The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 Bc and Why It Had to Be Reborn

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Springer Science & Business Media, 2004 - Mathematics - 487 pages
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The period from the late fourth to the late second century B. C. witnessed, in Greek-speaking countries, an explosion of objective knowledge about the external world. WhileGreek culture had reached great heights in art, literature and philosophyalreadyin the earlier classical era, it is in the so-called Hellenistic period that we see for the ?rst time anywhere in the world the appearance of science as we understand it now: not an accumulation of facts or philosophically based speculations, but an or- nized effort to model nature and apply such models, or scienti?ctheories in a sense we will make precise, to the solution of practical problems and to a growing understanding of nature. We owe this new approach to scientists such as Archimedes, Euclid, Eratosthenes and many others less familiar todaybut no less remarkable. Yet, not long after this golden period, much of this extraordinary dev- opment had been reversed. Rome borrowed what it was capable of from the Greeks and kept it for a little while yet, but created very little science of its own. Europe was soon smothered in theobscurantism and stasis that blocked most avenues of intellectual development for a thousand years until, as is well known, the rediscovery of ancient culture in its fullness paved the way to the modern age.
  

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From Gibbon to Tainter and more recently to Jarred Diamond the collapses of ancient societies like Roman or Maya empires were deeply studied. Nobody ever mentioned a similar collapse in Hellenistic times. An author, Lucio Russo, discovered it as scientific fall down. Russo considers that a real scientific revolution took place in Hellenistic times. Then it was forgotten as the science as a method has been abandoned in Antiquity to be only recovered 16 centuries later. In his development Russo describe the details of birth, decline and fall of Hellenistic science and technology in fields as mathematics, mechanics, geodesy, optics, astronomy, anatomy and even psychology. The Hellenistic researchers have obtained some incredible results such as the inverse square law of gravitation. This kind of affirmations may be challenged (and were largely challenged). It is not the point here. We must focus our inquiry on Russo's ground hypothesis and his researching methodology. We think that his approach may offer an interesting matter to future researches.
Timing for the first scientific revolution of the Hellenism
It is now generally accepted that the Hellenistic age started by 323 B.C. (with the death of Alexander the Great) and was finished by 30 BC (with the death of Cleopatra and the annexation of Egypt by Rome). Russo agrees with the starting point of Hellenistic times. But contrary to other historians for him the end of this age was linked to the end of a scientific revolution. according to Russo that happened in the second century B.C. when the scientific studies declined rapidly. The most serious collapse of scientific activity lay in the long wars between Rome and the Hellenistic states, from the plunder of Syracuse and the killing of Archimedes in 212 B.C. to 146 B.C. when Carthage and Corinth were razed to ground. Russo considers that Roman world of the third and second centuries B.C. was much more brutal then that of Virgil and Horace. As a matter of fact the refined culture acquired later by Roman intellectuals was the result of a continuing contact with the Hellenistic civilization, mainly through Greeks taken as slaves and by plundering the Greek works of art.
For Russo Alexandria's scientific activity, in particular, stopped in 145-144 B.C., when the king Ptolemy VIII initiated a policy of brutal persecution against the Greek ruling class.
Arguments in favor of a scientific discontinuity followed by a general decay
The feeling of decay was generally shared in Antiquity. As an example Seneca thought that "... far from advance being made toward the discovery of what the older generations left insufficiently investigated, many of their discoveries are being lost". A certain interruption of the oral transmission made ancient works incomprehensible.
As an example, among others, Russo mentions that Epictetus, regarded at the beginning of the second century A.D. as the "greatest luminary of Stoicism", confessed being unable to understand Chrysippus, his Hellenistic predecessor.
Russo challenges also the common opinion that the Almagest of Ptolemy rendered earlier astronomical treaties obsolete. This vision is inconsistent with an overlooked reality: "whereas astronomy enjoyed an uninterrupted tradition down to Hipparchus (and especially in the period since Eudoxus), the subsequent period lasting almost until Ptolemy's generation witnessed no scientific activity". There was here a deep cultural discontinuity. This break, attested in different other ways, is clearly illustrated by the astronomical observations mentioned in Almagest "... spread over a period of a few centuries, from 720 B.C. to 150 A.D., but leaving a major gap of 218 years: from 126 B.C., the date of the last observation attributed to Hipparchus, to 92 A.D., corresponding to a lunar observation by Agrippa". The author mentions also the relationship between the star catalog of Almagest and the star coordinates of Hipparchus citing the works of Grasshoff which has concluded that, although
 

