LUCRETIUS - The Nature Of The Universe - BOOK II

October 10 2017


After introducing us to what atoms are and why they matter (literally), Lucretius is now attempting a how-to guide.

“How atoms generate things.”

Atoms move freely, Lucretius starts, and by doing so, they occasionally knock each other. He now goes eerily into the element hypothesis and declares that the farther apart atoms make up sunlight and air and that those move quickly, which is why we cannot see them. Atoms which are sticking closer together form things like rock and steel.

“No material thing can be uplifted by its own power.”

The weight of things drives them downwards and only pressure compels them upwards. (Lucretius understood gravity!) “When atoms travel, they only stray minutely from their path.” The slight swerve that does occur (through gravity), is necessary for atomic collisions and this creation.

“The supply of matter was never as tightly packed s it is now (or more widely spaced out).”

The sum of things cannot be changed by any form of force - the number of atoms is always the same.

“Although atoms are always in motion, they appear motionless.”

Because atoms are invisible to our senses, their movements elude our observations.

“On the substance, diversity of forms, and shapes of atoms.”

Lucretius really just explains that atoms have varying shapes, not what they are. He gives as an example the differences of wine and oil. Wine must have smaller and differently shaped atoms than oil for it flows quicker and mixed with water. Differently shaped atoms must also be the cause of certain things being pleasant and unpleasant.

“The number of forms of atoms are finite.”

To change forms, one must scale a thing. We know atoms are tiny however, so atoms cannot have too many forms.

“Number of atoms of any one form is infinite.”

If they were finite, matter would be finite.

“There is no visible object that consist of one kind of atom only.”

Everything is an admixture of different elements. More complex things (like soil), contain more complex atoms.

“Atoms cannot be linked randomly to every other atom.”

There appears to be a specific necessity to what combines to make what. Lucretius’ explanation why this is so is simply that we otherwise would have ‘monsters’.

“The primary particles of matter have no colour whatsoever.”

Colours occur because of the reshuffling of atoms and thus, atoms must be colourless.

“Atoms are also devoid of any other sense and sensation.”

Here, Lucretius goes on an odd path that seem suspiciously like spontaneous generation. He reigns it in by concluding that the combining of atoms make sensation and so an atom itself cannot have sensation.

“It is unlikely that our Earth is the only one.”

Our Earth was made by a series of random, accidental collisions (of atoms), so why wouldn’t that have happened somewhere else in the universe? (I agree with Lucretius.)

“Nature does what it wants.”

Fitingly, Lucretius finishes by recognizing that the infinite number of atoms and the boundarylessness of space demands randomness. There will always be creation and decay, for if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be anything.