My Articles
Problems the Greeks Addressed and Most Modern Scientists Avoid
by Carl R. Littmann, written 12-20-2000

I have only studied Greek philosophy a little bit. But in a sense, that's O.K., because even if I studied it greatly, I still could not do "justice" to Greek philosophers and to their great intellectual efforts and accomplishments. (Optional—see Addendum 2 at end of my paper.) A variety of Greek philosophers, from a variety of regions of Greece, produced many great schools of thought. See early "Physics Time-Line" below, or some other of your choice:

The following is from my point of view:
Let me just briefly discuss, the "Atomist," Democritus, (born 460BC, died 370BC). As utterly astounding and farsighted as many of his conclusions were, we can hardly fathom a still greater accomplishment: the mental efforts he must have made, with limited tools, to have arrived at his conclusions.

In my opinion, the Greeks made even greater efforts to make inquiries, address, and solve fundamental issues, than "modern man" makes to avoid them! How very great indeed! Briefly, I will just praise the "Eleatic school" by saying that it helped lay a very helpful foundation. (I doubt if the Eleatics would have "cared" for the "dogma" of "action at a distance", accepted by many modern scientists. I believe they would have been disturbed by any cause and effect-like action that lacked continuity.) While Leucippus and Democritus accepted many of the Eleatics' points, they departed from the Eleatics school on other points, and thus made additional great contributions.

I believe that the least remarkable of Democritus' very great contributions was his "atomic theory", which was basically accepted by modern science 2000 years later (with some refinement and modification). His atomic theory was naturally highly suggestive of some quantum phenomena also. The most remarkable thing about Democritus' Atomic Theory was that he devised it by violating every major principle of modern science, especially the importance of empirical observations and "reasonable" testability. (Could he have developed it any other way? The Sophists likely said that if you can't measure or test it, it has no meaning "to them." )

((One reason why I don't think Democritus' great atomic theory was his greatest accomplishment is this: I think that the mass and stability of "Democritus' particles" are determined by averages of yet smaller mass particles, varying in mass, dividing and merging, and traveling at different ultra high velocities. I think this provides the "material background" so that his atomic theory "works." (See my home page and article, "What We See, What We Don't See") However, since the vast majority of Democritus' writings were lost, perhaps he did address my above "rejoinder"; or might not have, for very good reason.))

I think his still greater achievement was his proposition that there are absolute Voids in "regions" of space, i.e. absolute emptiness. (This notion would contrast with a notion that "space" was "fully occupied", but with a different type of substance of much less density and/or "lighter" than other "heavier" substances such as lead. Also, it would contrast with the notion of space fully occupied by a similar substance, but which was "stretched out", "bloated," "puffed up", or expanded to occupy greater volume). Incidentally, I do not see that Democritus' concept of atoms would have, by itself, implied that there were empty spaces between atoms, because we can also imagine, for example, cube-shaped atoms, with total continuity with the others on all sides, i.e. without voids. Democritus' concept of "voids" also made the continual great changes ,which we observe in this world, seem more feasible, in a sense.

I think his greatest achievement was his bold proposition that basic (raw) mass is incompressible, i.e. as "full as it is gets", with no pores or spaces within itself. He deemed atoms had these characteristics. Of course, physical science today uses of concept of incompressibility to approximate various behaviors.

(One "notion" which is incompatible with Democritus' "incompressibility concept" is the "extreme" "Black Hole" theory, where "mass" allegedly shrinks to Zero volume, losing all of its extension.) Although I think Democritus is right, I sympathize with those tempted to associate with mass a very slight amount of compressibility.

Article's Concluding Remarks:

In many cases, it seems to me that "modern" philosophers go astray by over simplifying and underestimating the scope, limit, and capability of the human intellect. Some philosophers even totally deny all human intuition, with regard to so called "physical" theory.

Do you "buy" the notion that Democritus was just lucky. That he had better eye sight (or the like) than other Europeans? That he observed, felt, and counted individual atoms or nuclei every morning or the like? That he got into such habit, and thus, the routine of just believing in the existence and the durability of atoms? That he never had to observe that exposure to fire, at least seemed to lead to the disappearance of fuel, water and ice. That he never noted many other things that would have seemed to "hurt" his theory? Do you "buy" that all human quests to obtain a more satisfying understanding of "the outside world" are limited to "merely" observation, habit, and progression of tautology?

Irwin Stone wrote a book about evolutionary changes in mammal and primate organs. I sometimes wonder if the human brain, while perhaps expanding in some areas, has receded in other areas, since Democritus.


