Before moving on, its important to define science, the word “science” is derivative of a latin word, “scientia” which means “to have knowledge”. As a matter of fact, Pakistan lags behind in scientific innovation, and several reasons can be attributed to it. These include lack of historical perspective on science, national interests, and global free market. While history teaches us practicality by providing an eagle view of the subject under consideration; national interests add or strip ventures of value; and finally global free market robs developing nations of a reason to innovate. This article only aims to explore the historical perspective of science in terms of its origin.

Now let’s start with Hollywood superhero, Thor, a God in the Norse mythology, who struck his hammer to an effect of thunders and rains. People used to understand the phenomena of life and world through religious myths, there used to be a God for almost everything, for instance Thor was God of fertility for Vikings for they attributed germination of plants to rainfall. the changing of seasons was explained by a myth, as portrayed by the Nordic poem by Eddie “The lay of Thrym” whereby Thor and his suicide squad are on a mission to claim back his lost hammer.

By 700 BC, Homer and Hesiod, had already documented Greek mythology with their Gods such as Zeus, Apollo and Ethene. Now that the myths existed in written form, the possibility of discussion and criticizing sprang up. The earliest Greek philosophers took on the job, and criticized the mythological Gods for their resemblance with humans. As Xenophanes put it, Men have created the Gods in their own image. (570 BC). In the same era, Greeks thrived and the cities flourished, and as are the workings of nature, under such thriving conditions, privileged humans find it amusing to create problems, in order to find meaning in the act of solving those problems. This, the Greek chose, to be the quest for finding natural rather than supernatural explanations for natural processes. Thus natural philosophy was born, a natural philosopher is someone who is concerned with the natural world and its processes; how does a lifeless substance change into a living thing, a plant germinates, a frog comes forth to life from water and such others. Thus it’s imperative to say that natural philosophers were the first to set out in the direction of scientific reasoning, and set the foundations of what was to become science.

AS is natural they first tried to understand the composition of the diverse material nature. Attempts of the contemporary philosophers to explain all things in nature as being made of a single substance led to one of the most important scientific ideas introduced by the Greeks: the concept of atoms.. Three Greek philosophers from Miletus; a Greek colony, came forward to share their insight, these were, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. They asserted that there was a single substance from which all things took their substance, for Thales it was water. Interestingly Anaximenes believed that the source of all matter was air, water was compressed air, and further compression of air gave us earth. So the basic elements were set but how did the change occur was still a far cry.

To explain the change, Parmenides professed that there was no such thing as actual change, and that what we see is just perceptual illusions. He believed that everything that exists had always existed. For instance, pure water will always be pure water, not that it would turn into a fish. Another contemporary philosopher who had opposing views, was Heraclites. “Everything flows,” said Heraclitus. Everything is in constant flux, for he believed we “cannot step twice into the same river.” When I step into the river for the second time, neither I nor the river are the same. He was of the view that opposites are necessary to derive meaning. Furthermore, he believed in universal reason or law, which he used to refer to as God, deity or Logos (reasoning). So now rose a question of whether we should trust our sensory perceptions or do otherwise and a malady was born , it was the problem of the “reliability of sensory perceptions”, a tangle for philosophers to find out who was right, Parmenides or Heraclitis. Which was only temporarily solved by Empedocles who argued that there should be more than one primordial substances for which he chose earth, air, fire, and water as nature’s roots.” So now though a fish can’t spring up from water alone, yet it can spring from water if earth, air and fire contribute too. Thus from one basic element we now had four elements. All natural processes were due to the different combinations of these four elements coming together and separating. Empedocles for instance might have watched a piece of wood burn while a pot with water stationed over it. Something disintegrates, water changes into air i.e steam. Something from the wood goes up in smoke. Something also remains when the fire is extinguished. That is the ashes—or “earth.” Empedocles also attended to the question of what happens when we perceive something. How do we see a tree for instance. “Like everything else he believed that the eyes too consist of earth, air, fire, and water. So the “earth” in my eye perceives what is of the earth in my surroundings, the “air” perceives what is of the air, the “fire” perceives what is of fire, and the “water” what is of water. Had my eyes lacked any of the four substances, I would not have seen all of nature.”

Hundred years later The studies of these scientists were further carried out by Luecippus, known as the father of Atomic Theory, which his student Democritus professed, he would exlain that on a beach when one looks at sand it appears to be solid, but when one raches near and picks some in hand, one finds out that sand in itself is composed of little particles i.e grains, hence he deduced that all material has to be composed of tiny particles, which Democritus in the footsteps of his teacher termed as Atom. Democritus in agreement with his predecessors thought that transformations in nature could not be associated with things actually changing. He therefore assumed that everything was built up of tiny invisible blocks each of which was eternal and immutable called atoms, and the characteristic of combining was inherent in atoms. The idea that atoms are in constant motion also dates back to the age of Democritus, interestingly he believed there were infinite types of atoms, what we know today to be wrong, having studied periodic table of elements. (460-370 BC).

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Democritus marks the end of Greek Natural philosophy momentarily, and philosophers and historians were now trailing moral philosophy and what forces dictated the course of history. Among the Greeks notable of the times were Socrates and Plato, who were more concerned with man and his place in the scheme of universe than to find natural explanations for the transformations in Nature. Thus Plato believed true knowledge comes from within and that the faculty of reason was his favorite rather than relying on sensory perceptions.

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This changed when Aristotle came into the scene, whose father was a respected physician, took admission in Plato’s academy, he indeed reasoned over moral issue, yet he was more inclined towards natural philosophy or what we call science. Not only the last philosopher from Greek he is seen as Europe’s first great biologist who was the first to employ a systematic approach to classification of living thing. Aristotle established that the first step to understand natural phenomena is to observe with your sensory perceptions, and then systematically deduce natural explanations for such transformations. Most of the modern day scientific terminology was given by Aristotle. It wasn’t until 19th century that the name science was specifically adopted for the empirical approach where experimental data is considered to be the only true source of knowledge.

To sum up, the historical perspective was being discussed, so as to see a clear picture of how knowledge passes on from one generation to another, and how complexity of knowledge fattens over time. It speaks to us how knowledge we take for granted today was once unknown to our forefathers, and how trivial their inquiries were, but when one reflects, one realizes the fact that the universe never fails to perpetually entangle us in interesting inquiries, the sea of knowledge is tremendous, there is still a lot to understand about the workings of nature, now that we know that once indestructible atom is now made up of sub-atomic particles and that everything has dual nature i.e particle and wave. On the contrary the science of today is not too philosophical, and thus the pursuit of knowledge is not driven by an interest in understanding ourselves and our surrounding but more about getting things done, to enable technologies for governments and corporations. Furthermore empiricism and materialism has stripped science of imaginative approaches, reasoning as a source of knowledge is constantly being discouraged, with fields such as psychology and theoretical physics losing their credibility. As in opinion, science has to accommodate ideas and philosophies that are crucial to a meaningful human life. If one fails to design an experiment to prove an idea, it does not necessarily mean the idea is wrong or the knowledge lacks credibility, on the contrary any experimental design to ascertain certain facts shall always suffer imperfection, as history suggests, there are always factors unknown to us at any given time. Historical perspective on how sciences transmitted throughout history to our time, shall be discussed in a separate article with emphasis on Arabs and the Europeans under the renaissance.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Muhammad Atif

    Informative

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