The Beginning of Physics: The Presocratics

(Last Updated On: August 19, 2019)


In this series of articles, I will walk you through the wonderful evolution of physics. We will start by the Presocratics, in ancient Greece (not quite, because their culture stretched across a region called Ionia, and the period we are interested in is between 600 BC and 400 BC).

beginning of physics
The region of Ionia

The Presocratics – Who Were They?

As the name suggests, the Presocratics were a group of Greek philosophers who were active before and during Socrates’ time. They weren’t scientists, however, but more like philosophers, because they didn’t quite make accurate theories of nature via observation. They did however asked and tried to answer questions about the “essence of things“. For example: What is the building block of everything? Or, where does everything we see come from?

There are tones of Presocratics, so I will just name a few of the highlights – Thales (The first to know to have proved a mathematical theorem and creator of the first “school of thought” the Milesians), Pythagoras (Great mathematician who added the role of mathematical proof) and Democritus (The first to theorize the ‘atom‘).

beginning of physics

What Did They Do And How?

As I already explained, the Presocratics tried to answer the most “basic” questions (basic, but we haven’t answered most of then). But most importantly, they were the first ones to separate the natural world from the divine. So instead of saying “a God makes the Nile flood” they said, “it’s the wind that makes the Nile flood“.  They arrived to these answers via the study of nature and the physical universe, also known as natural philosophy, which is considered the be the predecessor of modern science.

While on their quest to explain nature the Presocratics came up with methods to arrive to those answers. Most of these methods are still used and valued today, and ‘most important’ of them was Rational Debate.

Rational Debate And Schools of Thought

Between all of these individuals and abstract theories, there was a lot of disagreement. In order to convince people that their theory was right and others were wrong these individuals rationally debated themselves. In these debates, philosophers had to use reason, logic, and observation to show their rightness. Through these factors, philosophers attacked the seemingly-wrong theories of others and showed their own awesomeness. You may think of these debates like sports: two philosophers, each with his own theory madly tried to prove his own theory rightness and get the crowd wild.

Ho, how popular would I be in this world!

Also, the Presocratics created “schools of thought“, in order to geographically spread their ideas and theories. These weren’t actually physical schools. However. they were groups of teachers, students, and individuals that shared the same opinions subjects like philosophy, social moments and beliefs. You may think that we couldn’t know of these schools since they were oral. You would be correct if it wasn’t the fact that the Greeks loved to write everything down. Every time someone had an idea they would write it down along with the name of the person who thought of it. There have been different schools over time such as the Milesian schools, the pluralistic schools, atomist schools, etc…

We will explore more of the evolution of physics in the next part and the persons who made it possible! Please tell me what did you think of this article in the comments!

Baltas Cruz

Baltas Cruz

He is a 15-year-old Portuguese with pretensions to becoming a theoretical physicist. He is also a chess player with some prizes in local competitions as well as a runner in a local team. Basically, a young man that loves life and lots of interesting stuff like PHYSICS.

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