The strange ‘Miasma theory’ and other theories in History

Fareeha Arshad
Miasma theory was commonly believed in the Victorian LondonWikimedia Commons

The development and elaboration of the scientific field as we see today came about recently. Before that, science, too, like you, had to go through some awkward stages before taking the form it has today. Along the way, science gave us some bizarre theories that would be completely unacceptable now.

1. The strange ‘Miasma theory’

According to this strange theory, every disease was a consequence of ‘foul air’ that came from dangerous animals or plants or rotting substances. This particular theory was very prominent during Victorian London.

However, the theory paved the path towards cleaner sanitation facilities and better housing conditions. With these two reforms in the living, the number of illnesses dropped steadily. This theory, thus, correctly pointed out towards ‘something’ that was causing diseases.

2. ‘Earth is surrounded by cosmic shells’

The solar system model that we have now was developed extremely slowly over the years. In the sixth century B.C., Anaximenes of Miletus theorized that planets moved independently in the universe. He also believed that stars rotated around the earth.

Like him, other astronomers in his time and after that also thought that all heavenly bodies — stars, moons, and planets — were enclosed in ‘shells’ and therefore were in confined areas. In the fourth century B.C., Exodus of Cnidus formulated that there were up to twenty-seven linked sphere like shells — each possessing their own axes — that influenced each other and the bodies around them.

3. ‘Everything is made up of air or water’
Ancient Greek philosophers believed that matter is made up of either earth, water, air, and fireFlickr

The ancient Greek philosophers believed that everything that eyes could see or body could feel was composed of four elements: earth, water, air and fire. For example, Anaximenes thought that air makes up matter, while Thales believed that everything was made of water. Much later, Plato theorized that everything around comprises either or all of the following four elements: fire, earth, air, and water.

In 440 B.C., Democritus hypothesized that matter is made up of tiny elements — a theory that was the forerunner of the ‘atomic theory’ that came much later. The advanced atomic theory came only in 1803 by John Dalton, who proposed that matter is made up of tiny, indivisible atoms.

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