Anaximander and Heraclitus were men who had goals of explaining various aspects of life. They used methods that would now be viewed as very questionable for scientists to use. They also came up with some theories that mayresemble myth rather than science. I believe, however, thatAnaximander and Heraclitus were scientists.
I would be overjoyed to present to the reader exactly what science is. One interpretation of science is " an organization of directed thinking," with directed thinking defined as " thinking in words." Another definition of science is "that any subject which man can study by using the scientific method and other special rules of thinking may be called science."We would, of course, now desire to know exactly what this scientific method consists of. The five steps in the scientific method include: 1) Stating the problem,2) Forming a hypothesis or possible explanation,3) Observing and experimenting,4) Interpreting the data, and5)Drawing conclusions. These definitions are a bit baffling, since it appears to qualify anything imaginable as a possible scientific subject of study, so long as the scientific methodor some sort of organization is applied to it.Scientists, however, rarely follow the scientific method until they have already come to some kind of conclusion. The method is essentially used to test conclusions in a fairly reliable manner.
Anaximander and Heraclitus just did what any scientist would do in that they drew what they felt to be reasonable conclusions from the limited observations they could make. Neither the scientific method nor the technology existed that could disprove their theories. One may speculate that a good scientist should have realized the flaw and developed the scientific method. This did not happen, though, and accepted science became that which could be proven, like math and some other bits of science. People also seemed willing to accept certain other views as science because of the logic used to reach the conclusion.
Anaximander may have had a very different and apparently unfounded argument about the origin of mankind (pg. 73, Barnes), but he did not simply imagine these thoughts. Anaximander was thinking in an organized way in words. He figured that since "the other animals can soon look after themselves while humans alone require a long period of nursing," humans must have originated elsewhere. Anaximander stated that humans grew to puberty in these fish, and upon the bursting of these fish, men and women were already able to look after themselves. One cannot state that the work of Anaximander is completely consistent with science, yet he tried to answer questions with some thought instead of all imagination.
Heraclitus was also a scientist. He made many confusing statements that seemed to be more illogical than scientific... " day and night, ...they are one," and " The path up and the path down are one and the same." (Barnes, pg.103) Heraclitus appears to have taken the wrong path in concluding as he does. We must, however, examine another statementalong these same lines. "Doctors, who cut and cauterize and wretchedly torment the sick in every way are praised." (Barnes, pg. 103)Heraclitus appears to be right in this case, but he took an observation and turned it into a scientific law without enough thought. Heraclitus may have also gone a bit too far in saying that "Immortals are mortals, mortals immortals: living their death, dying their life," (Barnes, pg. 104) but this too seems to be a case of simply overgeneralizing. We may have trouble accepting a lot of what Heraclitus writes, though he likely did not, and felt that his conclusions were just and logical.
Astronomy is what one may consider an inexact science, mainly because of lack of knowledge. We cannot say whether a projectile traveling at a given speed would ever reach the end of the universe, or come full circle, or reach something altogether different eventually. We have numerous technological wonders to probe the outer limits, yet we still know almost nothing beyond our solar system. An astronomer, based on various calculations, may decide that a total of two thousand solar systems exist and the universe is circular. If this scientist could provide respectable arguments, many people would tend to believe his theory. One thousand years from now, however, a prominent Antarctic scientist may prove that only one thousand solar systems exist and the universe is triangular. The first astronomer would appear to be quite foolish, as do Anaximander and Heraclitus a good deal of the time.
If we were to try to find bits of real scientific thought within the minds of Anaximander and Heraclitus, we would not have to look too far.Anaximander says (pg. 72, Barnes) that the infinite is responsible for the creation and destruction of the universe. He declares that, in number, the worlds are infinite. Another theme is recycling of energy, or at least that which creates. Anaximander claims the earth to be cylindrical and he gives a size estimate. He also holds a sort of a "big fire" theory. Probably none of these arguments could have been proven wrong during the days of Anaximander. Some of these thoughts may still have some merit today.
Heraclitus main claim to accepted scientific thought may be what he observed and recorded in animals. He claimed that "donkeys would prefer rubbish to gold (for food is more pleasing to donkeys than gold)." (pg. 116, Barnes) We may laugh at how obvious this statement appears, but scientists often state the obvious, for someone must. Information gathered in science could always possibly have some value for confirmation in the future. Heraclitus points out (pg. 117, Barnes) that "we step and do not step into the same rivers." This statement certainly has some merit, since not only does the river keep flowing, but atoms are constantly in motion and changing. This all equates to a scientific fact, no less. We cannot physically touch all the same water molecules, and only those, no matter how often we frolic in the river.
I must now address the possibility that Anaximander and Heraclitus' theories could be considered myth rather than science. Various wondrous gods are non-existent in their works. Explanations based on observation and prediction prevail. Though the works oftentimes appear to be very imaginative, we cannot conclude that only imagination went into them. If imagination were not present in scientific thought, no new ideas could ever be conceived.
Mythology may very well have started out as a sort of science, a method of explanation. Myths, however, are "thinking in images, akin to dreaming." Science and myth both attempt to accomplish the same thing, which is the explanation of why things are the way they are. Myth just seems to have a little more fun and imagination, with a bit less regard for what can be legitimately demonstrated.
Science may not have benefited from either Anaximander or Heraclitus, but we can be certain that mythology did not. We could certainly create a new category for imaginative science, but most current and past science would probably have to slide into this new file. Imagination and error are part of science, just as they are components of our daily lives.
H.G. Wells, "Greek Thought, Literature and Art," The Outline of History: Volume One, 6th ed., 2 vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961), p. 268
"Science," The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 17, ( Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1967), p. 168.
H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, p. 268