Now well before the eminent philosopher Frank Zappa hit upon this deduction the most celebrated of οἱ ἑπτὰ σοφοί, Thales, had said as much. Or more even. As Diogenes Laertius tells the story, Thales was the absent-minded professor type who once fell into a ditch because he was busy star-gazing and not minding his steps. Then again Diogenes explains that he predicted an olive famine and made a fortune by cornering the market. Clearly one of those stories can’t be right. Diogenes was either your high-school maths teacher or a Wall Street trader. He couldn’t have been both.
Anyhow people sometime credit Thales with being the first scientist or something because of his concern with identifying the Urstoff underlying all of material reality, said stoff being water. I’m not sure how original the fundamental idea exactly is.
[Exhibit A] [Exhibit A (corrected)] But he is reckoned as important on this score because
he conceived “things” as varying forms of one primary and ultimate element. That he assigns water as this element is his distinguishing historical characteristic, so to speak, but he earns his place as the First Greek philosopher from the fact that he first conceives the notion of Unity in Difference (even if he does not isolate the notion on to the logical plane), and, while holding fast to the idea of unity, endeavours to account for the evident diversity of the many.*
From then on, in natural philosophy and all its children, the problem of the One and the Many would become a principal leitmotiv. This game is still going on today.
Now, here’s the whole 13+ minutes of that Zappa song. I only gave you the truncated version to start because it would not take 13 minutes to read this post.