The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

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“Marvelous. . . . A wonderful book.”—Humana.Mente

“Rovelli is the dream author to conduct us on this journey.”—

“At this point in time, when the prestige of science is at a low and even simple issues like climate change are mired in controversy, Carlo Rovelli gives us a necessary reflection on what science is, and where it comes from. Rovelli is a deeply original thinker, so it is not surprising that he has novel views on the important questions of the nature and origin of science.”—Lee Smolin, founding member and researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and author of The Trouble with Physics

Winner of the Prix du Livre Haute Maurienne de l’Astronomie

Carlo Rovelli, a leading theoretical physicist, uses the figure of Anaximander as the starting point for an examination of scientific thinking itself: its limits, its strengths, its benefits to humankind, and its controversial relationship with religion. Anaximander, the sixth-century BC Greek philosopher, is often called the first scientist because he was the first to suggest that order in the world was due to natural forces, not supernatural ones. He is the first person known to understand that the Earth floats in space; to believe that the sun, the moon, and the stars rotate around it—seven centuries before Ptolemy; to argue that all animals came from the sea and evolved; and to posit that universal laws control all change in the world. Anaximander taught Pythagoras, who would build on Anaximander’s scientific theories by applying mathematical laws to natural phenomena.

In the award-winning The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy, translated here for the first time in English, Rovelli restores Anaximander to his place in the history of science by carefully reconstructing his theories from what is known to us and examining them in their historical and philosophical contexts. Rovelli demonstrates that Anaximander’s discoveries and theories were decisive influences, putting Western culture on its path toward a scientific revolution. Developing this connection, Rovelli redefines science as a continuous redrawing of our conceptual image of the world. He concludes that scientific thinking—the legacy of Anaximander—is only reliable when it constantly tests the limits of our current knowledge.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rovelli (Quantum Gravity), a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Marseille, presents the scientific work and life of Anaximander, whom he ranks as "one of the intellectual giants of the ages." Born in the Greek city of Miletus in 610 B.C.E., Anaximander investigated the nature of the physical universe, treating physical processes, such as the hydrological cycle and thunder, as separate from religion and the intervention of the gods, and recognizing that the earth floats in space. In Rovelli's view, Anixmander was unique in questioning accepted hypotheses and results, such as the idea that the earth needed support to keep from falling. Rovelli sees a connection between the independence of mind that allowed Anixmander to pursue scientific investigation and the political freedom characteristic of the Ionian states that allowed discussion among equals. This fostered the search for truth through successive approximation and error, versus the "top down" modes of thought imposed in imperial states. This welcome addition to the popular science bookshelf, winner of the Prix du Livre Haute Maurienne de l'Astronomie, highlights the quality of thought which has shaped man's institutions so profoundly over the millennia.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594161315
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/10/2011
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 817,063
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Carlo Rovelli received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Padua. He has conducted research at Imperial College, Yale University, the University of Rome, and the University of Pittsburgh and is currently professor of theoretical physics at the University of Marseille. He is author of more than 150 scholarly articles and the books Quantum Gravity and What Is Time? What Is Space?

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

One The Sixth Century 1

Knowledge and Astronomy 4

The Gods 15

Miletus 18

2 Anaximander's Contributions 29

3 Atmospheric Phenomena 37

Cosmological and Biological Naturalism 42

4 Earth Floats in Space, Suspended in the Void 45

5 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 10

6 Rebellion Becomes Virtue 75

7 Writing, Democracy, and Cultural Crossbreeding 83

The Greek Alphabet 87

Science and Democracy 93

Cultural Crossbreeding 91

8 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

9 Between Cultural Relativism and Absolute Thought 131

10 Can We Understand the World Without Gods? 143

The Conflict 147

11 Prescientific Thought 157

The Nature of Mythical-Religious Thought 159

The Different Functions of the Divine 170

Conclusion 119

Notes 183

Bibliography 191

Index 199

Illustration Credits 210

Acknowledgments 211

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  • Posted January 25, 2012

    A well overdue tribute to early Science

    Rovelli is one of the few theoretical physicists who tales the time and trouble to step back to the origins of scientific thinking and development when reviewing the fundamental and awe-inspiring role of Anaximander.

    In doing so, Rovelli does not only engage in a brief tour d'horizon of the impact that Anaximander had on physics, astronomy as well as science generally, but he manages to explain in a dispassionate manner the enormity of the step made by this often overlooked early scientist.

    His precise, tactful, and thoughtful approach is a credit to Rovelli, and a joy for the reader who invariably joins him on this journey of discovery.

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