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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
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
A history of science in society : from philosophy to utility / by Andrew Ede and Lesley B.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Also issued in electronic formats.
1. Science—History. 2. Science—Social aspects—History. I. Cormack, Lesley B., 1957–
Q125.E33 2012 509 C2011-908552-6 We welcome comments and suggestions regarding any aspect of our publications—
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Printed in Canada. Contents acknowledgements vii
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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