In Physics there are two large themes in conceptualising the world - atoms & waves.

I'm familiar with the work of the greek atomists, is there a philosophical precursor to waves? From what I've understood Aristotle argued against atomism so presumably he must be arguing for a continua of some kind. Does this tie in with the idea of substance?

  • There is evidence for a theory of acoustics during the Hellenistic period in the form of "conserved" resonators and dampers from theaters of that time. However, the theoretical treatises that enabled these achievements were not "conserved". I would have to consult a book I once read (from a public library) to find out whether at least the names and the authors of these treatises on acoustic are still known. – Thomas Klimpel Feb 16 '13 at 20:33
  • @klimpel: Could you say a little more about what these 'conserved' resonators and dampers were and how they were used, if not from a theoretical perspective then at least a practical one. Are they, used in some modified ways in modern theatres? – Mozibur Ullah Feb 16 '13 at 23:09
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    From wikipedia: "In about 20 BC, the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius wrote a treatise on the acoustic properties of theatres including discussion of interference, echoes, and reverberation—the beginnings of architectural acoustics." The resonators and dampers are older than Vitruvius' treatise, but have the same purpose to improve the acoustic properties of theatres. Resonators amplify certain frequency ranges (we use electric amplifiers for this today), and dampers suppress unwanted frequency ranges (and are still in use today). – Thomas Klimpel Feb 17 '13 at 8:58

The Stoics were continuum physicists of a sort. They believed that matter was infinitely divisible and never bottomed out in atoms.

Daniel Nolan has a good paper on Stoic Gunk.

You can also read about Stoic Physics here.

I'm afraid that I don't know of ancient physicists that explicitly talked of waves, but I'm not too knowledgeable in the area.

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    I don't think my question was particularly well phrased, it should be more along the lines of motion within a continuum or plenum. Notions of divisibility need not neccessarily apply, and that we call it waves now is not important. I didn't know the Stoics had a physics, that they denied infinite divisibilty is very interesting though. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 18 '13 at 3:23
  • @MoziburUllah Yea, I wasn't sure that my answer was on target. Just a quick clarification: they didn't deny infinite divisibility, they endorsed it. Sorry I couldn't be of more help, if you provide me with some more info I could ask around my department and see if some of the Phil Sci or Ancient folks know a bit more. – Dennis Feb 18 '13 at 4:01
  • :My mistake, its that they didn't bottom out in atoms that I found interesting. Thanks for the kind offer. My impression is that Thales with his idea as being as water might be a good starting point. Did anyone try to build a physics of motion around this? Of course there are literally waves on the surface of the sea, and in puddles of water. But also there is the idea of condensation and rarefaction within the body of water. I'm assuming that Thales was a development from Parmendian monism. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '13 at 17:50
  • (From SEP,a parmenidian fragment: “water-rooted,” describing the earth) – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '13 at 17:58
  • It may be earlier, in Guthries History of Greek Philosophy II, he remarks 'But this was just what the Milesians had done. They supposed that the world had not always existed in its present cosmic state. They derived it from one substance, which they asserted to have changed or moved in various ways—becoming hotter or colder, drier or wetter, rarer or denser—in order to produce the present world-order'. With an additional principle of continuity to relate locations of rarity & density, and then through time one gets a least for me, a physical notion of waves in a medium/plenum. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 19 '13 at 18:23

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