Classical elements typically refer to earth, water, air, fire, and (later) aether which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in Greece, Tibet, and India had similar lists which sometimes referred, in local languages, to "air" as "wind" and the fifth element as "void".
These different cultures and even individual philosophers had widely varying explanations concerning their attributes and how they related to observable phenomena as well as cosmology. Sometimes these theories overlapped with mythology and were personified in deities. Some of these interpretations included atomism (the idea of very small, indivisible portions of matter), but other interpretations considered the elements to be divisible into infinitely small pieces without changing their nature.
Modern science does not support the classical elements as the material basis of the physical world. Atomic theory classifies atoms into more than a hundred chemical elements such as oxygen, iron, and mercury. These elements form chemical compounds and mixtures, and under different temperatures and pressures, these substances can adopt different states of matter. The most commonly observed states of solid, liquid, gas, and plasma share many attributes with the classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire, respectively, but these states are due to similar behavior of different types of atoms at similar energy levels, and not due to containing a certain type of atom or substance.
According to Galen, these elements were used by Hippocrates in describing the human body with an association with the four humours: yellow bile (fire), black bile (earth), blood (air), and phlegm (water). Medical care was primarily about helping the patient stay in or return to their own personal natural balanced state.
Aristotle added a fifth element, aether (αἰθήρ aither), as the quintessence, reasoning that whereas fire, earth, air, and water were earthly and corruptible, since no changes had been perceived in the heavenly regions, the stars cannot be made out of any of the four elements but must be made of a different, unchangeable, heavenly substance. It had previously been believed by pre-Socratics such as Empedocles and Anaxagoras that aether, the name applied to the material of heavenly bodies, was a form of fire. Aristotle himself did not use the term aether for the fifth element, and strongly criticised the pre-Socratics for associating the term with fire. He preferred a number of other terms indicating eternal movement, thus emphasising the evidence for his discovery of a new element. These five elements have been associated since Plato's Timaeus with the five platonic solids.
The Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus rejected Aristotle's theory relating the elements to the sensible qualities hot, cold, wet, and dry. He maintained that each of the elements has three properties. Fire is sharp, subtle, and mobile while its opposite, earth, is blunt, dense, and immobile; they are joined by the intermediate elements, air and water, in the following fashion:
A text written in Egypt in Hellenistic or Roman times called the Kore Kosmou ("Virgin of the World") ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus (associated with the Egyptian god Thoth), names the four elements fire, water, air, and earth. As described in this book:
They further suggest that all of creation, including the human body, is made of these five essential elements and that upon death, the human body dissolves into these five elements of nature, thereby balancing the cycle of nature.
In the Pali literature, the mahabhuta ("great elements") or catudhatu ("four elements") are earth, water, fire and air. In early Buddhism, the four elements are a basis for understanding suffering and for liberating oneself from suffering. The earliest Buddhist texts explain that the four primary material elements are solidity, fluidity, temperature, and mobility, characterized as earth, water, fire, and air, respectively.
The Buddha's teaching regarding the four elements is to be understood as the base of all observation of real sensations rather than as a philosophy. The four properties are cohesion (water), solidity or inertia (earth), expansion or vibration (air) and heat or energy content (fire). He promulgated a categorization of mind and matter as composed of eight types of "kalapas" of which the four elements are primary and a secondary group of four are colour, smell, taste, and nutriment which are derivative from the four primaries.[a]
The elemental system used in medieval alchemy was developed primarily by the anonymous authors of the Arabic works attributed to Pseudo Apollonius of Tyana. This system consisted of the four classical elements of air, earth, fire, and water, in addition to a new theory called the sulphur-mercury theory of metals, which was based on two elements: sulphur, characterizing the principle of combustibility, "the stone which burns"; and mercury, characterizing the principle of metallic properties. They were seen by early alchemists as idealized expressions of irreducible components of the universe and are of larger consideration within philosophical alchemy.
The Islamic philosophers al-Kindi, Avicenna and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi followed Aristotle in connecting the four elements with the four natures heat and cold (the active force), and dryness and moisture (the recipients).
Japanese traditions use a set of elements called the 五大 (godai, literally "five great"). These five are earth, water, fire, wind/air, and void. These came from Indian Vastu shastra philosophy and Buddhist beliefs; in addition, the classical Chinese elements (五行, wu xing) are also prominent in Japanese culture, especially to the influential Neo-Confucianists during the medieval Edo period.
The Aristotelian tradition and medieval alchemy eventually gave rise to modern chemistry, scientific theories and new taxonomies. By the time of Antoine Lavoisier, for example, a list of elements would no longer refer to classical elements. Some modern scientists see a parallel between the classical elements and the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and weakly ionized plasma.
Western astrology uses the four classical elements in connection with astrological charts and horoscopes. The twelve signs of the zodiac are divided into the four elements: Fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, Air signs are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius, and Water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
The Dutch historian of science Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis writes that the theory of the classical elements "was bound to exercise a really harmful influence. As is now clear, Aristotle, by adopting this theory as the basis of his interpretation of nature and by never losing faith in it, took a course which promised few opportunities and many dangers for science." Bertrand Russell says that Aristotle's thinking became imbued with almost biblical authority in later centuries. So much so that "Ever since the beginning of the seventeenth century, almost every serious intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some Aristotelian doctrine".
The ancient Greeks believed that there were four elements that everything was made up of: earth, water, air, and fire. This theory was suggested around 450 BC, and it was later supported and added to by Aristotle.
(Aristotle also suggested that there was a fifth element, aether, because it seemed strange that the stars would be made out of earthly elements. He would be surprised to learn that they are in fact made up of many elements found on earth, and are so hot they could be said to be on fire all the time!)
While we do know now that these previous theories are false, in a way the four elements do align with the four states of matter that modern science has agreed on: solid (earth), liquid (water), gas (air), and plasma (fire).
Although the Greeks believed that the four elements were unchanging in nature, everything was made up of different elements, which were held together or pushed apart by forces of attraction and repulsion, causing substances to appear to change. This is similar to what really happens with elements and all molecules at an atomic level.
MARTIN: The following day, Nosrat wrote a letter to Chez Panisse about the dreamy dinner, and she asked for a job. And they gave her one. She gradually worked her way up. And it was while cooking at Chez Panisse that Nosrat had the revelation that eventually led to this cookbook, that salt, fat, acid and heat are the fundamental elements to good food.
NOSRAT: The elements and the sort of tenants of professional cooking don't always get translated to the home cook. Recipes don't encourage you to use your own senses and use your own judgment. And salt, fat, acid and heat can be your compass when you don't have other maybe tools (laughter).
The truth is trust as a construct is highly definable. Our success is often a reflection of the trust that exists within the organization, and while it may be true that trust is hard to gain and easy to lose, it can be consciously developed by considering these four elements and strengthening them among our teams.
You follow a monastic tradition that teaches you to harness the elements. When you focus your ki, you can align yourself with the forces of creation and bend the four elements to your will, using them as an extension of your body. Some members of this tradition dedicate themselves to a single element, but others weave the elements together.
This page explores the trend from non-metallic to metallic behavior in the Group 4 elements (carbon (C), silicon (Si), germanium (Ge), tin (Sn) and lead (Pb)). It describes how this trend is evident in the structures and physical properties of the elements, and attempts to explain the trend. 041b061a72