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Unformatted text preview: Free ebooks ==> Free ebooks ==> A History of Science in Society This page intentionally left blank A HISTORY of SCIENCE in SOCIETY From Philosophy to Utility Second Edition Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack Free ebooks ==> Copyright © University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2012 Higher Education Division All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying, a licence from Access Copyright (Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency), One Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5—is an infringement of the copyright law. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Ede, Andrew A history of science in society : from philosophy to utility / by Andrew Ede and Lesley B. Cormack.—2nd ed. Includes bibliographical references and index. Also issued in electronic formats. ISBN 978-1-4426-0446-9 1. Science—History. 2. Science—Social aspects—History. I. Cormack, Lesley B., 1957– II. Title. Q125.E33 2012 509 C2011-908552-6 We welcome comments and suggestions regarding any aspect of our publications— please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or visit our Internet site at . North America 5201 Dufferin Street North York, Ontario, Canada, M3H 5T8 2250 Military Road Tonawanda, New York, USA, 14150 UK, Ireland, and continental Europe NBN International Estover Road, Plymouth, PL6 7PY, UK orders phone: 44 (0) 1752 202301 orders fax: 44 (0) 1752 202333 orders e-mail: [email protected] orders phone: 1–800–565–9523 orders fax: 1–800–221–9985 orders e-mail: [email protected] Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders; in the event of an error or omission, please notify the publisher. The University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial support for its publishing activities of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund. Typesetting: Em Dash Design Printed in Canada. Contents acknowledgements vii introduction ix 1 The Origins of Natural Philosophy 1 2 The Roman Era and the Rise of Islam 29 3 The Revival of Natural Philosophy in Western Europe 65 4 Science in the Renaissance: The Courtly Philosophers 91 5 The Scientific Revolution: Contested Territory 6 The Enlightenment and Enterprise 7 Science and Empire 165 203 8 Entering the Atomic Age 9 Science and War 129 241 271 10 The Death of Certainty 295 11 1957: The Year the World Became a Planet 323 12 Man on the Moon, Microwave in the Kitchen 349 13 New Frontiers: Science and Choice in the New Millennium further reading 397 index 409 379 This page intentionally left blank Acknowledgements To Graham and Quin, who teach us about life—and who put up with two authors working in the house at the same time. We would also like to thank those people who helped make this book possible: our editor and publisher; friends and colleagues who read early drafts and gave advice; reviewers and users who have offered helpful criticism and forced us to defend our position; and all the amazing historians of science on whose shoulders (or toes) we stand. This page intentionally left blank Free ebooks ==> Introduction Science has transformed human history. It has changed how we see the universe, how we interact with nature and each other, and how we live our lives. It may, in the future, even change what it means to be human. The history of such a powerful force deserves a full and multifaceted examination. Yet a history of science is unlike a history of monarchs, generals, steam engines, or wars because science isn’t a person, an object, or an event. It is an idea, the idea that humans can understand the physical world. This is a history of what happens when a legion of thinkers, at different times and from different backgrounds, turned their minds and hands to the investigation of nature. In the process, they transformed the world. The history of science is such a vast subject that no single book about it can really be comprehensive, and so the story we tell examines science from a particular point of view. Some histories of science have focused on the intellectual development of ideas, while others have traced the course of particular subjects such as astronomy or physics. In this book, we have chosen to look at science from two related perspectives that we believe offer a window onto the historical processes that shaped the study of nature. First, we have examined the link between the philosophical pursuit of knowledge and the desire of both the researchers and their supporters to make that knowledge useful. There has always been a tension between the intellectual aspects of science and the application of scientific knowledge. The ancient Greek philosophers struggled with this problem, and it is x introduction still being debated today. The call in every age by philosophers and scientists for more support for “research for its own sake” is indicative of the tension between the search for knowledge and the pressure to apply that knowledge. What counts as useful knowledge differed from patron to patron and society to society, so that the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici and the United States Department of Energy looked for quite different “products” to be created by their clients, but both traded support for the potential of utility. The tension between intellectual pursuits and demands for some kind of product not only was felt by many natural philosophers and scientists but has also led to controversy among historians of science. Where does science end and technology begin? they have asked. Perhaps the most famous articulation of this is the “scholar and craftsman debate.” Historians of science have tried to understand the relationship between those people primarily interested in the utility of knowledge (the craftsmen) and those interested in the intellectual understanding of the world (the scholars). Some historians have denied the connection, but we feel it is integral to the pursuit of natural knowledge. The geographers of the early modern period provide a good example of the necessity of this interconnection. They brought the skills of the navigator together with the abstract knowledge of the mathematician. Translating the spherical Earth onto flat maps was an intellectual challenge, while tramping to the four corners of the globe to take measurements was an extreme physical challenge. Getting theory and practice right could mean the difference between profit or loss, or even life and death. Our second aim has been to trace the history of science by its social place. Science does not exist in