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Birth of Science?

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Posted

Traditionally, historians date the birth of science to 1660, when the Royal Society was founded in London by the followers of Francis Bacon. They proposed that knowledge results only through testing ideas by experimentation.

However, in her new book, Science: A 4000 year history, the historian Patricia Fara says au contraire! The Baconians did not invent science ex nihilo, that they originally conceived of science with no precedents whatsoever. Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

Thoughts, comments?

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Posted

I guess this post won't work either - I keep getting "Oops This links seems to be broken"

---------- Post added at 13:18 ---------- Previous post was at 13:14 ----------

Well, since it seemed to work this time, I wanted to recommend this book highly. I guess the terms "science" and "scientific" are wholely honorific, dispensed at one's whim, but this history reminds us how old "science" - as as sincere search for systematic knowledge - is (Maths is the only Classical knowledge still taught in all state schools), and how much further it still has to run. The odd angles of the book only serve to get us thinking harder about the whole enterprise, especially as it seems at the moment to be in danger of entering into a mannerist or totalitarian phase.

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Posted

I think Popper's criterion of falsifiability is a good justification for what we call science today; applying it to the procedures taken by the Babylonians as previously described, I think they would pass along with a great number of other rightly-named scientists that came before the age of reason. I think it comes close to ethnocentrism to assert that science began as a single event in a single culture when its practices had been in place for thousands of years in innumerable disparate locations.

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Posted

Not only is it open to ethnocentric charges, the presumption that science began in the 17th century is also motivated by religious beliefs - i.e., the defenders of Christian faith are more than happy to credit their religion with the birth of science.

What's more interesting is that a friend of mine made the suggestion that science is older than philosophy - for philosophy began with Descartes whereas science began with the pre-socratics. :twisted:

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How does Fara deal with the possible charge of anachronism? Is the idea that stars influence political events within that world view just a "theory" the Babylonians had about the heavens? Like we talk about quarks or mechanisms of evolution?

This is a book I'd like to check out for all the reasons you've listed and the dust jacket itself seems rather interesting. However, I think it is within reason to distinguish, say, mature science from a nascent one without succumbing to ethnocentrism despite the high likelihood of the ethnocentrism ( something that does need to be pointed out) that bubbles beneath historians dating of the "scientific revolution."

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Posted

The Baconians did not invent science ex nihilo, that they originally conceived of science with no precedents whatsoever. Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

Science seems to be defined here as an attempt to develop theories of the world which correlate to observations, and which help to predict future occurrences within that observational context. I wonder how necessary the development of "mathematical and astronomical forumlas" is to this definition. Doesn't this definition widen the scope of science to include more basic "theories" like the concept of a poisonous food, or the recognition that another animal is acting aggressively/territorially, or sees you as its next meal? Presumably such knowledge precedes even the Babylonians.

What's more interesting is that a friend of mine made the suggestion that science is older than philosophy - for philosophy began with Descartes whereas science began with the pre-socratics.

While it might take us off the topic of this thread, I think a topic worthy of - perhaps another - discussion would be how philosophy differs from science. If scientists have their own philosophy (or theories) of the world, then what does the philosopher do, especially nowadays, given the current dominance of science as a means to knowledge? Perhaps there is a clue in the outgrowth and branching out of the subject of modern (post-1600s) science from philosophy, with its focus on the (observationally amenable) testability of physical theories. I don't know if we could retroactively say that science was being done by those such as the Babylonians, since they presumably lacked any rigorous testing to correlate the astronomical movements with political events. I think it may be only on the back of the successes of Galileo, Newton, and the like, that the modern era recognised how useful the scientific (testable theory) approach can be. Although I haven't read the book, from what I've read here, it is based on this modern definition of science that Fara appears to be seeking earlier roots.

While I don't think that science was "invented ex nihilo" in the 1660s, neither do I think that the modern idea of science can be applied much earlier than this. Previous cultures weren't aware of the successes of "the scientific method" as we are today, and I would only describe the Babylonians as luckily stumbling onto something akin to science, but which isn't quite science.

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Posted

The above is just my amateur, non-scientist, non-philosopher thoughts on the topic, which I only posted because I had little to do yesterday. I guess I'm just interested in the same question mosaic already asked: "How does Fara deal with the possible charge of anachronism?"

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Posted

Huhn.

