Monday, March 3, 2008

Plato Again

I sat down with book today and read to Catherine and Harry while they had a tea party and the living room floor. I was guest lecturer at the Adams Family Tea Room I suppose. This was the book:

The Elements: A Very Short Introduction by Philip Ball. It's a neat book and though not beyond Catherine certainly has some challenging words and phrasing for a 9 year old. Ah well, I figured that if she caught even a quarter of what it was talking about we were in goo shape.

The book starts with a discussion of the classical elements, fire, earth, water and air. Plato, Aristotle, Anaximander and some folks I'd never heard of like Empedocles and Thales all made appearances. We learned more than I can summarize here but there were a couple of things that stood out.

One, for me, was the hold Aristotle held on the Christian church. Think it was scripture that lay at the base of Galileo's persecution? Ha! It was Aristotle. It highlighted again how you simply can't frame medieval issues of church and natural philosophy in context of modern ideas about science and religion or the perceived conflicts between them.

What Catherine really enjoyed was Plato. Not in the sense that, "Mom! Plato's Republic is soooo kewl!" but that those platonic solids she built a couple of months ago suddenly became relevant again. It turns out that those shapes are the shape Plato assigned to the elements! Well, except for the dodecahedron which apparently was consigned tothe heavens as part of the fifth element, the aether. Cool, eh?

She also noticed the name of a tract by Roman poet Lucretius, De rerum natura which in English is On the Nature of Things. this got a big smile because one of her favourite shows is a Canadian science show called The Nature of Things which we watch mostly in reruns. We decided the tract made a likely source for the title of the show.

This all sounds so highbrow and geeky. Rest assured there was a running joke on goose poop that continued through the whole reading.

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