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20160409 Invention of Science

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to trace process of invention of science that in author’s opinion occurred between 1574 and 1704 as consequence of geographical discoveries and their impact on astronomy. These events completely changed western understanding of the world, universe, and live, providing intellectual foundation for industrial revolution and eventually for development of contemporary world.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION

Author defines science as building sophisticated theories based on a substantial body of evidence that could make reliable predictions. He relates the beginning of this way of thinking to Tycho Brahe’s discovery of Nova in 1574. Consequently it was firmly established with Newton’s “Optics” published in 1704. This book analyzes various ways of thinking before 1574, and then deals with core period from 1574 to 1704 when scientific approach was developed and, finally, looks at it impact afterworld.

  1. Modern Minds

This chapter is about different ways of thinking and qualitative difference between modern scientific approach and other approaches. Author uses an interesting way of looking at the set of believes and approaches that well educated European would have back in 1600. This exercise demonstrates a fascinating difference from contemporary thinking with most striking characteristic being an attitude to what could or could not be considered the truth. Basically Brahe discovery of the new thinking comes down to ability to believe own eyes more than ideas transferred via education, something that uneducated common people take for granted and call common sense, while highly educated people to this day tend to discard as way too primitive approach to the world.

  1. The Idea of the Scientific Revolution

Here author reviews the genesis of idea of scientific revolution that was surprisingly new and was really developed only as recently as 1940s as the brainchild of Alexander Koyre and Herbert Butterfield, later adapted by Thomas Kuhn, and eventually extended to the notion of science development as sequential change in paradigms. It also contains an interesting lexicographic analysis of used terms and notions starting with the word “science” itself.

 

PART ONE The Heavens and the Earth

This part reviews 3 intellectual revolutions that change our perception of the world:

  • Columbus discovery of America that implanted the very notion of discovery into minds of people
  • Copernican revolution that created notion of globe and stars as bodies
  • Tycho Brahe’s revolution that used Nova and telescope to destroy previously dominant idea of crystalline sphere surrounding Earth.
  1. Inventing Discovery

The main story here is that before Columbus the idea of discovery was impossible because somebody knew everything, if not now then in ancient time, so the world is unchangeable and there is no new knowledge to discover. Discovery of America proved quite convincingly that not everything is or was known, intellectually opening way for the new discoveries. Author also discusses Bacon’s philosophy of science that was developed as consequence of discovery of discovery.

  1. Planet Earth

This is a fascinated history of continuously changing and expanding notion of Earth until astronomers established its true form and nature.

 

PART TWO: Seeing is Believing

This part covers change in representation of knowledge from fifteenth to eighteenth century and development of knowledge acquisition tools such as telescope and microscope that facilitated this change.

  1. The Mathematization of the World

This chapter looks at impact of geometrical perspective developed by graphic artists on perception of space with following on practical application of mathematical and geometrical concepts in various areas of live from building construction and architecture to use of calculations in artillery ballistics.

  1. Gulliver’s Worlds

This chapter provides more detailed account of tools of knowledge that expanded human senses to rich distanced starts and planets with telescope and opened for observation miniature world of bacteria and details of materials with microscope.

 

PART THREE Making Knowledge

This if the key part of the book and it discusses the new special language that was developed to convey scientific ideas and notions and how it came about.

  1. Facts

The most important part of science is recognition and understanding of existence of a fact – the thing that did really occur or was actually the case. Here author again going to astronomy, specifically Kepler to demonstrate the early establishment of notion of fact as necessary tool for science. He also discusses disestablishment of “fact” using example of Giambattista Della Porta whose work “Natural Magic” was bestseller in between 1560 and 1660. Afterword author moves to the philosophical discussion, and consequently to modern understanding of a fact.

  1. Experiments

Author’s discussion of another key notional foundation of science – experiment uses Pascal’s work and philosophical application of this notion by Francis Bacon. As practical consequences of establishment of this new scientific notion author briefly reviews end of alchemy as a viable area of application of intellectual effort.

  1. Laws

This is about laws of nature and correspondingly Descartes’ philosophy. Probably the most important here is the notion of Nature’s laws as an unchangeable condition of live and environment. Originally it was perceived as just another case of God’s laws something like “ you shell not kill”, only it was setup in nature and could not be violated. However due to some extent to protestant’s theology the god got decoupled from nature’s laws that become considered as their own logical and philosophical entity.

  1. Hypotheses/Theories

This is about notions of hypotheses vs. theories. It used idea of science defined by James Conant who was Kuhn’s mentor as iterative process of analysis of facts leading to synthesis of theories in turn leading to design of experiments to produce new facts, include them into analysis and consequently expand, change, or reject theories and substitute them with the new ones.

  1. Evidence and Judgment

The final chapter of this part starts with static definition of science as knowledge based on evidence and then proceeds to discuss nature of evidence and it’s dependence on judgment. It brings into discussion John Locke and his “Essay Concerning Humane Understanding”. Overall it is a very detailed discussion of the notion of “evidence” in its multiple incarnations from casual use to legal and scientific special uses. At the end it looks at evidence in its relation to experiment and consequently to idea of science as the only intellectual tool with relatively reliable predictable power.

 

PART FOUR Birth of the Modern

This part is reviewing consequences of scientific revolution: Industrial revolution and intellectual delegitimizing of magic, demons, and similar entities that failed to obtain scientific confirmation.

  1. Machines

Here author traces link between revolutions in the way of thinking and revolution in the way of doing things. Machines including steam engine where known for a long time, but only new scientific way of thinking, specifically mechanistic view of universe allowed their application for productive purposes.

  1. The Disenchantment of the World

This chapter narrates how new scientific thinking invalidated traditional magical believes by applying requirements of experimental confirmation. The mass remaking of culture to exclude magic from general worldviews was relatively successful, albeit we still have difficulties with using scientific approach consistently especially when people’s prosperity depend on promoting non-scientific fads.

  1. Knowledge is Power

Here author makes quite convincing case that relationship between scientific knowledge, practical knowledge, and philosophy is far from straightforward. In its nonlinearity this relationship is extremely complicated, but generally could be based on philosophy coming first and opening way for non-formal quasi-scientific thinking and acting with experimentation much close to tinkering than to ex ante thought through formal activity, while actually working machines prompting search for formal scientific understanding of nature of machines, in turn opening way to the next level of complexity and utility of the machines.

 

CONCLUSION The Invention of Science

The final chapter discusses consequences of recognizing reality of scientific revolution.

  1. In Defiance of Nature

Here author discusses progress as purely scientific characteristic of knowledge and technology, while denying it as characteristic for humanities. He looks at various philosophical approaches to science: relativists, holists, determinists, constructivism, naïve relists, postmodernists, and such.

  1. These Postmodern Days

Here author discusses his role and philosophy as historian, stressing impossibility of neutral perception of the past due to impossibility to discard existing knowledge. His important concern is not to write teleological narrative since he does not believe in such approach.

  1. ‘What Do I Know?’

This chapter presents the final conclusion that science – the experimental method interlocking theory and practical technology completely change our approach to the world and consequently become so much foundational part of our intellectual lives as to be invisible.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think this book a little bit overemphasizes role of geographical discoveries and astronomy in development of scientific way of thinking. I would look more at overall specifics of development of western society that was characterized by high level of competition in all areas especially in military areas with multiple wars with no final victory for anybody, continuously changing alliances, and high level of dependency on technology for outcome of conflicts, making it very important to evaluate reality as it is regardless of preexisting conceptions and/or misconceptions that one has. I would also pay more attention to ideological or more precisely theological competition that was instrumental in development of intellectual tools that eventually were used in scientific revolution.

 


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