Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Physicist (610 BC – 546 BC)
One of the greatest minds who ever lived, second great philosopher of Miletus after Thales, teacher of Pythagoras and student of the former, whom he succeeded in the Milesian School. An astronomer, biologist, cartographer, cosmologist and cosmographer, Anaximander’s contribution to philosophy is considered to have been of great influence and importance. He was the founder of scientific geometry, innovator of mathematical astronomy and of biology of evolution. His theories on metaphysics, cosmology and the apeiron (infinitum) are unique, way ahead of their times and puzzle scientists and philosophers to this day.
He was the first philosopher to write a book entitled “Περὶ Φύσεως” (De Naturae), in which the world was interpreted in a scientific manner free from mythological dogmas. The book contained maps of the world and possibly of the night sky with the distances of stars and planets. This daring book was studied by Aristotle even though it was very hard to find even in antiquity. Anaximander compiled the first geographical map of the world based on the scientific evidence contained all of the geographical data that existed. The map was highly received by his contemporaries.
Anaximander’s astronomical and planetary system was constructed based on geometrical analogies and calculations. He devised the gnomon, a sundial-like tool used to determine the equinoxes with its shadow, the hours and the duration of the day. His excellent knowledge in geometry enabled him to measure the distance between stars and place them in firmament. Among his most important discoveries were the fact that the sun did not “drown” into the ocean in the west and rise again from it in the east, rather that the sun follows a cyclical orbit and that the Earth floats unsupported.
His rejection of the mythological creation of the universe and the origin of beings by God led him to the formulation of his theory involving the apeiron (the infinite). Anaximander’s idea on the infinite was that it was the source of all life, the immortal principle that rules and defines all worlds. All living beings are created from the infinite. He rejected Thales’ theory that life was created by a change from a primary substance, which was water according to Thales, and introduced the theory that life was created by opposing forms of matter as a result of the action of perpetual motion (αϊδίου κινήσεως). This perpetual motion was the cause of the creation of life. The fact, however, that most of Anaximander’s works have been lost, combined with the fact that he used words of various meanings has given multiple interpretations to his theory on the infinite. Others believe that Anaximander possibly meant that the infinite was in fact all the elements together.
One of his most astounding and concurrently interesting theories that changed the world was the existence of parallel worlds. He speculated that the Cosmos is made up of an indefinite number of worlds. The world constantly decays, consequently wears off and is then reborn infinite times, presenting an infinite number of cosmic phases.
Anaximander was the first to speak about the evolution of species predating Darwin by thousands of years. According to his theory, the first living organisms originated from the sea and had a prickly skin, which slowly fell off as the organisms moved toward land and became new species. Since it seemed unlikely how a toddler could take care of itself and survive, Anaximander believed that man came into being from animals since they could live by themselves from a very small age. To support his theory, Anaximander provided the example of the school shark. Nevertheless, for Anaximander, the beginning of all living matter in the world was the infinite. All beings escaped from infinity and became finite by taking on a form. Because of their imperfection, beings are destroyed, lose their form and return to infinity.
- Anaximandros. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
- Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Athens: Georgiades, 1995. Print.
- Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron, 2014. Print.