elements that Anaxamander had discussed. This is interesting as it gives us another point of view on the same topic from another Philosopher.
It will also claim that Empedocles was the first philosopher to claim that these elements were primordial. This essay will go into depth about Empedocles book “On Nature”. Lastly, Anaxagoras was another philosopher who discussed and observed vortexes and spiral phenomenon in nature which fixated him, he is discussed in this essay as he questioned a lot about our planet and the atmosphere around us. I do believe that nature was discovered by Greek Philosophers. It is easy to back this information up when you have the likes of Thales (Miletus) 624-546 BC, who believed that “The origin of all matter is water”.
This statement of Thales is close to the truth however. It is known to us that the largest constituent of the universe is hydrogen which makes two of the three atoms in water (H2O). The missing oxygen atom was added later when our planet formed. We comprehend that the first life forms flourished in the oceans, so therefore water is indeed a primordial substance. In Thales time he was not the only one who thought ahead of his time. For example, the idea that, all forms of substances can be reduced to a few elements and that every form of matter are made of these elements.
This is a Greek conception that was conceived around the time of Thales. Personally I think it is scientific but also deals with the nature aspect that is obvious when we talk about “elements”. This can refer to nature, as everything is a “form”, whether it be a plant (growing thing) or a river. Anaximander 546 BC was a Milesian citizen who lived after Thales. This man expressed a thought that was no doubt verging on discovering nature. The elements earth, wind, water and fire interested Anaximander. He thought these elements where in opposition to each other and always wanting to increase itself in quantidy.
Due to the struggle for dominance, all subjects of matter are subject to continual change. Thus the elements are constantly transformed into one another, however, without one element ever gaining superiority over the other because of a natural balance. This is an insight to what philosophers where thinking around this time. Nature interested them and their explanations where not always correct but they were on the right path. Anaximander’s philosophy for these elements was near enough to entirely correct. He focused on how these elements worked in the environment/world and this interests me.
The elements always wanted to increase itself in quantity, if you think about it fire rises to become taller, wind gushes to become more powerful, water(being a ocean/river)flows and builds up a current, and the earth continues to move. Anaximenses 494 BC. He fundamental substance, he said, is air. The soul is air, fire is rarefied air, when condensed air becomes first, water, then when further condensed earth, then stone. Consequently all differences between different substances are quantitative, depending entirely upon the amount or degree of condensation.
This may sound strange to us now, but we always have to remember that the early Greeks lived in an environment where indigenous beliefs and superstitions prevailed in the spiritual world. Empedocles 490 – 430 BC was the first philosopher that stated that there are four primordial elements the elements being fire, water, air, and earth. He wrote “On nature” and “Purifications”, and it was obvious in these books that he was remarkably ahead of his time. He made several note worthy statements such as, that the moon would shine by reflected light and that solar eclipses are caused by the inter position of the moon.
He also stated that light takes time to travel but so little time that we cannot observe it. He also discovered that if a cup of water is whirled round at the end of a string , the water does not flow out. Empedocles also stated that in pre historic times the world was populated with strange creatures, of which only certain forms have survived. The following extract is taking from his book “On Nature” in which he describes the strange creatures that preceded mankind. “Come now, hear how the shoots of men and pitiable women were raised at night by fire, as it separated thus my story does not miss the mark, nor is it ill informed.
First whole natured forms sprang up from earth, having a portion of both water and heat. Fire sent them up, wishing to come to its like, and they showed as yet no desirable form on their limbs, nor any voice, nor member native to man”. 1″Here many neck less heads sprang up, naked arms strayed about, devoid of shoulders and eyes strayed alone, begging for foreheads. But when they mingled, these things came together as each happened and many others in addition where continuously born”.
These extracts from his book shows us how he thought about nature, even though it may be somewhat crude and bizarre compared to the painstaking investigation that led Darwin to he same conclusion two thousand three hundred years later. Anaxagoras who was an astronomer and a man of science. He observed vortexes and spiral phenomenon in nature which fixated him. He believed the world was created through the rotary motion of a spiral where initially all mass was in the centre, and then by centrifugal force, driven by “mind”, things e into being through the separation of mass into an increasing number of bodies and substances.
It is however likely that Anaxagoras got this idea from the observation of spiral galaxy’s in space, because there very structure cannot be seen with the naked eye, and also the Greeks did not have telescopes back then. Yet it is conceivable that he got his information from the Milky Way, own galaxy, which appears to us as a band on a firmament. With some imagination he could have envisioned a disk shaped like band or spiral of stars with our own planet located somewhere along its plane. As a matter of fact our solar system is located in the outer region of one of its arms.
Whether he had a conception of galaxies at all is questionable however. There are no records of such visualisations and plus it would also take considerable amount of visualisation power in order to deduce the shape of a spiral galaxy. Today we know that if the mass of a galaxy was concentrated at its centre it would have created a black hole and the gravitation would have been much too strong allow anything to emerge from it, at least not through rotary motion, and most likely not through mind.
In spite of this the concept of mind as the force and the idea that t drives things was highly original and had a significant impact on later philosophers. To conclude I feel strongly about the fact that, in my view, nature was discovered through Western Philosophers thoughts and discussions. They made it more obvious to others that nature was in our atmosphere and that there was perhaps living things and life, such as growth, in the world that we live in. It is very much evident from these philosophers which I have just discussed that their way of thinking was profoundly different and intelligent compared to others in their time.
It seems to me that these philosophers where ahead of their time indeed, and that they questioned things that others would not have even passed any remarks on. The likes of these philosophers mentioned previously has definitely made a major impact on the way they lived, and the way we live today. If there was hardly any thinking about nature, then science would have never been born If we didn’t take note of what these philosophers said back then we would perhaps live in a world were things were not questioned but just taken for granted.