Scientific Method Scientific Revolution and 'Literature Review' chapter

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  • Type: 'Literature Review' chapter
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Excerpt from 'Literature Review' chapter :

Many inquiries were made into the universe, from how it worked to its creation, as well as the construction of a workable calendar and an understanding of numerous illnesses. These collective areas of discussion fall under the term of natural philosophy, or philosophy of nature. Before modern science was developed and widely used, natural philosophy was the prominent method of gaining knowledge. So dominant and involved was natural philosophy that it served as a precursor of various natural sciences like physics. Indeed, the term 'science' did not evolve until the nineteenth century; until then it simply referred to knowledge. Therefore it is a natural progression from natural philosophy to science, or philosopher to scientist, and it is instantly apparent that the Greek philosophers provided the stepping-stones to modern science. So intrinsically linked is philosophy with Greece that Martin West is quoted in The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World as saying that the Greeks "taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation." (140)

As with the Mesopotamians, the Ancient Greeks played their part in the development of astronomy and most specifically the formation of a workable and reliable calendar. The first published work involving the calendar was the poet Hesiod's Works and Days, which spoke of a calendar from which the farmer's character was able to regulate the activities of the seasons using the phases of the Moon and stars (Thurston 21).

It is apparent that there were familiar themes amongst the ancient civilizations which they all deemed important. This has been pointed out with the findings of astronomy in the Mesopotamians and the Greeks, and they, along with the Egyptians, also focused on medicine to make revolutionary discoveries. This is rather unsurprising for the Greeks, as it has already been established that their natural philosophies served as a base for modern science. Interestingly though, the medicine of the Greeks was not practiced by a single profession nor was there any licensing qualification; rather, a wide spectrum of people were considered medics. These groups of people included herb collectors, midwives, drug sellers, gymnastic trainers, physicians and temple healers with the cult of Asclepius, all boasting of being qualified healers in their relevant area (Lloyd 38-39). Whilst the obvious benefit of such a competitive field is everyone striving to be the best, the downside is the public verbal attacks on each other to encourage doubt amongst the public towards a competitor. A prime example of this can be found in the Hippocratic text about epilepsy On the Sacred Disease, in which temple healers come under criticism from the author for their ignorance and apparent greed. Under the circumstance that the author was well-educated on the illness such criticism would be wholly justified, and indeed he displayed a glimmer of that with his acknowledgement that epilepsy is a natural illness caused not through external influences or factors. Yet his lack of knowledge on what the cause really is and what treatment is available made it apparent he was no more enlightened than his rivals (Lloyd 15-24). Thus, any custom the temple healers lost from the basis of On the Sacred Disease was unjustified, as they probably knew no less than the author himself.

The Greeks were also arguably responsible for the advent of botany and zoology, as Theophrastus wrote the first systematic books describing and classifying minerals, rocks and plants, as well as his thoughts on the nature of animals. These ideas were later used by Pliny the Elder in the Naturalis Historia, published in 77 AD, which has survived to this day and purportedly covers the whole spectrum of ancient knowledge. What made the encyclopedia stand tall above other texts of the time was its departure from merely noting various items, but Pliny seeking explanations. Moreover, many of his assertions were correct, such as the statement that amber is fossilized resin from pine trees, a fact that was until then unknown.

There can be no doubt that modern science owes a great deal to the Ancient Greeks, and one must wonder how much our current knowledge would be disadvantaged had they not made the discoveries that they did.

4. Roman

The Roman impact on modern Western civilization has been thoroughly documented, and they more than deserve their place in history for contribution to the modern world. As with the Greeks, the Roman Empire wanted to systemize scientific knowledge gained from the preceding Hellenistic period, coupled with what was learnt in the areas that had been conquered by the Romans. The aforementioned Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder played a central role and was of the highest importance. Pliny organized the encyclopedia into sensible and clear sections of the organic world of plants and animals as well as the realm of inorganic matter. In addition to the example of fossilized pine mentioned previously, much is said about animals and plants -- of which Pliny talks at length about the abuse they suffer at the hands of people. There is also spectacular detail regarding metals and minerals. Of the former, there is extensive discourse regarding metals such as gold, silver, tin, iron, lead and mercury along with some of their alloys including pewter and bronze. So detailed is the text that Pliny even talks at length about the greed for gold, including the ridiculousness of using it for coins, and its uniqueness in being far more malleable than any other metal known to man. Of the latter -- minerals -- Pliny primarily expands upon earlier authors such as Theophrastus and talks about a variety of minerals, gemstones and man's obsessive green over luxurious and expensive items. However, it is not a superficial overview of these products, but an incredibly detailed analysis. Pliny talks about properties of fluorspar, the shape of diamonds and right through to the use of diamond use by gem engravers who make use of its hardness to cut and polish other stones. Given such detailed examination of not only metals and minerals but also art history, zoology and botany it is easy to see why the Romans held it in such high regard.

There were of course other central figures too, including Claudius Ptolemaeus, known as Ptolemy. Ptolemy was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer and astrologer and lived under Roman rule in Egypt. His great mind bore a remarkable influence on the Romans by systemizing astronomy, using existing knowledge discovered by those before him to create a firm empirical foundation for astronomy, thus permitting him to demonstrate a working relationship between astronomical observations and astronomical theory. Not only did his astronomical treatise the Almagest define both method and subject of future research into astronomy, but his Ptolemaic system was the dominant model for understanding the movements of the heavens (Goldstein).

The Hellenistic knowledge served as a building block for more than just Ptolemy though, and the physician Galen used their discoveries on anatomy and physiology to generate new thoughts. His interest in anatomy and physiology saw him undertake dissections of various animals from dogs to Barbary apes which became central to moving medical science forward leaps and bounds, becoming a major part of medical knowledge for over a millennium. Specifically, he wrote detailed observations on such components as the nervous system and organs, as well as specific functions like the arteries being responsible for carrying blood around the body.

Peculiarly though, despite the fact that the years of the Roman Empire saw science continue to expand -- and in multiple directions -- the Latin texts that were written were largely compilations of work from the Greeks, prior to the new discoveries of the Romans. So much was Greek ingrained in science that it was the language used for teaching and research, which hindered the spreading of knowledge so much that the majority of Greek texts did not become available in Western Europe until the twelfth century.

5. Byzantine

While the foundations of science were undoubtedly laid by the ancient cultures, the Middle Ages proved to be the time where science moved out from under the wing of philosophy and became a discipline of its own (Saliba 32).

The Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire centered on Constantinople, was the most sophisticated culture of the early Middle Ages and kept the Greco-Roman discoveries, systems and theories of medicine, mathematics and science. The philosophical musings and scientific systems offered by central figures such as Aristotle, Galen and Ptolemy spread around the Empire, which not only introduced a new audience to these great men but they, along with the commentaries made about them, served as the launch pad of science through the Medieval period. There was also another unexpected outcome, this one a great benefit to the Christian Church: following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Western Europe saw a huge loss of knowledge pertaining to religion, but, owing to the Church, such scholars as Aquinas and Buridan allowed the…

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