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History of Science to be re-written?

  1. Jun 10, 2007 #1
    History of Science....to be re-written?


    Found this on Wikipedia while reading bunch of articles. It amazes me that many theories and ideas that we *Claim* to have been recent discoveries (i.e. 1400AD-late 1800's) seem to have been discovered in other parts of the world, especially India and China... Seems like the more we discover other cultures, the more interesting things we find...
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  3. Jun 10, 2007 #2


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    "The sun is stationed for all time, in the middle of the day. [...] Of the sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising."

    Sorry, this might be poetic, but it certainly isn't scientific. As much of the puroprted "results" show themselves to be on closer examination.
  4. Jun 10, 2007 #3
    yeah.. india was ONCE among the top contenders for the post of technology GURU, but now we people really suck at it.
  5. Jun 10, 2007 #4


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    IMO, wikipedia can be very misleading and biased, especially in many India related articles. The article quoted here also involves a lot of interpretation, such as the one arildno pointed out. Also, notice that there are very few sources which are cited for most of the claims in the wikipedia article (such as the diff calculus and rolle's theorem claim, among others). I would be exteremely skeptical of most of those claims in that article.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2007
  6. Jun 10, 2007 #5

    Chris Hillman

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    Wuz we scooped? Maybe not.

    Restating what siddharth said in my own words:

    I would be very cautious about accepting uncritically what you read in the Wikipedia, particularly if you haven't verified everything from a printed encyclopedia. (And who, I ask, wants an encyclopedia which can't be used without verifying everything someplace else? We do, apparently, even though we know or ought to know better :grumpy: I include myself in this criticism since I've cited WP articles myself here from time to time, even though I know very well how unreliable is "this thing often called an encyclopedia", to paraphrase the disaffected cofounder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger.)

    In particular, the article you cited, and related articles in WP, have (at times, in various versions) suffered from a pronounced "patriotic bias", or what in WP they call "POV pushing", which mars their value for students, and also in my view does a disservice to those who wish the real achievements of Indian civilization before the colonial era were better known in "the West". The current version as I write http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Science_and_technology_in_ancient_India&oldid=133749930 is better than some past versions, but some of the linked articles have at times contained such misinformation as the claim that ancient Indian "physicists" possesed the theory of relativity. (Scare quotes suggest that applying this term to pre-Newtonian "physicists" in any nation is problematic and potentially misleading.) Unfortunately, there are some individuals on the web who tend to overstate the achievements of "Vedic science" to an embarrasing extent.

    There are even more contentious "patriotic" articles in the WP which tend to overstate the technological achievements of other ancient civilizations, so this fits a broad (and deplorable) pattern at WP. And speaking of "patriotic" POV-pushing, one might note an internal struggle between Teslamaniacs, over whether Telsa was "Serbian" or not. The common theme here is that the verifiable, noncontroversial roster of achievements of Indian civilization, Persian civilization, and for that matter, of Nikola Tesla, are all so impressive that I can't help thinking that insistence on endlessly repeating such over-the-top exaggerations represent some kind of monomaniacal obsession.

    Another recent claim which received much uncritical coverage in the news media was that quasicrystals
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A6582675 were "known" to the Persians c. 1450 http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070224/mathtrek.asp
    Don't get me wrong--- I think the observation of apparent almost periodic tilings as decorative art in the Darb-i Imam shrine is interesting, in fact I wish I could go back in time and ask exactly how they came up with that pattern, because they might have discovered an actual mathematical rule which really does produce almost periodic tilings, and they might even have proven that their construction works, and if so that would be a very remarkable discovery indeed in the history of mathematics. But I suspect that it's more likely that some geometric tinkerer discovered an aesthetically pleasing pattern without quite having an actual rule, much less mathematical understanding at the level of Conway and Penrose in the very early days of the "modern" theory of almost periodic tilings.

    Don't misunderstand--- this stuff doesn't require a huge amount of machinery, and we know that people were thinking about mathematics in that time and place, so it is certainly entirely possible that some ancient Persian did have a proof of some theorems about "quasicrystals". I am simply saying that I would hesitate to infer this from a wall decoration, however impressive.)

    My objections to the press coverage would have been moot if reporters had been more careful to sprinkle their stories with "perhaps" and "possible". And I am disposed to chide those American reporters who passed up an opportunity to point out to their readers that ancient Persia became modern Iran, which some Americans seem to assume must be a barbaric place indeed :wink:

    Terminological note: a tiling of [itex]E^d[/itex] can be said to periodic, with period [itex]\vec{p}[/itex], if it is invariant under translation by [itex]\vec{p}[/itex]. It is almost periodic if given any [itex]\varepsilon > 0[/itex], one can find translation vectors such that the translated tiling agrees with the original over, roughly speaking, a fraction [itex]1- \varepsilon[/itex] of [itex]E^d[/itex] by volume. Exercise: make a photocopy of a Penrose tiling pattern on white paper, then another on a transparent sheet of plastic. Mark one vertex on the paper copy as "the origin". Try sliding one over the other (without rotation) until you see "almost agreement". Write down the translation vector as an integer vector in [itex]E^5[/itex], using the five edge directions which occur in the original tiling. Repeat. Try to find some longer vectors? What do you notice about the integer coefficients? :smile: What do you notice happens as you let the length of your translation vectors vectors grow?

