History's First Science Experiments - Comments

In summary, early science was focused on understanding the universe and how it worked. There was some disunity in the early development of science, but eventually the Greeks developed a sophisticated scientific method.
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klotza
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History's First Science Experiments

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Aside from this list?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_scientific_experiments

I think the issue here is what is considered a "scientific experiment".

It is not possible to give an exact answer to this question. When did Science begin? When did Physics begin? It began whenever and wherever Man began to try to solve the problems of his existence and how best he could improve his situation in life. The first solutions were probably no more than mere simple devices found suitable and useful and these had to do for a beginning; the discovery for instance, that a log could be rolled and perhaps cut to make a wheel. This however was not physics as we understand it today. However gradually these devices became to be compared, generalised, rationalised, simplified, related to one another and integrated albeit in a rough and awkward way and often myths would be formulated to explain phenomena.

We know that the Egyptians built the pyramids about 2600 B.C. and clearly they must have had considerable knowledge of Dynamics and Mechanics. It is difficult to see how they could have achieved completion of such an immense project without performing some kind of experimental work to ensure that the materials they used were suitable and certainly their knowledge of Mathematics was more than adequate for the task. The Egyptians were perhaps more technicians, than scientists, who seek explanations for what they observe, and perform experiments to verify what they think may be the case.

We must wait until the Ancient Greeks 600-200 B.C. before we can see the first glimmers of Science as we know it. They speculated in a logical way as to how the universe was put together but they did not carry out experiments in an effort to prove their points or distinguish between Hypotheses, ie provisional explanations, which is the essence of Scientific Method.

http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae56.cfm
 
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I'm not sure what this article has to do with science. It seems to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek retelling of some ancient stories or myths.

On the other hand, we do know that ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes did have a sophisticated scientific method. The intellectually superior Greeks believed in a logical universe, and attempted to describe this universe using mathematics, as opposed to a universe operated according to the whim of a supposed deity. Of course the Greeks were only at the beginning of science, so their methods were not always as well developed as ours.

Experiment is certainly a vital part of science. But the essential difference between the Greeks and other ancient people is that the Greeks attempted to explain their observations and experiments within a logical framework, as described by Aristotle.

The idea that Greeks, including Aristotle, were armchair philosophers who did not perform experiments, is based on ignorance. For example, in his biological work, Aristotle describes experiments with the development of birds, such as determining the correlation between the size of their egg and the rate of their development.

Archimedes describes mechanical experimentation in his work. His approach was to perform experiments to improve theory, which was expressed in a mathematical framework. Unfortunately, we only have fragments of his great work.

One can contrast the Greek approach with the childish speculations of religious writers during the Middle Ages. Following the breakup of the centralized anti-scientific religious authority in Europe, we picked up where the Greeks left off.

To sum up, our scientific method began with the Greeks. It is a very great error to confuse the methods of the Greeks, which were carried on and developed during the Hellenistic period, but then crushed by religious authorities, with the disorganized and superstitious ideas of other ancient peoples. The Greeks exalted human reason, they had boundless curiosity, they fostered free discussion and debate, and they emphasized the use of mathematics, even up to the level of rudimentary calculus as found in the works of Archimedes. Perhaps we should focus on their work, if we want to explore the beginnings of experimental science.
 
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My view tends to be closer to that of Stephen Jay Gould in ascribing the domains of religion and science to non-overlapping magisteria. Questions about what God is like, the spiritual nature of the human soul (and if there is one), and other ideas regarding the "supernatural" are outside the domain of science.

See:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

One may or may not have a historical interest in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al regarding whether Yahweh or Ba'al is the one true God, but taking the view of Gould (and the National Academy of Sciences) would place questions of this nature in the domain of the supernatural (religion) and outside the realm of natural science.

As in most subjects, there may be some debate and discussion regarding the precise boundaries and whether different magisteria are indeed non-overlapping. However, most would agree that arbitrating between deities and fundamentally differing religious claims (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) is outside the magisterium of experimental science.
 
