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Classical elements typically refer to
water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an , transparent, tasteless, odorless, and , which is the main constituent of 's and the s of all known living organisms (in which it acts as a ). It is vital for all known forms of , even though it provide ...
,
earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wi ...
,
fire BBQ. Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Product (chemistry), products. Fire is hot because the conversion of the weak double bond in molecula ...
,
air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose about 0.043391% of the atmosphere (0.04402961% at April 2019 concentration ). Number ...
, and (later)
aetherAether, æther or ether may refer to: Metaphysics and mythology * Aether (classical element), the material supposed to fill the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere * Aether (mythology), the personification of the "upper sky", spac ...
, which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in
Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, Elláda, ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe, Southeastern Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of 2021; Athens is its largest and capital city, followed ...
,
Tibet Tibet (; ; ) is a region in East Asia covering much of the Tibetan Plateau spanning about . It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpa people, Monpa, Tamang people, Tamang, Qia ...
, and
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...

India
had similar lists, sometimes referring 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 Cosmology (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approx ...
. Sometimes these theories overlapped with
mythology Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the ca ...

mythology
and were personified in deities. Some of these interpretations included
atomism Atomism (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million ...
(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. While the classification of the material world in ancient
Indian Indian or Indians refers to people or things related to India, or to the indigenous people of the Americas, or Aboriginal Australians until the 19th century. People South Asia * Indian people, people of Indian nationality, or people who come ...
,
Hellenistic Egypt
Hellenistic Egypt
, and
ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, antiquity ( AD 600). This era wa ...

ancient Greece
into Air, Earth, Fire and Water was more philosophical, during the
Islamic Golden Age The Islamic Golden Age was a period of cultural, economic, and scientific flourishing in the history of Islam The history of Islam concerns the political, social, economic, and cultural developments of Muslim world, Islamic civilization. M ...
medieval middle eastern scientists used practical, experimental observation to classify materials.'' Science and Islam'',
Jim Al-Khalili Jameel Sadik "Jim" Al-Khalili ( ar, جيم الخليلي) (born 20 September 1962) is an Iraqi-British theoretical physicist, author and broadcasting, broadcaster. He is professor of theoretical physics and chair in the public engagement in sci ...

Jim Al-Khalili
.
BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of ...

BBC
, 2009
In Europe, the Ancient Greek concept, devised by
Empedocles Empedocles (; grc-gre, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς; , 444–443 BC) was a Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in So ...

Empedocles
, evolved into the system of
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
, which evolved slightly into the medieval system, which for the first time in Europe became subject to experimental verification in the 1600s, during the
Scientific Revolution The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in History of mathematics#Mathematics during the Scientific Revolution, mathematics, History of phys ...

Scientific Revolution
.
Modern science The history of science covers the development of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowledge in the form of ...
does not support the classical elements as the material basis of the physical world.
Atomic theory Atomic theory is the scientific theory A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world and universe that has been repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method The scientific method is ...
classifies atoms into more than a hundred
chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elements cannot be broken down into simp ...
s such as
oxygen Oxygen is the chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same ...

oxygen
,
iron Iron () is a with Fe (from la, ) and 26. It is a that belongs to the and of the . It is, on , right in front of (32.1% and 30.1%, respectively), forming much of Earth's and . It is the fourth most common . In its metallic state, iron ...

iron
, and
mercury Mercury usually refers to: * Mercury (planet) Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the closest to the Sun. Its orbit around the Sun takes 87.97 Earth days, the shortest of all the Sun's planets. It is named after the Roman g ...

mercury
. These elements form
chemical compound A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules (or molecular entity, molecular entities) composed of atoms from more than one chemical element, element held together by chemical bonds. A homonuclear molecule, m ...
s and
mixtures In chemistry, a mixture is a material made up of two or more different Chemical substance, substances which are not chemically combined. A mixture is the physical combination of two or more substances in which the identities are retained and are m ...
, and under different temperatures and pressures, these substances can adopt different
states of matter In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. " ...
. The most commonly observed states of
solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually Deformation (mechanics), deforms (flows) under an applied ...

solid
,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics Fluid mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the mechanics Mechanics (Ancient Greek, Greek: ) is the area of physics concerned with the motions of physical objects, ...

liquid
,
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

gas
, and
plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark–gluon plasma, a state of matter in quantum chromodynamics Biology * Blood 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 a certain type of substance.


Ancient Greece

The
ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
concept of four basic elements, these being earth (γῆ ''gê''), water (ὕδωρ ''hýdōr''), air (ἀήρ ''aḗr''), and fire (πῦρ ''pŷr''), dates from pre-Socratic times and persisted throughout the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
and into the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in ...

