|Mar22-11, 10:55 PM||#1|
The First Scientist: Anaximander and his legacy
A new book in the history of science.
Delving into the first glimpses of physical law. The idea that nature and experience could be explained by (semi-quantitative) laws instead of by myths and gods.
What is the root of scientific explanation? How did the idea of it arise?
The history is developed by focusing on a person, a student of Thales, in the Ionian city of Miletus, and the events surrounding his life circa 610-546 BC.
Humanity took a significant step forward around that time, I think
The book is scheduled to go on sale in May 2011, so just a couple of months.
|Mar28-11, 01:00 PM||#3|
Evo, I know very little about Anaximander but I did hear something amusing.
Apparently he knew the earth was spherical, so then the question everybody asks is "what holds it up?"
This is hearsay, I should check it, but anyway other people thought up explanations like it was held up by a Giant, or by Turtles, or floated on the surface of an infinite ocean.
But apparently Anaximander thought a little more deeply and said: Yes the round earth is situated in the midst of empty space but it does not fall...because there is no preferred direction for it to fall in!
That is, he used a symmetry argument to show that there is no need for the earth to be suspended from anything or supported on any base.
Much of contemporary physics is saying that things are the way they are because of symmetries of various sorts. So in that way the reasoning of the physicists is anaximandral.
He didn't have the idea of an (algebraic) equation---but much of physics as we know it involves balance, equilibrium, opposing forces, resolution achieved by the equals sign. He didn't have that, but instead the equation he used the idea of Justice. Different opposing principles resolved by Justice. Just like a Greek.
And so he made up Laws, instead of Turtles and Giants.
Cute old guy. One could get to like Anaximander, I guess.
I have started to wish that I could go to Miletus, that city on the coast of Turkey that was once a city of the Ionians. I imagine looking out from Miletus, onto the Aegean, and I imaging there are islands visible out to sea. I actually don't know whether there really are islands in sight from Miletus.
|Mar28-11, 04:28 PM||#4|
The First Scientist: Anaximander and his legacy
Yet it is true that Anaximander used the principle of indifference to explain why the earth could just hang at the centre of its world. He also believed many others worlds would exist, generated from the unbounded apeiron.
But it would be a shame for Anaximander to be remembered for just a simple bit of cosmology and his real significance overlooked. He had a theory of causality as a complex process of development - of symmetry-breaking, indeed - that was far more important.
I wonder if Rovelli will have cottoned on to this? Probably not as it sounds as though he wants to assimilate Anaximander to the "modern scientific tradition" - the rival view of causality drawn up by the Greek atomists.
|Mar29-11, 12:16 PM||#5|
I look forward to the book - good find marcus!
|Mar29-11, 02:52 PM||#6|
But surely you had no trouble googling apeiron (1.28 million hits)? What are you trying to say here?
|Mar29-11, 02:57 PM||#7|
(that should have been spherical - not sperical)
|Mar29-11, 03:22 PM||#8|
"The apeiron has generally been understood as a sort of primal chaos. It acts as the substratum supporting opposites such as hot and cold, wet and dry, and directed the movement of things, by which there grew up all of the host of shapes and differences which are found in the world. Out of the vague and limitless body there sprang a central mass — this earth of ours — cylindrical in shape. A sphere of fire surrounded the air around the earth and had originally clung to it like the bark round a tree. When it broke, it created the sun, the moon and the stars. The first animals were generated in the water. When they came to earth they were transmuted by the effect of the sun. The human being sprung from some other animal, which originally was similar to a fish. The blazing orbs, which have drawn off from the cold earth and water, are the temporary gods of the world clustering around the earth, which to the ancient thinker is the central figure."
|Mar29-11, 09:28 PM||#9|
I would say that it is wrong to focus too much on the quaint archaic cosmological thinking, the spheres of fire and fish hatching from mudballs, as it was Anaximander's underlying causal model that was deep and still relevant.
Anaximander told a story about development by dichotomisation. A symmetry breaking of states of potential.
So it was a really deep view of symmetry principles, not just a simple understanding about spherical symmetry for instance.
Of course, this was also pretty much the causal model of the Theogony. So Anaximander did not invent it outright. He just stripped away the gods and dealt in pure abstractions.
|Mar30-11, 06:40 AM||#10|
It looks inspirational, as does the book.
|May16-11, 08:39 PM||#11|
It turns out that because of silting (or some reason) the shoreline has changed and Miletus is now INLAND. It is no longer on the coast. Maybe I was the only one who didn't know that.
There still are some Ionian greek ruins there.
The book "The First Scientist" is scheduled to go on sale 25 May, a little over a week now!
Éditions Dunod published the French version in 2009. It won a French prize for non-fiction: the Prix du Livre Haute Maurienne de l’Astronomie.
Here is the publisher's page for the 2009 French edition:
Here is the book's Amazon.fr page:
The publisher of the English version (Westholme) doesn't seem to be giving much advanced publicity. Here are the Amazon listings for Usa, Canada, UK:
Some promotional material (provided by Westholme) reflects critical acclaim received by the 2009 French edition of the book:
==quote http://www.westholmepublishing.com/t...scientist.html ==
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. Praise for the French edition (Éditions Dunod, 2009)...
