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Insights History's First Science Experiments - Comments

  1. Feb 2, 2017 #1


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  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2017 #2
    Does anyone else have examples of early experiments?
  4. Feb 7, 2017 #3


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    Aside from this list?


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

    Last edited: Feb 7, 2017
  5. Feb 8, 2017 #4
    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.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2017
  6. Feb 8, 2017 #5
    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.


    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.
  7. Feb 11, 2017 #6
    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.

    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).

    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.

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

    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.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2017
  8. Feb 11, 2017 #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.
  9. Feb 11, 2017 #8
    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.
  10. Feb 11, 2017 #9
    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.
  11. Aug 27, 2017 #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?
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