This chap I was studying under in Japan, Murakami Yoichiro, looked at the same question and came up with (I guess) basically the opposite answer, that science didn't really start until the 19th century.

Sound odd I know, but he's basically thinking this: heavily influenced by Feyerabend, he's thinking that since 'science' is (we now know ;) ) not a monolithic entity, going back to this or that originator of some bright idea that happens to be the subject of science today doesn't really make sense as a marker for 'the birth of science'. Instead he looked at what defines science now, and his idea is that what really makes it different from what's gone before is it's existance as a community of professionals, with their own rules and norms and so forth (publishing priority, qualification, peer review and so forth). Calling galileo and a modern physicist both 'scientists' just because they both work on stuff that we happen to lump under 'physics' would be 'just' playing around with word games.

Interesting point, I thought. Just chuckin that out there.

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Posted

Well, it all comes down to definitions with elliptical judgements such as 'when did science begin'? That kind of generality might mean the method, practices, the community etc. The best thing to do in answering these kinds of questions is not to trace a single origin but by giving a reasonably enlightened account of science's many genesises.

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Posted

At least in the West, the stirrings of formal science were underway by the 12th century renaissance. St Albertus Magnus, Aquinas' mentor, prefigures scientific inquiry in his discussion of traditional bestiaries, where he dismisses the allegorical meaning of the animals (after nodding in that direction) and tries to discuss their empirical attributes. Disengaging the "spiritual" (social, symbolic, personal) from the empirical in a systematic way is the core of the scientific method.

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Posted

Scientists date their discipline from Euclid and his book Elements of Geometry. The rather large number of mistakes in modern science are perhaps because few scientists ever took the class, so they are not aware of what is supposed to be the basic approach to their work.

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I think any specific answer to this question is arbitrary, and unworkable. How did the Egyptians build their pyramids without scientific knowledge. Let me go further, how was the first bow and arrow invented if not through careful observation and experimentation? A bow used to propel a missile is actually a very sophisticated device...

Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural world.[1][2][3][4] In its oldest and broadest sense, science is also the resulting body of reliable knowledge that can be logically and convincingly explained.[5] (See "History and etymology" section below).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science

Many of the ancients were true scientists, in Greece they called themselves "Philosophers," and regarded Philosophy as the "Father of all Science." There's an amusing story in Herodotus about the finding of a single horned goat. Herodotus who did in fact believe in divination and other superstitions relates how Anaxagoras did an autopsy and concluded that the goat was a mutation and a perfectly natural phenomonon, while a diviner explained the nature of the "omen."

Anaxagoras, didn't believe in any devine intervention on earth. He was probably an atheist.

Keep in mind that the ancients were able to predict both solar and lunar eclipses. Couldn't happen without a meticulous organization of data. In other words, is not a discovery based on careful observation and experimentation not science? Is Aristotle and his catalogues of flora and fauna, not an attempt to expand knowledge scientifically?

Are we falling victim to a form of chauvinism based on living in the present? And where everything that happened in the past is almost by definition primitive? But isn't primitive science, science? I'd hate to be in a position of arguing math with Archimedes. He would be the advanced person, I would be the primitive.

Finally, I would love to be a fly on the wall 2,000 years from now, when a group similar to ours debates this question, and perhaps speculates that Science was born with Bohr and Einstein... :)

Dave

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Posted (edited)

Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

I would question whether these Babylonian astronomers were practicing science, not because of the subject matter, but that they were not really looking to find the truth about their theory (that the pattern of the stars effects social events), but were merely refining a belief that was divorced from observation by better tracking astronomical phenomena. If I thought that leprechauns with pots of gold could be caught during certain astronomical patterns, then I would probably try to refine my ability to predict astronomical events as well, but that would hardly be science.

On the other hand, I do think we can talk about science in a legitimate fashion well before Bacon, and the above example, even if it isn't science, probably did lay the foundations for science in its methodical information gathering. But for science, I think an important element is the presence of a naturalistic theory of which the justification for its truth is empirical in nature. This combined with the methodism displayed above will probably get you science in whatever form it takes.

Edited by the sad clown

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Posted

Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

I would question whether these Babylonian astronomers were practicing science, not because of the subject matter, but that they were not really looking to find the truth about their theory (that the pattern of the stars effects social events), but were merely refining a belief that was divorced from observation by better tracking astronomical phenomena. If I thought that leprechauns with pots of gold could be caught during certain astronomical patterns, then I would probably try to refine my ability to predict astronomical events as well, but that would hardly be science.

