Week 1b- Comments on Aristotle’s Meteorology

Please post some comments on the reading by Tuesday night. The following questions are just ideas.  You don’t have to address them specifically.

What is meteorology?  How does the cosmos work in this model?  How might astrology and alchemy fit into this scientific scheme?  Think of the larger mechanical structure of the cosmos.  What does it look like?  How does it compare to Plato’s vision?  Water strained through ashes is salt?  What is he talking about?  Color theory?  Matter theory?

Somebody try to put a picture in a comment.  I want to know if it will work.

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12 thoughts on “Week 1b- Comments on Aristotle’s Meteorology

  1. I am most interested in Aristotle’s descriptions of water and the differences he notes between rivers and seas. Much time is spent differentiating between salt and sweet water, and giving an explanation for why the sea is salty and why rivers are not. Throughout his writings on meteorology, he constantly writes about the delicate balance of each element. For water, he writes that if rivers or seas dry up, it is part of a process which allows the water to be used in other parts of the world. He is very concerned with why there is salt water, and how it came to be that way. After partially refuting the claim that the salt in the ocean is the world’s sweat, he claims that the water in the ocean must have had some contact with heat to create the saltiness. Ashes are a byproduct of fire. Therefore, at least in my understanding, salt is the byproduct of sweet water’s interaction with heat. Is he using ashes as a metaphor here, or does he actually think that animal remains and waste products are what cause the water to be salty? He writes about heat giving water different flavorings. Is he referring to hot springs? What of his own experience would lead him to believe heat accounts for acidity in water?

    • I like the idea of a conservation theory that you noticed… meaning that the world is a “zero sum game” or a theory of economy… when water leaves one place it shows up somewhere else. Conservation theories are big players in modern science: conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum. Probably also action, and other made-up combinations of variables. Aristotle treats the earth as a closed system in which nothing is ever lost or gained. No creation ex nihilo, as he might say, if he spoke Latin.
      The ashes-to-salt obsession that Aristotle has throughout the entire book is quite interesting. I don’t think it is a metaphor. I think he is being quite literal. The fact that ashes are made from fire is an interesting chemical coincidence, but the making of salt from ashes is actually how it is done…. but it’s not table salt.
      Your observation on animal remains and waste products (poop?) is also interesting as it relates to salt and salts.
      Acidity also interesting. I wonder if he had much of a concept of the acid/base dichotomy? I’ll have to look into that.

  2. Well, we’ve got to hand it to them; they were creative. Reading this now, we tend to get the idea that these reasonings, for the most part, are absurd, however, to indeed reflect on these questions without our modern information; we are baffled on how to approach these questions. It is quite interesting the detail of thought Aristotle embraces to justify his conclusions. The attention to causality and to the history of his subjects gives the reader a sense of clarity of understanding. His focus on causality is his main point, it seems and his knowledge of everyday detail is quite interesting in it of itself simply because his has to create justifications to support what he sees, varying in their origin (mythical and/or scientific for the time).
    Also, in his explanations the sea, winds and thunderbolts he uses several different modes of thought to justify his conclusions such as justification by contradiction, or exclusion, linear argument, and myth. These modes of thought are for the most part still used in today’s formulations of theorems, theories, and queries (not mythical stories however).

  3. Meteorology is the scientific study of the atmosphere. Aristotle explains how he believes many natural phenomena occur, work or exist. What was fascinating to me was to try and understand and note the way Aristotle was able to categorize and organize his logic. The way he approaches this task is applicable to other larger questions I think as well. I noticed a pattern of comparisons of what is there compared to what is not there and how that is significant, the tangible and the intangible, opposites. He mostly writes with a sense of concreteness, or material opposed to a more abstract or symbolic concept. He discusses how the land will become wet the and oceans will become dry, the cycles of water and the seas and what characterizes different phenomena as active or passive. The basis of his work was categorized by four elements fire, air, water, and earth which is how all of these comparisons have come about. That these elements interact with one another and push each other and change each other causing significant effects in the atmosphere. The concept of these elements intertwining and influencing potential behaviors as they each had their own specific properties as well. This is what I believe alchemy was influenced by. Thinking that one could manipulate and create from changing these four basic elements and properties in different ways.

  4. ” Ripening is a sort of concoction; for we call it ripening when there is a concoction of the nutriment in fruit. And since concoction is a sort of perfecting, the process of ripening is perfect when the seeds in fruit are able to reproduce the fruit in which they are found; for in all other cases as well this is what we mean by ‘perfect’. ”
    I think the language Aristotle uses is often quite poetic, and although he may be discussing seemingly scientific matters, he still writes very eloquently.
    I wonder whether he wrote this way in order to appeal to a wider audience, or simply because he wanted to add a sense of wonder to what he saw as the workings of the natural world.

  5. I do not get the line in book 1 part 1, “when the inquiry into these matters is concluded let us consider what account we can give, in accordance with the method we have followed, of animals and plants, both generally and in detail. When that has been done we may say that the whole of our original undertaking will have been carried out.” Is Aristotle assuming that humans will soon know everything there is to know? Does he believe he already knows it? It is surprising to me that someone who thinks so deeply about the world could think that it can actually be entirely understood in his lifetime. WHile his theory about fire, air, water, and earth being the four elements of the world is clearly flawed, it is interesting that he was able to ascertain that all elements are made of the same “ultimate substrate,” which is really what atoms and their parts are. I found the rest of what Aristotle wrote on the stars and the oceans to be more ambiguous. While there are topics he discusses that make logical sense, such as the varying density of air as you move upwards in the atmosphere, most of his reasoning seemed made up.

  6. Like many after him, Aristotle cites a substance called “ether” that fills the space between the Earth and the Heavens. (Is it this ether that imbues the stars and other planets with circular motion? I am unsure.) It sounds affected in Aristotle’s mouth, but talk of the ether survived all the way until Einstein, and he addressed the issue directly in his work on relativity. Special relativity, he said, does not rule out the ether because the ether can be used to give physical reality to acceleration and rotation. He takes the concept further in GTR, stating that physical properties are attributed to space, but that no substance or state of motion can be attributed to the ether. Ether is to be understood as curved space-time, and it serves many of the same ends that Aristotle’s ether did. Crucially, it was long thought that the ether was absolute, that matter (especially its motion) is affected by the ether, but the ether is in no way affected by matter. Einstein challenged this assymetry, claiming that matter is affected by the ether and that the ether is affected by matter.

    It is difficult, still, to wrap one’s head around: what is the ether? How does it give physical reality to motion? Does it make more sense to talk of the ether or of the fabric of space-time? If vacuums are filled with space-time are they really vacuums?

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