    Question: in the Age of Wikipedia, is critical thinking an endangered skill? Is the very notion of scholarly research itself endangered by the universal sloppiness which some critics feel that Wikipedia and other aspects of Web 2.0 tends to encourage?
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2007
  7. Jun 10, 2007 #6


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    How closely did you read the article? You didn't give any specific examples, but as impressive as what they knew is, few (if any) of the scientific theories are the same as current theories. They are essentially just undeveloped ideas, for example the idea that the sun may be a star. It was almost pure conjecture at the time - there was no real evidence to support it.
  8. Jun 10, 2007 #7


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    I might have an explanation for why this happens.

    Historically speaking, advancements have been regionalized, and technology was kept as local as possible. China might have gun powder, India has a good number system, Arabia might have architectural designs, and French would have crossbows. A lot of these technological advancements were kept secret, and the only way to learn technology from other countries was to acquire new devices and reverse engineer them.

    Things changed when colonization became popular. Suddenly technologies native to England did not stay in England. The English would take these technologies with them when they went to India or Australia or Canada. The French would do the same, the Belgians would do the same, and so forth. What this does is educate the world, and the country spreading this information is the one that gets the credit.

    Just take an example of something. Suppose the Chinese invented widgets in the year 1000BC, and the English came up with the exact same design for widgets in the year 500AD. Later on, England spreads this technology around the world through colonization and wars. This technology leaks out of England, is spread to France, Germany, Russia, the middle east, Africa, North America, and Australia. Eventually the whole world understands widgets, and the knowledge mostly came either directly or indirectly from England, so England gets the credit for that discovery.

    Pasta is a good example of this happening. China had noodles way before Italy did, but if you ask a 5 year old white kid which country invented noodles, the response is probably Italy. The kid is probably more familiar with Italian cooking than with Chinese cooking, so he gives credit to Italy instead of China.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2007
  9. Jun 10, 2007 #8
    Well... I just came upon that article as I was reading some other stuff.

    But, it does seem like some of the stuff that has been said is probably true for example, days in a year, distance of earth to sun, etc... I'm not saying that ALL the stuff is true but, I don't think that ALL of it is false either!

    Other interesting cultures to look at are the Chinese, Mayans, Egyptians, etc...
  10. Jun 10, 2007 #9

    Chris Hillman

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    Speculations about secret history

    Intriguing suggestion, Shawn! Few if any of the innovations we were discussing were military, but it's true that some early Italian mathematicians, e.g. Ferrari, seem to have supplemented their incomes by basically performing party tricks with roots of polynomials or number theory :wink: and hence tried to ensure that their discoveries were known only to their own disciples. But these "secrets" inevitably leaked, among other places in a famous book by Cardano!

    One of the most interesting things about intellectuals in some of the cultures we mentioned was that they were much closer to what we think of today as scholars (writing books for general dissemination, exchanging letters) than the early Italian mathematicians or even Medieval monks. Which is one reason why I am sceptical of your suggestion. Still, we probably agree on this: the most interesting history is untold. But I suspect that this "secret history" is most likely lost forever.

    My point was that we need to be very cautious about infering too much from the evidence available, which is rarely sufficient to draw any firm conclusions.

    Cornellian, about the Egyptians: they were quite pragmatic and very conservative, not technological innovators. Still, over thousands of years of continuous history, they achieved some impressive architectural feats. I have no doubt their methods were clever but more pragmatic than scientific as we would understand that term today.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2007
  11. Jun 10, 2007 #10
    Yea, all good points made here but, with the example of gunpowder or noodles... I think that we don't give credit to the Chinese. Well...maybe now we do since we know but, up until recently that was not the case.

    Egyptians may not have "Technically" discovered theories but, it is still amazing because they would've had to use some math to build enormous structures like the pyramids. And same goes for early Romans and Greeks... Many ideas that seem to have been discovered during middle ages could've been actually discovered long time ago by other cultures (Mayans, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks, etc, etc...)
  12. Jun 11, 2007 #11

    Chris Hillman

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    Suggest a good book

    Actually, that is not clear. Imhotep seems to have been an intriguing figure, and probably a clever fellow indeed, but I have seen no evidence suggesting he used much mathematics, despite what you can find at cranky "pyramidology" websites. Please note that up above I was trying to caution you against rushing to conclusions.

    Case in point. Let me suggest an old but still excellent introduction: L. Sprague De Camp, The Ancient Engineers, Doubleday, 1963.

    OK, I think I've said all I have to say here :wink:
  13. Jun 11, 2007 #12
    "Vishnupurana mentions similar concept of the General Theory of Relativity. It mentions three basic factors: Purush (similar to mass or energy), Prakruti (similar to space) and time. It says that time starts (and univese begins ) when Purush unites with Prakuti and time ends (Universe ends) when Purush is isolated from Prakruti. This is similar to bending time and space when mass is present."

    Man is that absurd. Are they reaching or what?
  14. Jun 11, 2007 #13


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  15. Jun 11, 2007 #14

    so why don't you dispute the neutrality of the article then? there's an option for that & you can explain why.
  16. Jun 11, 2007 #15
    Well.... the evidence lies not in books but all you have to do is look at the structures they built! I would be interested in knowing how one acomplishes all those tasks without the use of basic math. Yes, you can probably argue that since, he was a clever fellow, he may have just used practical knowledge! But, one thing that we should consider is that Mesopotamia at the time had vast knowledge of Engineering, Science, & Math, which would've been available to the Egyptians... They also had contact with the Eastern countries (China & India) so, transfer of knowledge would've been possible.
  17. Jun 11, 2007 #16
    The Atomism/Light section under the physics part seem more like philosophy than science.
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