disembodied minds, but is part of living, breathing society. It is imbedded in institutions such as schools, princely courts, government departments, and even in the training of soldiers. As such, we have tried to relate scientific work to the society in which it took place, tracing the interplay of social interest with personal interest. This has guided our areas of emphasis so that, for example, we give alchemy a greater allocation of space than some other histories of science because it was more socially significant than topics such as astronomy or physics in the same period. There were far more alchemists than astronomers, and they came from all ranks and classes of people, from peasants to popes. In the longer term, the transformation of alchemy into chemistry had a very great impact on the quality of everyday life. This is not to say that we neglect astronomy or physics, but rather that we have tried to focus on what was important to the people of the era and to avoid projecting the importance of later work on earlier ages. introduction It is from these two perspectives that our subtitle comes. As we began to look at the work of natural philosophers and scientists over more than 2,000 years, we found ourselves more and more struck by the consistency of the issue of the utility of knowledge. Plato disdained the utility of knowledge, but he promoted an understanding of geometry. Eratosthenes used geometry to measure the diameter of the Earth, which had many practical applications. In the modern era, we have seen many cases of scientific work unexpectedly turned into consumer goods. The cathode ray tube, for instance, was a device created to study the nature of matter, but it ended up in the heart of the modern television. Philosophers and scientists have always walked a fine line between the role of intellectual and the role of technician. Too far to the technical side and a person will appear to be an artisan and lose their status as an intellectual. Too far to the intellectual side, a person will have trouble finding support because they have little to offer potential patrons. Although the tension over philosophy and utility has always existed for the community of researchers, we did not subtitle our book “Philosophy and Utility.” This is because the internal tension was not the only aspect of philosophy and utility that we saw over time. Natural philosophy started as an esoteric subject studied by a small, often very elite, group of people. Their work was intellectually important but had limited impact on the wider society. Over time, the number of people interested in natural philosophy grew, and as the community grew, so too did the claims of researchers that what they were doing would benefit society. Through the early modern and modern eras, scientists increasingly promoted their work on the basis of its potential utility, whether as a cure for cancer or as a better way to cook food. And, in large part, the utility of science has been graphically demonstrated in everything from the production of colour-fast dyes to the destruction of whole cities with a single bomb. We have come to expect science to produce things we can use, and, further, we need scientifically trained people to keep our complex systems working—everything from testing the purity of our drinking water to teaching science in school. Our subtitle reflects the changing social expectation of science. We have also made some choices about material based on the need for brevity. This book could not include all historical aspects of all topics in science or even introduce all the disciplines in science. We picked examples that illustrate key events and ideas rather than give exhaustive detail. For instance, the limited amount of medical history we include looks primarily at examples from medicine that treated the body as an object of research and thus as part of a larger intellectual movement in natural philosophy. We also chose to focus primarily on Western xi xii introduction developments in natural philosophy and science, although we tried to acknowledge that natural philosophy existed in other places as well and that Western science did not develop in isolation. Especially in the early periods, Western thinkers were absorbing ideas, materials, and information from a wide variety of sources. A History of Science tells a particular—and important—story about the development of this powerful part of human culture, which has and continues to transform all our lives. To study the history of science is to study one of the great threads in the cloth of human history. 1 THE ORIGINS of NATURAL PHILOSOPHY The roots of modern science are found in the heritage of natural philosophy created by a small group of ancient Greek philosophers. The voyage from the Greeks to the modern world was a convoluted one, and natural philosophy was transformed by the cultures that explored and re-explored the foundational ideas of those Greek thinkers. Despite intellectual and practical challenges, the Greek conceptions of how to think about the world and how the universe worked remained at the heart of any investigation of nature in Europe and the Middle East for almost 2,000 years. Even when natural philosophers began to reject the conclusions of the Greek philosophers, the rejection itself still carried with it the form and concerns of Greek philosophy. Today, when virtually nothing of Greek method or conclusions about the physical world remains, the philosophical concerns about how to understand what we think we know about the universe still echo in our modern version of natural philosophy. To understand why Greek natural philosophy was such an astounding achievement, we must consider the conditions that led to the creation of a philosophy of nature. Since the earliest times of human activity, the observation of nature has been a key to human survival. Knowledge of everything—from which plants are edible to where babies come from—was part of the knowledge acquired and passed down through the generations. In addition to practical knowledge useful for daily life, humans worked to understand the nature of existence and encapsulated their 2 A History of Science in Society knowledge and conclusions in a framework of mytho-poetic stories. Humans have always wanted to know more than just what is in the world; they want to know why the world is the way it is. Early Civilizations and the Development of Knowledge With the rise of agriculture and the development of urban civilization, the types of knowledge about nature were diversified as new skills were created. There arose four great cradles of civilization along