Monday, October 13, 2008

Two book recommendations from Bruce

Steven Shapin
The University of Chicago Press

This is the book that I mentioned in the Colloquium as an excellent small summary of the origins of western (group) science. This is NOT about the origins of science - scientific thinking has been around since the first human decided to explore the Earth in a rational way. But notice he calls it the Scientific REVOLUTION - when science suddenly explodes. His basic thesis is as I explained, that the Christian ethos suggested (a) a rational creator, whose works (b) could be understood and thus be revered as a source of "natural religion" beyond the Bible, but only if humans (c) studied in groups to overcome human fallibility in understanding God's works. Thus this both sent humans to the natural world to study it (with the assurance of ultimate success) but made them do it as groups.

To appreciate how much "science" existed in the rest of the world (although sometimes the author confuses technology with science) consult

Lost Discoveries : The Ancient Roots of Modern Science--from the Babylonians to the Maya *
Dick Teresi
Simon & Schuster

The collection of knowledge that is presented here is vast and fascinating - but this knowledge never pulled together in an explosive way the way knowledge of the natural world did in western Europe. By example, the Chinese had fossils figured out millennia ago - but it took a world view focused on the linear history of the Bible to result in a linear interpretation of Earth history & thus the importance of fossils as both biostratigraphic markers, and one of the strongest lines of evidence for evolution in the sense of the unrolling of increasing biological complexity through time. To the Chinese, fossils were just past life. Nothing more.


* - Book recommendations link to, not because we endorse this company, or get any kind of kickback, but because the site contains a useful collection of both editorial and reader reviews.

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