Atomism

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Atomism is a natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s
and empty void
Void
-In science and engineering:*Void , the empty spaces between galaxy filaments*Lack of matter, or vacuum*Void, in boiling heat transfer, formed where there is a departure from nucleate boiling, causing a critical heat flux...

.

According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, atoms are indestructible and immutable and there are an infinite variety of shapes and sizes. They move through the void, bouncing off each other, sometimes becoming hooked with one or more others to form a cluster. Clusters of different shapes, arrangements, and positions give rise to the various macroscopic substances in the world.

References to the concept of atoms date back to ancient India
History of India
The history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from...

 and ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. In India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 the Jain , Ajivika
Ajivika
Ājīvika was an ancient philosophical and ascetic movement of the Mahajanapada period of the Indian subcontinent....

 and Carvaka
Carvaka
' , also known as ', is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference. It seems named after , the probable author of the and probably a follower of Brihaspati, who founded the ' philosophy.In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka...

 schools of atomism may date back to the 6th century BCE. The Nyaya
Nyaya
' is the name given to one of the six orthodox or astika schools of Hindu philosophy—specifically the school of logic...

 and Vaisheshika
Vaisheshika
Vaisheshika or ' is one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy of India. Historically, it has been closely associated with the Hindu school of logic, Nyaya....

 schools later developed theories on how atoms combined into more complex objects. In the West, the references to atoms emerged in the 5th century BCE with Leucippus
Leucippus
Leucippus or Leukippos was one of the earliest Greeks to develop the theory of atomism — the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms — which was elaborated in greater detail by his pupil and successor, Democritus...

, and Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

. Whether Indian culture influenced Greek or vice versa or whether both evolved independently is a matter of dispute.

Of importance to the philosophical concept of atomism is the historical accident that the particles which chemists and physicists of the early 19th century thought were indivisible, and therefore identified with the uncuttable a-toms of long tradition, were found in the 20th century to be composed of even smaller entities: electrons, neutrons, and protons. Further experiments showed that protons and neutrons are made of quarks. At present, quarks, electrons, and other fundamental particles such as muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

s, taus, neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

s, and gauge boson
Gauge boson
In particle physics, gauge bosons are bosonic particles that act as carriers of the fundamental forces of nature. More specifically, elementary particles whose interactions are described by gauge theory exert forces on each other by the exchange of gauge bosons, usually as virtual particles.-...

s show no experimental evidence of size or substructure. However, the possibility that they too might be composed of smaller particles cannot be ruled out. Although the connection to historical atomism is at best tenuous, these particles, rather than chemical "atoms", are roughly analogous to the traditional indivisible objects.

Traditional atomism in philosophy


The word atom is understood in primarily two distinct ways: firstly, by the physical sciences; secondly, by philosophy. Atomism is traditionally associated with the latter, the traditional argument of which being that atoms are the basic building blocks of all real, knowable matter, and make up absolutely anything that exists. Atoms are the smallest possible division of matter, do not have physical parts, and cannot be split, cut nor in any way further divided; they are either sizeless (point-sized) or they have a tiny size. Those that have a tiny size are called Democritean
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 atoms. This was the perception in Greek theories of atomism. India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n Buddhists, such as Dharmakirti
Dharmakirti
Dharmakīrti , was an Indian scholar and one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic. He was one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, according to which the only items considered to exist are momentary states of consciousness.-History:Born around the turn of the 7th century,...

 and others, also contributed to well-developed theories of atomism, and which involve momentary (instantaneous) atoms, that flash in and out of existence . The tradition of atomism leads to the position that only atoms exist, and there are no composite objects (objects with parts), which would mean that human bodies, clouds, planets, and whatnot all do not exist. This consequence of atomism was openly discussed by atomists such as Democritus, Hobbes, and perhaps even Kant
KANT
KANT is a computer algebra system for mathematicians interested in algebraic number theory, performing sophisticated computations in algebraic number fields, in global function fields, and in local fields. KASH is the associated command line interface...

 (there is a debate over whether or not Kant was an atomist) among others, and it is also called mereological nihilism
Mereological nihilism
Mereological nihilism is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist , and only basic building blocks without parts exist...

 or metaphysical nihilism
Metaphysical nihilism
Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that there might have been no objects at all, i.e. that there is a possible world in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might have been no concrete objects at all, so even if every possible world contains some objects, there...

