Physics (from Ancient Greek: φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), translit. physikḗ (epistḗmē), lit. 'knowledge of nature', from φύσις phýsis "nature") is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.[a]
Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines and, through its inclusion of astronomy, perhaps the oldest. Over the last two millennia, physics, chemistry, biology, and certain branches of mathematics were a part of natural philosophy, but during the scientific revolution in the 17th century, these natural sciences emerged as unique research endeavors in their own right.[b] Physics intersects with many interdisciplinary areas of research, such as biophysics and quantum chemistry, and the boundaries of physics are not rigidly defined. New ideas in physics often explain the fundamental mechanisms studied by other sciences and suggest new avenues of research in academic disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy.
Advances in physics often enable advances in new technologies. For example, advances in the understanding of electromagnetism and nuclear physics led directly to the development of new products that have dramatically transformed modern-day society, such as television, computers, domestic appliances, and nuclear weapons; advances in thermodynamics led to the development of industrialization; and advances in mechanics inspired the development of calculus.
Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences. Early civilizations dating back to beyond 3000 BCE, such as the Sumerians, ancient Egyptians, and the Indus Valley Civilization, had a predictive knowledge and a basic understanding of the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. The stars and planets were often worshipped, believed to represent gods. While the explanations for the observed positions of the stars were often unscientific and lacking in evidence, these early observations laid the foundation for later astronomy, as the stars were found to traverse great circles across the sky, which however did not explain the positions of the planets.
According to Asger Aaboe, the origins of Western astronomy can be found in Mesopotamia, and all Western efforts in the exact sciences are descended from late Babylonian astronomy. Egyptian astronomers left monuments showing knowledge of the constellations and the motions of the celestial bodies, while Greek poet Homer wrote of various celestial objects in his Iliad and Odyssey; later Greek astronomers provided names, which are still used today, for most constellations visible from the northern hemisphere.
Natural philosophy has its origins in Greece during the Archaic period, (650 BCE – 480 BCE), when pre-Socratic philosophers like Thales rejected non-naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena and proclaimed that every event had a natural cause. They proposed ideas verified by reason and observation, and many of their hypotheses proved successful in experiment; for example, atomism was found to be correct approximately 2000 years after it was proposed by Leucippus and his pupil Democritus.
The Western Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, and this resulted in a decline in intellectual pursuits in the western part of Europe. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) resisted the attacks from the barbarians, and continued to advance various fields of learning, including physics.