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What is air. Air according to the dictionary definition is: a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and minute amounts of other gases that surrounds the earth and forms its atmosphere. Why is air important? Or is it important? Anaximenes believed it was essential to life, this earth, and human beings. Anaximenes was the son of Eurystratus and a "Greek philosopher who flourished in his prime time around 546 B.C. He is said to have been a pupil of Anaximander's" (Jordan 1987,10). Anaximenes was "the last of the trio of Milesian cosmologists" and, similar to Thales, "he thought that the earth must rest on something, but he proposed air, rather than water, for its creation" (Kenny 2004,8). Anaximenes was the last Milesian philosopher who that the basic principle of the world was air (Walter 1961, 10).
It is difficult to fully understand Anaximenes' theories because not much remains. James N. Jordan notes that, "he wrote at least a book of which nothing remains except a sentence and a couple of words" (Jordan 1987,11). By what remains, however, one can see Anaximenes' theory: "the principle is limitless air, from which what is coming into being and what has come into being and what will exist and gods and divinities come into being, while from these, its offspring, comes everything else" (Barnes 2001, 24). Air is the foundational element which supports the other elements; earth, water and fire. This is seen in Barnes' summary of the theory in which he states that, "As it [air] is condensed and rarefied it appears different: when it is diffused into a more rarefied condition it becomes fire; wind, again, is air moderately condensed; cloud is produced from air by compression; when it is yet more condensed it is water, and then earth; and when is as dense as possible it is stones" (Barnes 2001, 24).
Why air? What was the reasoning behind Anaximenes's choice of selecting this? This question is explored through James N. Jordan, who poses this question: "Why did he not return to Thales, equipped now with condensation and rarefaction, and view air as "relaxed" appearance of water? James N. Jordan continues on to sate the only valid indication comes from the sentence from his [Anaximenes's] book: "As our soul being air holds us together and controls us, so does wind and air enclose the whole world." In the ancient times air, like water went hand and hand because it was identified with life. For this reason Anaximenes believed that: "the soul that, animates the human body was associated all over the world with breath" (Jordan 1987,12).
Humans need air, without air their existence is impossible. Life is sustained by air and through air all things are held together. Anaximenes supposed, "Just as our soul which is air holds us together, so it is breath and air that encompasses the whole world" (Bakewell 1907,7). The city of Denver's governmental website addresses the issue of air quality: "The average adult breathes in about twenty cubic meters, or twenty thousand liters of air a day!" According to the Encyclopedia Of Family Health, "People cannot live for more than a few minutes if their oxygen supply is cut off. Oxygen is the single most important substance on which human life depends; therefore breathing and the transportation of oxygen throughout the body are crucial functions for human existence."
Air is what sustains life on the earth. Without air the animals and plants on the earth could not be sustained. The illustration can be made like putting together a puzzle; with a missing part it cannot be completed. In the same way, "from air and water plants absorb hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon" (NSTA 2001, 49). Air is a nutrient that is essential for a plant to grow healthy. Plants are growing food for humans to consume in order to exist on this earth.
Plants are not the only things, which benefit from air,
Anaximenes was not the only philosopher who considered his theories to be the most significant element. Xenophanes lived from "570 B.C. to 470 B.C. Like the Milesians, Xenophanes propounded a cosmology. He believed that earth was the essential element, based his certainty over "the basic element, he maintained, was not water nor air, but earth, and earth reaches down below us to infinity" (Kenny 2004,11). Xenophanes believed were founded from this belief: "the earth is limitless and surrounded neither by air nor by heavens. There are suns and moons without limit. Everything is made from earth" (Barnes 2001, 46). Within Xenophanes foundational ideology there is error, the illustration can be made as holding up Swiss slice cheese, up against a solid slice of cheese, thus showing Xenophanes theory to Anaximens incorrect. The earth is cannot even be in existence without air, for the reason that all things on earth and earth itself are sustained by air.
Just as Xenophanes and Anaximenes assumed their element was the most indispensible, so did Heraclitus. Heraclitus from Ephesus was "the last and the most famous, of the early Ionian philosophers. Heraclitus believed that "he alone had found the ultimate truth about things; while everyone else was "asleep," he was "awake." And the truth is that all the apparently unrelated happenings in the world are ordered in keeping with a comprehensive plan that he called "the Logos," which he personified as a deity, and which he identified with fire" (Jordan 1987,17). Heraclitus' theory can be broken down and explained: " for fire as it is condensed becomes moist, and it is coheres becomes water; water as it solidifies turns into earth- this is the path downwards" (Barnes 2001, 24). According to the Oxford English dictionary fire is "the state of burning, in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and give out bright light, heat, and smoke." Without air fire cannot be generated, thus air is the most important element.
Anaximenes was not the only philosopher who considered his theories to be the most significant element. Xenophanes lived from "570 B.C. to 470 B.C. Like the Milesians, Xenophanes propounded a cosmology. He believed that earth was the essential element, based his certainty over "the basic element, he maintained, was not water nor air, but earth, and earth reaches down below us to infinity" (Kenny 2004,11). Xenophanes' beliefs were founded from this belief: "the earth is limitless and surrounded neither by air nor by heavens. There are suns and moons without limit. Everything is made from earth" (Barnes 2001, 46). Within Xenophanes theory it is clear to perceive the inaccuracy in this statement: "everything is made from earth."
Air: it brings to life the earth. Without air the earth would look lifeless minus the beautiful plants, trees, and flowers, which bring vibrant color and exquisiteness to this dark earth. Earth without air would not be able to be filled with people, without people it would be a place of wasted space. Air filling human lungs brings meaning to life. Air changes the weather thus creating the ability for things to grow and produce. Even though Anaximenes was incorrect in his thinking that the earth was flat, however; his theory was effective and correct in stating that air is the most important element.
Denver The Mile High City. 2012. http://www.denvergov.org/
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Barnes, Jonathan. 2001. Early Greek Philosophy. London, England: Penguin Classics.
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National Science Teacher Association. 2001. Dig In! Hands-on Soil Investigations. Arlington, Virginia: NSTA Press.