. In contemporary philosophy, atomism is not as popular as it has been in past times, because many contemporary philosophers are not willing to argue that only atoms exist, wherein there are not any things like trees, etc. Simples theory is a similar theory to atomism, but where unlike mereological nihilism, philosophers do hold that more than just atoms exist (such as cars and trees made up of the atoms).

Is there an ultimate, indivisible unit of matter?


In the 5th century BC, Leucippus
Leucippus
Leucippus or Leukippos was one of the earliest Greeks to develop the theory of atomism — the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms — which was elaborated in greater detail by his pupil and successor, Democritus...

 and his pupil Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 proposed that all matter was composed of small indivisible particles called atoms, in order to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought on the nature of reality. On one side was Heraclitus
Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

, who believed that the nature of all existence is change. On the other side was Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, who believed instead that all change is illusion.

Parmenides denied the existence of motion, change and void. He believed all existence to be a single, all-encompassing and unchanging mass (a concept known as monism
Monism
Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry. Accordingly, some philosophers may hold that the universe is one rather than dualistic or pluralistic...

), and that change and motion were mere illusions. This conclusion, as well as the reasoning that lead to it, may indeed seem baffling to the modern empirical mind, but Parmenides explicitly rejected sensory experience as the path to an understanding of the universe, and instead used purely abstract reasoning. Firstly, he believed there is no such thing as void, equating it with non-being (i.e. "if the void is, then it is not nothing; therefore it is not the void"). This in turn meant that motion is impossible, because there is no void to move into.
He also wrote all that is must be an indivisible unity, for if it were manifold, then there would have to be a void that could divide it (and he did not believe the void exists). Finally, he stated that the all encompassing Unity is unchanging, for the Unity already encompasses all that is and can be.
Democritus accepted most of Parmenides' arguments, except for the idea that change is an illusion. He believed change was real, and if it was not then at least the illusion had to be explained. He thus supported the concept of void, and stated that the universe is made up of many Parmenidean entities that move around in the void. The void is infinite and provides the space in which the atoms can pack or scatter differently. The different possible packings and scatterings within the void make up the shifting outlines and bulk of the objects that organisms feel, see, eat, hear, smell, and taste. While organisms may feel hot or cold, hot and cold actually have no real existence. They are simply sensations produced in organisms by the different packings and scatterings of the atoms in the void that compose the object that organisms sense as being "hot" or "cold."

The work of Democritus only survives in secondhand reports, some of which are unreliable or conflicting. Much of the best evidence of Democritus' theory of atomism is reported by Aristotle in his discussions of Democritus' and Plato's contrasting views on the types of indivisibles composing the natural world.

Geometry and atoms

Element Polyhedron Number of Faces Number of Triangles
Fire Tetrahedron
Tetrahedron
In geometry, a tetrahedron is a polyhedron composed of four triangular faces, three of which meet at each vertex. A regular tetrahedron is one in which the four triangles are regular, or "equilateral", and is one of the Platonic solids...



(Animation)
4 24
Air Octahedron
Octahedron
In geometry, an octahedron is a polyhedron with eight faces. A regular octahedron is a Platonic solid composed of eight equilateral triangles, four of which meet at each vertex....



(Animation)
8 48
Water Icosahedron
Icosahedron
In geometry, an icosahedron is a regular polyhedron with 20 identical equilateral triangular faces, 30 edges and 12 vertices. It is one of the five Platonic solids....



(Animation)
20 120
Earth Cube

(Animation)
6 24
Geometrical Simple Bodies According to Plato


Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 (c. 427—c. 347 BC) objected to the mechanistic
Mechanism (philosophy)
Mechanism is the belief that natural wholes are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other, and with their order imposed from without. Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts or an external...

 purposelessness of the atomism of Democritus. He argued that atoms just crashing into other atoms could never produce the beauty and form of the world. In the Timaeus, (28B – 29A) Plato insisted that the cosmos
Cosmos
In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος , meaning "order" or "ornament" and is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Today, the word is generally used as a synonym of the word Universe . The word cosmos originates from the same root...

 was not eternal but was created, although its creator framed it after an eternal, unchanging model.