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  • #6
David Reeves said:
I'm not sure what this article has to do with science. It seems to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek retelling of some ancient stories or myths.

Agreed. Including science in the title here is misleading if it is supposed to be serious. And, I don't mean to be overly-critical of your response, but if we're going for accuracy I have a few comments.

David Reeves said:
On the other hand, we do know that ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes did have a sophisticated scientific method.

I think this is misleading. As far as I know Aristotle's observations were casual and, although there is little question that Archimedes was the most noteworthy figure in antiquity as far as the history of science is concerned, I haven't seen any evidence in his extant work that shows that he performed experiments in the modern sense of the term. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how he came to some of his conclusions without experiment, but I haven't seen explicit examples. My main source is Heath's book The Works of Archimedes (though I admit I have not yet read the whole thing).

David Reeves said:
The idea that Greeks, including Aristotle, were armchair philosophers who did not perform experiments, is based on ignorance. For example, in his biological work, Aristotle describes experiments with the development of birds, such as determining the correlation between the size of their egg and the rate of their development.

I admit that I haven't actually read Aristotle's biological works, but again, Aristotle's observations were casual and all of his claims were embedded in teleology which clearly has no place in modern science.

David Reeves said:
Archimedes describes mechanical experimentation in his work. His approach was to perform experiments to improve theory, which was expressed in a mathematical framework. Unfortunately, we only have fragments of his great work.

Which fragments are you referring to? I'd like to read them.

David Reeves said:
To sum up, our scientific method began with the Greeks. It is a very great error to confuse the methods of the Greeks, which were carried on and developed during the Hellenistic period, but then crushed by religious authorities, with the disorganized and superstitious ideas of other ancient peoples. The Greeks exalted human reason, they had boundless curiosity, they fostered free discussion and debate, and they emphasized the use of mathematics, even up to the level of rudimentary calculus as found in the works of Archimedes. Perhaps we should focus on their work, if we want to explore the beginnings of experimental science.

Saying that religious authorities 'crushed' the development of science is an oversimplification that ignores other cultural factors for science's decline. Yes, political and religious figures did contribute to the decline of 'science' in the ancient and early medieval period (for example, when Justinian closed Plato's Academy), but then science moved to the Arab world during the middle ages, and, let's not forget, that the authorities in the Arab world were Muslim. The relationship of science to Christianity is also more complicated than that of suppression of ideas.

I would be very interested to learn more about early experiments and, if any extant works actually exist from the ancient world, I would put money on that they would be found in works of the Hellenistic era. I would speculate that the earliest experiments involving measurement would be in the field of optics or astronomy unless there is some unknown (to me at least) work of Archimedes that actually shows he took measurements. The Greeks made incredible advancements during this time given the extent of superstitious thinking that permeated the melting pot of Alexander's fallen empire, but let's not over-romanticize it.

Eratosthenes's and Aristarchus's measurements for size of the earth, sun, and moon are all interesting examples and their methods were sound. However, unlike modern science, they did not attempt to quantify their uncertainty which, I would guess, would also be missing from any other examples of controlled experimentation from this time (if they exist). I don't think uncertainty started being considered rigorously until the 18th century.
 
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  • #7
I'm not a scientist.

Isn't a scientific experiment something where you have an idea and you construct something that helps you to test that idea and based on that you refine the apparatus and hence the conclusions?

If it's something like that isn't sticking a stick in the ground and marking where the sun casts a shadow over a long period of time an experiment.

That then develops to where a very sophisticated and accurate apparatus is developed that helps in things like agriculture.

again if so, isn't the existence of ancient apparatus like that an indication that at some time before the surviving apparatus was made someone thought of sticking a stick in the ground?

I understand the Mayans had a highly developed Mathematics and knew about 0 while the Greeks/Romans did not.
 
  • #8
john101 said:
Isn't a scientific experiment something where you have an idea and you construct something that helps you to test that idea and based on that you refine the apparatus and hence the conclusions?

If it's something like that isn't sticking a stick in the ground and marking where the sun casts a shadow over a long period of time an experiment.

