A Long Long Time Ago…
In a different century I published a thing called ‘THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF SCIENCE: REVISED, UPDATED AND GENERALLY REFURBISHED’ in The Mentor, an Australian fanzine. It is the work of a teenager, and one who read too many books at that. It is essentially an attempt at a science version of 1066 And All That. It is, needless to say, of limited quality. And since it has been ‘published’ (I use the term loosely) on the web — when some pdfs of The Mentor were uploaded some time in the past — I thought I might as well plonk it here. Therefore, in all its undergraduate (or was it high school?) glory, unedited, unmodified except in the conversion to html (I’ll stop making excuses in a moment) I present…
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF SCIENCE:
REVISED, UPDATED AND GENERALLY REFURBISHED.
Introduction: An understanding of the processes of science is vital in today’s world. The practical results of the scientific method permeate our everyday life. From the laser in your CD player to the Greenhouse Layer and the Ozone Effect, science is everywhere. Unavoidable and all-pervasive. And any understanding of science must begin with a knowledge of its origins, its founders and its history. Such information has not been available in a concise yet exhaustively researched work. Until now.
The Origins of Science: In prehistoric times, there was no science. The people lived from day to day, satisfied that their crops died, their children died and their parents died because the Gods so decreed. They hunted and gathered and chipped their flints, but without any systematic directing of their efforts. This was, of course, how the dinosaurs became extinct (although they are not thought to have chipped flints). Time passed, many aeons of chipping and ploughing and being recklessly unsystematic. Brainy people with pen-holders in their breast pockets (or stylus-holders, as they were then known), wandered around, wondering why they had nothing to do.
The Babylonians came, and the Assyrians and the Hittites, the Lamnites, and the Stalactites. And then there were the Egyptians and their unhealthy and rather unscientific obsession with death and cats. At that time, the Earth was well known to be a dinner plate balanced on an elephant’s trunk. The sun was a golden chariot, the moon a vast pearl, and there was a titanic book full of maps holding up the sky – a sky which was dotted at night with the campfires of celestial gypsies.
Then somebody invented science and it all came crashing down, gypsies, campfires, marshmallows and all.
Greek Science: As is widely known, science was invented by the ancient Greeks – indeed, one of their Gods invented zoos. And triangles, for example, were invented by Pythagoras (500 to 570 BC), when in a flash of inspiration he added an extra point. Contrary to popular belief, however, the so-called Pythagorean Theorem was first constructed, not by Pythagoras, but by a young Latin pupil of his called Hypotenus. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Even less well known – indeed, only recently discovered scrawled in spray-fresco on a newly unearthed temple wall – is Pythagoras’s Other Theorem (POT). Quite simply, it states:
A profound statement indeed, followed by:
Pythagoras woz ere.
Upon decoding (it is suggested that Pythagoras wrote left-handed in a mirror with his eyes closed while inebriated to encode the meaning so only his closest disciples [and perhaps not even they] would be able to read it), it is hoped that some universal truth will be revealed.
That or a truly juicy bite of Classical Greek gossip. (Recent comments that the message reads, ‘Eudoxus is a centaur’s nether regions,’ are completely unfounded.)
Chief amongst the Ancient Greeks Who Were Not Pythagoras (AGWWNP) were Aristotle (322-384 BC), who invented the Universe, Euclid (circa. 300 BC), who invented axioms, and Archimedes (212-287 BC), who invented baths.
Aristotle divided the world into four elements – dirt, fire, air and water – from which everything else was constructed. Slime and snails and puppy-dog’s tails were not to come for several hundreds of years. These four elements were classified as ‘Earthly,’ as they were found on the Earth.
Further, Aristotle thought that our world, the Earth, was a sphere in the middle of everything around which everything that was not the Earth revolved. This was somewhat unfortunate for the Earth, as it had previously been flat and separated from everything else by the Pillars of Hercules, and therefore had rather a lot of reorganising to do.
Aristotle also invented the Aether, which was a fifth element, the stuff of the celestial spheres, and which in addition tended to put people to sleep. He then invented logic, which would seem at odds with his previous assertions. Before Aristotle, people had leapt out windows to wash their feet and climbed mountains by digging holes, lacking as they were in logic. After Aristotle, they could fall back on the law of the ‘Excluded Middle’ (not a diet aid), which stated that a proposition was either wrong or right but not neither. This was unpopular with politicians, who in retaliation formulated the law of ‘Either, Neither or Both,’ (ENOB), which was rather more flexible.
Lastly, Aristotle invented Aristotelianism. However, this is not such a great achievement, as whatever he invented would have been called Aristotelianism, since his name was Aristotle.
Euclid invented the axiom (not a woodcutter’s tool), which, in conjunction with postulates, paradigms and anagrams, formed the basis of his geometry (known, predictably, as ‘Euclidean Geometry’). This geometry involved impressive words like congruence, ellipsoid and polygon, which were rearranged according to a rigid set of rules to prove things. These things were then used to prove other things, which were then used to prove other things… etcetera. The endlessness of this process has led certain historians to suggest – unfairly – that what Euclid really invented was a lifetime’s employment for himself.
The other important AGWWNP was Archimedes. Most famous for making the water in his bath fluctuate in level (and possibly, therefore, in purity), and for running naked through the streets yelling, “εμrεκα!” (“Eureka!” or “I’ve found it!” – though presumably it had been there all along), he also, along with his wife, invented the Archimedean Screw, involving the raising of, and the expulsion of fluid from, a cylinder.
Archimedes also invented π (pi), thus standardising the shape of circles, making them a great deal rounder in the process – a boon to anyone travelling by cart.
There is, unfortunately, a sad story to his death. Kneeling in the sand in the process of bequeathing the world Noughts & Crosses (Tic-Tac-Toe), Archimedes was approached by a newly invading Roman. He challenged the Roman to a game and promptly won. The Roman accused him of making the rules up as he went along (which indeed he was), and ran him through with a sword. A tragic end for a great man.
But Greek science does not end there! Not by any means. Forget not: Anaxagoras, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Eratosthenes (a disciple of Aphrodite) and Cellophanes (a disciple of Hermaphrodite), Hippocrates (who invented medicine), Hypocrites (who invented lawyers), etcetera, etcetera, all great men and women (though not both at the same time in most cases), all great scientists, great thinkers and all-around swell folks.