Anaximander: And the Nature of Science
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Maybe Carlo Rovelli need not answer these questions or maybe he thinks these are questions not worth asking. In evolving the thinking of Thales, we’re told, Anaximander was not only the first human to argue that rain was caused by the observable movements of air and the heat of the sun rather than the intervention of gods – the kind of “natural wisdom” that was heretical enough to lead to the trial and death of Socrates 200 years later – he was, crucially, also the first thinker to make the case that the Earth was a body suspended in a void of space, within which the sun and stars did not form a canopy or ceiling but revolved.
A reasonable person can deduce that proper analysis of physical phenomena utilizing physical phenomena arrives at truth. Anaximander celebrates the radical lack of certainty that defines the scientific quest for knowledge. If Newton characterised himself as “standing on the shoulders of giants”, then the two men near the very base of that human pyramid were Anaximander and Thales of Miletus. I know it would not discredit his scientific inquiry or process and I trust Carlo Rovelli would agree. Continued scientific inquiry will reveal those aspects of the theories provided by Einstein and Heisenberg that are absolute truth.In this, Rovelli suggests, he sends perhaps his most potent message through the ages, “one that can serve as a warning to us today”. ACT Contact / FAQ About Events / Videos Merch / Subs Sign in/up Anaximander : And the Nature of Science Carlo Rovelli More by this author.
If I understand Carlo Rovelli’s position, there are absolute truths in each of these findings that cannot be undone even by following the type of scientific inquiry unleashed by Anaximander.
He attributes Anaximander’s analysis of the physical world as wholly devoid of a metaphysical or religious system as though Anaximander did not or could not attribute some aspect of his existence or existence in general to factors not fully attainable through observation of physical phenomena. The first, Thales, one of the seven sages of ancient Greece, is often credited as the pioneer in applying deductive reasoning to geometry and astronomy; he used his mathematics, for example, to predict solar eclipses.
In my experience, working scientists often get history of science wrong - in this case, as it's arguably more history of philosophy, I can't say whether or not Carlo Rovelli is straying far from what's known to make his point, but what he has to say about the Greek philosopher Anaximander from the 6th century BC is fascinating. This new freedom to doubt received wisdom was crucial in Anaximander revealing what it took Chinese stargazers – advanced in many other respects – another 2,000 years to acknowledge: that the Earth was suspended in space. Carlo Rovelli's first book, now widely available in English, tells the origin story of scientific thinking: our rebellious ability to reimagine the world, again and again. Do recent observations of near death experiences offer valid answers to whether human beings have a soul?Rovelli thus works in this book a little like an archaeologist sifting a burial site for clues, finding reference points in later historical accounts by Pliny and Aristotle and Herodotus among others. Half of the book is a collection of thoughts of Rovelli about the role of science and its main characteristics: simple but important concepts. He examines Anaximander as a scientist interested in shedding light on the deep nature of scientific thinking, which Rovelli locates in his rebellious ability to reimagine the world again and again. In this elegant work, acclaimed physicist Carlo Rovelli brings to light the importance of Anaximander's overlooked legacy to modern science.
Photograph: Lanmas/Alamy View image in fullscreen An engraving of Anaximander: ‘the first human to argue that rain was caused by the observable movements of air and the heat of the sun rather than the intervention of gods’.