Renaissance
, deeply influencing
Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of scienc ...

Europe
an thought and culture. The
Sicilian
Sicilian
philosopher
Empedocles Empedocles (; grc-gre, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς; , 444–443 BC) was a Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in So ...

Empedocles
(ca. 450 BC) proved (at least to his satisfaction) that air was a separate substance by observing that a bucket inverted in water did not become filled with water, a pocket of air remaining trapped inside. Prior to Empedocles, Greek philosophers had debated which substance was the ''
arche ''Arche'' (; grc, ἀρχή; sometimes also transcribed as ''arkhé'') is a Greek word with primary senses "beginning", "origin" or "source of action" (: from the beginning, οr : the original argument), and later "first principle" or "element". ...

arche
'' ("first principle"), or primordial element from which everything else was made;
Heraclitus Heraclitus of Ephesus (; grc-gre, Ἡράκλειτος ; , ) was an Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), ...

Heraclitus
championed fire,
Thales Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς Thales of Miletus ( ; el, Θαλῆς (ὁ Μιλήσιος), ''Thalēs''; ) was a Greek mathematician A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive kn ...

Thales
supported water, and Anaximenes plumped for air.
Anaximander Anaximander (; grc-gre, Ἀναξίμανδρος ''Anaximandros''; ) was a who lived in ,"Anaximander" in '. London: , 1961, Vol. 1, p. 403. a city of (in modern-day Turkey). He belonged to the and learned the teachings of his master . He s ...

Anaximander
argued that the primordial substance was not any of the known substances, but could be transformed into them, and they into each other. Empedocles was the first to propose four elements, fire, earth, air, and water. He called them the four “roots” (ῥιζώματα, rhizōmata). Plato seems to have been the first to use the term “element (στοιχεῖον, ''stoicheîon'')” in reference to air, fire, earth, and water. The ancient Greek word for element, ''stoicheion'' (from ''stoicheo'', “to line up”) meant “smallest division (of a sun-dial), a syllable”, as the composing unit of an alphabet it could denote a letter and the smallest unit from which a word is formed. In ''
On the Heavens ''On the Heavens'' (Greek: Περὶ οὐρανοῦ; Latin: ''De Caelo'' or ''De Caelo et Mundo'') is Aristotle's chief cosmological treatise: written in 350 BC it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the ...
'', Aristotle defines "element" in general: In his ''
On Generation and Corruption ''On Generation and Corruption'' ( grc, Περὶ γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς; la, De Generatione et Corruptione), also known as ''On Coming to Be and Passing Away'' is a treatise by Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστ ...
'', Aristotle related each of the four elements to two of the four sensible qualities: * Fire is both hot and dry. * Air is both hot and wet (for air is like vapor, ἀτμὶς). * Water is both cold and wet. * Earth is both cold and dry. A classic diagram has one square
inscribed{{unreferenced, date=August 2012 Image:Inscribed circles.svg, frame, Inscribed circles of various polygons image:Circumcentre.svg, An inscribed triangle of a circle In geometry, an inscribed plane (geometry), planar shape or solid (geometry), solid ...
in the other, with the corners of one being the classical elements, and the corners of the other being the properties. The opposite corner is the opposite of these properties, "hot – cold" and "dry – wet".
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
added a fifth element,
aetherAether, æther or ether may refer to: Metaphysics and mythology * Aether (classical element), the material supposed to fill the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere * Aether (mythology), the personification of the "upper sky", spac ...
(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
star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark ...

star
s 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 Empedocles (; grc-gre, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς; , 444–443 BC) was a Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in So ...

Empedocles
and
Anaxagoras Anaxagoras (; grc-gre, Ἀναξαγόρας, ''Anaxagoras'', "lord of the assembly";  BC) was a Pre-Socratic Pre-Socratic philosophy is ancient Greek philosophy Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, at a time when the i ...

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 solid In three-dimensional space, a Platonic solid is a Regular polyhedron, regular, Convex set, convex polyhedron. It is constructed by Congruence (geometry), congruent (identical in shape and size), regular polygon, regular (all angles equal and all sid ...
s. A text written in Egypt in
Hellenistic The Hellenistic period spans the period of History of the Mediterranean region, Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire, as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31  ...
or
Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Romans'', a letter in the New Testament of the Christian Bible Roman ...