One part of that creation were the four simple bodies of fire, air, water, and earth. But Plato did not consider these corpuscles
Corpuscularianism
Corpuscularianism is a physical theory that supposed all matter to be composed of minute particles, which became important in the Seventeenth century. Among the leading corpuscularians were Rene Descartes, Robert Boyle, and John Locke....

 to be the most basic level of reality, for in his view they were made up of an unchanging level of reality, which was mathematical. These simple bodies were geometric solids
Platonic solid
In geometry, a Platonic solid is a convex polyhedron that is regular, in the sense of a regular polygon. Specifically, the faces of a Platonic solid are congruent regular polygons, with the same number of faces meeting at each vertex; thus, all its edges are congruent, as are its vertices and...

, the faces of which were, in turn, made up of triangles. The square faces of the cube were each made up of four isosceles right-angled triangles and the triangular faces of the tetrahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron were each made up of six right-angled triangles.

He postulated the geometric structure of the simple bodies of the four elements as summarized in the table to the right. The cube, with its flat base and stability, was assigned to earth; the tetrahedron was assigned to fire because its penetrating points and sharp edges made it mobile. The points and edges of the octahedron and icosahedron were blunter and so these less mobile bodies were assigned to air and water. Since the simple bodies could be decomposed into triangles, and the triangles reassembled into atoms of different elements, Plato's model offered a plausible account of changes among the primary substances.

The rejection of atoms


Sometime before 330 BC Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 asserted that the elements of fire, air, earth, and water were not made of atoms, but were continuous. Aristotle considered the existence of a void, which was required by atomic theories, to violate physical principles. Change took place not by the rearrangement of atoms to make new structures, but by transformation of matter from what it was in potential to a new actuality. (This theory is called hylomorphism.) A piece of wet clay, when acted upon by a potter, takes on its potential to be an actual drinking mug. Aristotle has often been criticized for rejecting atomism, but in ancient Greece the atomic theories of Democritus remained "pure speculations, incapable of being put to any experimental test. Granted that atomism was, in the long run, to prove far more fruitful than any qualitative theory of matter, in the short run the theory that Aristotle proposed must have seemed in some respects more promising".

Later ancient atomism


Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

 (341–270) studied atomism with Nausiphanes
Nausiphanes
Nausiphanes , a native of Teos, was attached to the philosophy of Democritus, and was a pupil of Pyrrho. He had a large number of pupils, and was particularly famous as a rhetorician. Epicurus was at one time one of his hearers, but was unsatisfied with him, and apparently abused him in his writings...

 who had been a student of Democritus. Although Epicurus was certain of the existence of atoms and the void, he was less sure we could adequately explain specific natural phenomena such as earthquakes, lightning, comets, or the phases of the Moon (Lloyd 1973, 25–6). Few of Epicurus's writings survive and those that do reflect his interest in applying Democritus's theories to assist people in taking responsibility for themselves and for their own happiness—since he held there are no gods around that can help them.

His ideas are also represented in the derivative works of Democritus's followers, such as Lucretius's
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 On the Nature of Things
On the Nature of Things
De rerum natura is a 1st century BC didactic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly...

. These derivative works allow us to work out several segments of his theory on how the universe began its current stage. The atoms and the void are eternal. And after collisions that shatter large objects into smaller objects, the resulting dust, still composed of the same eternal atoms as the prior configurations of the universe, falls into a whirling motion that draws the dust into larger objects again to begin another cycle.

Atomism and ethics


Some later philosophers attributed the idea that man created gods; the gods did not create man to Democritus. For example, Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus , was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism....

 noted:
Some people think that we arrived at the idea of gods from the remarkable things that happen in the world. Democritus ... says that the people of ancient times were frightened by happenings in the heavens such as thunder, lightning, ..., and thought that they were caused by gods.


Three hundred years after Epicurus, Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 in his epic poem On the Nature of Things
On the Nature of Things
De rerum natura is a 1st century BC didactic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience. The poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six untitled books, and explores Epicurean physics through richly...

would depict him as the hero who crushed the monster Religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 through educating the people in what was possible in the atoms and what was not possible in the atoms. However, Epicurus expressed a non-aggressive attitude characterized by his statement: "The man who best knows how to meet external threats makes into one family all the creatures he can; and those he can not, he at any rate does not treat as aliens; and where he finds even this impossible, he avoids all dealings, and, so far as is advantageous, excludes them from his life." http://www.epicurus.net/en/principal.html

The exile of atomism


While Aristotelian philosophy eclipsed the importance of the atomists, their work was still preserved and exposited through commentaries on the works of Aristotle. In the 2nd century, Galen
Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

