The first thing that simply must be cleared up is that the character of Anikin Skywalker, known as Ani, was not based on Anaximander of Miletus, who raised questions about Thales’ theory of everything and proposed one of his own theories of everything. No, the worst that could be said of Anaximander’s nicknames is that someone called him Salamander once. The outcome of that incident is not known to history. But nobody called him Ana. Hence the lack of confusion.
In any event, Anaximander, who was a native Milesian, born in 612 B.C., was a youngish contemporary of Thales, and as the youngish are wont to do, he considered some questions making the rounds about Thales’ theory of water.
To wit, if water comprises everything, why is there so much stuff that isn’t water? Why is it that water seems to be just stuff like the rest of the stuff?
And, water isn’t unusual, despite its unusual tripartite form, so why should it be considered so special? If we demand an accounting of rock and tree and the wife’s roast beast, why not of water?
And then there is the problem of wet. To parody a Roman, all Greece is divided into two parts. Greeks were big on opposites, on contraries. Wet, dry. Hot, cold. Things that cancel each other out. So if everything is made of water, and water is the origin of all things, when did poor old dry ever get a chance to come into existence?
Smackdown questions, hey?
Ax couldn’t accept the Thalian universe, so he began work on his own universe. True to Thales, he wanted to leave the gods out of it and reason to the truth of the world by looking at the world.
He reasoned to the Originating Stuff by applying the idea of the infinite regress. Everything has a beginning, the thinking goes. A causes B, B causes C, C causes D, and so on. Everything has a prior state. Forever, right? Well, no. First off, we run out of letters of the alphabet. So Ax said there has to be something that never began, that had no beginning. He called it the Infinite, or the Boundless. No beginning, no end, no inbetween.
Aristotle, a while later, noted that the Boundless is a beginning, but does not have a beginning. It begins all other things. (One might wonder if it begins LSD because one might wonder if one needs LSD to understand that twisty, swirly beginning stuff. But one won’t wonder that here.)
This Infinite was called ‘divine’ but not because it was goddish. It was just that the gods were immortal, deathless, infinite, as it were, and that was the same quality, immortality, possessed by the Infinite.
So the Boundless, or the Infinite, replaced the water of Thales as the source and cause of all things. Of course, there’s a problem. How does all this formless Infinite make all the different stuff that’s lying around the universe and around Greece? After all, if it were clearly Something, then it couldn’t be something else, because if it were clearly Something it wouldn’t be Infinite. If it were air, it couldn’t be earth. It’s the old problem of the one and the many.
Ax solved the problem by deciding that the Infinite was chaotic. Everything was mixed in – hot, cold, wet, dry. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Shades of Macbeth’s witches and Harry Potter’s cauldron.
The next problem Ax had to deal with was to determine how the chaotic Infinite sorted out into all the different stuff in the universe.
Remember the ball-shaped time vortex that the Schwarzenegger used to travel through time as the Terminator? Right. Vortex. Key word. If you put stuff into a pan of water and swirl it around for a while, the heavy stuff will go to the center, and the lighter stuff will distribute outwards, thus sorting itself. So there was the Infinite, the Boundless, swirling and swirling, just like the stars overhead, and thus differentiating its stuff into all other stuff.
And that fit with the vision of the world commonly held. The heavy earth lay at the center of water surrounding it and beyond that was the air and beyond the air was the lighter, fiery stuff, fire, if you will, all going round and round and thus sustaining itself.
Voila, the world and all its parts made sensible. Thales questioned, water put in its place, and another step on man’s journey to the Moon and Mars and all those other fiery things on the outer rim of Earthan reality.
Two more interesting tidbits.
Ax supposed that there was balance in nature. If winter was very cold, the following summer must be very hot. If summer were dry, fall must be wet. It’s a Homeric thing, the thing about moderation and balance and harmony. If you go this way, then you gotta go that way. It could be said that Ax was keeping hold of at least that part of the old traditions, but applying it to the entire universe, not just to the Greek world.
But, the second tidbit holds with the modern thought of Thales, that balance and moderation was not something imposed by the gods, did not come from without, but was part of the essential nature of the stuff of the universe. Zeus can no longer step in and interfere in the things of the Anaximandrian universe: he can only sit on Olympus and sulk as the world neglects him. Zeus is out of a job.
Thus was set the battlefield for history from the time of Thales right up to today. Zeus pitching thunderbolts and men forming the shield of reason against Zeus.
Yeah, after Anaximander life started to get complicated.