"Best philosophical ideas improve Humanity"

Philosophical thinking -
from Tradition to Innovation

Pavel Revko - PhD,
Taganrog Institute of Technology, Southern Federal University, Russia

"Greek science and oriental wisdom –
from ancient times till the 21-st century"

Greece laid a foundation of a modern scientific thinking; Greek philosophy was a theoretic basis of a modern science. But the post neoclassic type science which is being formed now has got features which bring it together with ancient oriental wisdom. It is worth while recalling here the powerful cultural influence of Orient on Greek science formation because perception and following up historic sources is a necessary condition for the science’s forward motion.
The problem of interaction and mutual influence of different cultural traditions including scientific ones is one of the most important methodological problems of modern investigations.
The matter of Greek and Oriental roots of antic science correlation was raised by Diogenes Laertes who pointed out that Greek philosophy had its predecessors in the East: “As some people think philosophic studies first started with barbarians, namely Persians had their magicians, Babylonians and Assyrians had Chaldeans and Indians had their gymnosophists… Egyptians maintain that the starter of philosophy kept by oracles and prophets was Hephaestus, the son of the Niles” [1] Meanwhile Diogenes noted that it was mistaken “to ascribe Hellenic discoveries to barbarians”, that philosophy “with its name which was strange to barbarian speech” comes from Hellenes.
F. Fernandes-Armesto draws attention to the fact that Greece was the land which was open for the Eastern Mediterranean: “Even within the classic period such teachers as Plato and Aristotle remembered that their scientific traditions ascended to the place which they called “Asia” and where they also included Egypt”. [2]
Greeks had inherence to a deep respect to the past, that is why taking into account Oriental science antiquity they felt like explaining the origin of various events of their culture by borrowings from the East. Greeks said nearly about all big scientists that they had visited Orient and most of all Egypt. Herodotus and Strabo wrote that geometry was created in Egypt, where it was often necessary to re-measure lots of land after the Niles flooding. Euclid thought that the information about geometry had been brought from Egypt by Thales. There are legends about Pythagoras’s visiting Egypt. Neopythagorians stressed Pythagoras’s ties with Egyptian religion. In the 4-th century they created stories about Pythagoras’s trips to Oriental countries. It was considered that Anaximander, Heraclites, Xenophanes, Anaxagoras and Democritus possessed deep Egyptian religious knowledge. There is evidence of Plato’s visiting Egypt.
One cannot disregard a great influence of Sumerian and Babylonian mathematics on mathematical knowledge formation in Egypt, Lesser Asia and Greece. Probably Greek scientists got numerous astronomic learning from Babylon. Sundial, zodiacal constellation names, day’s division to 12 parts had been brought from Babylon.
For a long time Phoenicians had been intermediaries between Greeks and the Orient. Formation of seafaring technique, construction of first light houses, invention of glass, purple discovery is connected with them. Thanks to the Phoenicians’ influence Greeks created their alphabet, got important knowledge in astronomy. It is illustrative that Thales was called a Phoenician.
Evidently one shouldn’t esteem the Greek science out of its connections with other peoples’ cultures. Meanwhile it is necessary to evade two extremities: exaggerating the role of Greeks’ borrowing knowledge in the East and Greek science derivation exclusively from within its own self without due regard to a foreign influence.
A special Oriental influence on Greeks was noted by A.Gladish [3] who drew an analogy between natural philosophic ideas and Oriental wise men teachings, drawing a veil over their differences, evading Greek philosophy originality.
In the “Early Greek Philosophy and the East” book by M. West [4] it was noted that in the middle of the 6-th century in Ionia emerged a great number of Median magicians who fled their country after it had been conquered by Cyrus. Those magicians exerted a great influence on Greek philosophy genesis. In particular, Heraclitus’s teaching about fire as the first element of the World, as West said, had ascended to the Iranian fire-cult.
A different point of view was supported by T. Hopfner. In his work “The East and the Greek Philosophy” he claimed that only Greeks created science and philosophy [5]. One must treat the tale of oriental teachers teaching Greeks in the same way one should deal with the notion of Democritus talking bird’s language.
It is known that Greece and oriental countries had never been isolated from each other. Existing deep cultural and economic ties between them are proved by archeological information. There were migrations, mutual cultural enrichment of different peoples. “One can deny some other evidence of Hellenic philosophers’ borrowing their knowledge from oriental sources, consider as accidental many analogies which probably point at some universality of human conscientiousness and knowledge development but one cannot deny that in whole the Greek philosophy suffered the ancient oriental wisdom influence. The Hellenic philosophic thought developed in cooperation with the culture of Near East and Anterior Asia countries; it experienced influence of both rationalistic perceptions and of religious beliefs.
In one of his dialogues Plato noted that all things which Hellenes had taken from barbarians were brought to perfection. Hegel agreed with Plato when he proved the fact that Greeks got their education initials from Egypt and Asia, but they had transformed them in such a great way that in principle they belonged only to them [6].
Oriental cultures which the Greeks contacted with possessed the knowledge which had been created from theological and cosmogonic myths, religious convictions. A similar form of knowledge had existed with Greeks before they created science (philosophy). A new way of understanding emerged in Greece; it absorbed many results of other preceding ways but meanwhile it radically transformed their structure and gave them a strict logical form. Knowledge which had accumulated in ancient oriental cultures was transformed to common systematic theories which formed rational and organic structures above practical goals which oriental wise men had been limited with. Significant is a fact that if knowledge in the East had been a monopoly of oracles and thus it depended on their practical goals and traditions, in Greece a class of oracles was missing which opened possibilities for a free knowledge accumulation and development. Science development became an evidence of Greek culture difference from oriental cultures.