Roman
times called the ''Kore Kosmou'' (“Virgin of the World”) ascribed to
Hermes Trismegistus Hermes Trismegistus (from grc, Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος, "Hermes the Thrice-Greatest"; Classical Latin: la, label=none, Mercurius ter Maximus) is a legendary Hellenistic figure that originated as a Syncretism, syncretic comb ...
(associated with the Egyptian god
Thoth Thoth (; from grc-koi, Θώθ ', borrowed from cop, Ⲑⲱⲟⲩⲧ, the reflex of egy, ḏḥwtj " eis like the Ibis") is an ancient Egyptian deity Ancient Egyptian deities are the gods A deity or god is a supernatural being consider ...

Thoth
), names the four elements fire, water, air, and earth. As described in this book:
And Isis answer made: Of living things, my son, some are made friends with ''fire'', and some with ''water'', some with ''air'', and some with ''earth'', and some with two or three of these, and some with all. And, on the contrary, again some are made enemies of fire, and some of water, some of earth, and some of air, and some of two of them, and some of three, and some of all. For instance, son, the locust and all flies flee fire; the eagle and the hawk and all high-flying birds flee water; fish, air and earth; the snake avoids the open air. Whereas snakes and all creeping things love earth; all swimming things love water; winged things, air, of which they are the citizens; while those that fly still higher love the fire and have the habitat near it. Not that some of the animals as well do not love fire; for instance salamanders, for they even have their homes in it. It is because one or another of the elements doth form their bodies’ outer envelope. Each
soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as ...

soul
, accordingly, while it is in its body is weighted and constricted by these four.
According to
Galen Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus ( el, Κλαύδιος Γαληνός; September 129 – c. AD 216), often Anglicized Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modi ...
, these elements were used by
Hippocrates Hippocrates of Kos (; grc-gre, Ἱπποκράτης ὁ Κῷος, Hippokrátēs ho Kôios; ), also known as Hippocrates II, was a Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ε ...

Hippocrates
in describing the
human body The human body is the structure of a Human, human being. It is composed of many different types of Cell (biology), cells that together create Tissue (biology), tissues and subsequently organ systems. They ensure homeostasis and the life, viabi ...

human body
with an association with the
four humours Humourism, the humoural theory or humouralism, was a system of medicine detailing a supposed makeup and workings of the human body, adopted by Ancient Greek medicine, Ancient Greek and Medicine in ancient Rome, Roman physicians and Greek philosoph ...

four humours
: yellow
bile Bile (from latin ''bilis''), or gall, is a dark-green-to-yellowish-brown fluid produced by the of most s that aids the of s in the . In humans, bile is produced continuously by the liver (liver bile) and stored and concentrated in the . After ...
(fire),
black bile Melancholia or melancholy (from el, µέλαινα χολή ',Burton, Bk. I, p. 147 meaning black bile) is a concept found throughout ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past events
black bile
(earth),
blood Blood is a body fluid Body fluids, bodily fluids, or biofluids are liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuum mechanics, incompressible flow (isochoric process, isochoric flow) refers t ...

blood
(air), and
phlegm Phlegm (; , ''phlégma'', "inflammation", "humour Humour (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English) or humor (American English) is the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. The term derives fro ...
(water). Medical care was primarily about helping the patient stay in or return to his/her own personal natural balanced state. The
Neoplatonic Neoplatonism is a strand of Platonism, Platonic philosophy that emerged in the second century AD against the background of Hellenistic philosophy and Hellenistic religion, religion. The term does not encapsulate a set of ideas as much as it encap ...
philosopher
Proclus Proclus Lycius (; 410/411/ 7 Feb. or 8 Feb. 412 –17 April 485 AD), called Proclus the Successor, Proclus the Platonic Successor, or Proclus of Athens (Greek: Προκλου Διαδοχου ''Próklos Diádochos'', ''"''in some Manuscript ...
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:


India


Hinduism

The system of five elements are found in
Vedas upright=1.2, The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts of Hinduism. Above: A page from the '' Atharvaveda''. The Vedas (, , ) are a large body of religious texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the o ...

Vedas
, especially
Ayurveda Ayurveda () is an alternative medicine Alternative medicine is any practice that aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine Medicine is the science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systema ...

Ayurveda
, the '' pancha mahabhuta'', or “five great elements”, of
Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religion Indian religions, sometimes also termed Dharmic religions or Indic religions, are the religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent. These religions, which include Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, ...

