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Timeline of how philosophers and scientists redefined the human being

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

900 BCE

The Indian philosophical text Chandogya Upanishad declares "Tat Tvam Asi" (that thou art).

Interpretation: The individual human being is essentially of the nature of existence-consciousness-limitlessness.

600 BCE

Kanada writes in the Vaisheshika Sutras, “Every object of creation is made of atoms (parmanu) which in turn connect with each other to form molecules (anu). Atoms are eternal, and their combinations constitute the empirical material world.”

Interpretation: The human body is made of small, indivisible parts.

400 BCE

Democritus writes, “By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.”

Interpretation: The West and East seem to agree. The human body is essentially made of indivisible units. (a-tom = not-cut = indivisible)

300 BCE

Herophilus conducts systematic dissections of the human body and differentiates its organs.

Interpretation: The human body is now understood as a composition of its distinct physical organs.


Robert Hooke looks at cork through a microscope and discovers compartments he calls “cells.”

Interpretation: Living things may be made of small living compartments called cells.


Jan Swammerdam observes blood cells through a microscope.

Interpretation: The human body is observed to be comprised of cells.

Early 1800's

John Dalton conducts experiments that lead him to theorize that matter is made of discrete units (atoms).

Interpretation: The atomic visions of Kanada and Democritus are experimentally confirmed. The human body is made of indivisible matter units.


Theodor Schwann establishes cell theory: “The development of the proposition, that there exists one general principle for the formation of all organic productions, and that this principle is the formation of cells, as well as the conclusions which may be drawn from this proposition, may be described by the term cell-theory…”

Interpretation: The hierarchy of what the human body is made of is now established:

atoms → cells → organs → body


Ernest Rutherford develops the planetary model of the atom: a nucleus (sun) surrounded by electron particles (planets).

Interpretation: The human body is not made of indivisible atoms after all. It's made of even smaller sub-atomic particles.

particles → atoms → cells → organs → body.