Campaigns of Alexander the Great promoted further expansion of relations with oriental countries which resulted in enrichment of Greek scientific traditions and science development in Hellenic states. Meanwhile took place an active interrelation in various directions: was noted Greek achievement assimilation by oriental cultures and oriental influence on Greek traditions.
In his book “Exact Sciences” O.Neigebauer studies formation and development of exact sciences in Egypt, Babylon and Greece including the era of Hellenism. The author paid a special attention to formation and expansion of Hellenic sciences which in his opinion threw back to mathematics and astronomy of ancient oriental civilizations. The interest to Hellenic sciences is not incidental due to the fact that “In Hellenic melting furnace developed that form of science which later spread everywhere from India to Western Europe and dominated right up to the modern science development in Newton times” [7]. O.Neigenbauer managed to disclose peculiarities of mathematics development in Greece and Hellenic countries and to lighten in a new way the epoch which is quite often characterized as the time of ancient science’s decay. The rise of science connected with activities of Euclid and Archimedes is often opposed with its decay which is noted in the works of Heron the Alexandrian. O.Neigenbauer does not agree with this interpretation: “This could be right if Heron’s geometrical compositions were exactly the continuation of classical works of the 3-d century B.C. But that is not so: actually Heron’s instructions expressed a Hellenic form of a general oriental tradition” [8].
In the 20-th century science deals with ancient teachings at a new level in order to apprehend modern achievements and define ways of further development. As far back as N.Bohr and W.Heisenberg paid attention to the similarity of oriental ideology with quantum theory philosophic ground. Due to this take a special actuality epistemological problems raised by oriental wise men. Following the quantum theory founders modern physicists more and more often refer to oriental world concept in order to explain elementary particle and cosmology problems. It cannot be denied that “the oriental wisdom treasury contains a few ideas whose heuristic value is doubtless; that is why the occurring modern science and ancient oriental wisdom synthesis will be beneficial” [9].
Interest to oriental style of thinking seems quite regular and corresponds to the present stage of science development. In this regard quite illustrative is “The Dao Physics” – a work of F.Kapra, an expert in high-energy physics. In his work he parallels modern physics and oriental wisdom [10]. F.Kapra noted that discoveries made by physics in the 20-th century disclosed a special closeness to notions developed in the Far East religious philosophies.  Modern physics offers that type of perception which has an essential closeness to ancient oriental culture mystic world perceptions. Oriental holistic thinking is in harmony with modern physical holism. The East proceeds from the fact that the world knowledge is obtained directly, immediately and due to this it cannot be adequately expressed with trivial words. Notions of quantum physics, modern cosmology also cannot be described by means of classical logics and trivial words.  Paradoxes in physics same as in oriental teachings defy logical solutions, they are perceived as inherent to reality which is the source of intuitive hypothesis. Oriental traditions do not strive to divide live and unalive nature. Same tendency is being formed in a modern science.
Upon a closer view at an ancient science it can be noted that the abovementioned notions are contained in teachings of many Greek thinkers. A number of important moments inherent to the Greek thought had been lost in a historical process of its development in West-European culture. A result of its development – the new times science represents just one of hypothetically possible ways of implementing the Greek scientific heritage. Due to this it’s worth while talking not so much about the necessity of modern physics and oriental wisdom synthesis as about the possibility of clearing the Greek science from depositions and interpretations which emerged later and in the result became a new European science with all its advantages and limitations.  Nowadays physics form general views which by its contents to a certain degree oblige us to return to their beginnings. Modern science has substantially departed from its roots and today it refers with an interest to oriental and early Greek philosophers’ views.
It is enough to recall the fact that philosophy of first Greek philosophers, Milesian school representatives, has a definitely mystic colour, it does not make a difference between the live and the dead. Thales said that all things are filled with deity, Anaximander considered the Universe as some organism endowed with cosmic breathing. Similar views of early Greek scientists are close to the views of ancient Indian and Chinese thinkers. In the New Times R.Descartes made a complete nature division into the sphere of consciousness and the sphere of substance. In the result it became possible to perceive the substance as something unalive. Mechanistic nature perception allowed I.Newton to create mechanics which became the classic physics basis. Further development of Cartesianism brought us to the fact that science started to perceive the World as the multitude of separate things and events. R.Descartes and I.Newton opened the way for extensive science development, wide accumulation and classification of knowledge. Modern science which emerged thanks to Cartesian division strives to overcome its limitations and comes back to the idea of unity which is close to the ancient philosophers of Greece and the East. Meanwhile the science uses not only intuition and a consequent mathematical justification but also experimental means of perception. Nowadays the accumulated information demands science regeneration because here emerges the problem of new fact perception.
Modern science interest to ancient oriental wisdom and resorting to Greek beginnings should not be treated as opposed incompatible processes. Even if there is actually some physics and Oriental mystic teachings’ synthesis (which should not be perceived as a uniquely definite fact) it should not be treated as a cardinal revaluation of the whole world outlook laid by the Greeks. Greek heritage is not closed for enrichment with other cultures.

