HPS100 - Week 2 - The Possibility of Science
So why should you study the history of science, what's in it for you. There's probably a lot of good answers, to that question, but the one i want to talk about today. Is that. Studying, history. Can help us. See things afresh. What i mean by that is. We can get used to things very very easily if something's always been there it's sort of hard to notice. And science is something that we've all. Lived with all of our lives. It's, been there it was there when you were born. It's probably, in the room with you right now actually i'm certain there's some, technological. Stuff in the room with you right now because i'm talking to you via, technology. Uh, a lot of people have technology, on their bodies or in their bodies. It's just kind of everywhere. So. That makes it hard to notice, it's hard to appreciate. And it's especially, hard to. Imagine, things being, different. So. We sort of get. Locked into, the things that have always been there and we're sort of cognitively. Unable, unless we make the effort. To, picture things. Being different, so. Studying, history, is one of the very powerful, ways to get out of that, kind of locked in perspective. What we can do is. A, see the progress, of something being constructed. So if you go back to the beginning. You can see it coming together, step by step. You can also see the world being quite different in history, so, i mean the world 3000, years ago was. Enormously. Different than the world we're in today. And spending, some time in that world, can help us. Sort of, get unlocked. From the things that we've always. Been, immersed, in. So just quickly for example. We're going to talk today about what makes science, possible. And. I can't even begin, to, list the things that would make. This thing so i've got here a picture of the large hadron, collider, the large hadron collider, is, literally, the biggest machine humans have ever built it's 27. Kilometers. It's. This enormous. Ring. In which they. Zip, little microscopic, particles around and smash them together to see what happens. So, this thing is, one of the great technological. And scientific, achievements, of our time. But it's, kind of always been there i mean, it was finished. They started it up in 2008. In but they started building it in 1998.. So for many of you that means that this thing was designed, and the construction, had been started before you were even born. And if we're going to think about what makes something like this possible.
It's Very very helpful to kind of. Step back, and sometimes, way back in history. To trace out where it might have come from so to trace out the. Uh the beginnings. Of this kind of project, and if we're going to talk about the beginnings, of this project. We really have to go way back so that's we're going to do today we're going to start thinking about. The very, early. Origins, of science. And, we're going to try to do it in a kind of semi-imaginative. Way so, to get this cognitive, benefit, of studying, history. It's not enough to just memorize, a bunch of facts. What you have to do is sort of put yourself. In that. Time and place. Imaginatively. That's what sort of, helps break you out of your current day perspective. So, we're going to do that. By thinking about. What you need to have in place, for science, to. Progress. And, this is a partial list i've got here, this list of. You know i call it a recipe, here because in a recipe, you can sometimes. Leave things out you can sometimes, add things in you can have more of one thing than another. So, this isn't a list of things that always have to be present in every scientific, project. And there's probably other things that you want in a scientific, project so this is a, recipe as it were with some substitutions. That you could make but. I think these are all crucial, things that you, typically, need, for science to happen so for example. Tools for observations, is almost always required. Uh information, technology. Of some sort so something to write down your observations, some to something to record, them. Uh, mathematics, to use those, observations, to turn them into models and theories. And in a way that i'm going to explain. A philosophical. Framework, actually turns out to be super important, so. If that's not clear what a philosophical, framework is just hang on i'll, come back to that, at some length throughout this course. Uh and, finally, last but not least, funding. You need money to do science, and. One of the main reasons you need a philosophical. Framework is to justify, why people should give you money to do science this has always been. A, sort of. Important, ingredient, to. Making science go. So i'd like you to think about these things. And i think one of the helpful ways of thinking about them is by doing a kind of. Call it a thought experiment, philosophers, love to do, thought experiments, where we. Imaginatively. Go through a scenario. In this case it's a kind of historical. Thought experiment, so. Bear with me this is sort of odd but i think it's a helpful, exercise. Now, imagine. That you've been. Transported. Back in time. Imagine, that you've been transported. 5, 000 years ago so roughly. 3000. Bc. And i'm going to pick a time and place for us to be transported, back to.
