I can see it has taken me too long to put my thoughts above into a post. I apologise. It is still the lead up to Anzac Day, and I haven't had a chance to put together my sources and citations. If people grant me a little indulgence for that, then here we go.
Technology is the practical application of scientific knowledge.
I am sure someone will want to dispute this, but the technology comes from the Greek tekhnologia
, the systemic treatment of knowledge. That is literally what it means.
So, if technology is the practical application of scientific knowledge, is scientific knowledge something that happens on its own, or does it depend on some underlying intellectual structure?
I believe that a solid argument can be made for the following:
- The ancient Greeks developed the basis of scientific method
- Scientific method involves observation for the purpose of discerning the cause of an observed phenomenon
- This concept of causality underpinned Roman thinking
- This also led to an understanding of the importance of the taxonomy of knowledge, which was lacking in the East
- The principles of causality and taxonomy were the foundations of ongoing scientific development
I know I really ought to go through an elaborate proof of each of the above points, but many of them are generally accepted. For example, there is no argument that Aristotle in his Physics developed the idea that observation led to an understanding of underlying causes. It doesn't really matter that some of his suppositions as to cause were wrong, because the process of scientific observation
which he championed eventually led to better understandings.
This latter statement is very important. The Greeks, and later the Romans, embraced disputation as a means by which the truth could be reached. This process of disputation involved an ongoing process of questioning and testing scientific hypotheses. Aristotle didn't have to be right, provided his methods were right. That's what scientific advancement is all about.
As for the Romans, they readily embraced and developed this in a wide range of subjects. The one with which I am most familiar is Roman law. The Roman legal process used a formula which applied a rigorous logical process to resolving legal disputes. This can be seen int he following formula:
Let Titius be judge. If it results that the plaintiff had given the thing under discussion to the defendant as guarantee for an owed sum, and this sum has been paid or the debt otherwise satisfied, or it depended on the defendant that it was not, and the thing was not returned to the plaintiff, condemn the defendant to pay as much as the matter will represent; otherwise, absolve him.
The formula sets out a logical process of enquiry which the judge had to follow. This was just the way Romans thought. Although argument by example is usually a poor way to develop a case, it is useful in this sense because it shows the importance of causality in Roman thought.
The other issue here is taxonomy. The Romans were endlessly seeking to classify things, to divide them into categories by distinguishing between fundamental characteristics. This is also important. It is intrinsic to understanding, and to scientific theory. Again, let me use an example from Roman law, but this time one with scientific significance.
It was an important element of property law to know what property might be subject to private ownership, and how it came into ownership (what Romans called modes of acquisition). An animal, for example, is considered to be the property of a person if it is within his control. Thus domesticated animals are the property of the person who controls them, or on whose property they may be contained. What then of wild animals that may be on someone's property? The Roman answer was to classify wild animals into two categories, those that roamed, and those that had an animus revertendi
, i.e. it was in their nature to return to particular place, such as bees, or nesting birds. The latter were the property of the owner of the land to which they returned, The former were the property of anyone who could take control of them, even on another's land.
This whole process of enquiry was extraordinarily logical, and embraced both scientific method and taxonomy to arrive at the final result.
But still some people will argue that there was a Dark Age in Europe and that Roman technology had no bearing on later ages. The response to that is twofold. First, even if the Dark Ages did lead to a scientific hiatus, the basis of scientific knowledge was not lost, and when ultimately led to the furtherance of science in the West, which was absent in the East. Thus even if we accept there was a Dark Age, once that scientific knowledge was recovered, it still was the foundation for later discoveries. The argument is not that the West had better technology than the East, but that it had better scientific knowledge.
Secondly, there is a strong argument that the Dark Ages, if they did exist, are very much overstated. Remember, the Eastern Roman Empire continued after the fall of Rome. This wasn't Greece, but the Eastern Roman Empire, and they retained the scientific legacy of the earlier Roman Empire. That is why Constantinople was such a wonder to all those who visited it. This is often overlooked in many arguments about the Dark Ages.
But were the Dark Ages as dark as everyone believes? Popularly the Dark Ages are supposed to encompass a period from the 5th century AD to sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries. Yet within this period, we now know that there were surprising examples of scientific knowledge being developed and applied. For example, Isidore of Seville, who lived from 560 AD to 4 April 636 AD wrote the first encyclopaedia during this period - massive work of 448 chapters in 20 books.
In Germany at the court of Charlemagne, Alcuin of York (c735 AD to 19 May 804 AD) was busy translating the works of the classical Greeks. And 11th century Sicily was able to translate these same texts because they were available from Byzantium itself, as well as from Byzantine controlled territory in southern Italy, such as Naples.
The precursors to all of this stem from, or were in place by the time of the early Roman Empire, but seem absent from the Han.
So, there it is. I welcome your comments.
Edited by William O'Chee, 21 April 2011 - 08:43 AM.