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Carlo Rovelli and Tom Holland on Anaximander, the Ancient World’s Most Radical Scientific Thinker

Greek philosopher Anaximander's ideas, articulated over two millennia ago, lay the foundations for cosmology, physics, geography, meteorology, and biology

‘In my opinion this idea of Anaximander’s [that the Earth is suspended in space] is one of the boldest, most revolutionary, and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thinking.’ – Karl Popper

Carlo Rovelli is one of the world’s best known scientists. A theoretical physicist, his books have sold over two million copies around the world. In March 2023 Rovelli came to Intelligence Squared to talk about his favourite scientist, the little known Greek philosopher Anaximander, whose ideas, articulated over two millennia ago, lay the foundations for cosmology, physics, geography, meteorology, and biology. Anaximander’s legacy includes the revolutionary ideas that the earth floats in a void; that the world can be understood in natural rather than supernatural terms; that animals evolved; and that universal laws govern all phenomena. Above all, he introduced a new mode of rational thinking – including an openness to fallibility and uncertainty – that defines the modern scientific quest for knowledge. 

Anaximander and the Nature of Science was Rovelli’s first book and is now being published in English for the first time. In conversation with the award-winning historian Tom Holland, he showed how Anaximander opened up a path that we are still on today: one that requires us to accept the provisional nature of our knowledge and allows us to challenge, rebel against and create new images of our world. 




Carlo Rovelli

Theoretical physicist and international bestselling author 

Theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time. His fans include Benedict Cumberbatch, Antony Gormley, Neil Gaiman, Es Devlin, Lily Cole, David Hockney, Philip Pullman, Nick Hornby and Morgan Freeman. His books Seven Brief Lessons on Physics; Reality is Not What it Seems; The Order of Time and Helgoland are international bestsellers which have been translated into 43 languages and have sold over 2 million copies worldwide in all formats. Rovelli is currently working both at the Perimeter Institute and The Roman Institute in Canada, and also directing the quantum gravity research group of the Centre de Physique Théorique in Marseille, France.  

Tom Holland

Award-winning historian and co-presenter of the podcast The Rest is History

Award-winning historian, translator and broadcaster.  He is co-presenter of Europe’s most downloaded history podcast, The Rest is History. His most recent book, Dominion, explores why Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and his next book, due to be published in September 2023, is a portrait of the pax Romana during its heyday. He has translated Herodotus and Suetonius for Penguin Classics, and has written biographies of both Æthelflæd, Alfred’s daughter, and Æthelstan, his grandson. He has written and presented several TV documentaries, for the BBC and Channel 4, on subjects ranging from ISIS to dinosaurs. He has been described in The Times as ‘a leading English cricketer’.