 (AD 129–216) presented extensive discussions of the Greek atomists, especially Epicurus, in his Aristotle commentaries. According to historian of atomism Joshua Gregory, there was no serious work done with atomism from the time of Galen until Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

 and Descartes resurrected it in the 17th century; "the gap between these two 'modern naturalists' and the ancient Atomists marked "the exile of the atom" and "it is universally admitted that the Middle Ages had abandoned Atomism, and virtually lost it."
However, scholars still had Aristotle's critiques of atomism, and it seems unlikely that all ideas of atomism could have been lost in the West. In the Medieval universities there were rare expressions of atomistic philosophy. For example, in the 14th century Nicholas of Autrecourt
Nicholas of Autrecourt
Nicholas of Autrecourt was a French medieval philosopher and Scholastic theologian....

 considered that matter, space, and time were all made up of indivisible atoms, points, and instants and that all generation and corruption took place by the rearrangement of material atoms. The similarities of his ideas with those of al-Ghazali
Al-Ghazali
Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī , known as Algazel to the western medieval world, born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia was a Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic....

 suggest that Nicholas may have been familiar with Ghazali's work, perhaps through Averroes
Averroes
' , better known just as Ibn Rushd , and in European literature as Averroes , was a Muslim polymath; a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy,...

' refutation of it (Marmara, 1973–74).

Still, "the exile of the atom" is an appropriate description of the interim between the ancient Greeks and the revival of Western atomism in the 16th century, in view of atomism's success elsewhere during that time. If the atom was in exile from the west, it was in India and Islam that atomistic traditions continued.

Indian atomism


The Indian atomistic position, like many movements in Indian Philosophy and Mathematics, starts with an argument from Linguistics. The Vedic
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

 etymologist and grammarian Yaska
Yaska
' ) was a Sanskrit grammarian who preceded Pāṇini , assumed to have been active in the 5th or 6th century BC.He is the author of the Nirukta, a technical treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of words...

 (ca. 7th c. BC) in his Nirukta, in dealing with models for how linguistic structures get to have their meanings, takes the atomistic position that words are the "primary" carrier of meaning – i.e. words have a preferred ontological status in defining meaning. This position was to be the subject of a fierce debate in the Indian tradition from the early Christian era till the 18th century, involving different philosophers from the Nyaya
Nyaya
' is the name given to one of the six orthodox or astika schools of Hindu philosophy—specifically the school of logic...

, Mimamsa
Mimamsa
' , a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" , is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas...

 and Buddhist schools.

In the pratishakhya text (ca. 2nd c. BCE), the gist of the controversy was stated cryptically in the sutra form as "saMhitA pada-prakr^tiH". According to the atomist view, the words (pada
Pada
Pada may refer to:*Pada , in Sanskrit grammar, and Hindu and Buddhist tradition*Sri Pada or Adam's Peak, a mountain in Sri Lanka*Pada, Estonia, village in Viru-Nigula Parish, Lääne-Viru County, Estonia*Pada River, see List of rivers of Estonia...

) would be the primary elements (prakrti) out of which the sentence is constructed, while the holistic view considers the sentence as the primary entity, originally "given" in its context of utterance, and the words are arrived at only through analysis and abstraction.

These two positions came to be called a-kShaNDa-pakSha (indivisibility or sentence-holism), a position developed later by Bhartrihari (c. 500 AD), vs. kShaNDa-pakSha (atomism), a position adopted by the Mimamsa
Mimamsa
' , a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" , is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas...

 and Nyaya
Nyaya
' is the name given to one of the six orthodox or astika schools of Hindu philosophy—specifically the school of logic...

 schools (Note: kShanDa = fragmented; "a-kShanDa" = whole).

Between the 5th and 3rd century BC, the atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

 (anu or aṇor) is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita
The ' , also more simply known as Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, but is frequently treated as a freestanding text, and in particular, as an Upanishad in its own right, one of the several books that constitute general Vedic tradition...

 (Chapter 8, Verse 9):
kaviḿ purāṇam anuśāsitāram aṇor aṇīyāḿsam anusmared yaḥ sarvasya dhātāram acintya-rūpam āditya-varṇaḿ tamasaḥ parastāt

One meditates on the omniscient, primordial, the controller, smaller than the atom, yet the maintainer of everything; whose form is inconceivable, resplendent like the sun and totally transcendental to material nature

The ancient "shAshvata-vAda" doctrine of eternalism, which held that elements are eternal, is also suggestive of a possible starting point for atomism (Gangopadhyaya 1981).

There has been some debate among scholars as to the origin of Indian atomism; the general consensus is that the Indian and Greek versions of atomism developed independently. However, there is some doubt on this, given the similarities between Indian atomism and Greek atomism and the proximity of India to scholastic Europe, as well as the account, related by Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

, of Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 "making acquaintance with the Gymnosophists
Gymnosophists
Gymnosophists is the name given by the Greeks to certain ancient Indian philosophers who pursued asceticism to the point of regarding food and clothing as detrimental to purity of thought ....

 in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

".
The atomist position had transcended language into epistemology by the time that Nyaya
Nyaya
' is the name given to one of the six orthodox or astika schools of Hindu philosophy—specifically the school of logic...

–Vaisesika, Buddhist and Jaina
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 theology were developing mature philosophical positions.

Will Durant
Will Durant
William James Durant was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant and published between 1935 and 1975...

 wrote in Our Oriental Heritage:
Indian atomism in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 was still mostly philosophical and/or religious in intent, though it was also scientific. Because the "infallible Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

", the oldest Hindu texts, do not mention atoms (though they do mention elements), atomism was not orthodox in many schools of Hindu philosophy, although accommodationist interpretations or assumptions of lost text justified the use of atomism for non-orthodox schools of Hindu thought. The Buddhist and Jaina schools of atomism however, were more willing to accept the ideas of atomism.

Nyaya–Vaisesika school


The Nyaya
Nyaya
' is the name given to one of the six orthodox or astika schools of Hindu philosophy—specifically the school of logic...

–Vaisesika school developed one of the earliest forms of atomism; scholars date the Nyaya and Vaisesika texts from the 6th to 1st centuries BC. Like the Buddhist atomists, the Vaisesika had a pseudo-Aristotelian theory of atomism. They posited the four elemental atom types, but in Vaisesika physics atoms had 24 different possible qualities, divided between general extensive
Intensive and extensive properties
In the physical sciences, an intensive property , is a physical property of a system that does not depend on the system size or the amount of material in the system: it is scale invariant.By contrast, an extensive property In the physical sciences, an intensive property (also called a bulk...

 properties and specific (intensive) properties. Like the Jaina school, the Nyaya–Vaisesika atomists had elaborate theories of how atoms combine. In both Jaina and Vaisesika atomism, atoms first combine in pairs (dyads), and then group into trios of pairs (triads), which are the smallest visible units of matter.

Buddhist school



The Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 atomists had very qualitative, Aristotelian-style atomic theory. According to ancient Buddhist atomism, which probably began developing before the 4th century BC, there are four kinds of atoms, corresponding to the standard elements. Each of these elements has a specific property, such as solidity or motion, and performs a specific function in mixtures, such as providing support or causing growth. Like the Hindu Jains, the Buddhists were able to integrate a theory of atomism with their theological presuppositions. Later Indian Buddhist philosophers, such as Dharmakirti
Dharmakirti
Dharmakīrti , was an Indian scholar and one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic. He was one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, according to which the only items considered to exist are momentary states of consciousness.-History:Born around the turn of the 7th century,...

 and Dignāga
Dignaga
Dignāga was an Indian scholar and one of the Buddhist founders of Indian logic.He was born into a Brahmin family in Simhavakta near Kanchi Kanchipuram), and very little is known of his early years, except that he took as his spiritual preceptor Nagadatta of the Vatsiputriya school, before being...

, considered atoms to be point-sized, durationless, and made of energy.

Jaina school



The most elaborate and well-preserved Indian theory of atomism comes from the philosophy of the Jaina
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 school, dating back to at least the 6th century BC. Some of the Jain texts that refer to matter and atoms are Pancastikayasara
Pancastikayasara
Pañcastikayasara, or the essence of reality, is a Digambara text by Kundakunda is part of his trilogy, known as the prahbrta-traya or the nataka-traya. Kundakunda explains the Jaina concepts of Ontology and Ethics...

, Kalpasutra, Tattvarthasutra and Pannavana Suttam. The Jains envisioned the world as consisting wholly of atoms, except for souls. Paramāņus or atoms were considered as the basic building blocks of all matter. Their concept of atoms was very similar to classical atomism, differing primarily in the specific properties of atoms. Each atom, according to Jain philosophy
Jain philosophy
Jain philosophy deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India. It is a continuation of the ancient tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient...