Hinduism
are: #''
bhūmi Bhumi ( sa, भूमि, Bhūmi), also known as Bhudevi and Bhuma-Devi, is the Hindu goddess representing the Mother goddess, Earth. She is the consort of Varaha, an avatar of the god Vishnu, and thus she is sometimes referred as Varahi. She is ...
'' or '' pṛthvī'' (
earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wi ...
), #'' āpas'' or ''jala'' (
water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and Color of water, nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's hydrosphere and the fluids of all known li ...
), #'''' or '''' (
fire BBQ. Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Product (chemistry), products. Fire is hot because the conversion of the weak double bond in molecula ...
), #'''', ''vyāna'', or ''vāta'' (
air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose about 0.043391% of the atmosphere (0.04402961% at April 2019 concentration ). Number ...
or
wind Wind is the natural movement of air or other gases relative to a planet's surface. Wind occurs on a range of scales, from thunderstorm A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by th ...

wind
) #'''', ''vyom'', or '' śūnya'' (space or zero) or (
aetherAether, æther or ether may refer to: Metaphysics and mythology * Aether (classical element), the material supposed to fill the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere * Aether (mythology), the personification of the "upper sky", spac ...
or
void Void may refer to: Science, engineering, and technology * Void (astronomy) Cosmic voids are vast spaces between filaments (the largest-scale structures in the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their c ...
). 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. The five elements are associated with the five senses, and act as the gross medium for the experience of sensations. The basest element, earth, created using all the other elements, can be perceived by all five senses — (i) hearing, (ii) touch, (iii) sight, (iv) taste, and (v) smell. The next higher element, water, has no odor but can be heard, felt, seen and tasted. Next comes fire, which can be heard, felt and seen. Air can be heard and felt. "Akasha" (aether) is beyond the senses of smell, taste, sight, and touch; it being accessible to the sense of hearing alone.


Buddhism

In the
Pali literature File:Burmese-Pali Manuscript. Wellcome L0026547.jpg, 240px, Burmese-Pali manuscript copy of the Buddhist text Mahaniddesa, showing three different types of Burmese script, (top) medium square, (centre) round and (bottom) outline round in red lacque ...
, 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 Gautama Buddha, popularly known as the Buddha (also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni), was an ascetic Asceticism (; from the el, ἄσκησις ''áskesis'', "exercise, training") is a lifestyle ...

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 color, smell, taste, and nutriment which are derivative from the four primaries. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997) renders an extract of
Shakyamuni Buddha The Buddha (also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni) was a philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit= ...

Shakyamuni Buddha
’s from Pali into English thus: Tibetan Buddhist medical literature speaks of the Panch
Mahābhūta ''Mahābhūta'' is Sanskrit and Pāli for "great element". However, very few scholars define the four mahābhūtas in a broader sense as the four fundamental aspects of physical reality. Hinduism In Hinduism's sacred literature, the "great" ...
(five elements).


Post-classical history


Alchemy

The elemental system used in medieval
alchemy Alchemy (from Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countri ...
was developed primarily by the anonymous authors of the Arabic works attributed to
Jābir ibn Hayyān Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (Arabic: , variously called al-Ṣūfī, al-Azdī, al-Kūfī, or al-Ṭūsī), died c. 806−816, is the purported author of an enormous number and variety of works, often called the Jabirian corpus. The works that survive to ...
(died ). 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 Sulfur (in nontechnical British English: sulphur) is a chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consis ...

sulphur
, characterizing the principle of combustibility, "the stone which burns"; and
mercury Mercury usually refers to: * Mercury (planet) Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the closest to the Sun. Its orbit around the Sun takes 87.97 Earth days, the shortest of all the Sun's planets. It is named after the Roman g ...

mercury
, characterizing the principle of metallic properties. They were seen by early alchemists as idealized expressions of irreducible components of the
universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development ...

universe
and are of larger consideration within philosophical alchemy. The three metallic principles—sulphur to flammability or combustion, mercury to volatility and stability, and
salt Salt is a mineral In geology and mineralogy, a mineral or mineral species is, broadly speaking, a solid chemical compound with a fairly well-defined chemical composition and a specific crystal structure that occurs naturally in pure fo ...
to solidity—became the ''tria prima'' of the Swiss alchemist
Paracelsus Paracelsus (; c. 1493 – 24 September 1541), born Theophrastus von Hohenheim (full name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), was a Swiss physician, alchemist Alchemy (from Arabic: ''al-kīmiyā''; from Ancient Greek: ' ...

Paracelsus
. He reasoned that Aristotle's four element theory appeared in bodies as three principles. Paracelsus saw these principles as fundamental and justified them by recourse to the description of how wood burns in fire. Mercury included the cohesive principle, so that when it left in smoke the wood fell apart. Smoke described the volatility (the mercurial principle), the heat-giving flames described flammability (sulphur), and the remnant ash described solidity (salt).


