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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Philosophical Basis of Science

Go back far enough in history and you’ll find the point where science emerged from philosophy. Indeed for most of history, science was known as natural philosophy.

As Mark Vernon writes in his delightful new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy:
The presocratic philosophers were those individuals who began to ask the kind of questions that cause a certain distance to open between the individual and the world in which they had felt immersed. They began to create a mentality that feels more familiar to us, one that planted the seeds of the modern. We know one of those queries left by Anaxamines of Miletus, one of the earliest philosophers of the sixth century (B.C.E.) He thought to blow on his hand in two ways. First with his mouth wide open. Then, with his lips pursed. He noticed a difference. Try it.
When blowing with his mouth wide open, Anaxamines found that his breath felt warm. With his lips pursed, it felt cold on his hand. And then he thought to ask why.

That small question, Vernon writes, represents a massive leap of mind. “It wonders if the difference might have a physical reason, a proto-scientific explanation. We now describe the effect as a result of Boyle’s law.”
Read it all here.

Mark Vernon is a former Anglican Church priest. His Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy grew out of lectures he delivered at the New Academy based in Notting Hill, London.

Related reading: Ancient Wisdom, Science and TechnologyPlato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

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