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Anaximander

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He describes how the Greeks established that the Earth was not flat using a nearly identical scientific inquiry used by the Chinese to establish that the Earth was flat. This literal groundbreaking idea – inventing at a stroke the idea of the cosmos – was, as the historian of science Karl Popper suggested, “one of the boldest, most revolutionary and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thinking”. Never Split the Difference takes you inside his world of high-stakes negotiations, revealing the nine key principles that helped Voss and his colleagues succeed when it mattered the most - when people's lives were at stake. It's like the best primer you can imagine for the non-scientist on why what you think you know about Ptolemy and Copernicus, or Popper and Kuhn, is not quite right -- Sam Leith ― Twitter --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. These factors have an urgent relevance, he suggests, for the scientists and citizens and policymakers of today.

The first, Thales, one of the seven sages of ancient Greece, is often credited as the pioneer in applying deductive reasoning to geometry and astronomy; he used his mathematics, for example, to predict solar eclipses. This new freedom to doubt received wisdom was crucial in Anaximander revealing what it took Chinese stargazers – advanced in many other respects – another 2,000 years to acknowledge: that the Earth was suspended in space. Half of the book is a collection of thoughts of Rovelli about the role of science and its main characteristics: simple but important concepts. In this book Rovelli presents his view of science and why he believes Anaximander deserves the credit for starting the enterprise.

Carlo Rovelli's first book, now widely available in English, tells the origin story of scientific thinking: our rebellious ability to reimagine the world, again and again. Carlo Rovelli implies that Anaximander was atheist, and precisely as such Anaximander altered the course of scientific inquiry by explaining physical phenomena in terms of physical phenomena. Time flows at a different speed in different places, the past and the future differ far less than we might think, and the very notion of the present evaporates in the vast universe. At first this seemed like hyperbole from someone championing a particular favourite, but by the end of the book I was convinced.

The next step Rovelli takes is to try to understand why 6th century BC Greece was pretty well the only such starting point. That process, the idea that knowledge was something not handed down by gods or elders, but evolving, something to be quickly interrogated and built upon, set in motion, Rovelli argues, what we understand as the scientific method. If I understand Carlo Rovelli’s position, there are absolute truths in each of these findings that cannot be undone even by following the type of scientific inquiry unleashed by Anaximander. A former FBI hostage negotiator offers a new, field-tested approach to negotiating - effective in any situation.In this formative book, published in English for the first time, he clearly senses Anaximander as a kindred spirit, though his claims for the Greek are based on scattered traces of evidence. A reasonable person can deduce that proper analysis of physical phenomena utilizing physical phenomena arrives at truth. He explains some of the most conceptually difficult and densest areas of physics lightly and breezily.

In my experience, working scientists often get history of science wrong - in this case, as it's arguably more history of philosophy, I can't say whether or not Carlo Rovelli is straying far from what's known to make his point, but what he has to say about the Greek philosopher Anaximander from the 6th century BC is fascinating.

I found this a lot less interesting, partly because I'd seen most of it before, and partly because it is more a matter of paddling in the murky waters of philosophy of science rather than the more interesting (to me) origins of the history of science. Though part of Rovelli’s project is to grant Anaximander greater prominence in histories of civilisation, he is equally interested in examining the social factors that led to this big bang moment for rational thought. It was implicit in Miletus’s geography as a trading city in which Greek and Egyptian and Babylonian cultures met. Do recent observations of near death experiences offer valid answers to whether human beings have a soul? In this, Rovelli suggests, he sends perhaps his most potent message through the ages, “one that can serve as a warning to us today”.

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