He is the first Greek we know of who:
- made a sundial,
- made a world map,
- made a star map,
- wrote a book in prose (a book on nature in about -550),
- worked out a model of the universe based on reason, not religion.
Babylon in his day had sundials and world maps. His ideas about the birth of the universe seem to come from Egypt, but without any of their gods – which is how Cheik Anta Diop says Greek science got started.
His teacher was Thales, the founder of Greek philosophy and science. Thales was also from Miletus, a colony founded by Athens on the eastern shores of the Aegean (now the west coast of Turkey). From him Anaximander learned to make sense of the world through reason and observation, not through religion or gods
Anaximander’s model of the universe:
- Apeiron is the formless stuff the universe is made of that is neither hot nor cold nor wet nor dry nor anything observable. It is only when it separates out and takes on qualities like that, that we begin to notice it.
- An infinite number of universes come from and fall back into the apeiron. Ours is just one. It had a beginning and will have an end.
- Eternal motion drives change.
- The Earth is at the centre of our universe. The Earth is not shaped like a ball but like part of a column. Anaximander could tell the Earth curves from north to south by observing the stars. He did not notice that it also curves east to west.
- Spheres go round the Earth. The closest one has air and clouds, the next one has stars and planets, after that comes the Moon and then, farthest of all, the Sun. Lights in the sky are holes in the spheres through which fire comes.
It all sounds kind of nuts, but the beauty of it is that it was a starting point that could be made better through observation and reason. And so it was, bit by bit over thousands of years, giving us the model of the universe that Western science now has.
Anaximander said humans came from fish, based on his study of sharks. He noticed that human babies die unless older humans take care of them. That means humans could not have first appeared on Earth as newborns. They had to come from creatures that do not take care of their young, like fish.
His world map is lost, but from Herodotus we gather that it was a circle with the ocean going round it – which is just how the Babylonian world map looked back then too. Anaximander divided the world’s land into three equal parts: Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa). In about -500, Hecataeus built on his geography by adding descriptions of peoples (anthropology). In about -445, Herodotus added history.