, has one kind of taste, one smell, one color, and two kinds of touch, though it is unclear what was meant by "kind of touch". Atoms can exist in one of two states: subtle, in which case they can fit in infinitesimally small spaces, and gross, in which case they have extension and occupy a finite space. Certain characteristics of Paramāņu correspond with that sub-atomic particles. For example Paramāņu is characterized by continuous motion either in a straight line or in case of attractions from other Paramāņus, it follows a curved path. This corresponds with the description of orbit of electrons across the Nucleus. Ultimate particles are also described as particles with positive (Snigdha i.e. smooth charge) and negative (Rūksa – rough) charges that provide them the binding force. Although atoms are made of the same basic substance, they can combine based on their eternal properties to produce any of six "aggregates", which seem to correspond with the Greek concept of "elements": earth, water, shadow, sense objects, karmic matter, and unfit matter. To the Jains, karma was real, but was a naturalistic, mechanistic phenomenon caused by buildups of subtle karmic matter within the soul. They also had detailed theories of how atoms could combine, react, vibrate, move, and perform other actions, all of which were thoroughly deterministic.

Islamic atomism


Atomistic philosophies are found very early in Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophy is a branch of Islamic studies. It is the continuous search for Hekma in the light of Islamic view of life, universe, ethics, society, and so on...

, and represent a synthesis of the Greek and Indian ideas. Like both the Greek and Indian versions, Islamic atomism was a charged topic that had the potential for conflict with the prevalent religious orthodoxy, but it was instead more often favoured by orthodox Islamic theologians
Islamic theology
Islamic theology is a branch of Islamic studies regarding the beliefs associated with the Islamic faith. Any religious belief system, or creed, can be considered an example of aqidah. However, this term has taken a significant technical usage in Islamic history and theology, denoting those...

. It was such a fertile and flexible idea that, as in Greece and India, it flourished in some leading schools of Islamic thought.

Asharite atomism


The most successful form of Islamic atomism was in the Asharite school of Islamic theology
Islamic theology
Islamic theology is a branch of Islamic studies regarding the beliefs associated with the Islamic faith. Any religious belief system, or creed, can be considered an example of aqidah. However, this term has taken a significant technical usage in Islamic history and theology, denoting those...

, most notably in the work of the theologian al-Ghazali
Al-Ghazali
Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī , known as Algazel to the western medieval world, born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia was a Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic....

 (1058–1111). In Asharite atomism, atoms are the only perpetual, material things in existence, and all else in the world is "accidental" meaning something that lasts for only an instant. Nothing accidental can be the cause of anything else, except perception, as it exists for a moment. Contingent events are not subject to natural physical causes, but are the direct result of God's constant intervention, without which nothing could happen. Thus nature is completely dependent on God, which meshes with other Asharite Islamic ideas on causation, or the lack thereof (Gardet 2001). Al-Ghazali also used the theory to support his theory of occasionalism
Occasionalism
Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God...

. In a sense, the Asharite theory of atomism has far more in common with Indian atomism than it does with Greek atomism.

Averroism


Other traditions in Islam rejected the atomism of the Asharites and expounded on many Greek texts, especially those of Aristotle. An active school of philosophers in Spain, including the noted commentator Averroes
Averroes
' , better known just as Ibn Rushd , and in European literature as Averroes , was a Muslim polymath; a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy,...

 (AD 1126–1198) explicitly rejected the thought of al-Ghazali and turned to an extensive evaluation of the thought of Aristotle. Averroes commented in detail on most of the works of Aristotle and his commentaries did much to guide the interpretation of Aristotle in later Jewish and Christian scholastic thought.

Atomic renaissance


With few exceptions, much of the curriculum in the universities of Europe was based on Aristotle for most of the Middle Ages (Kargon 1966). Scholasticism
Scholasticism
Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context...

 was standard science in the time of Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

, but in the 17th century, a renewed interest in Epicurian atomism and Corpuscularianism as a hybrid or an alternative to Aristotelian physics
Aristotelian physics
Aristotelian Physics the natural sciences, are described in the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle . In the Physics, Aristotle established general principles of change that govern all natural bodies; both living and inanimate, celestial and terrestrial—including all motion, change in respect...

 had begun to mount outside the classroom. The main figures in the rebirth of atomism were René Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

, Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

, and Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle FRS was a 17th century natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, also noted for his writings in theology. He has been variously described as English, Irish, or Anglo-Irish, his father having come to Ireland from England during the time of the English plantations of...

