Early Atomic Theories

Thoughts of Existence Pave the Way for Atoms

The ancient Greek philosophers played a significant role in shaping the initial thoughts about atoms and early atomic theories. Several of the ancient philosophers pondered and developed a theory of matter, with one even imagining the existence of a fundamental building block that made up not only all living and nonliving things, but the supernatural as well. Their thoughts were speculative and philosophical, rather than scientific in nature. And while they attempted to touch on the nature of matter and its composition, their real goal was to address something of profound concern to the ancient Greeks: the nature of permanency and change. Unfortunately, these “theories” of matter were rather short-lived. Although there was some revival during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, they never gained any real momentum until the seventeenth century.
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Matter in transition

Democritus saw material objects (matter) as existing in a temporary state, being created or destroyed as atoms respectively come together or fall apart under the influence of natural forces; all that remains then are the atoms comprising those material objects.

Atomos and Atoms

Democritus considers everything in the universe – including the human mind and soul, and even the gods – to be comprised of atomos, which is Greek for indivisible and from which we get “atom”.

Particle, Corpuscle, Element and Atom

Through the 18th century the words particle, corpuscle, element and atom were all used synonymously to refer to the building blocks of matter. In fact, no more insight into what an atom was had been accomplished since (the Greek philosopher) Democritus’ description some two thousand years prior.