Contents

The Birth of Science
5
12 On the Word Hellenistic
10
13 Science
15
14 Was There Science in Classical Greece?
21
15 Origins of Hellenistic Science
27
Hellenistic Mathematics
31
22 Euclids HypotheticoDeductive Method
39
23 Geometry and Computational Aids
41
Some Other Aspects of the Scientific Revolution
203
72 Conscious and Unconscious Cultural Evolution
209
73 The Theory of Dreams
214
74 Propositional Logic
218
75 Philological and Linguistic Studies
221
76 The Figurative Arts Literature and Music
224
The Decadence and End of Science
231
82 Rome Science and Scientific Technology
235

24 Discrete Mathematics and the Notion of Infinity
44
25 Continuous Mathematics
45
26 Euclid and His Predecessors
48
27 An Application of the Method of Exhaustion
49
28 Trigonometry and Spherical Geometry
52
Other Hellenistic Scientific Theories
57
32 Geodesy and Mathematical Geography
65
33 Mechanics
70
34 Hydrostatics
73
35 Pneumatics
75
36 Aristarchus Heliocentrism and Relative Motion
78
37 From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe
86
38 Ptolemaic Astronomy
89
Scientific Technology
95
41 Mechanical Engineering
96
42 Instrumentation
98
43 Military Technology
105
44 Sailing and Navigation
112
45 Naval Architecture The Pharos
115
46 Hydraulic and Pneumatic Engineering
118
47 Use of Natural Power
123
48 The Antikythera Mechanism
128
49 Herons Role
130
410 The Lost Technology
137
Medicine and Other Empirical Sciences
143
52 Relationship Between Medicine and Exact Sciences
145
53 Anatomical Terminology and the Screw Press
150
54 The Scientific Method in Medicine
151
55 Development and End of Scientific Medicine
156
56 Botany and Zoology
158
57 Chemistry
165
The Hellenistic Scientific Method
171
62 Postulates or Hypotheses
174
63 Saving the Phainomena
175
64 Definitions Scientific Terms and Theoretical Entities
179
65 Episteme and Techne
185
66 Postulates and the Meaning of Mathematics and Physics
187
67 Hellenistic Science and Experimental Method
194
68 Science and Orality
196
69 Where Do Cliches about Ancient Science Come From?
197
83 The End of Ancient Science
240
Science Technology and Economy
243
92 Scientific and Technological Policy
245
93 Economic Growth and Innovation in Agriculture
249
94 Nonagricultural Technology and Production
253
95 The Role of the City in the Ancient World
257
96 The Nature of the Ancient Economy
260
97 Ancient Science and Production
263
Lost Science
269
102 Eratosthenes Measurement of the Meridian
273
103 Determinism Chance and Atoms
277
104 Combinatorics and Logic
281
105 Ptolemy and Hellenistic Astronomy
282
106 The Moon the Sling and Hipparchus
286
107 A Passage of Seneca
293
108 Rays of Darkness and Triangular Rays
296
109 The Idea of Gravity after Aristotle
302
1010 Tides
305
Sling or Ellipsoid?
309
1012 Seleucus and the Proof of Heliocentrism
311
1013 Precession Comets etc
315
1014 Ptolemy and Theon of Smyrna
317
1015 The First Few Definitions in the Elements
320
The AgeLong Recovery
329
112 The Renaissance
335
113 The Rediscovery of Optics in Europe
344
114 A Late Disciple of Archimedes
349
Kepler and Descartes
355
116 Terrestrial Motion Tides and Gravitation
360
117 Newtons Natural Philosophy
365
118 The Rift Between Mathematics and Physics
379
119 Ancient Science and Modern Science
385
1110 The Erasure of Ancient Science
388
1111 Recovery and Crisis of Scientific Methodology
391
Appendix
399
List of Passages
403
References
419
General Index
435
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