Epicurus had written more than 20 books on Physics. Unfortunately, only about 20 pages of his Scientific writings survive. But, in these pages quite a few impressive things show up. An original analysis and presentation of the finds follows.
From [Εpic. Εpist. “to Pythocles”, 86] we learn that ‘the basic elements (i.e. elementary particles) -of matter, of the Universe- are undividable‘ ( “άτομα στοιχεία“). Something valid and proved in our days.
From [Εpic. Εpist. “to Herodotus”, 54-57]
Ancient Greek: “Και μην και τας ατόμους νομιστέον μηδεμίαν ποιότητα των φαινομένων προσφέρεσθαι πλην σχήματος και βάρους και μεγέθους και όσα εξ ανάγκης σχήματος συμφυή εστι ποιότης γαρ πάσα μεταβάλλει αι δε άτομοι ουδέν μεταβάλλουσιν, επειδή περ δεί τι υπομένειν εν ταις διαλύσεσι των συγκρίσεων στερεόν και αδιάλυτον, ο τας μεταβολάς ουκ εις το μή όν ποιήσεται ουδ’ εκ του μή όντος, αλλά κατά μεταθέσεις εν πολλοίς, τινών δε και προσόδους και αφόδους. Όθεν αναγκαίον τα [μεν] μετατιθέμενα άφθαρτα είναι και τήν του μεταβάλλοντος φύσιν ουκ έχοντα, όγκους δε και σχηματισμούς ιδίους ταύτα γαρ και αναγκαίον υπομένειν…
Αλλά μήν ουδέ δεί νομίζειν πάν μέγεθος εν τοίς ατόμοις υπάρχειν, ίνα μή τα φαινόμενα αντιμαρτυρή παραλλαγάς δε τινάς μεγεθών νομιστέον είναι. Βέλτιον γαρ και τούτου προσόντος τα κατά πάθη και τας αισθήσεις γινόμενα αποδοθήσεται. Πάν δε μέγεθος υπάρχειν ούτε χρήσιμον εστι πρός τάς των ποιοτήτων διαφοράς, αφίχθαι τε άμ’ έδει και πρός ημάς ορατάς ατόμους ο ου θεωρείται γινόμενον ουθ’ όπως αν γένοιτο ορατή άτομος εστιν επινοήσαι.
Πρός δε τούτοις ου δείν νομίζειν εν τώ ωρισμένω σώματι απείρους όγκους είναι ουδ’ οπηλίκους ουν”
English: “And mainly, we must accept that the atoms have none of the properties of bodies, except the shape, weight and size – and all that are necessarily of the same nature with the shape. Because properties change, while atoms do not change at all, because something must remain stable and insolvable the moment when the complex dissolve, something to make the changes with simple metathesis/permutation, not allowing the change to end up to the non-being, neither done from no-being. Hence, as a necessity, the simply transposed (the atoms) are indestructible and do not have the nature of the unsettled (of those who change), but are gifted with their own mass and shape. Because it is the mass and the shape that must have steady state/substance…
But then again, don’t you believe that the atoms have every kind of size, because will the data of the senses deny you. Of course, we will have to accept that there are some variations in the sizes. This additional hypothesis allows to better explain the events linked to emotions and the senses. To accept every kind of size for the atoms not only is not useful for us to explain the differences in properties, but it would force us to accept that there are atoms which are visible to our eyes -and this, not only we do not see it happening, but our mind does not fit it how could an atom be visible.
Moreover, we should not think that in any finite body the atoms are infinite in number, however small they may be”
we learn that Epicurus believes that the ‘atomic elements’ have none of the properties of the bodies. Indeed, classical physics doesn’t expain much about elementary particles. Quantum physics though explains quite enough. It is indeed ‘different physics’; it includes statistical observation and not ‘real-time’ observation of each and every individual particle.
He says that alterations in bodies happen from permutations between the elementary particles, which is actually true.
He claims that the elementary particles have a defined volume and shape that are necessarily constant and specific, which is also true.
Elementary particles, he says, do not have every kind of size, even though they have variations. In other words, these particles may take several values but, in any case, specific. This is exactly what modern science believes and refers to as ‘Quantization‘.
The elementary particles, he says, are invisible to the eye. Indeed true as well.
The elementary particles inside a body have a finite number, however large that may be. This is ordered by common sense but it is proved as well.