Medieval Aristotelian philosophy

The
Islamic philosophers Muslim philosophers both profess Islam and engage in a style of Islamic philosophy, philosophy situated within the structure of the Arabic language and Islam, though not necessarily concerned with religious issues. The sayings of the sahaba, compan ...
al-Kindi Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī (; ar, أبو يوسف يعقوب بن إسحاق الصبّاح الكندي; la, Alkindus; c. 801–873 AD) was an Arab The Arabs (singular Arab ; singular ar, عَرَب ...
,
Avicenna Ibn Sina ( fa, ابن سینا), also known as Abu Ali Sina (), Pur Sina (), and often known in the West as Avicenna (;  – June 1037), was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, t ...

Avicenna
and
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī or Fakhruddin Razi ( fa, فخر الدين رازي) (26 January 1150 - 29 March 1210) often known by the sobriquet Sultan of the theologians, was a Persian polymath, Islamic scholar and a pioneer of inductive logic. He w ...
followed
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
in connecting the four elements with the four natures heat and cold (the active force), and dryness and moisture (the recipients).Rafati, Vahid.
Lawh-i-Hikmat: The Two Agents and the Two Patients
'. `Andalib, vol. 5, no. 19, pp. 29–38.


Japan

Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an in ...

Japan
ese traditions use a set of elements called the (''godai'', literally "five great"). These five are
earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wi ...
,
water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and Color of water, nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's hydrosphere and the fluids of all known li ...
,
fire BBQ. Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Product (chemistry), products. Fire is hot because the conversion of the weak double bond in molecula ...
,
wind Wind is the natural movement of air or other gases relative to a planet's surface. Wind occurs on a range of scales, from thunderstorm A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by th ...
/air, and
void Void may refer to: Science, engineering, and technology * Void (astronomy) Cosmic voids are vast spaces between filaments (the largest-scale structures in the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their c ...
. These came from Indian Vastu shastra philosophy and Buddhist beliefs; in addition, the classical Chinese elements (, ''wu xing'') are also prominent in Japanese culture, especially to the influential Neo-Confucianists during the medieval Edo period. * Earth represented things that were solid. * Water represented things that were liquid. * Fire represented things that destroy. * Wind represented things that moved. * Void or Sky/Heaven represented things not of our everyday life.


Modern history


Chemical element

The Physics (Aristotle), Aristotelian tradition and medieval
alchemy Alchemy (from Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countri ...
eventually gave rise to modern chemistry, scientific theories and new taxonomies. By the time of Antoine Lavoisier, for example, a History of the periodic table#Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, list of elements would no longer refer to classical elements. Some modern scientists see a parallel between the classical elements and the four state of matter, states of matter:
solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually Deformation (mechanics), deforms (flows) under an applied ...

solid
,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics Fluid mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the mechanics Mechanics (Ancient Greek, Greek: ) is the area of physics concerned with the motions of physical objects, ...

liquid
,
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

gas
and weakly ionized
plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark–gluon plasma, a state of matter in quantum chromodynamics Biology * Blood plasma ...
. Modern science recognizes classes of elementary particles which have no substructure (or rather, particles that are not made of other particles) and composite particles having substructure (particles made of other particles).


Western astrology

Western astrology uses the four astrology and the classical elements, classical elements in connection with natal chart, astrological charts and horoscopes. The twelve Astrological signs, 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.


Criticism

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".Russell, Bertrand, ''History of Western Philosophy'', p. 173, Routledge, 1995 .


In popular culture


See also

*Elemental, Elemental (Renaissance alchemy) *Arche, First principle (Pre-Socratic ''arche'' and Aristotelian substratum) *Qi, First principle (Chinese ''qì'' and Japanese ''ki'') *Prima materia, First principle (Prima materia in Alchemy) *Periodic table, Periodic table of the elements (Modern science) *Phlogiston theory, Phlogiston theory (History of science) *Sulfur-mercury theory of metals


Notes


References

* Bertrand Russell, Russell, Bertrand (1995) ''History of Western Philosophy'', Routledge, . * Strathern, Paul (2000).
Mendeleyev's Dream – the Quest for the Elements
'. New York: Berkley Books.


External links


Section on 4 elements in Buddhism
{{DEFAULTSORT:Classical Element Classical elements, Natural philosophy History of astrology Technical factors of astrology Concepts in Chinese philosophy Theories in ancient Greek philosophy Indian philosophy Hindu cosmology Buddhist cosmology Taoist cosmology Esoteric cosmology