Philosopher, Mathematician, Physicist, Astronomer (c.510 BC – 428 BC)
Anaxagoras was a philosopher from Clazomenae, who lived and taught most of his life in Athens. A Pre-Socratic philosopher, who from a young age expressed an inclination toward science, he is regarded as one of the most important thinkers of his era, not solely for his philosophical views, most notably about nous (intellect), but also for his astronomical knowledge.
Anaxagoras wrote only one book, Περὶ Φύσεως (Peri Physeos) “On Nature”. It is said that it was so popular that one could buy it from the agora of Athens with 1 drachma. In it, Anaxagoras investigates the origin of the Cosmos, as well as the creation of Earth. In the very first sentence of his book, he asserts that the world was created as a result of union of pre-existing elements. That is, all things were together. His belief that everything that exists is composed of a mixture of all ingredients that there are came to be known as the “Everything-in-Everything principle”. Every ingredient is everywhere at all times and never ceases to exist. The simplest example is that of food. Anaxagoras claims that food and water are not simply that which we perceive in our reality, but they are composed of every ingredient that the body is made of, since the body is a mixture of all ingredients that are. By this way, Anaxagoras makes an analogy between the microcosm and the macrocosm. The interpretation of this theory has long troubled philosophers, both ancient and modern.
One of Anaxagoras’ key features in his philosophy was nous. Nous, which is the only thing that does not obey the principle of Everything-in-Everything, is responsible for setting into motion the ingredients that constitute the world and thus putting it in order. Nous can be roughly interpreted as mind or intellect and pictured as a mixer that constantly rotates the ingredients that form the world around a whirlpool.
Apart from philosophy, Anaxagoras was interested in physics and astronomy. He was the first to define the way by which eclipses of the sun and the moon occur as well as how winds are formed. Indeed, Aristotle marks how Anaxagoras could prove this experimentally. One of his most stunning assertions was the fact that distinguished him from the so-called Atomists. Anaxagoras believed that the atom could be divided as “matter can be divided into infinite” and can never be fully divided. This is exactly what modern science has shown, since the atom is composed of numerous other particles such as electrons and the nucleus, which in turn can be further divided into neutrons, positrons, protons, mesons etc.
Anaxagoras had many philosophical principles, including the most puzzling of all that there exist other, parallel worlds. His ideas influenced a number of prominent philosophers ranging from Aristotle to George Gamov.
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