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Tag Archives: Mythology

Atlas: true mythology

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C...

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C.). Già nella Collezione Farnese, oggi al Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the power of myth is metaphor, let us invest a few minutes in the metaphor that the Atlas myth was intended to make. Refer to this Wikipedia article

Classical art shows Atlas holding the celestial spheres, not a globe

Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of Gaia (the Earth) and hold up Uranus (the Sky) on his shoulders, to prevent the two from resuming their primordial embrace.

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The Myth of Matter, p. 1

This atom is mythical.

We might be pretty sure we know what the word ‘matter’ means– “anything that has mass and takes up space[1]. As children, we learn that matter can assume the forms of solid, liquid and gas while still maintaining its essential characteristics. If we so choose, we might learn about potential- and kinetic energy, crystallization, specific heat, plasticity, the combined gas law, …, and a whole bunch of other concepts intended to help us grapple with our material world.

A few of us decide to study science or technology. Whether or not by choice, these students experience concepts that substantially modify the meaning of the ‘m’-word. Uncertainty becomes a principle. Mass depends upon velocity, as does length. Laws of science give ground to theories of relativity.

A few of the few then choose a path leading them further away from the original ‘classical’ idea of what matter is. These few can either be technologists[2] (engineers) or aesthetes[3] (physicists). As they proceed along their courses of study, they begin to notice a disconnection between their “everyday experience” in the laboratory or the computer model and the everyday experiences of everyone else they used to know. At this point, differing ideas about “the substance of which we are all made”[4] creates a seemingly unbridgeable disparity between the minority specialists who deal more deeply with matter and the majority of us who merely live and move in it.

If you are a member of the “mere many” you might not even realize the depth and breadth of the gulf. As a hedge against this possibility, let us spend some time discussing concepts associated with ‘matter’. Realize that you will not know what the specialist knows, but you will at least know something about their knowledge.


[2] “A person who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems,” http://wordnet.princeton.edu

[3] “One who professes great sensitivity to the beauty of art and nature,” wordnet

[4] Wikipedia//Matter

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