the four great river systems of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Indus-Ganges, and the Yellow. They shared the common characteristic of a large river that was navigable over a long distance and that flooded the region on a periodic basis. The Nile in particular flooded so regularly that its rise and fall was part of the timekeeping of the Egyptians. These floods renewed the soil, and the lands in temperate to subtropical zones were (and are) agriculturally abundant, providing food to support large populations. A growing group of people were freed from farm work by the surplus the land provided. These people were the artisans, soldiers, priests, nobles, and bureaucrats who could turn their efforts to the development and running of an empire. The mastery of these skills required increasingly longer periods of study and practice. Artisans required apprenticeships to acquire and master their arts, while the priest class took years to learn the doctrine and methods of correct observance. The military and ruling classes required training from childhood to grow proficient in their duties. Because the empires were long-lasting, especially the Egyptian empire, the rulers planned for the long term, thinking not just about the present season but about the years ahead and even generations into the future. Thus, these civilizations could take on major building projects such as the Great Wall of China or the Great Pyramid of Giza. In addition to the obvious agricultural and economic advantage provided by the rivers, they had a number of subtle effects on the intellectual development of ancient civilizations. Dealing with large-scale agricultural production required counting and measurement of length, weight, area, and volume, and that led to accounting skills and record-keeping. Agriculture and religion were intertwined, and both depended on timekeeping to organize activities necessary for worship and production, which in turn led to astronomical observation and calendars. As these societies moved from villages to regional kingdoms and finally became empires, the origins of natural philosophy record-keeping exceeded what could be left to memory. Writing and accounting developed to deal with the problems of remembering and recording the myriad activities of complex religions, government bureaucracies, and the decisions of judges at courts of law. Another aspect of intellectual development that came from the periodic flooding had to do with the loss of local landmarks, so skills of surveying were developed. Rather than setting the boundaries of land by objects such as trees or rocks, which changed with every inundation, the land was measured from objects unaffected by the flooding. In addition to the practical skills of land measurement, surveying also introduced concepts of geometry and the use of level and angle measuring devices. These were then used for building projects such as irrigation systems, canals, and large buildings. In turn, surveying tools were closely related to the tools used for navigation and astronomy. These kinds of practical skills contributed to a conception of the world based on abstract models. In other words, counting cattle contributed to the concept of arithmetic as a subject that could be taught independent of any actual object to be counted. Similarly, getting from place to place by boat led to the development of navigation. The skill of navigation started as local knowledge of the place a pilot frequently travelled. While a local pilot was useful, and the world’s major ports still employ harbour pilots today, general methods of navigation applicable to circumstances that could not be known in advance were needed as ships sailed into unknown waters. The skill of navigation was turned into abstract ideas about position in space and time. The various ancient empires of the four river systems mastered all the skills of observation, record-keeping, measurement, and mathematics that would form the foundation of natural philosophy. While historians have increasingly acknowledged the intellectual debt we owe these civilizations, we do not trace our scientific heritage to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians, or Chinese. Part of the reason for this is simply chauvinism. Science was largely a European creation, so there was a preference for beginning the heritage of natural philosophy with European sources rather than African or Asian ones. There is, however, a more profound reason to start natural philosophy with the Greeks rather than the older cultures, despite their many accomplishments. Although these older cultures had technical knowledge, keen observational skills, and vast resources of material and information, they failed to create natural philosophy because they did not separate the natural world from the supernatural world. 3 4 A History of Science in Society The religions of the old empires were predicated on the belief that the material world was controlled and inhabited by supernatural beings and forces, and that the reason for the behaviour of these supernatural forces was largely unknowable. Although there were many technical developments in the societies of the four river cultures, the intellectual heritage was dominated by the priests, and their interest in the material world was an extension of their concepts of theology. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Aztec empires, expended a large proportion of social capital (covering such things as the time, wealth, skill, and public space of the society) on religious activity. The Great Pyramid, built as the tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), rises 148 metres above the plain of Giza and is the largest of the pyramids. It is an astonishing engineering feat and tells us a great deal about the power and technical skills of the people who built it. But the pyramids also tell us about a society that was so concerned about death and the afterlife that its whole focus could be on the building of a giant tomb. The very power of the four river centres may have worked against a change in intellectual activity. Social stratification and rigid class structure kept people in narrowly defined occupations. Great wealth meant little need to explore the world or seek material goods from elsewhere since the regions beyond the empire contained little of interest or value compared to what was already there. Although it was less true of the civilizations along the Indus-Ganges and Tigris-Euphrates river systems, which were more affected by political instability and inva...
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