On the other hand, I do think we can talk about science in a legitimate fashion well before Bacon, and the above example, even if it isn't science, probably did lay the foundations for science in its methodical information gathering. But for science, I think an important element is the presence of a naturalistic theory of which the justification for its truth is empirical in nature. This combined with the methodism displayed above will probably get you science in whatever form it takes.

Is not engeniering a science? How did these Babylonians build their fancy observatories, not to mention their buildings, complex agricultural systems, etc, etc? How did they manipulate rivers, create lakes, if not through science? Some of their structures would still be considered big even today. Just as the Pyramids of Egypt are Huge!

Dave

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Is not engeniering a science? How did these Babylonians build their fancy observatories, not to mention their buildings, complex agricultural systems, etc, etc? How did they manipulate rivers, create lakes, if not through science? Some of their structures would still be considered big even today. Just as the Pyramids of Egypt are Huge!

Well, I didn't say they weren't doing science at that time, but I thought engineering was more about the application of knowledge than the acquisition of knowledge. Also, knowledge can be acquired through non-scientific means, so I am not sure successful engineering is sufficient to prove that science was operating in that society.

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Posted (edited)

Is not engeniering a science? How did these Babylonians build their fancy observatories, not to mention their buildings, complex agricultural systems, etc, etc? How did they manipulate rivers, create lakes, if not through science? Some of their structures would still be considered big even today. Just as the Pyramids of Egypt are Huge!

Well, I didn't say they weren't doing science at that time, but I thought engineering was more about the application of knowledge than the acquisition of knowledge. Also, knowledge can be acquired through non-scientific means, so I am not sure successful engineering is sufficient to prove that science was operating in that society.

Architecture, engineering, knowledge, are not acquired by randomly watching a bird build a nest. Once we start to create structures as big as the ancients did, then all the tools of "stress," "Structural bearing loads," "Arches," indeed an entire gamut of skills which cannot simply be taught by rote kick in. To build such structures (and to do so without modern equipment) is a staggering feat of engineering. By no means do I claim more then an educated lay persons knowledge, but I have done rigging work for a living, and found moving objects of twenty tuns to be a major feat. If I met one of those in charge of such a project I would be humbled.

Then take a look at their agricultural success. Complex systems covering thousands of miles of carefully planned drainage and feed systems. Keep in mind that such cities as Babylon had populations of half a million or more. On the arid plains of Mesopotamia, the soil, no matter how intrinsically fertile, could not have born three crops a year without the intense and scientific study of these questions. Geometry was mastered in Eygpt and Summaria, long before the Greeks went to study there. How did they develop these sophisticated techniques if not through scientific study?

True, their systamization of this knowledge was not as intense as our, but I will repeat my position. It's a modern affectation to put a date on the birth of science. And as I said before, even inventing a Bow was a major feat of science, and done at a time when writing of any kind didn't exist.

Let me ask an almost rhetorical question. In what way does my above description not match the criteria of science?

Dave

Edited by Chato

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Posted (edited)

Architecture, engineering, knowledge, are not acquired by randomly watching a bird build a nest. Once we start to create structures as big as the ancients did, then all the tools of "stress," "Structural bearing loads," "Arches," indeed an entire gamut of skills which cannot simply be taught by rote kick in. To build such structures (and to do so without modern equipment) is a staggering feat of engineering. By no means do I claim more then an educated lay persons knowledge, but I have done rigging work for a living, and found moving objects of twenty tuns to be a major feat. If I met one of those in charge of such a project I would be humbled.

Why couldn't they be learned by rote, or be based on someones projections based on rote learning. As I said before, scientific learning is not the only method for gaining knowledge. You can also learn by trial and error. I hate to repeat myself, but I am simply not in a position to say that these accomplishments reflect knowledge gained through scientific means. Clearly it is applied knowledge, but it is opaque as far as how that knowledge was obtained.

Then take a look at their agricultural success. Complex systems covering thousands of miles of carefully planned drainage and feed systems. Keep in mind that such cities as Babylon had populations of half a million or more. On the arid plains of Mesopotamia, the soil, no matter how intrinsically fertile, could not have born three crops a year without the intense and scientific study of these questions. Geometry was mastered in Eygpt and Summaria, long before the Greeks went to study there. How did they develop these sophisticated techniques if not through scientific study?

