Atomic Theory – The Beginning

So get this, back in the day there were these guys, called the Eleatics and they had this new rap that they thought was total fire. They came onto stage and blew everyone’s mind with a new style no one had heard previously.

They said nothingness is a logical impossibility Ya’ll, we all should know dis, there cannot be any space between particles and thus, no discrete, individual particles dawg. As we all know with good raps, this became common knowledge, to the population at the time, as a complex method of argument.

Of course it had to lead to irrational conclusions, some of which include –

  • Change being impossible
  • Nothing can come in and out of being
  • Real motion is impossible

Now there were some rebels, some mighty fine lads who still loved rock and roll through the streets, they were Leucippus and Democritus.

Now this Democritus has quite the rap sheet, he dodged the guard so many times that they nick-named him ‘the laughing philosopher’. He was not laughing when he proposed atomic theory though, the school of thought he belonged to and, Leucippus, under whom he was taught hit back with their own rap when the Eleatics got up in their grills. They claimed that empty space, the vacuum of space in other words, could exist therefore particles can exist. Basically if you cut something up and keep cutting something up smaller and smaller and smaller until you reach the smallest point at which it can’t be cut – you have a particle. A particle that cannot be cut into smaller particles.

Democritus proposed that this ‘atomic theory’ could prove that atoms are solid and so small that they are invisible, but they come in different shapes and sizes and can change position. Different arrangements and combinations of atoms produce different materials, even different worlds.

Quite amazing.

The foundation of modern chemistry is the atomic theory – the model that explains what substances are made of and how and why they come together to form molecules.

Though in its modern form, atomic theory dates back to the 19th Century, it drew on a forgotten legacy left behind by the ancient Greeks.

The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space. Everything else is merely thought to exist. The worlds are unlimited…. [atoms] generate all composite things – fire, water, air, earth.


These two cats Leucippus and Democritus had started a small movement of their own called the Atomists and appear to have been quite accurate with most of their predictions of what we call modern theory. Even as far as elements and cosmology.

All of this however was ultimately just speculation on their part and was not scientifically verifiable – at least by modern standards. Many were also put off by the mystical or metaphysical elements they proposed which included that the soul was made of atoms – they assumed small round ones. Some of the people who rejected the theory you may already know as MC Plato and Mix Man Aristotle.

It had a resurgence as a popular theory during the scientific revolution which occurred around the 17th and 18th Centuries.

One books states – ‘ Whether the insights of Democritus into the nature of matter would have speeded the advent and advance of scientific chemistry is impossible to say, but the theories that superseded Atomism, particularly the ideas of Aristotle, have been held responsible for leading chemistry up a 2000-year-long blind alley.’

But more on that next time 😉

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