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Anaximander: And the Nature of Science

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That something, physicist Carlo Rovelli argues in this enjoyable and provocative little book, occurred in the interaction between two of the place’s greatest minds. 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.

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. 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. Published in English for the first time, Rovelli's fascinating debut work pays much needed tribute to the pioneering Ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander and the game-changing theories that wrestled science away from crude superstition. 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’.As a stand-alone proposition, it is the least bit enlightening, but after reading this book I can appreciate that Anaximander’s contribution to scientific inquiry and analysis was monumental, as Carlo Rovelli teaches. In this book Rovelli presents his view of science and why he believes Anaximander deserves the credit for starting the enterprise. And it was no coincidence that Anaximander’s revolutionary thinking also coincided with the birth of the polis – the nascent democratic structures built on debate as to how best to govern society. The next step Rovelli takes is to try to understand why 6th century BC Greece was pretty well the only such starting point.

In this, Rovelli suggests, he sends perhaps his most potent message through the ages, “one that can serve as a warning to us today”. 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. 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.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. You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice.

It's like the best primer you can imagine for the non-scientist on why what you think you know about Ptolemy and Copernicus, or Popper and Kuhn, is not quite right -- Sam Leith ― Twitter --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Anaximander assimilated Thales’s ideas, treated them with due respect, but then rejected and improved on them and came up with more exact theories of his own. Maybe Carlo Rovelli need not answer these questions or maybe he thinks these are questions not worth asking.

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