Biographies of Ancient Minds


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Lived c. 490 BC – c 430 BC.
Empedocles lived 2500 years ago, soon after the dawn of scientific thought in Ancient Greece.

In his remarkable life Empedocles devised a theory of natural selection; proposed that everything in existence is made of different combinations of four elements: air, fire, wind and earth; recognized that air has weight; said that the speed of light is finite; and made a statement equivalent to the modern law that mass is conserved in chemical reactions.
Empedocles was born 2500 years ago, in approximately 490 BC.
Like many people who lived so long ago, details of his life are sketchy. Scholars rely on fragments from a variety of ancient sources to learn something of his life and his ideas.
The Science of Empedocles
What we know of Empedocles’ science comes from three sources:
  • references from other ancient scientists and philosophers, such as Aristotle
  • fragments of Empedocles’ lengthy poem On Nature
  • fragments of Empedocles’ lengthy poem Purifications
The Elements
Empedocles devised the theory that all substances are made of four pure, indestructible elements: air, fire, water, and earth.

In one sense, it is admirable that Empedocles tried to simplify our complex world into basic elements.
However, his four elements actually represented an increase in the number of fundamental substances.......more