The publisher also has a kind of sound-bite from Lee Smolin:
"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
|May18-11, 11:47 AM||#12|
I checked French Amazon today and Anaximander was doing OK. The book ranked 30,383 amongst all books sold. For a book by a non-celeb physicist about a 6th century Ionian...well maybe it deserves better but it's not so bad.
Does the book have a chance in the US market? The publisher Westholme is small and not mainstream. The French publisher was Dunod, which is more central to the industry, and the book won a prestige prize for science popularization. What will happen in Usa?
I decided to transcribe (maybe later translate) one of the French Amazon comments.
The title is "The logic of scientific discovery--made easy."
5.0 étoiles sur 5
La logique de la découverte scientifique ... en plus facile
Par Jean-paul Lacharme (Marseille, France), 19 septembre 2009
L'intérêt de ce livre tient d'abord à la personnalité de son auteur: un chercheur en physique, (spécialiste de la gravitation quantique, l'une des matière les moins accessibles pour le citoyen lambda) possédant cependant une bonne connaissance en culture gréco-latine. La chose n'est pas si courante dans ce milieu. Le sujet, Anaximandre de Milet n'est pas très connu car il ne reste plus grand chose de ce qu'il a écrit. C'est toutefois un auteur important car pour la première fois dans l'histoire, un penseur essaye d'expliquer le fonctionnement du monde par des lois immanentes et non par l'intervention des dieux. Ici, Rovelli nous montre simplement comment la connaissance scientifique s'est déployée en occident et pourquoi elle n'a pas connu un même épanouissement dans d'autres grandes civilisations comme celle de la Chine. Ça ne vaut pas Karl Popper ou Max Weber, bien sûr, mais c'est plus accessible, et c'est le point de vue d'un scientifique de base. Un regret : les nombreuses références bibliographiques données en annexe sont souvent non-françaises, ce qui leur ôte beaucoup d'intérêt pour un lecteur strictement francophone.
|Jun6-11, 06:03 PM||#13|
The initial publication date was not met, as often happens, but I've learned that the book is definitely in the works and will soon be out.
My understanding is it will be about 200 pages (some of that TOC, biblio, index) and written for a wide audience. Short and sweet in other words, bringing the humanities viewpoint and scientist viewpoint together with interesting personalities, stories, historical detail, and quotes from ancient writings...
I think it will be the kind of thin book that can sometimes help change our outlook, because asking who was the first scientist can serve as a concrete way of asking "what, really, is science?" and of exploring how those habits of mind and community peculiar to it arise and are sometimes nourished, sometimes repressed.
US publisher Westholme's page for forthcoming English edition
French publisher's page for the 2009 edition
|Jun8-11, 10:43 PM||#14|
The new publication date is August 11, 2011. I feel fairly sure that they will make this one.
We can tell a fair amount about the book from information already available here:
French publisher's page for the 2009 edition
about the French edition. Here is the French TOC:
1. Le VIe siècle.
Un panorama du monde.
Le savoir du VIe siècle : l’astronomie.
2. Les contributions d’Anaximandre.
3. Les phénomènes atmosphériques.
Le naturalisme cosmologique et biologique.
4. Flotte la Terre.
5. Entités invisibles et lois naturelles.
Y a-t-il dans la nature quelque chose que nous ne voyons pas?
L’idée de loi naturelle : Anaximandre, Pythagore et Platon.
6. Quand la révolte devient vertu.
7. Écriture, démocratie et mélange des cultures.
La Grèce archaïque
Science et démocratie.
Le mélange des cultures.
8. Qu’est-ce que la science?
Penser Anaximandre après Einstein et Heisenberg.
L’effondrement des illusions du XIXème siècle.
La science ne se réduit pas à des prédictions vérifiables.
Explorer les formes de pensée du monde.
L’évolution de l’image du monde.
Règles du jeu et commensurabilité.
Éloge de l’incertitude.
9. Entre relativisme culturel et pensée de l’absolu.
10. Peut-on comprendre le monde sans les dieux?
13. La pensée pré-scientifique.
La nature de la pensée mystico-religieuse. Les différentes fonctions du divin.
14. Conclusion : l’héritage d’Anaximandre
Don't put too much weight on this. This is just the TOC of the French version which has been out since 2009. It would be natural for changes, revisions, additions to occur, that appear first in the English edition.
|Jun8-11, 10:58 PM||#15|
I would say that unfortunately a proper understanding of Anaximander's philosophy would indeed be outlook-changing for most, but Rovelli's book looks like it is going to be about something else. He will be celebrating Anaximander for his intellectual method...but ignoring the metaphysical results.
Hopefully I will be proved wrong, but the pre-publicity suggests otherwise.
|Jun8-11, 11:06 PM||#16|
Thank you for the updates Marcus!
|Jun8-11, 11:30 PM||#17|
While we wait for Rovelli, this paper by Arran Gare is a useful backgrounder on how Anaximander was the original process philosopher (taking a unified systems view of nature) and then thinking went either towards a simpler substance ontology (standard issue atomism/reductionism) or Platonic dualism.
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