The so-called demarcation criterion which separates science from non science is not as easy to define as one might expect. I think that your example of the gnomon is a good candidate for being one of the first types of scientific activity, but I, at least, had a different criteria in mind when I first read the insight for what would count as an experiment: something that involves both the 'artificial' arrangement of nature and quantitative measurements.
 
  • #9
brainpushups said:
Agreed. Including science in the title here is misleading if it is supposed to be serious. And, I don't mean to be overly-critical of your response, but if we're going for accuracy I have a few comments.

Hi brainpushups. Thanks for your questions. I am not a historian of science. I am relying on my memory of books and articles I have read over the years, on the subject of Greek math and science. My statements are true as far as I know, but I welcome any corrections.

I think history speaks for itself regarding the conflict between religion and science. Unfortunately this conflict still goes on in many countries. I don't want to get into a discussion of any specific religion.

I recommend the books and videos of Richard Dawkins on this subject.
 
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  • #10
According to few sources, Indians knew about zero before other civilizations around the world. Aryabhatta is credited for the invention of zero. Is that whole of the truth or is there more or less to it?
 
  • #11
Aufbauwerk 2045 said:
Hi brainpushups. Thanks for your questions. I am not a historian of science. I am relying on my memory of books and articles I have read over the years, on the subject of Greek math and science. My statements are true as far as I know, but I welcome any corrections.

I think history speaks for itself regarding the conflict between religion and science. Unfortunately this conflict still goes on in many countries. I don't want to get into a discussion of any specific religion.

I recommend the books and videos of Richard Dawkins on this subject.

Update: I no longer recommend Richard Dawkins. I defend the scientific method but I disagree with people like Richard Dawkins who, if I understand him correctly, says that religion and science are somehow incompatible. I think such people are abusing science in order to promote their atheist world view.
 
  • #12
Dr. Courtney said:
My view tends to be closer to that of Stephen Jay Gould in ascribing the domains of religion and science to non-overlapping magisteria. Questions about what God is like, the spiritual nature of the human soul (and if there is one), and other ideas regarding the "supernatural" are outside the domain of science.

See:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

One may or may not have a historical interest in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al regarding whether Yahweh or Ba'al is the one true God, but taking the view of Gould (and the National Academy of Sciences) would place questions of this nature in the domain of the supernatural (religion) and outside the realm of natural science.

As in most subjects, there may be some debate and discussion regarding the precise boundaries and whether different magisteria are indeed non-overlapping. However, most would agree that arbitrating between deities and fundamentally differing religious claims (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc.) is outside the magisterium of experimental science.

I think experimental science may play a role when it comes to such things as carbon dating of relics, or medical studies of claimed miracles.

I was intrigued by the Wikipedia post you cited so I read Gould's article. I figure it's permitted to respond in this forum since you have already brought it up.

Gould writes "creationism based on biblical literalism makes little sense in either Catholicism or Judaism for neither religion maintains any extensive tradition for reading the Bible as literal truth rather than illuminating literature, based partly on metaphor and allegory."

Gould is not familiar with Christian tradition. For example, he mentions Galileo. During that time period, Cardinal Bellarmine stated that in general we should interpret scripture literally, unless there is a clear reason not to do so. He said that in that case, where there is an apparent conflict between scripture and science, we should proceed with great circumspection and say that we may have misunderstood scripture, rather than say that scripture is false. Note that he never said to deny science. But he also never said that the Bible should be treated as "illuminating literature" rather than as "literal truth." (See Koestler's The Sleepwalkers for some fascinating history about Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo.)

Concerning "Creationism" there is a difference between scientists who believe in "Intelligent Design" (which I think includes virtually every great European scientist until the 20th century) and "Young Earth Creationism" which takes the literal view of six days of creation. I wonder how the YEC people define "day" to describe a period before the sun and the planets were created?

"Evolution" is a somewhat ambiguous term. To some it implies the idea that the universe is totally materialist, that there is no creator, and that everything is random and without purpose. Others accept the scientific findings on evolution but believe in a creator who designed the universe to include evolution.

