The Sun, the planets and the whole universe revolve around the Earth while hanging on crystal spheres. The velocity of a body is proportional to the force that pushed it. A rock falls to the ground because that’s its natural element.

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Those are only a few of the teachings of Aristotle that, forced on posterity for centuries, held back scientific progress. Whatever your branch of science, it’s practically impossible not to come across something utterly absurd the ancient philosopher said. All in all, however, it ain’t his fault if he had the astonishing ability of being always wrong.

It was actually mostly bad luck: almost all modern scientific theories—one example comes to mind: atoms—have some Greek ancestry. Although, in those cases as well, basically someone happened to get it right. Those theories, albeit correct, have the same scientific value of Aristotle‘s ones: none.

The fact that there always is something on which Aristotle is wrong, however, also means that he tried to understand a lot of stuff in a lot of different fields. His work is actually a testament of human curiosity. Unfortunately, his method was… well… let’s say sub-optimal.

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The fact is, his reasoning had no experimental support.

So we shouldn’t be angry at him. Instead, we should be grateful for giving us a lot of starting points (albeit monumentally wrong ones), and for reminding us of the enormity of what’s to understand and how awesome it is to try and understand it.

Another, possibly more important, lesson is: burning people at the stake is not a valid solution for scientific disputes. At least not in the long term.

 

Cover photo: wikimedia.org

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