Like every other Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras held that nothing can come from nothing, nor can anything utterly vanish. The totality of world stuff is fixed: It is “all,” and “we must know that all of them are neither more nor less; for it is not possible for them to be more than all, and all are always equal.” However, the world of moving, changing, differentiated things that we know is not eternal. Anaxagoras postulated a primeval condition of homogeneity and motionlessness:All things were together, infinite both in number and in smallness; for the small too was infinite. And, when all things were together, none of them were plain, because of their smallness. . . . But before they were separated off, when all things were together, not even was any color plain; for the mixture of all things prevented it—of the moist and the dry, and the warm and the cold, and the light and the dark, and of much earth that was in it, and of a multitude of innumerable seeds in no way like each other.
It is perhaps permissible to think of this initial condition as a gray, dim, damp, tepid, dirty vastness, or if you prefer, a luminosity: “Air and fire prevailed over all things, being both of them infinite; for amongst all things these are the greatest both in quantity and size.” That is, a homogeneous mixture of all things would look like air and fire, because those are what are most plentiful.
At some point in this mass, mind started a whirl: “And Mind had power over the whole revolution, so that it began to revolve in the beginning. And it began to revolve first from a small beginning; but the revolution now extends over a larger space, and will extend over a larger still.” We see the whirl of the heavenly bodies still going on overhead.
The centrifugal force of the whirl caused separation out of the homogeneous mass, “as these things revolve and are separated off by the force and speed. And the speed makes the force. Their speed is not like the speed of any of the things that are now among men, but in every way many times as fast.” He continues, “And when Mind began to move things, separating off took place from all that was moved, and so much as Mind set in motion was all separated. And as things were set in motion and separated, the revolution caused them to be separated much more.”
The separation resulted not just in...
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