Random Access asks:

So the fundamental concepts of modern physics is older than the concept of the four classical elements?

(follow-up to this)

Ehhhhh, I wouldn’t go that far.  It’s more that Thales lived in a time of… let’s call it experimentation.  The Greek philosophers of the 6th century BC were kinda throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick.  His notion that water might be the one fundamental “stuff” was just one of several ideas being tossed around at the time; other philosophers suggested air, or aether, and of course the idea that wound up dominating was Empedocles’ belief that there were four different kinds of fundamental “stuff” (earth, water, fire and air).  When you get right down to it, there’s only so many ways you can take this particular question: either there is only one kind of substance that gets rearranged into everything in the world we know, or there are a few basic kinds of substance that get combined into everything in the world we know (and if you stop at the level of atoms, it looks like this one is right; there are a hundred-odd kinds of “stuff” in the universe, and everything else is made of combinations of these), or every observable substance is fundamental (which wouldn’t really have appealed to the ancient Greek sense of symmetry and order).  You can lay out a fairly exhaustive selection of possible hypotheses long before you have the technology to actually test them (with the result that the beliefs of different ancient philosophical sects on this kind of question are almost more a matter of dogma and faith than science and logic).  And I don’t think we’ve settled this one yet – that is, whether there is one fundamental sort of matter or many (“dark” matter…?).  But again… not a physicist.

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