//Electrum coin//, Ionian people ~300 BCE. Anaxagoras holding a globe with his foot on a cippus.
Electrum coin, Ionian people ~300 BCE. Anaxagoras holding a globe with his foot on a cippus.
Anaxagoras of ClazomenaeXlink.png was a philosopher who taught in Athens about 2,500 years ago. He is credited with strongly influencing the development of scientific method.1 He wrote about cosmology and physics, but only fragments of his work survive today so scholars easily disagree about what he said and meant. Anyway, here is a revealing snippet

… the mixture of all things:
of the moist and the dry,
of the warm and the cold,
of the bright and the dark …
and, generally, of seeds infinite in quantity,
in no way like each other.2

This fragment presents Anaxagoras' ideas in a succinct poetic form. He is concerned with sensation, and he selects a few for special attention. We call these perceptions Anaxagorean sensations. The passage suggests several narrative conventions for a descriptive method that seems to be deeply woven into Western thought and science. Explicitly examining these conventions gives us a deeper understanding of physics.

Anaxagorean Narrative Conventions

  1. Anaxagorean sensations are perfectly distinct, he says that they are "in no way like each other". This is a very early statement comparable to Pauli's exclusion principle.
  2. Anaxagorean sensations are characterized using binary description. For example, "the moist and the dry", or "the bright and the dark". This is the historical basis for the third hypothesis.
  3. Anaxagorean sensations are objectified as σπερμάτων or 'seeds'.5
  4. 'All things' are a 'mixture' of these seeds.
Right.png Next step: more about seeds.

To do: Aristotelian and doxographic versions of Anaxagoras' philosophy designate the fundamental components in his system as homoiomereses (ὀμοιομερῆ). They cite examples such as flesh, marrow and bone. The binary aspect of description seems to have been lost, or glossed over. So it might be fun to hunt for some correspondence between Aristotle's homoiomereses and composite particles where opposite seeds are combined.

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