Them Four Elements

An odd thought occurred to me the other day. The Greeks famously regarded that there were four elements, fire, water, air, and earth. The modern man, with the all the advantages of a public school system, knows this to be incorrect that instead there are 92 (naturally occuring) elements with about a dozen artificially produced ones added to this.

However, what occurred to me is that the dismissal of those four elements is an error hermeneutic. We know the definitions of words change. What they mean by “element” is what we call “states of matter.” In point of fact, there are four phases of matter which oddly enough very closely align with those Greek four. Solid, liquid, gas, and plasma match quite well with earth, water, air and fire don’t they?

So when reading those accounts of those four ‘Elements’ just replace the word ‘Elements’ with ‘States’ and see what that does for you.

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  1. At first I was going to joke about how you can rationalize anything, but yeah, you actually have a point here. 🙂

  2. Mark says:

    A curious fact, while plasma is from a terrestrial standpoint quite rare, by mass it is the most common form of matter in the Universe at large. Stars and non-planetary matter (space dust and matter not coalesced into asteroid and comets, i.e. free float) is typically ionized, i.e., plasma.

    Note: that’s something I remembered from school … I didn’t double check figures and estimates so there is a chance it is wrong. But it passes the smell test I think.

  3. Boonton says:

    Indeed, I think fire is technically a gas and at least in elementary school they teach three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas and plasma is added later but, if I recall correctly, not explored very much except to say it is rare on earth but more common in space.

    But this only works so far, the Greeks thought stuff was made up of various mixtures of those ‘elements’ whereas we think of the states of matter as being conditions. They probably also knew that at least some matter has states (I’m sure, for example, they knew that ice, liquid water and boiled off water vapor were all water) so its not quite like we can say they were talking about the same thing with different terms.