This is intended to answer the most frequent question that we’ve been asked since incorporation “What does ápeiron mean?”. There’s a short answer (literally: infinite or boundless; but in terms of a concept – “pure potential”) and a correct answer when the question is interpreted as “Why are you called ápeiron?”. Its nothing to do with the ideas of Heisenberg or Neitzche and everything to do with the Greek origins.
As a slight aside – the 2nd most frequent question has been “why is it spelled with an á?” and the short answer is, because it looks cool. The longer answer involves gaelic roots and is a post for another day.
Ionia then considered Greek but now forming part of the coast of Turkey and the birthplace of rational thought (a concept that we hold very dear – and no, none of us have OCD). It was a place, unusual in its day in the 7th century BC, which was ruled by Law rather than kings. It also had a pretty wealthy merchant class. The place survived on fishing and trading. A place we can relate to here in Guernsey.
In a general sense, philosophy began once there were people that had enough freedom of thought to notice how unusual and particular humans are when it came to their ideas of how everything came to be and whether there might indeed be a more simple, more all-encompassing and deeper truth able to explain away that which people were over complicating.
This chap called Anaximander has a good claim to be considered the first true philosopher. He was a peer of Thanos – who largely gets more credit due to the more famous Aristotle doffing his hat to Thanos. He did write a book but only a single sentence fragment remains. The rest of his philosophising was handed down through the telling and work of later philosophers. He was an organicist (as opposed to a mechanicalist). He was the earliest known person that you could call a metaphysician, creating abstract principles, and is the hero of this story. As a bit of a departure, he also drew the first known map of the world and theorised that mankind devolved from animals thousands of years before Darwin was born.
The hot topic of the day was ‘was what was everything made of? What was the fundamental principle or essence of being?’. Back then they didn’t know the answer was 42. Everything had to have come from somewhere, right? So what was it. You could see and feel things change – ice to water, water to steam – wood to flame to heat and smoke to ash. How on earth did it work? Three blokes in Miletus thought they had the answer. Thales – who though that everything was water. Anaximenes – who thought that everything was air. Our hero, Anaximander, said that the answer was ápeiron. He went on to describe what this was (and we will too) but the important thing is how he was able to establish easily understood principles with absolute clarity using cold hard logic that was available to everyone. He may not have been the very first, but he was both in the front line and as history shows us, understood things better than those beside him.
The golden age of Greek philosophy kicked off with a vengeance and the rock stars of the age like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle went on to further refine and develop all sorts of ground breaking hypothesis and bring about a new age of enlightenment. Retrospectively Aniximander gets a bum deal on credit for failing to be mechanical or atomistic enough compared with later philosophers – but importantly to us, he created the conditions for them to perform at their optimal with his insight and clarity. That’s what we want for Guernsey. Our own success to be measured by the success we bring to others. We’re team players like that! A quiet thanks and a cheque is all we need.
It’s pretty redundant now to the story of why we are named what we are, but much like Anaximander himself would have wanted, we can’t finish up without a proper explanation. Anaximander said the ápeiron (which literally means without bounds, or limitless) was a state of simple potential, a block of pure existence without form that spread without limit. From which all worlds and all things are created and to which they will return. Being eternal and ungenerated, the ápeiron could be considered divine – but in a strictly physical sense in that it was from a plane of existence from which the world itself was created and to which it would ultimately contract back into and be destroyed. It is both everything and nothing.
His theory was that the ápeiron was busy doing its thing of being both everything and nothing when somewhere in the ápeiron something started to happen. It started to separate out, breaking the symmetry. His idea was that it was heat and coolness that broke the symmetry. Increased heat in one part, balanced out by taking it from another causing chain reactions within the ápeiron as things were created and destroyed culminating in the creation of the universe as we came to know it. Sounds remarkably similar to the big bang, right? Even right down to heat enforced expansion and the ultimate cooling down and contraction of the universe. Sure he imagined it as gentle and gradual rather than explosive but 2600 years later we’re still just getting that bit right and building massive hadron colliders to try and understand the conditions.
He went on to be pretty specific about parts of how the world was created and shaped which were wrong, but he nailed the fundamentals in a way that science would only catch up with many centuries later. Even right down to a world that was not supported by anything – an entirely new idea -but simply hung in space. He didn’t stop there in getting big calls right either. He hypothesised that given the limitless nature of what created it and it belonging outside of space and time (which are a creation of the ápeiron itself), the ápeiron could also support an infinite number of other solar systems or indeed universes. Also that ultimately all of these would contract back into the ápeiron, where ultimately new realities would go on to be created again. So then, not only pretty accurately getting the big picture of science as a whole right, but having a stab at principles beyond physics that are firmly in the realm of theory at the cutting edge right now.
By that logic the earth itself was simply not special – an idea scoffed at for centuries even by the philosophers that followed. The simple, never before performed genius of what he’d done in putting forward this theory though, was that he had explained the whole of reality in terms of creation from a single source of pure potential millennia before his ideas themselves would be ratified simply by rational consideration of the conditions and the application of insight. That’s why he’s our hero and who we want to be. By sharing what we know and how to apply it in practice, we hope to give our clients the building blocks to attain higher levels of performance and get the big calls right.