It’s a piece of text I’ve commented on before but it continues to fascinate me. I was reminded of it again on Sunday night when watching that nice Professor Brian Cox on TV deliver a lecture on quantum physics. (First off, it takes an extraordinary presenter to get me voluntarily watching a lecture on quantum physics; but even more extraordinary is the fact that I pretty much followed 60% of it. Maybe Professor Cox semi-hypnotises me into a receptive state with those astonishingly white teeth of his).
The piece of text is this: “Nothing exists except atoms and void. Everything else is opinion.”
Now that sounds like a pretty smart observation to me in any day and age. But even more boggling is that these words were found on an ancient fragment and accredited to a thinker called Democritus, who lived in Thrace at the end of the 5th century BCE.
From these words, it is reckoned, we have evidence that the ancient Greeks worked out basic atomic theory – the same theory that Professor Cox was talking about – just by thinking it through. No micro-telescopes, no computer models, just the power of concentrated human thought. Phew.
If the ancient Greeks – in a newly civilised world which had yet to discover so many of the secrets of life, the universe and everything that we now accept as common knowledge – could think their way to a conclusion like that, imagine what potential breakthroughs you and I might be squeezing out day after day by failing to engage with our full thinking potential. Moreover, imagine how we actively dissuade our thoughts from revealing what they could thanks to the continual bombardment of technology every minute of the day. What are we not discovering in those pounding, visually stimulating, aurally surround-sounded moments?
Maybe this Christmas we should switch off the telly more (sorry Prof Cox), pull out the iPod earpieces, unplug the Wii and find a quiet corner to dream in instead. Who knows what enlightenment might come our way? We may not discover the next immutable law of nature, but we might just discover a little bit of understanding about ourselves and others that we hadn’t really given our full attention to before.
What do you think?
Merry Christmas, one and all.