He states that no change may end in non-being or happen out of no-being. Indeed this is true, as all the conservation laws of Physics apply (energy, velocity, momentum, etc)
From [Εpic. Εpist. “to Herodotus”, 61-62]
Ancient Greek: “Και μήν καί ισοταχείς αναγκαίον τάς ατόμους είναι, όταν δια του κενού εισφέρωντι μηθενός αντικόπτοντος. Ούτε γαρ τα βαρέα θάττον οισθήσεται των μικρών και κουφών, όταν γε δη μηδέν απαντά αυτοίς. Ούτε τα μικρά των μεγάλων, πάντα πόρον σύμμετρον έχοντα, όταν μηθέν μηδέ εκείνοις αντικόπτη. Ούθ’ η άνω ούθ’ η εις το πλάγιον δια των κρούσεων φορά, ουθ’ η κάτω διά των ιδίων βαρών, εφ’ οπόσον γαρ αν κατίσχη εκάτερον, επί τοσούτον άμα νοήματι την φοράν σχήσει, έως αντικόψη ή έξωθεν ή εκ του ιδίου βάρους πρός την του πλήξαντος δύναμιν.
Αλλά μήν κατά τάς συγκρίσεις θάττων ετέρα ετέρας ρηθήσεται των ατόμων ισοταχών ουσών, των εφ’ ένα τόπον φέρεσθαι τάς εν τοίς αθροίσμασιν ατόμους [καί] κατά τον ελάχιστον συνεχή χρόνον, ει καί μή εφ’ ένα κατά τους λόγω θεωρητούς χρόνους αλλά πυκνόν αντικόπτουσιν, έως άν υπό τήν αίσθησιν το συνεχές της φοράς γίνηται”
English: “As long as they move inside the vacuum without encountering an obstacle, the atoms necessarily have the same velocity. Neither the heavier will move faster than the small and lighter, when nothing restrains them, neither the smaller will move faster than the bigger, even if they find more suitable passageways, as long as they don’t meet resistance, too. And their velocity doesn’t have to do with their upwards or sideways movement because of collisions, or downwards due to weight. Because for the time interval that the motion -that has been caused by some blow or from weight itself- lasts, the atom, as long as it is not blocked, it will move with the velocity of thought.
But we will say that inside the complex bodies some atoms move faster than others, while (all) atoms have the same velocity. This happens because the congregated/gathered atoms are carried (directed) in one direction during the minimum continuous time, even though, by themselves, they move towards different directions, in time intervals so small that only with the mind can one perceive. But very often (densely) they collide with each other until the continuous result of their movement can be perceived by the senses”
we learn that Epicurus believes that the elementary particles move with the same velocity inside the vacuum, independently of the trajectory of their movement and they have the same velocity, which he names ‘speed of thought’. The (modern) special relativity theory tells us that the speed of light is the same and constant in free space (gap). The Michelson-Morley experiment proved that this velocity doesn’t depend on the direction of light. Quite a coincidence we think!
Epicirus insists all the time that this velocity changes when anything except from vacuum stands in the way of the elementary particle. Today we know that this is provided by the equation Vc = C/n, where Vc is the velocity that light has when crossing a body with refractive index n, and C is the velocity of light in free space. How did Epicurus, apparently, knew this?
Epicurus claims that inside the composite bodies some elementary particles move faster than other. This is actually true. There are a lot of elementary particles, all moving with some fraction of the speed of light in free space. Continuing his analysis, he surprises us furthermore when stating that ‘even though the elementary particles move on their own, we observe their gatherings during the least continuous time‘.
And here is where two big questions arise. By ‘gatherings‘ could Epicurus mean the statistical distributions? if yes, then what he says appears to be correct, as it is impossible to have full information about a single particle, we observe ‘gatherings’ of elementary particles. He also adds that the continuous result of their movement is perceived by the senses. Indeed, elementary particles can be traced due to the results their presence/movement cause and never isolated.
The second question is what Epicurus meant by ‘the least continuous time‘. It is like claiming that there may be non-continuous time, too. It is incredible and absolutely amazing, but it is true: Epicurus wrote about the possibility of non-continuous time! Where? when the elementary particles move near or at the ‘speed of thought’.
We end up wondering: How did Epicurus reached conclusions which are accepted in modern Physics (elementary particle, quantum)?
Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos
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Fascinating observations! It positively hurts that we lost almost all of his works!