Person: Democritus Of Abdera
Democritus was a Greek scholar who is best known for his atomic theory although he was also an excellent geometer.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Democritus certainly visited Athens when he was a young man, principally to visit Anaxagoras, but Democritus complained how little he was known there.
- Democritus was disappointed by his trip to Athens because Anaxagoras, then an old man, had refused to see him.
- Certainly Democritus made many journeys other than the one to Athens.
- Firstly Aristotle discusses Democritus's ideas thoroughly because he strongly disagreed with his ideas of atomism.
- The second source is in the work of Epicurus but, in contrast to Aristotle, Epicurus is a strong believer in Democritus's atomic theory.
- Certainly Democritus was not the first to propose an atomic theory.
- However Democritus produced a much more elaborate and systematic view of the physical world than had any of his predecessors.
- With this as a basis to the physical world, Democritus could explain all changes in the world as changes in motion of the atoms, or changes in the way that they were packed together.
- This was a remarkable theory which attempted to explain the whole of physics based on a small number of ideas and also brought mathematics into a fundamental physical role since the whole of the structure proposed by Democritus was quantitative and subject to mathematical laws.
- Another fundamental idea in Democritus's theory is that nature behaves like a machine, it is nothing more than a highly complex mechanism.
- There are then questions for Democritus to answer.
- To Democritus atoms differ only in quantity, and all qualitative differences are only apparent and result from impressions of an observer caused by differing configurations of atoms.
- Democritus's philosophy contains an early form of the conservation of energy.
- Democritus explained the origin of the universe through atoms moving randomly and colliding to form larger bodies and worlds.
- Democritus built an ethical theory on top of his atomist philosophy.
- To Democritus freedom of choice was an illusion since we are unaware of all the causes for a decision.
- Very little is known for certainty about Democritus's contributions to mathematics.
- We do know that Democritus wrote many mathematical works.
- This idea of Democritus may have led Archimedes later to apply the same idea to great effect.
- Heath points out that if Democritus carried over his atomic theory to geometrical lines then there is no dilemma for him since his cone is indeed stepped with atom sized steps.
- Heath certainly believed that to Democritus lines were infinitely divisible.
Born about 460 BC, Abdera, Thrace, Greece. Died about 370 BC.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Analysis, Ancient Greek, Astronomy, Origin Greece, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive