Yet another fantastic episode of “Cosmos” starring NdGT, this one including Greek thinkers such as Thales and Democritus. Neil also breathes a lot in this episode. Sorry, I can’t explain it, you’ll have to watch.
If you missed this exciting episode, don’t worry, that’s what streaming is all about! Here’s a quick two cent recap: Thales argued that things we couldn’t explain (like thunder and lightning) weren’t capricious acts of gods, but natural and therefore understandable phenomena. Democritus suggested that all things were made of fundamental building blocks called “atoms.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of such great concepts, for they are central to our current understanding of nature. But as students of behavior, we should also remember that when it comes to remembering our glorious intellectual history, we have more in common with preparing a holiday feast than confessing an honest recollection.
Have you ever gotten ready for having company coming over for dinner? Clean the floors, wash the walls, get out the fine china and hide all the dirt, if you can. Holding up our glorious history as if everything was neat and clean is exactly the same. Once company is gone, we can let our home go back to ‘normal.’ And our history is also ‘normal,’ in the sense that we know Thales and Democritus did not have an easy time of it. Their voices were one of many putting a wide variety of concepts forward. And if we look at all their words (what’s left, anyway) to see what they truly said, we find that their concepts are much muddier than what NdGT would like us to believe.
And that’s ok, because that’s reality. They didn’t live during a time of purity and perfect predictions, and neither do we. What we need to learn from the ‘dirt’ of the past is that, even today, there may be a modern Thales or Democritus who is trying to lay the foundation of a better understanding of nature. What we do have, that they did not, is the discipline of Science to help us separate the crazy ideas from the good ones.
That is, if Science is working as it should be. Sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ll talk about that next week. For now, let’s just breathe.
Ahhh. Ancient atoms!