Optional: Miscellaneous Thoughts on Miscellaneous Subjects
The remainder of this "paper" may be relevant to only parts of my other articles. But I think it is in the spirit of Greek inquiry, (i.e., in the spirit of Thales, Parmenides, Zeno, etc.) Suppose "basic" mass does not expand. Thus, suppose mass occupies only a small fraction of the vast space of the universe, and thus leaves most of the empty space around it unoccupied. Then there seems to be "many" ways for the mass to occupy some of the volume. A few ways are shown by the sketches below: (sketches, although 2-dimensional, attempt to show 3-dimensional realities)

Here we show a small mass inside a big volume.
Here we show many small masses inside a big volume.
Here we show very many, extremely small masses inside a big volume.
Here we show several thin sheets of mass. Each sheet is shown intersecting other sheets, and all five sheets are shown "inside" a big volume.

The various intersecting sheets are somewhat like the thin walls of a "sponge".

Some especially interesting things about the last sketch (the "sheets") are as follows:

1) It is possible to "go" from one wall (of the enclosed volume) to another wall, by going along one sheet, and if necessary transferring to an intersecting sheet, without "jumping" across an empty space. Thus there is an aspect of continuity, possibly appealing to the Greek Eleatic School.

2) Despite the continuity described above, there are numerous, comparatively large, empty voids in the vastly greater space between the sheets. These voids would fit the very important requirement of Democritus'. The "web-voids" or "sponge cells" shown also have a quantum or discrete character about them. Incidentally, it is possible to get very close to a point in any void by "going along" one or various "crisscrossing" sheets.

((These "material" sheets (or "sponge") might behave somewhat like a "classical" "vortex sponge", under certain circumstances. This was much studied in the 19th century))

3) Optional (Added 1-20-2005): Let us imagine, say, one cubic inch of this “sponge”, but with many spherical-shaped cells in it, instead of cubic-shaped cells.  We can imagine it--either with very many cells, each with a thin wall; or alternately--with a fewer number of cells, each with a thick wall.  In both cases, let us imagine that various cells are spinning at the same speed.  We can then imagine that, in both cases, the one cubic inch contains about the same total mass and energy.  

But there is, still, one main characteristic difference in the two cases!  The angular momentum per cell is vastly different.  It is much greater in the case of the larger cells.  So this alone would likely make a universe, which is composed of primarily big, thick cells--significantly different from a universe composed of primarily smaller, thin cells.  Thus, I think that that constitutes one more important factor needed to specify a universe!  (I.e., in additional to the average material density in space, the density of pure incompressible mass, and  the average energy density in space

Changing the subject some, I would like to make some comments about some other concepts: I do not believe that are real "pull" forces in the universe. I think that the many, many instances of what seems to be pulling forces, in this universe, are really due to "pushing" actions. We simply can not "see" the ultra small masses which are doing the "pushing". I also do not believe in the "dogma" of "attractive" "action at a distance". Neither the "concept" of "action at a distance" nor even "attractive" forces seem "intuitive" to me. A few great modern scientists (such as Linus Pauling) have written "against" the "dogma" of "action at a distance." But it is not clear to me if they are also "uncomfortable" with the "concept of "pull" forces as well, probably not.

It is likely that some other scientists in history eventually began to question the dogma of "action at a distance", but not in time to express any doubts in their major works, in many cases.

What follows, now, is an extremely speculative discussion of the "incompressibility" of mass and related issues. It may lack relevance, be too "far out", and may not justify the readers' time:

We might "imagine" six "wedges" of "pure mass" "flying" through "pure, empty" space toward a point where they all collide, and then rebounding back toward where they came from, with the same energy and opposite velocities. This would not violate the "Law" that the product of (force x time) equals the change in momentum. It would, however, bother me that there may be an instant, however "short", where the "pure mass" is subject to "near" infinite force and pressure. ((Of course, one can avoid thinking about it by "imagining" pure mass as having a limited, slight degree of compressibility, "beyond" which it "holds firm" without further "compromise." This, however, regardless of its other merits, would tend to "violate" my "concept" of "the incompressibility of pure mass", (as if my feelings mattered). Yet, without compressibility of mass, one would seem to be left with the uncomfortable notion of such mass subjected to infinite force and pressure, for an instant.)) One of perhaps several "ways" out of this "dilemma", may be as follows: We are familiar with the concept of "centrifugal" force, and the high, but not infinite, forces applied to high speed objects "whipped" 90 deg. or 180 deg. around a very sharp, but not zero radius, turn. Perhaps, in this universe, "pure" mass does not "collide" in a "perfectly" hard way, but is rather "whipped" around such ultra small radii. Perhaps a "De Broglie wave" and/or Planck's constant (with "dimensions" of angular momentum) relates to this. Consider the possible fact that particles don't seem to have hard, well defined surfaces, but matter may tend to extend out into space from particles, yet it perhaps tends to be associated with such particles. Perhaps this tends to "assist" the more compact particles, or mass accumulations, so that they avoid "hard, pure" collisions with one another. (Electrons are supposed to be "attracted" to protons, yet seldom collide with them.)

Addendum 1 (9-30-2001):
Changing the subject some, how is it that there arises in animals such intense "feelings" as pain, etc.? A major point in most of my articles is this: There is more energy and pressure in the eyelet of a needle in so-called rarified, dark "space" than in all the material of an exploding H-bomb. Perhaps in our brains, there is set in motion, for short periods, rather continuous, nearly hard collisions of incompressible mass. Perhaps this causes still higher extraordinary pressures to arise along very thin, but real, lines or strings. In the previous paragraph, we attempted to address the staggeringly high-pressure producible when even ultra small incompressible masses "collide". That is the case whenever there are only ultra small curvatures to "deflect" them (i.e. sharp deflections). Perhaps, the so-called "material world" need not be a "dull", unexciting world, nor a world without "feelings".

Addendum 1.1 (1-20-2005):   There was one other very remarkable theory developed by some Greek Atomists.  I will briefly describe it below, even though it seems to have been developed by “Epicurus”, rather than Democritus and Leucippus; and even though it is not perfectly correct and has been modified somewhat in recent times.

Epicurus’ belief seems to have been this:  Vast numbers of atoms make up the things, say, that we handle; and since there is mostly empty space between these atoms, the atoms are free to move faster than anything else in the universe.  And that, therefore, in fact, they do!  (That speculation seems amazing to me, since the Greeks could not see individual atoms; and what they handled must have seemed rather unmoving and calm!)  

In fact, most scientists today think that most atoms or molecules do spin at (or near) the speed of light!  Or, together with other vibrations, are in motions at very high velocities.  Even if we suppose that such speeds are somewhat less than the velocity of light, and that Epicurus was not quite right; he was still remarkably close!  And there is the natural implication, from his work--that his atoms would have each had an energy of almost  mc2 , in magnitude!  (Epicurus even believed in a partial “indeterminacy” of atomic movement, a kind of Heisenberg “free will”; somewhat like the “uncertainty principle” of modern physics.  Although neither Einstein nor I agree with that, it still is incorporated into modern physics.)

Addendum 1.2 (1-20-2005):  Todd Kelso wrote many articles, and some of them pertain to the Greek schools of thought: (Ref.    Copyright 2004 Estate of Todd Matthews Kelso.) 

In my opinion, Todd Kelso was a master of logic and extremely knowledgeable.  I agree with most of his writings on most topics.  But in some instances; my emphasis or opinion is different--and I reiterate the following:  I believe that there is noabsolutelyindestructible basic, small, building block in the universe--that is, in the exact sense of what the Greek “Atomists” contemplated, when they coined the word “Atom”.  But instead, I believe that there is a statistically average, i.e. a very likely “aether” condition in space--that causes certain particles (electrons and proton) to be extremely stable.  But there are still occasional great (statistical) aether fluctuations (together with rare and extreme particle velocities or conditions nearby).  This can alter even a very “stable” particle’s stability, at least momentarily!

Addendum 2 (Optional and rather lengthy) 9-15-2003:
As mentioned previous; important Greek Philosophers came from different city-states on the Greek “mainland”, and from various parts of its extended Empire. That Empire (i.e., “Greater Greece”) stretched from what is now Turkey to what is now southern France and down to what is now northern Libya. And it included many important islands between Turkey and Greece. It also included much of southern Italy’s east and west coasts, and the large island of Sicily (south of Italy).

Examples of Greek Philosophers-Scientists--from the various parts of Greater Greece, are:

From the island of Samos, (180 miles east of Athens and almost touching Turkey)—Aristarchus, Pythagoras, Epicurus; (Pythagoras finally settled in Crotona, a town on the east coast of southern Italy, a.k.a. Croton, Cotrone, and now Crotone).

From Miletus (an ancient seaport on the West Coast of Turkey, near the island of Samos)—Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander. From other towns in Turkey, (on or near the Turkish West Coast) came Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Eudoxus, Strato.

From Abdera, a.k.a. “Avdira”, (near the northeastern coast of Greece, below what is now Bulgaria)—Leucippus, Democritus, Protagoras. (Most Greeks considered people from Abdera to be stupid).

From Elea (on the western coast of southern Italy)--Zeno, Parmenides, ((These philosophers, like quite a few others, visited Athens, on occasion--either to teach there, or to learn from there. (Of course, the famous Socrates and Plato were from Athens).))

From the large island of Sicily: (from Syracuse, Sicily)--Archimedes; and ((from Agrigentum (now Agrigento), Sicily))—Empedolcles.

From Massalia (now Marseille, France)—Pytheas; and from Syrene (now Shahhat, Libya)--Eratosthenes.

As Greek city-states warred against each other, Greece declined. And Macedonia (to the north of Greece) became more important. Macedonia’s famous king, “Alexander the Great”, received a Greek education, and also founded the famous city of “Alexandria” in Egypt. Many “Philosopher-Scientists” did important work in Alexandria, such as Euclid. Others, like Aristotle, were born in Macedonia, itself, and traveled widely and learned and taught in many places (like many philosophers). It would lengthen my already overly long list, if more names and places were added. But, of course, there were many others, ((such as the Greek island of Rhodes (near southwestern Turkey)--with it own philosophers, also)).

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Carl R. Littmann

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