Uh. Scarab, ray, which is, uh. This is a tiny little village, in scotland. It's been dated somewhere between 3000, and 2500. Bce. It's one of the best preserved. Stone age villages. In europe, so. This is a little village they had maybe, 50, people living there. Stone houses. They've got little stone, fireplaces. Stone furniture. They probably, lived by. Say growing. Some grain, but they also raised cows, and sheep and fish. So it's a pretty simple life it's a pretty simple little village life, okay, so. Imagine. That you've been. Plucked out of your 21st, century life. Transported, back. To. Scarabrae. In, let's say. 3000. Uh let's suppose, that, you know. The villagers, have accepted, you so they're gonna, they're gonna take care of your basic necessities. For now. Let's imagine that you can speak to them so somehow you know their language. But you didn't get to bring any of your fancy, 21st, century technology, with you it's just the clothes on your back. Uh and everything that you know in your head. So. Uh, imagine. That you settled in a bit you know you've got a reasonable, life your basic necessities, are taken care of they've given you a little. Stone, home. They've. Invited you into their, sort of social world so, your basic needs are set. What. You start to think however you know you're imagining, a big fan of science you love science. And. You're living in this stone village frankly there's not all that much to do, i mean there's no. All of your usual ways of being entertained, aren't there anymore. So you start thinking of projects, that you might like to. Participate, in and one of the projects that you might want to do. Is. Doing some science. So suppose, that, you think that you can maybe help out humanity, by. Advancing. Us along the path towards, science by doing something, in this. Stone age village in 3000, bc. What do you do. Uh. So you can remember, the 21st, century let's suppose that you don't like.
Talk To the villagers, much about it because they would think that's very odd. But you do a lot of say. Stargazing. So at night. You can see more stars than you've ever seen before. Because there's no light pollution. You spend a lot of nights like a lot of people. Looking up at the sky and you think. Maybe i should do some. Astronomy. So. Astronomy, is one of the early sciences. Next week we'll talk about ancient astronomy. So, supposedly, you decide. That you want to, you know in your spare time. Contribute, to the project of astronomy. So what do you do how do you how would you contribute. So. What we've done here in this imaginative. Imaginary, scenario. Is. Take away, all that stuff. That we've assumed, in our 21st, century life all of the technology. All of the built up knowledge. All of the things that you would draw on to do science, now. Imagine, all that's gone. And you want to. Add something to the scientific. Sort of journey of humanity. What would you do, how would you contribute. And let's take astronomy, as our as our example. So. Let's go through the list so what i'd like to do now is to go through that recipe. And talk about, what would you. How would you. Sort of cobble, together, the bits and pieces you would need, to start doing some science. So, start from tools for observation. Now. Doing astronomy. You could. Probably. Do some astronomy. With no tools for observation, so here's a here's a research program that you could do. Tomorrow, with no tools, uh. If you just sit yourself, down on the same rock. Every morning, and watch the sun rise. You'll see something. I mean you won't. See it. What it looks like in this picture but, what you'll see is. The sun rises in a different place. Every day, or. A little bit a little bit different every day. And you could. Just sitting there on the rock. Mark down so you put a stick. On the, in front of your between, your vision, and the sun. You could just mark out where the sun rises, and you would create. With nothing but the rock that you're sitting on, and some sticks. A record, of where the sun has risen. Every morning, across the year so this is a picture from, somebody's taken a bunch of pictures, from the same spot. In mumbai. So that's what you're looking at there. So. Cool you could do, you could make a record, at least of how the sky, is different, every morning, so, every morning the sun. Rises, in a slightly different position. And you could map out where the sun is rising. That's actually a useful observation, to have so. As i mentioned before, the people in this village. Are at least partly, living by growing grain we think uh so, if they're doing some farming. Really important information, is. When is this, when are the seasons, changing. So. And the. Change of the seasons, of, course. Correlates, with where the sun is rising, so. As the sun, sort of like drifts across the sky when it stops, and starts rising. Sort of, goes back to where it was rising before. That's when, there's a change of season so you've got the. Summer solstices. And the equinoxes. Those are really important, observations. Okay, so. Hey maybe you want to do that maybe that's a research, project that you could get. Into. But, uh. Suppose that you've told your. Stone age friends about this i don't think they're going to be super impressed. So. Not too far away from. Uh. Scarra, bray. Well okay not too far away, google, google maps thinks it's 52, hours of walking, with, a couple of boat rides but, nonetheless, it's a it's an, achievable, journey. Is. Another, site which. Did this job, of marking out where the sun's going to rise. Already. So. Here's the. Callanish, stones. So the callanish, stones. 52, hours walking and a couple of boat rides away from your village. Are already raised. In. This field so these these are these are big stones, uh. These are. Standing, stones. Uh, you're probably familiar with stonehenge. There's a whole bunch of these things and. They're big like a lot of effort went into this thing uh, the central stone is like five, meters, tall the biggest stone is five meters tall. Half a meter wide, and uh, sorry meter and a half wide, and about a third of a meter, thick. So. Lots of effort went into putting these things up. And. As far as we can tell so i mean what we have right now is just kind of the stones we don't have a continuous, history of what they were used for. But. When you look at these kinds of constructions. Kind of all over the world. What you find is that the stones. Really nicely, match up with things like. Where the summer. Solstice, sun will rise so the summer solstice, is, the longest day of the year. And that's really important if you're a farmer you need to know when the days are going to start getting shorter.
