In ancient Greece, where ideas and philosophers flourished, one of the most eminent thinkers was Democritus of Abderawho raised ideas well ahead of his time.
Recognized as one of the precursors of atomic theoryDemocritus too developed an intriguing and advanced theory on the diversity of worlds. At a time when modern science was still in its infancy, this ancient philosopher proposed the existence of worlds of different sizes, some without suns and others with more than one sun.
A surprisingly modern idea, which has had a lasting impact on the history of cosmology and which is still relevant today.
Democritus, a philosopher interested in understanding the universe
Democritus of Abdera was born around 460 BC. AD in the city of Abdera, located in present-day Greece. He was contemporary with other notable Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
Despite being born into a noble family, Democritus was more interested in understanding the universe than money. He lived simply, often seeking solitude to reflect more deeply.
He was the author of a large number of books. It is believed that he wrote over 70 poundson subjects as varied as agriculture, geometry, the origin of man, ethics and astronomy.
Although much of his writings have been lost, he is credited with developing the atomistic philosophy, according to which The entire universe is made up of indivisible particles called atoms.. Democritus believed that these particles combine in different ways to form matter in all its manifestations.
Democritus was known as the “laughing philosopher”. He considered joy to be the highest attribute of human beings and pointed to good humor as the object of life. Credit: Painting by Dosso and Battista Dossi (1540). Public domain.
On the other hand, Democritus also believed that at first humans lived like wild animals, before slowly learning enough to become civilized. He did not believe in God or gods, he believed that the world was entirely governed by natural laws. This may be one of the reasons why his works did not survive in later years.
Democritus’ Many-Worlds Theory
Democritus’ most notable contribution to philosophy and cosmology was the theory that there were an infinite number of worlds. According to Democritus, these worlds varied in size, structure, and the number of suns they possessed.
While our world, Earth, was just one of countless others, Democritus believed that some worlds lacked the sun entirely, plunging them into perpetual darkness. Rather, he hypothesized that some worlds were bathed in light from multiple suns, creating unique celestial phenomena.
Democritus asserted that there were worlds without a sun and others that had more than one sun.
These ideas reveal a surprisingly advanced understanding of cosmic diversityeven compared to contemporary beliefs of the time.
How did you come up with this idea, at such a long time ago?
The question that naturally arises is: how could Democritus have arrived at such a modern idea at such an ancient time? The answer may lie in his philosophical approach and his ability to combine observation, reasoning and bold speculation.
Although his original writings do not survive, Democritus is believed to have studied the works of earlier pre-Socratic philosophers such as Anaxagoras And leucippus. These thinkers also explored the fundamental nature of reality and the composition of the universe.
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Democritus also drew on his own observation of the sky and nature to formulate his theories. Although his methods were not scientific in the modern sense, his ability to extrapolate and construct abstract concepts was impressive. Thanks to your logical reasoning and your imagination, could conceive of the possibility of the existence of worlds beyond our ownwithout the need for direct empirical evidence.
Democritus died at the age of 90, which would place his death around 370 BC. vs. ; although some authors claim he lived to be 104 or even 109 years old.
No doubt, Democritus was a pioneer of scientific thought. His theory of the infinite existence of worlds, as well as its atomistic foundations, sparked the imagination of future thinkers and scientists such as Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei and Spinoza.
Although constrained by the technological constraints of his time, Democritus’ theories and intellectual legacy recall the boundless curiosity and creativity that have guided humanity’s understanding of the universe over the centuries.
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