, as well as other notable figures.

One of the first groups of atomists in England was a cadre of amateur scientists known as the Northumberland circle, led by Henry Percy (1585–1632), the 9th Earl of Northumberland
Northumberland
Northumberland is the northernmost ceremonial county and a unitary district in North East England. For Eurostat purposes Northumberland is a NUTS 3 region and is one of three boroughs or unitary districts that comprise the "Northumberland and Tyne and Wear" NUTS 2 region...

. Although they published little of account, they helped to disseminate atomistic ideas among the burgeoning scientific culture of England, and may have been particularly influential to Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

, who became an atomist around 1605, though he later rejected some of the claims of atomism. Though they revived the classical form of atomism, this group was among the scientific avant-garde: the Northumberland circle contained nearly half of the confirmed Copernicans prior to 1610 (the year of Galileo's The Starry Messenger
Sidereus Nuncius
Sidereus Nuncius is a short treatise published in New Latin by Galileo Galilei in March 1610. It was the first scientific treatise based on observations made through a telescope...

). Other influential atomists of late 16th and early 17th centuries include Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

, Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 (who also changed his stance on atomism late in his career), and Thomas Hariot. A number of different atomistic theories were blossoming in France at this time, as well (Clericuzio 2000).

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

 (1564–1642) was an advocate of atomism in his 1612, Discourse on Floating Bodies (Redondi 1969). In The Assayer, Galileo offered a more complete physical system based on a corpuscular theory of matter, in which all phenomena—with the exception of sound—are produced by "matter in motion". Galileo identified some basic problems with Aristotelian physics through his experiments. He utilized a theory of atomism as a partial replacement, but he was never unequivocally committed to it. For example, his experiments with falling bodies and inclined planes led him to the concepts of circular inertial motion and accelerating free-fall. The current Aristotelian theories of impetus and terrestrial motion were inadequate to explain these. While atomism did not explain the law of fall either, it was a more promising framework in which to develop an explanation because motion was conserved in ancient atomism (unlike Aristotelian physics).

René Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

' (1596–1650) "mechanical" philosophy  of corpuscularism had much in common with atomism, and is considered, in some senses, to be a different version of it. Descartes thought everything physical in the universe to be made of tiny vortices of matter. Like the ancient atomists, Descartes claimed that sensations, such as taste or temperature, are caused by the shape and size of tiny pieces of matter. The main difference between atomism and Descartes' concept was the existence of the void. For him, there could be no vacuum, and all matter was constantly swirling to prevent a void as corpuscles moved through other matter. Another key distinction between Descartes' view and classical atomism is the mind/body duality
Dualism (philosophy of mind)
In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical....

 of Descartes, which allowed for an independent realm of existence for thought, soul, and most importantly, God. Gassendi's concept was closer to classical atomism, but with no atheistic overtone.

Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. With a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the...

 (1592–1655) was a Catholic priest from France who was also an avid natural philosopher. He was particularly intrigued by the Greek atomists, so he set out to "purify" atomism from its heretical and atheistic philosophical conclusions (Dijksterhius 1969). Gassendi formulated his atomistic conception of mechanical philosophy partly in response to Descartes; he particularly opposed Descartes' reductionist view that only purely mechanical explanations of physics are valid, as well as the application of geometry to the whole of physics (Clericuzio 2000).

Corpuscularianism


Corpuscularianism
Corpuscularianism
Corpuscularianism is a physical theory that supposed all matter to be composed of minute particles, which became important in the Seventeenth century. Among the leading corpuscularians were Rene Descartes, Robert Boyle, and John Locke....

 is similar to atomism, except that where atoms were supposed to be indivisible, corpuscles could in principle be divided. In this manner, for example, it was theorized that mercury could penetrate into metals and modify their inner structure, a step on the way towards transmutative production of gold. Corpuscularianism was associated by its leading proponents with the idea that some of the properties that objects appear to have are artifacts of the perceiving mind: 'secondary' qualities as distinguished from 'primary' qualities. Corpuscularianism stayed a dominant theory over the next several hundred years and was blended with alchemy
Alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

 by those such as Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle FRS was a 17th century natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, also noted for his writings in theology. He has been variously described as English, Irish, or Anglo-Irish, his father having come to Ireland from England during the time of the English plantations of...

 and Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 in the 17th century. It was used by Newton, for instance, in his development of the corpuscular theory of light.
The form that came to be accepted by most English scientists after Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle FRS was a 17th century natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, also noted for his writings in theology. He has been variously described as English, Irish, or Anglo-Irish, his father having come to Ireland from England during the time of the English plantations of...

