Sunday 17 July 2016

Triumphs Of Greek Science

Science is an attempt to understand and explain the world around us. The scientific method - a combination of observation, hypotheses, experiment and theory - was established in 17th century. But its roots lie with the ancient Greeks who were among the first to think scientifically and for plausible answers to life's mysteries through logic and observation.

Some of the scientific ideas of Greeks had been considered by earlier civilizations. In ancient India and China philosophers thought about world rationally, explaining causes of the events by "laws" rather than myth. In Mesopotamia, the Babylonians and Egyptians had writing systems and calendars and managed impressive construction projects that required exact measurements.

Egyptian Constellation 

Thales of Miletus(c.624-c.526 BC) suggested that all solids, liquids and gases are ultimately made of water. Anaximenes(585-525 BC) suggested that air was fundamental substance while Heraclitus(535-475 BC) thought that fire might fit the role. The theory of Four elements was put forward by Empedocles(490-430 BC) and explained many common phenomena terms of  movement and interaction of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

Clay Tablet

This clay tablet was left at a temple, and was dedicated to god of healing, Asclepius, from someone who believed their foot to have been heal through traditional rather than scientific medicine. Leucippus(Born c.480 BC) and his student Democritus(Born c.460 BC) suggested that matter is made up of tiny, indivisible particles separated by empty space.

Pythagoras(c.580 BC - c.500 BC) is best known for the mathematical law relating the sides of right-angled triangle. In fact the theorem was known long before Pythagoras and there is no evidence that he even used it. His reputation for Mathematical excellence comes from later Greek writers such as Aristotle.


Mathematics was also crucial to the scientific ideas of Plato(c.427 - c.347 BC), better known for his writings on ethics and politics. He suggested that each elements is made up of atoms with a particular idealized geometric shape. He supposed that real world was an imperfect reflection of an ideal, "theoretical" and mathematically perfect world.


Legend has it that the Greek god, Atlas was made by Zeus to hold up the universe as a punishment. This was the sort of idea that the Greek thinkers began to question, with their rational,scientific investigations and theories. Philosophers in ancient civilizations of India and China also employed reason and observation in their attempts to understand the world. 


Aristotle(384 - 322 BC) a pupil of Plato reversed his teacher's idea about the role of mathematics. He maintained that truth was to be found only in reality - an idea known as empiricism. He wrote on subjects like botany, zoology, astronomy, anatomy and physics. Using logic and observation both Plato and Aristotle deduced many previously unknown scientific facts. For example they proved Earth is round and not flat.

Archimedes(c.287 - c.212 BC) was a brilliant theoretical mathematician, but also a great engineer and inventor. Further developments were made in institutions such as the museum and library at Alexandria. Competition between centers of learning led to further innovations and the development of science.

Hippocrates(c.460 - 370 BC), a physician promoted a rational scientific approach to medicine, rejecting traditional temple medicine theories about illness. Even today, the ethical "contract" between a doctor and a patient is known as Hippocratic Oath. It is preserved on papyri like this from 3rd century Egypt.

Hippocratic Oath   

The ideas of Greek natural philosophers passed to Arab scholars. In particular Arabs translated the works of Aristotle into Arabic. Great Arabic scholars such as Avicenna and Averroes who extended classical Greek thinking and added their own ideas and observations. 

Mappa Mundi

Geographical knowledge was revived with maps of the world(Mappa Mundi) This 11th century example is from Winchester. Aristotle's flawed theories were accepted as facts by the Catholic Church in Europe, which dramatically became set back for scientific progress.  

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