thinking is dangerous


Original post: Why didn't we have science 2000 years ago?

The obvious answer is, "Because we didn't."

The second most obvious answer is, "Because the conditions weren't right."

We'll ignore those answers.

Instead, give me your wildest guesses and educated conjectures on why science took so long to rise into prominence. Focus on one area if you like, or broaden your spectrum until it encompasses all recorded human history. Any aspect of science will do; we're merely seeing why science failed to fruit in an ancient world that knew math and had its geniuses.

My response:

This is a very good question. Here's another interesting and closely related question: Why didn't we have (modern) technology 2000 years ago.

They are seperate questions to be sure. Science is a kind of method- an empirical one. Science is also predicated on a rather sophisticated understanding of mathematics (especially calculus). Neither of these tools were fully developed until fairly recently. But technological advances aren't necessarily tied to either of these tools. Metal work, for instance, can become very sophisticated without having to know the atomic composition of the metals you are working with.

I would like to claim that technology itself is not necessarily tied to a particular metaphysical picture of the world, so the above answers with respect to metaphysics and natural science don't necessarily rule out the advance of technology as seperate from the sciences. But as our science develops, our technological abilities began advancing rapidly. Accurate timepieces, for instance, became extremely advanced as science started to develop.

This is why it becomes so interesting how fast techology evolves once we start developing these rational tools, of logic and mathematics and science.

No response in thread.

IRC conversation:

[eripsa] was I off the mark about technology?
[eripsa] it seems to be a seperate question from science, but just as interesting
[Zoolooman] No, you were right.
[eripsa] really, the 'science' question is about rational thought, which in some sense humans have always done
[eripsa] at least since we have considered ourselves
[eripsa] 'human'
[eripsa] but technology is a recent development
[Zoolooman] Honestly, I was tossing both questions together at once. In many ways they are intimately connected.
[Zoolooman] Technology is what people think of when they think about modern science.
[Zoolooman] In my opening post I concentrated mostly on technology, but I was hoping that other people would expand outwards into the effects of philosophy, culture, and religion.
[Zoolooman] These all influenced the march of both science and technology.
[Zoolooman] In fact, I'd say the capability to produce technology is pretty much the only major distinction I can make between ancient science and modern science.
[Zoolooman] While science as rational thought was rougher in the past, that was merely a lack of philosophical grounding.
[Zoolooman] Well, I take that back.
[Zoolooman] I wonder why many of the major rational advances took so long to develop.
[Zoolooman] The example you gave, calculus, is excellent.
[Zoolooman] I think the basics of scientific methodology and information technology are firmly rooted in philosophy. I'm betting one could at least find a correlation between the development of certain philosophies and the rate of production for new technologies.
[Zoolooman] The causal chain is a little more complex, of course.
[Zoolooman] You're there one moment, gone the next. Such is the way of a man trying to do too much in too little time.
[eripsa] the other example i wanted to work into my post and just didn't
[eripsa] oh, heh, I did talk about clocks
[eripsa] clocks got really sophisticated around that time
[eripsa] it was important for sea travel and exploration
[Zoolooman] A few minutes ago I was thinking of Turing and computers.
[Zoolooman] An advancement in rational thought that later became an engineering problem.
[eripsa] yeah, thats the thing
[eripsa] turing basically defined 'computation'
[eripsa] but he didn't know what he was doing, really
[eripsa] computation before turing was simply defined as 'what a human can do with no insight or ingenuity'
[eripsa] basically, dumb calculations
[eripsa] but they had no better definition
[eripsa] turing gives his machine, and redefines calculation as 'whatever a turing machine can do'
[eripsa] which we can formalize and tell, using our fancy mathematics, that it is a hell of a lot of things
[Zoolooman] Yes.
[eripsa] but people try and build an -ontology- out of computation
[Zoolooman] I'm merely thinking of how important the advancement of rational thought--of science--can be to the engineering, the technology.
[eripsa] computation is the basis for a model of the mind
[eripsa] for THE model of the mind
[eripsa] we were engineers to a certain extent, though
[eripsa] people got good at making weapons and houses and so on
[eripsa] one scary thing is to compare this line of thought to the rapid world population growth
[Zoolooman] Very true. But most of these technologies were the type that could be refined through minor advancements and passed on by 'lore'. They didn't require more training than could be provided by a few year's experience, nor any more math than geometry.
[eripsa] we jumped about 5 billion members in roughly the same time frame as the rise of technology
[eripsa] and science
[eripsa] yeah, and binary logic is right about that- it has a lot to do with recorded history
[eripsa] writing shit down
[Zoolooman] Yea.
[Zoolooman] Once you got to really writing shit down you could accrete all the little bits of knowledge people stumbled across.
[Zoolooman] That's why I've always liked the rise of chemistry. Everyone knew that it existed, but to formalize it was the last step.
[Zoolooman] Once they had enough knowledge to theorize, they could start looking for the missing bits of the model.
[Zoolooman] Filling in the periodic table was one of the few things that was really done by everyone. It was a general conglomeration, rather than the breakthrough work of a specific man.
[Zoolooman] But back to the original question.
[Zoolooman] Why did it take so long?
[Zoolooman] Besides recorded history, I think luxury time and population size played a large part.
[Zoolooman] A large population can support an academic class.
[Zoolooman] The same goes for a population that is riding on the backs of agriculture and trade.
[eripsa] well, communication is a real issue here.
[eripsa] there was never any exchange of information for further investigation to flourish
[eripsa] it wasn't until greece, which was in the middle of a trade route and saw all sorts of people, did science first take off
[eripsa] it did pretty well, too. you can judge a culture by its mathematical knowledge
[eripsa] after that, though, we had plato and aristotle and it served the functions of the established authority (the church) well enough to treat it as the truth
[eripsa] so as to discourage further investigation.
[eripsa] this is why the enlightenment is so important
[Zoolooman] You're right. I think this has changed my view.
[Zoolooman] I had always concentrated on the limitations of population and luxury time.
[Zoolooman] Small islanders have almost no room for a luxury class, and hunter-gatherers never have the time.
[Zoolooman] But all the luxury time in the world won't help rich decadents if there isn't any communication.
[Zoolooman] Either with the past or with other intellects.
[Zoolooman] I ought to sleep. While I enjoy lurking D&D and IRC I must wake up early.
[eripsa] heh, night
[eripsa] good thread
[eripsa] :)
02:14 :: :: eripsa :: permalink