Human History

Anaximander felt this primordial Universe then developed in disc-like fashion.  The cold mist at the centre congealed to form an earth shaped like a squat cylinder, or drum. The Greek world lay at the centre of one face. On the other was an unknown, probably unreachable, continent - the antipodes.

Anaximandros of Miletus born around 610 BC, was the first philosopher in history, or at least he was the first to develop a metaphysical system from totally abstract principles. 

 

Hardly anything is actually known about Anaximander apart from the fact he was respected enough to have led an expedition to set up a trading colony at Apollonia in the Black Sea.

 

He drew the first known map of the world. It seems probable that like most early Greek philosophers, his speculations grew as a sideline to his day job as a man of practical action.

 

Anaximander did write a book, On Nature, but only a single sentence survives. So his philosophy has mostly had to be reconstructed from the secondhand accounts of later Greek scholars.

 

The thirdhand retelling by modern scholars then almost entirely miss his organic turn of mind. Today he is mostly judge by his failures to be sufficiently mechanical and atomistic, not celebrated for the crystal clarity of his dichotomising logic.

 

This is Anaximander’s creation tale. In the beginning was the apeiron - a term that has been variously translated as the boundless, the infinite, the indefinite, the indeterminate. Anaximander said the apeiron was a state of simple potential, a formless block of pure existence that spread without limit. A vagueness in other words. Being eternal and ungenerated, the apeiron could be considered divine. But as said, not in the Christian sense of a God that is a unique and individual creating intelligence. The apeiron was just a stuff which had an infinite generality. It was both everything and nothing. 

 

Then something happened. The apeiron began to "separate out". There is a lot of debate about the exact translation of this term – apokrisis. Obviously Anaximander had to adopt standard everyday words to express some very technical ideas. Some say his separating out means to squirt or eject. Others that it is a process like shaking and sifting which separates the wheat from the chaff.

 

in one small region of the limitless apeiron there was a symmetry-breaking and the hot and the cold started to split apart. To Anaximander, heat and coolness seemed about the most basic possible qualities of reality and so it made sense they should be the first division to appear.

 

The potential contained an automatic dichotomy. Now the cold part of what was separating out was naturally also the heavier, thus it contracted to form a central dank, vaporous mass. Meanwhile the hot part grew into an expanding shell of warm air that became increasingly fiery and rarefied as it dried itself out. One symmetry-breaking led smoothly to the next. Properties became exposed in succession and led to further reorganisations or separations of the original potential.

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