Anaxagoras and the Danger of Discovery Sententia Cotidiana XVIII


Discoveries have not always been welcomed. At first, some have even been feared, or branded heresy, impiety, treachery, you name it. This is partly the point of Plato’s famous Cave allegory. The prisoners in the cave have only ever known that existence. They believe the shadows they see on the wall are real and part of the world. But when one of them breaks free and escapes to the world above and see that the cave is not the limits of the world, just the limits of the knowledge to which he and his fellows have been artificially confined. So far from running away and seizing his new freedom, he wishes to share this discovery with his fellows, so they can share his new discovery. They kill him, mostly out of the fear caused by the shock of this new knowledge.


When Champollion decoded Hieroglyphs, the texts he was then able to translate challenged the original dating of the Flood by the Church. The Hieroglyphs showed the Pyramids to be older than the traditional and accepted date.


Variety is the spice of life, familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes. But we human beings are not that straightforward. It is something of an oxymoron in human nature that we fear the unfamiliar, but get restless from familiarity, forever striving for a balance between the two.


The great Greek natural philosopher Anaxagoras, like Champollion, found himself on the wrong side of religion. He followed other natural philosophers in believing the moon reflected light, but he went even further. Both the moon and the sun were rocks, not gods, the moon being a rock that may originally have been part of the earth.[1] Such arguments fuelled the case of impiety that was brought against him. Now, the main motive for bringing a trial against Anaxagoras was his connection with Pericles, who was greatly envied his success by rivals. Targeting Anaxagoras for his impious ideas would taint Pericles. However, Pericles being very popular with the people, managed to achieve Anaxagoras’ reprieve from execution. He nevertheless went into exile. His ideas about eclipses and the phases of the moon are essentially unchanged. But his reasoned hypotheses nearly brought him to the same place as Socrates.[2]

[1] Ironically, there is a debate about whether a rock brought back by the Apollo 14 is in fact an ‘earth rock’, suggesting a history of lunar/earth collisions. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/earths-oldest-rock-found-on-moon-get-facts-apollo-14-zircons (retrieved 03/10/2021) [2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ancient-greek-philosopher-was-exiled-claiming-moon-was-rock-not-god-180972447/ (retrieved 03/10/2021)

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