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Home / Books / The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy by Carlo Rovelli | Book Review

The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy by Carlo Rovelli | Book Review

Did you ever wonder who the first scientist of the world was? The word “scientist” itself was first introduced in English language in year 1834 and the dictionary meaning of it is: “a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences”. So, by this definition, there are many candidates for the title in the western world including the well-known names like Galileo, Pythagoras, Archimedes, etc. Carlo Rovelli, however, proposes to establish an ancient Greek philosopher named Anaximander (sixth century BC), as the first scientist of the world in his recently published book.

Boook : The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy
Author : Carlo Rovelli
Publisher : Various, a number of translated versions also available

Scholars of Greek philosophy have studied Anaximander for centuries and there are many published works available on his theories. Anaximander is known as the author of first Greek “treatise in prose” and is claimed to be the first to propose notions like: “The earth floats in space; that all living creatures have descended from a common ancestor or meteorological events were not caused by gods”. The evidence of most of his work though, is second hand.

Of his own works, only four lines remain, embedded in an account given by Simplicius, who cites Anaximander word for word: “ neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but some different, boundless nature, from which all the heavens arise and the cosmos within them; out of those things whence is the generation for existing things, into these again does their destruction take place, according to what must needs be; for they make amends and give reparation to one another for their offense, according to the ordinance of time”. It also must be noted that this is a translation of the ancient Greek used in sixth century and one must allow for possible inaccuracies.

Apart from this, whatever has been claimed or conjectured as his work by philosophers for last many years, appears in works by Socrates, Aristotle, Hippolytus and others. For example, Aristotle writes: “There are some who say that the earth remains in place because of similarity, as did Anaximander among the ancients…” Or the geographer Agathemerus writes that: “Anaximander of Miletus, the pupil of Thales, was the first to depict the inhabited earth on a chart.” And on such evidences only, our knowledge of the celestial models proposed by Anaximander relies.

And so, the claim of his being the first scientist of the world rests on quite a fragile platform and remains open to debate. India, for one, has a wealthy lineage of mathematicians and scientists that go back to thousands of years including Vedas and Upanishadas that debate the nature of life and universe and the later brilliant mathematicians like, Aryabhatta, Kanad, Bhrigu and many more.

The book, however, is a good read for all the curious minds who like to wonder in the mysteries of the history to evaluate and find the truth for themselves.

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