1.Diogenes Laertes. On Life, Teachings and Aphorisms of Famous Philosophers.–M.1979, p.63
2. Fernandes-Armesto F. Civilization  - M, 2009 – p.516
3. Gladish A. Einleitung das Verstandniss der Weltgeschichte. Berlin, 1841; Der Religion und die Philosophie in ihrer weltgeschichtlichen Entwicklung. Berlin, 1852. Empedokles und die Aegypter. 1858; Herakleitos und Zoroaster. 1859; Anaxogoros und die Israeliten. 1864; Die Hyperbosser und die alten Schnnissen. 1866.
4. West M.L. Early Greek Philosophy and Orient. Oxford, 1971.
5. Hopfner Th. Orient und griechische Philosophie. Leipzig, 1925.
6. Shakhnovich M.M. Origin of Greek Philosophy and Oriental Tradition: The Problem of influence. / Methods of Humanitarian Knowledge in the 21-st century Perspective. To the 80-th anniversary of Professor Moses Samoilivich Kaghan. Materials of international scientific conference. May, 18, 2001. Saint-Petersburg, “Symposium” series, Edition No.12. – SPb. Saint-Petersburg Philosophic Society. 2001. – P.265.
7. O.Neigebauer. Exact Sciences in Ancient times. M., 2008, P.17
8. Ditto, P.148
9. Polikarpov V.S. History of Science and Technics. Rostov-on-Don, Phenix Publishing House, 1998. P.308.
10. F.Kapra. “The Dao Physics”. General Roots of Modern Physics and Oriental Mysticism.
M. Sophia Publishing House. 2008.