Again, I don't know that it was intense and scientific knowledge as opposed to thousands of years of trial and error that lead to the irrigation systems. And geometry is not science. It can be a tool of science, but it is analytic in nature, and does not require empirical observation.

It's a modern affectation to put a date on the birth of science. And as I said before, even inventing a Bow was a major feat of science, and done at a time when writing of any kind didn't exist.

But I haven't put a birthdate on science, unless you are simply wanting to make some general point and are using your response to me to make it. It seems to me that we are simply disagreeing over what constitutes science. I believe there are other ways besides scientific for gaining knowledge. If this is true, then not every discovery or invention is necessarily an indication of scientifically gained knowledge.

Let me ask an almost rhetorical question. In what way does my above description not match the criteria of science?

That is a good question. I offered an indication of what I thought should constitute science before, but I will reiterate it here:

1. Naturalistic explanations for phenomena

2. Empirical justification for the theory

3. A methodical approach to the inquiry

This is a fairly loose criteria, and I think it would accommodate a wide variety of practices, and not just modern science. As for whether your examples fit that criteria, I wouldn't know since the examples you are giving are applied knowledge. They very well could be examples of applied scientific knowledge, but if there are other sources of knowledge, then we cannot simply assume science when observing the application of knowledge.

Edited by the sad clown
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Posted

Architecture, engineering, knowledge, are not acquired by randomly watching a bird build a nest. Once we start to create structures as big as the ancients did, then all the tools of "stress," "Structural bearing loads," "Arches," indeed an entire gamut of skills which cannot simply be taught by rote kick in. To build such structures (and to do so without modern equipment) is a staggering feat of engineering. By no means do I claim more then an educated lay persons knowledge, but I have done rigging work for a living, and found moving objects of twenty tuns to be a major feat. If I met one of those in charge of such a project I would be humbled.

Why couldn't they be learned by rote, or be based on someones projections based on rote learning. As I said before, scientific learning is not the only method for gaining knowledge. You can also learn by trial and error. I hate to repeat myself, but I am simply not in a position to say that these accomplishments reflect knowledge gained through scientific means. Clearly it is applied knowledge, but it is opaque as far as how that knowledge was obtained.

Then take a look at their agricultural success. Complex systems covering thousands of miles of carefully planned drainage and feed systems. Keep in mind that such cities as Babylon had populations of half a million or more. On the arid plains of Mesopotamia, the soil, no matter how intrinsically fertile, could not have born three crops a year without the intense and scientific study of these questions. Geometry was mastered in Eygpt and Summaria, long before the Greeks went to study there. How did they develop these sophisticated techniques if not through scientific study?

Again, I don't know that it was intense and scientific knowledge as opposed to thousands of years of trial and error that lead to the irrigation systems. And geometry is not science. It can be a tool of science, but it is analytic in nature, and does not require empirical observation.

It's a modern affectation to put a date on the birth of science. And as I said before, even inventing a Bow was a major feat of science, and done at a time when writing of any kind didn't exist.

But I haven't put a birthdate on science, unless you are simply wanting to make some general point and are using your response to me to make it. It seems to me that we are simply disagreeing over what constitutes science. I believe there are other ways besides scientific for gaining knowledge. If this is true, then not every discovery or invention is necessarily an indication of scientifically gained knowledge.

Let me ask an almost rhetorical question. In what way does my above description not match the criteria of science?

That is a good question. I offered an indication of what I thought should constitute science before, but I will reiterate it here:

1. Naturalistic explanations for phenomena

2. Empirical justification for the theory

3. A methodical approach to the inquiry

This is a fairly loose criteria, and I think it would accommodate a wide variety of practices, and not just modern science. As for whether your examples fit that criteria, I wouldn't know since the examples you are giving are applied knowledge. They very well could be examples of applied scientific knowledge, but if there are other sources of knowledge, then we cannot simply assume science when observing the application of knowledge.

I have to pause and point out that "Trial and error" can be random. Planned trial and error is an example of acquiring knowledge scientifically, if other more sophisticated knowledge is lacking. That scientific trial and error is the accumulation of data based on empirical methods and results. The ancient of course lacked our knowledge, and that includes the knowledge of how to optimize the results of trial and error. But Geometry is a result of trial and error no more than String Theory or Quantum mechanics. Setting up the machinary to test building material, presupposes that material can be measured for stress.