We are using science to probe the ultimate question about ourselves, involving our very consciousness. Are we nothing more than biological machines? Will science eventually explain everything about us, including our brains and all of our mental processes? Or will it reach a point where science admits it can't investigate any further, having reached some kind of "dark matter" and "dark energy" aspect of our minds which it is unable to explore?
 
  • #13
Aufbauwerk 2045 said:
I'm not sure what this article has to do with science. It seems to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek retelling of some ancient stories or myths.

On the other hand, we do know that ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes did have a sophisticated scientific method. The intellectually superior Greeks believed in a logical universe, and attempted to describe this universe using mathematics, as opposed to a universe operated according to the whim of a supposed deity. Of course the Greeks were only at the beginning of science, so their methods were not always as well developed as ours.

Experiment is certainly a vital part of science. But the essential difference between the Greeks and other ancient people is that the Greeks attempted to explain their observations and experiments within a logical framework, as described by Aristotle.

The idea that Greeks, including Aristotle, were armchair philosophers who did not perform experiments, is based on ignorance. For example, in his biological work, Aristotle describes experiments with the development of birds, such as determining the correlation between the size of their egg and the rate of their development.

Archimedes describes mechanical experimentation in his work. His approach was to perform experiments to improve theory, which was expressed in a mathematical framework. Unfortunately, we only have fragments of his great work.

One can contrast the Greek approach with the childish speculations of religious writers during the Middle Ages. Following the breakup of the centralized anti-scientific religious authority in Europe, we picked up where the Greeks left off.

To sum up, our scientific method began with the Greeks. It is a very great error to confuse the methods of the Greeks, which were carried on and developed during the Hellenistic period, but then crushed by religious authorities, with the disorganized and superstitious ideas of other ancient peoples. The Greeks exalted human reason, they had boundless curiosity, they fostered free discussion and debate, and they emphasized the use of mathematics, even up to the level of rudimentary calculus as found in the works of Archimedes. Perhaps we should focus on their work, if we want to explore the beginnings of experimental science.

I think my views here are rather simplistic. I used to get carried away with my admiration of the Greeks. But other ancient people did great things, for example the Sumerians and Babylonians. These ancient people certainly did a lot of experimental work in metallurgy and agriculture. We could also mention their civil engineering and their astronomy. They kept lots of records and did lots of calculations. I think it's fair to call them scientists and engineers.

As for the prophet Elijah, etc, the claim is that there was supernatural intervention of some kind, which to be fair means this was not a "scientific experiment." Unless of course one takes the approach that we can prove the supernatural by experiment. Maybe that is true, but I think it is not the standard view in our scientific method today.
 

Related to History's First Science Experiments - Comments

1. What is the significance of history's first science experiments?

History's first science experiments paved the way for modern scientific inquiry and understanding of the natural world. These experiments were crucial in developing the scientific method and laying the foundation for future discoveries and advancements in all fields of science.

2. Who were the pioneers of history's first science experiments?

Some of the pioneers of history's first science experiments include ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Pythagoras, as well as Islamic scholars like Alhazen and Ibn al-Haytham. These individuals made significant contributions to fields such as astronomy, physics, and biology through their experiments and observations.

3. What were some of the earliest science experiments recorded in history?

Some of the earliest science experiments recorded in history include Archimedes' experiments with buoyancy and density, Aristotle's studies on animal behavior, and Ibn al-Haytham's work on optics and the nature of light.

4. How did history's first science experiments impact modern scientific practices?

History's first science experiments laid the foundation for modern scientific practices by introducing the concept of systematic observation, experimentation, and the need for empirical evidence to support theories. These experiments also emphasized the importance of skepticism and critical thinking in the pursuit of knowledge.

5. What can we learn from studying history's first science experiments?

Studying history's first science experiments can teach us about the development of scientific thought and the progression of human understanding of the natural world. It can also inspire us to continue pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge and to approach problems with curiosity, experimentation, and evidence-based methods.

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