TheFactFile.org states that: “Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a famous Greek philosopher born in Macedonian city of Satigara in Greece. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Aristotle was the first genuine scientist in history. His writings include – physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government – and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy.”
“Aristotle was the first person to study biology systematically,” Wikipedia continues, “he spent two years observing and describing the zoology of Lesbos and the surrounding seas, including in particular the Pyrrha lagoon in the centre of Lesbos. His data is assembled from his own observations, statements given by people with specialised knowledge such as beekeepers and fishermen, and less accurate accounts provided by travellers from overseas.”
Aristotle came to the conclusion that nature was like a household where everything had its place. He used the ancient Greek word for house “Oikos” and this is where the modern word ecology derives from. He went even further and settled on the ancient Greek word for information to describe nature, the ordering of things, which sounds like a precursor to modern-day genetics. He could not have known how close to the truth he was back then. Others took his conclusions further and did so with astonishing results that appear to reveal new things to us daily.
The main criticism of Aristotle comes from his “spontaneous generation” theory on the origin of some animals. It was not understood at the time how maggots suddenly appeared on rotting meat. Aristotle reasoned that these animals essentially conjured themselves up out of thin air. “In 1668, Francesco Redi challenged the idea that maggots arose spontaneously from rotting meat,” according to Wikipedia, “In the first major experiment to challenge spontaneous generation, he placed meat in a variety of sealed, open, and partially covered containers. Realising that the sealed containers were deprived of air, he used “fine Naples veil”, and observed no worm on the meat, but they appeared on the cloth. Redi used his experiments to support the preexistence theory put forth by the Church at that time, which maintained that living things originated from parents.” Maggots, as we know now, come from eggs laid by flies. With the meat covered, the flies had no access to lay the eggs, without it they did. Aristotle’s theory was in ruins and he gets an incredibly unfair rap from Science today because of it. Could those new theories have been arrived at without his work to react against? I think not.
We must always approach Aristotle’s observations with a retrospective kindness, appreciation and awe. He was working in a very limited geographical and technical area. He didn’t have microscopes, natural history museums, papers from other scientists to consult or patrons funding his work. His deductions relied on observations, crude dissections of living animals and probably the opinions and hearsay of locals.
Yes, Aristotle got it wrong, but is that such a shameful thing? A mistake is an experience, choice or concept it is necessary for us to have or make in order to evolve beyond it. All great achievements are the product of absorbing, blending and surpassing one’s influences. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge the passing of the torch of inspiration from those who have gone before, however flawed they or their theories may be.
Aristotle took the then-logical step of circumventing gaps in knowledge with supposition. Today, with all the resources at our command, that would be scientifically unacceptable but that is a judgement born of our time, not from his 23 centuries ago.
Perfection is an illusion. Yet perfectionists demand it from others while being far from flawless themselves. The margin of error of the human condition is often our greatest area of excellence and discovery,
We must be totally fearless in our pursuit of new knowledge. The prospect of derision must never be a weapon to bludgeon the voyager seeking truth. Even if it is there, it can never be a consideration for the innovator. It is what makes me worried for the modern world with our narrow-minded right-fighters reminding us every second on social media that they, and only they, are correct. How can someone dare to develop new thoughts and ways of thinking in the face of such intellectual Luddites?
All that must be cast aside. You cannot second-guess the reaction to something you have created. You can never please everyone and it is impossible to try.
© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.