In todays world a chemist can theorize that a particular molecule will have certain properties, but often enough trial and error is used to find out which isomar of this molecule will have the desired property. Yet, who would say to this chemist, that "this is not science?"

If science is one thing more than another, it is the accumulation of data in an organized manner, so that the application of knowledge becomes systamatically applied.

Dave

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I'd have to agree with the Sad Clown here. Technology has been around long before science, so the process of developing technology is probably being confused with science here, and this entire thread depends on how one defines science. The more narrow your definition gets, the closer you are to the academic definition, and consequently the Sad Clown's, and the more broad it is, the less rigorous or distinctive you become.

If your definition is distinctive, yet original, then you get to publish a book like Patricia Fara. :mrgreen:

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I'd have to agree with the Sad Clown here. Technology has been around long before science, so the process of developing technology is probably being confused with science here, and this entire thread depends on how one defines science. The more narrow your definition gets, the closer you are to the academic definition, and consequently the Sad Clown's, and the more broad it is, the less rigorous or distinctive you become.

If your definition is distinctive, yet original, then you get to publish a book like Patricia Fara. :mrgreen:

Both of you are making constructive points. But are we not talking about the "birth" of science? How did Anaxagoras predict eclipses? How did Archimedes measure the earth within 100 miles of it's true circumfrance? Wasn't just a question of technology. All one has to do is read Lucretious and then tell me if he isn't taking a scientific approach?

http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.html

Science:

noun

1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.

4. systematized knowledge in general.

5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

6. a particular branch of knowledge.

7. skill, esp. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.

Dave

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Technology has been around long before science, so the process of developing technology is probably being confused with science here, and this entire thread depends on how one defines science.

Were we to devise some way of clearly and definitively distinguishing technology and science, would those people who seem so very awe struck by science remain so struck? Is it the products (such as engineered marvels) which follow from science which most impress? Or, is it the general form of science-thinking which is so impressive as to warrant attributing authority to science?

Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

The products of these Babylonian formulae were the astronomical predictions; these products were not engineered, but that only means that the foremost distinction between astronomy and architecture, for example, pertains to one being more tangible and more clearly and practically useful. Are not the thinking processes essentially the same?

I suspect that were science to be divorced from not only the practical but especially from the mundanely useful (technology, for instance), then science would generally be regarded to be as worthwhile as philosophy is for, to, and by most people.

I also suspect that it is not so much the thinking-processes of science (whether or not divorced from technology) which impress most modern people. For most people, it is the results and not the means which are of primary interest. The means (the thinking-processes) are not even of secondary interest; of greater interest than the thinking-processes themselves -- and that which ends up garnering the respect of most people -- is the formalization of such processes into a body of rules which serves to delimit acceptability.

Michael

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Technology has been around long before science, so the process of developing technology is probably being confused with science here, and this entire thread depends on how one defines science.

Were we to devise some way of clearly and definitively distinguishing technology and science, would those people who seem so very awe struck by science remain so struck? Is it the products (such as engineered marvels) which follow from science which most impress? Or, is it the general form of science-thinking which is so impressive as to warrant attributing authority to science?

Fara pushes the roots of science as far back as ancient Babylon wherein court advisers developed mathematical and astronomical formulas - they observed the skies in order to glean future harbingers.

But the crux is that these observations of the ancients can be legitimately interpreted as science, since they were trying to correlate what they saw. The flaw in their conclusions is that the movements of astronomical objects do not predetermine or influence political events on earth. However, that doesn't invalidate the process by which this conclusion was eventually derived from.

The products of these Babylonian formulae were the astronomical predictions; these products were not engineered, but that only means that the foremost distinction between astronomy and architecture, for example, pertains to one being more tangible and more clearly and practically useful. Are not the thinking processes essentially the same?

I suspect that were science to be divorced from not only the practical but especially from the mundanely useful (technology, for instance), then science would generally be regarded to be as worthwhile as philosophy is for, to, and by most people.

I also suspect that it is not so much the thinking-processes of science (whether or not divorced from technology) which impress most modern people. For most people, it is the results and not the means which are of primary interest. The means (the thinking-processes) are not even of secondary interest; of greater interest than the thinking-processes themselves -- and that which ends up garnering the respect of most people -- is the formalization of such processes into a body of rules which serves to delimit acceptability.

Michael

If this guy wasn't a scientist, I'll eat my 120 pound dog... :(

Archimedes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes

Dave

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