The Orgins of Atomic Theory


By Levi Pulkkinen

There is an eternal human compulsion to unlock the mysteries of our lives and
our world. This search for knowledge has guided us to many beneficial new
understandings. It has lead us into this new age where information is its own
reward, an age where enlightenment is an end, not simply a means to an end.
Enlightenment has been the aim of many great people. It has inspired many
scientists and artists to construct articles of infinite beauty and value.

At times this quest for understanding has been embraced by entire civilizations,
and when an entire society commits to one noble cause only good can come from it.
In Ancient Greece there was such a civilization, and even today we use their
theories to initiate our scientific and artistic endeavors. All western thought
can find its roots in the philosophy and science of the Greeks, even the way we
see the world is influenced by the ideologies of Ancient Greece. The Greeks were
the first to seek a greater understanding of the world, to know "why" we are not
just "what" we are.

The Greeks invented science and explored it in its truest form, philosophy.
Through the years we have developed tools that we hope can prove or disprove
various hypothesizes, to further our understanding of any number of things. We
divide science into categories and then sub-divide it even farther, until we can
hide the connections and pretend that they really are separate. The difference
between psychology and physics is not as extreme as one would believe if they
were to read their definitions. Though the means are different the goal is the
same for all science: to increase our understanding of our earthly domain, and
to improve ourselves. The Greeks created this guiding principle more than two
thousand years ago.

Greek atomic theory was not the work of a single person, in fact it was a
product of many great minds. There were many fundamental ideas that formed the
basis for their theory on the make up of the universe. One-hundred and forty
years before Socrates there was a lesser-known scholar named Thales, and he was
the Father of Philosophy.

Thales was from a part of Greece called Miletus, and it was for his skill as an
engineer, not as a philosopher, that he was recognized during his life. Before
his time, the Greeks had no clear concept of matter, and did not use science to
broaden their understanding of the universe. Because of the focus on the
practical that was prevalent during that time, it was not until years later that
Thales\' scientific genius was recognized by the scholars of Greece.

Thales re-invented science, changing it into what we see today. Without Thales
there would have been no Einstein or Bohr, there would have been no Apollo and
no penicillin. But Thales\' influence was not confined to the more technical
sciences, such as chemistry. He was the first scholar to explore the idea of the
human soul, that a body is more than a machine. He was the first to see that,
for most people at least, life is more than a physical condition, it is also
involves spiritual fulfillment and growth. From this theory sprung social-
scientific disciplines like psychology and anthropology.

Thales is most famous for his statement that "all things are water," water
meaning "liquid" rather than "H20". Through the years we have found the literal
meaning to be untrue, but at the time it\'s meaning was earth-shattering. Before
Thales\' statement it was believed that things were unchanging, and that which
could not be immediately or adequately explained was supernatural. Thales felt
that all things were in a state of constant flux, and that all things were
uniform in their make-up but different in their order and number. This would be
proven thousands of years later and become the basis for modern Chemistry.

Roughly one hundred years passed before any of the great thinkers of Athens
looked further into Thales\' theories on matter. They focused on the
philosophical aspects of the world, the hidden meaning of life and other
timeless questions. Socrates and his cohorts formulated grand theories about the
human soul and psyche, the search for knowledge of self consumed their thoughts
and their writings. Their focus was on the building rather than the bricks.

Democritus was different. Born in the city of Abdera, he traveled to Athens when
he was a young man hoping to speak with Anaxagoras, a well-known scientist. When
he arrived in Athens he was unable talk with Anaxagoras, who thought his time
far too valuable