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PHYSICAL SCIENCE ANCIENT AND MODERN FRANK ALLEN S CIENCE, like all departments of human history, has had its great epochs of development. In these periods men of commanding genius appeared in surprisingly large numbers, each of whom was able to make some definite contribution to the body of scientific knowledge which determined the character of the age. In the earlier stages of advancement, outbursts of activity were succeeded by periods of stagnation lasting for centuries, dUlĀ·ing which men rested satisfied with former achievements, authority became venerated, and those innovators were sternly repressed who dared to challenge ancient knowledge and disturb the calmness of assured repose. In some way, difficult to understand, a new epoch of extraordinary activity succeeded the stagnation, as though a period of rest were required for fresh intellectual energy to accumulate by which the inertia of centuries was overcome and the mind carried to I . h new tnump s. T hough the origin of a few of the earliest ideas of physical science can now be traced in embryonic form in Hindu and even in Chinese writers, it was through the speculations of Greek philosophers that inquiry into the system of nature first impressed itself upon the European mind with marvellous illuminating power. From the time of the earliest of these philosophers to the present, four great epochs of scientific activity may be discerned. The first epoch, as is to be expected, contains the origin of many departments of physical science. In the succeeding eras these branches of knowledge became more highly developed; and finally, in the present period, it 146 l I I I I , PHYSICAL SCIENCE ANCIENT A~D MODERN is for the first time becoming possible to state clearly the problem of the nature of the universe and- to distinguish the avenues of approach to its solution. Of these periods the first and last are, therefore, the most significant in their relation to the problem of the physical world, while the intervening periods are remarkable for the extension of knowledge and the elevation of phenomena into principles. It is especially worthy of note that out of the early speculations on physical science philo- - sophy itself arose. Most appropriate, therefore, is the present tendency of physical science to resume its basic philosophical character. T he first epoch of science began wi th Thales (640-546 B.C.), the merchant of Miletus, the founder of science and philosophy, the chief of the seven wise men of Greece; it lasted about seven hundred years with intermittent outbursts of activity and ended with Ptolemy of Alexandria about 130 A.D. Thales introduced the fruitful idea of the existence of a single elementary substance from which, by innumerable modifications, all other materials in the world were compounded. T hough his choice of water as the primary elemen t, a most fertile hypothesis for the age, and the rival selections of earth, air, and fire by succeeding philosophers were, from the modern point of view, all equally absurd, yet the idea of one eternal element always the same in essence but infinitely varied in its manifestations to sense was thereby in troduced to the Greek mind and thus to the world. It now forms one of the most fundamental problems of modern science. Thales also recorded the discovery of electricity by referring to the electrification of amber when rubbed with silk. Further, he mentioned the property of magnetism and successfull y predicted 147 THE ,UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY an eclipse of the sun for May 28,585 B.C., possibly the most brilliant achievement of ancient science. In this period arose the rival speculations on the continuity or discontinuity of matter. Anaxagoras and Aristotle maintained the thesis that matter was continuous in structure and, therefore, infinitely divisible; while Democri tus and the poetic expositor of science, Lucretius, upheld the theory that matter was composed of atoms and could not, therefore, be divisible beyond the limit of these ultimate particles. In the realm of astronomy; the Pythagoreans, who originated about 570 B.C., introduced into Greece, possibly from Babylonian sources, a theory of the cosmos as a system of concentric circles rotating about a central fire. These ideas were carried...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 146-166
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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