 (1627–1692) was an amalgam of the systems of Descartes and Gassendi. In The Sceptical Chymist
The Sceptical Chymist
The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes is the title of Robert Boyle's masterpiece of scientific literature, published in London in 1661. In the form of a dialogue, the Sceptical Chymist presented Boyle's hypothesis that matter consisted of atoms and clusters of atoms in...

 (1661), Boyle demonstrates problems that arise from chemistry, and offers up atomism as a possible explanation. The unifying principle that would eventually lead to the acceptance of a hybrid corpuscular–atomism was mechanical philosophy
Mechanism (philosophy)
Mechanism is the belief that natural wholes are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other, and with their order imposed from without. Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts or an external...

, which became widely accepted by physical sciences.

Atomic theory


By the late 18th century, the useful practices of engineering and technology began to influence philosophical explanations for the composition of matter. Those who speculated on the ultimate nature of matter began to verify their "thought experiments" with some repeatable demonstrations
Scientific demonstration
A scientific demonstration is a scientific experiment carried out for the purposes of demonstrating scientific principles, rather than for hypothesis testing or knowledge gathering ....

, when they could.

Roger Boscovich provided the first general mathematical theory of atomism, based on the ideas of Newton and Leibniz but transforming them so as to provide a programme for atomic physics. – Lancelot Law Whyte
Lancelot Law Whyte
Lancelot Law Whyte was a Scottish financier and industrial engineer.He claimed to have worked with Albert Einstein on the unified field theory. He further claimed that this work was based on the theory of the 18th century natural philosopher Roger Boscovich.Whyte proposed something he called "the...

 Essay on Atomism, 1961, p 54.

In 1808, John Dalton
John Dalton
John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

 assimilated the known experimental work of many people to summarize the empirical evidence on the composition of matter. He noticed that distilled water everywhere analyzed to the same elements, hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

. Similarly, other purified substances decomposed to the same elements in the same proportions by weight.
Therefore we may conclude that the ultimate particles of all homogeneous bodies are perfectly alike in weight, figure, etc. In other words, every particle of water is like every other particle of water; every particle of hydrogen is like every other particle of hydrogen, etc.


Furthermore, he concluded that there was a unique atom for each element, using Lavoisier's definition of an element as a substance that could not be analyzed into something simpler. Thus, Dalton concluded the following.
Chemical analysis and synthesis
Chemical synthesis
In chemistry, chemical synthesis is purposeful execution of chemical reactions to get a product, or several products. This happens by physical and chemical manipulations usually involving one or more reactions...

 go no farther than to the separation of particles one from another, and to their reunion. No new creation or destruction of matter is within the reach of chemical agency. We might as well attempt to introduce a new planet into the solar system, or to annihilate one already in existence, as to create or destroy a particle of hydrogen. All the changes we can produce, consist in separating particles that are in a state of cohesion or combination, and joining those that were previously at a distance.


And then he proceeded to give a list of relative weights in the compositions of several common compounds, summarizing:
http://webserver.lemoyne.edu/faculty/giunta/dalton.html
1st. That water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 is a binary compound of hydrogen and oxygen, and the relative weights of the two elementary atoms are as 1:7, nearly;

2nd. That ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

 is a binary compound of hydrogen and azote nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

, and the relative weights of the two atoms are as 1:5, nearly...


Dalton concluded that the fixed proportions of elements by weight suggested that the atoms of one element combined with only a limited number of atoms of the other elements to form the substances that he listed.

See also

  • Becoming (philosophy)
    Becoming (philosophy)
    The concept of becoming was born in eastern ancient Greece by the philosopher Heraclitus of Hephesus, who in the Sixth century BC, said that nothing in this world is constant except change or becoming...

  • History of chemistry
    History of chemistry
    By 1000 BC, ancient civilizations used technologies that would eventually form the basis of the various branches of chemistry. Examples include extracting metals from ores, making pottery and glazes, fermenting beer and wine, making pigments for cosmetics and painting, extracting chemicals from...

  • Infinite divisibility
    Infinite divisibility
    The concept of infinite divisibility arises in different ways in philosophy, physics, economics, order theory , and probability theory...

  • Ontological pluralism
  • Physical ontology

External links