The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

by Carlo Rovelli
Pub. Date:
Westholme Publishing
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The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

“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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594161315
Publisher: Westholme Publishing
Publication date: 08/10/2011
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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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