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Anaximander: And the Nature of Science

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Anaximander's legacy includes the revolutionary idea that the earth floats in a void, that the world can be understood in natural rather than supernatural terms, that animals evolved, and that universal laws govern all phenomena. You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. 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. By contrast, what Rovelli proposes is that Anaximander came up with a number of steps forward that were effectively foundational for the scientific method. 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.

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’. He suggests that it was the combination of having the first fully phonetic simple alphabet, the lack of dominant royalty and the independence of the city states that enabled this revolution in thinking in Miletus where Anaximander was based. Maybe Carlo Rovelli need not answer these questions or maybe he thinks these are questions not worth asking. The rest of the book (about half of it) concentrates on what science is, the dangers of cultural relativism and understanding the world without gods. Alongside the desacralisation and secularisation of public life,” Rovelli argues, “which passed from the hands of divine kings to those of citizens, came the desacralisation and secularisation of knowledge… law was not handed down once and for all but was instead questioned again and again.

These factors have an urgent relevance, he suggests, for the scientists and citizens and policymakers of today.

He then goes on to discuss how, over the ages, society started to base knowledge on empirical evidence, rather than on the sayings of devine kings or ancient books. 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. The 103 third parties who use cookies on this service do so for their purposes of displaying and measuring personalized ads, generating audience insights, and developing and improving products. Essentially he claims that Anaximander was the first person who looked for explanations of natural events, rather than crediting spirits of one sort or another with such effects . He makes a polemical case that the culture in which the Greek’s wisdom of doubt was nurtured contained, for the first time, all the elements necessary for scientific advance.

That process, the idea that knowledge was something not handed down by gods or elders, but evolving, something to be quickly interrogated and built upon, set in motion, Rovelli argues, what we understand as the scientific method.

ACT Contact / FAQ About Events / Videos Merch / Subs Sign in/up Anaximander : And the Nature of Science Carlo Rovelli More by this author. I found this a lot less interesting, partly because I'd seen most of it before, and partly because it is more a matter of paddling in the murky waters of philosophy of science rather than the more interesting (to me) origins of the history of science. This is the way forward, and everyone who cares about science should support their national organisation.Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time. Continued scientific inquiry will reveal those aspects of the theories provided by Einstein and Heisenberg that are absolute truth.

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