And These stones. You know the the where the sun rises, on the summer solstice. Very often lines up with where the stones are planted in the ground. So. If your initial, pitch to your, stone age friends is i'm going to figure out when the summer, solstice. Is. They're probably going to laugh at you and say yeah, we know when the summer solstice, is, we've got these humongous. Rocks. All lined up, to measure, and help us recall. When that happens. So. This is a kind of. Permanent, calendar, slash, observatory. That they've, uh, undoubtedly, would have heard of, if if unl uh, if not have a smaller, version somewhere nearer by, so i mean the very large version, lasted. 5000, years. Much smaller versions could easily have been built. And be sort of more ubiquitous. So. They're not going to be super impressed with this as a research, project if you're going to start science if you're going to, kick-start, science, you probably, need something. More, elaborate. More involved than just figuring, out when the longest, and shortest, days of the year, are. So. Uh. I don't know maybe maybe this will impress your neolithic, friends so. You want to do something, more specific. So. For example. Maybe you want to maybe you've studied some history of science you know a little bit about ancient, astronomical. Tools, so, this is a. Dipatra. I think that's how you say it, antipatra. Which is a kind of, old tool for observation. And this one. May well impress your neolithic, friends because this wasn't invented, until about the third, century. Bce. Which is. Several thousand years in the future from where you are so. Uh. It's an astronomical. It's a way of making astronomical. Observations. Uh it's, basically, just a tube. Well okay so if you can if you see this image what you can see is, there's two little holes, on the very top and what you do is. Sight through those holes, you sort of, choose an object that you're going to point this thing at, and line it up between those two holes like a site. And. It swivels, in two directions, it swivels, horizontally. And vertically, so, when you swiveled, it and pointed it at the object of infra, interest. You get, two observations. And you can locate, that thing. In the sky. So. If you wanted to measure for example the position, of the moon. Or a planet. Or something like that. This is a kind of. Pretty rough okay so, it's a rough tool this is not an exact. Uh, sort of like observational. Tool but, it's a rough tool it's the kind of thing that you could, probably, build using stoneage, technology, if you had the, insight and cleverness, to do it and the interest. So. Okay. Fair enough so the. Stone age folk have scooped you on the where does the sunrise. Project. Maybe you want to do something a little bit fancier, maybe you want to for example start, tracking, the position, of the planets. Which is another, kind of we'll talk next week about ancient, astronomy. Quite a lot of work went into. Tracking, the planets. So. Suppose, that you're tracking, say. Venus, or mars. Those are, quite visible by the. Using the naked eye. You're going to sort of track where it is in the sky, using your, fairly crude. Uh. Astronomical. Tool. Now you got to write down your observation, so for every observation, that you make. You're going to have two numbers. And you've got to write it down so you're not going to be able to memorize, in order to like build a model of the movement of the planets, you're not going to be able to memorize, every observation, you make it's going to take a lot of observations. To kind of build something useful.
So, You're gonna have to write this down somewhere. And in stoneage, scotland. There's no paper. There's no pencils. Uh there's no laptops, there's nothing. None of the very familiar. Tools, or. Sort of like. Uh. Information, technologies, that we have available, today, are, available, to you then. Writing has been invented in the world at this point so it's. 3000. Bc. There is writing. But it's not near to you as far as we can tell uh so it could be the case that they had writing back then but, uh none of the records, seem to have survived. The most advanced writing systems at the time, are in places like egypt, and mesopotamia. So. You're going to have to come up with well, presumably, you would use your own 21st century writing system. Um, but even, given, that you've got, an alphabet, and a number system i mean that's that's a really helpful thing that you could introduce to them right, an alphabet, and a number system because you've got those memorized, and all you have to do is, teach them how to use an alphabet, and a number system so, that would be really helpful they'd be impressed by that i bet. But, you still have to figure out something to write this stuff, on. And what are you going to use. It's unclear, so. Popular, at the time, 3000 bc, were clay tablets, so this is a cuneiform, tablet. And what they do is. Literally take a lump of clay. And use a bamboo, stick to make these little impressions, on it. And. The stick is called a stylus, so. And then. The clay so clay is readily available, it shows up all over the world, you can get yourself some clay you can get yourself something. Pointy to make impressions, on it and then you bake it in an oven, you'd have to figure out how to make a, clay oven that works but, i think that's well within your abilities, as a clever, and, time-rich, person back in 3000 bc. So. That's. One solution. You could also use. Animal skins, so, parchment, was a very popular, ancient. Writing. Surface to use, but then you have to so. Use an animal skin you clean it and prepare it in various careful ways, it's pretty labor intensive. And then you also need to figure out some kind of ink.
So I don't know what you're going to use for ink in, scotland, in 3000, bc, so. These are the information, technology, problems that you would face. You got to come up with something. And notice that this clay tablet, is not like, information, dense you have a big, chunky, like. Piece of, baked clay, and you're not going to get that much on it frankly the information, density, is low, especially, compared to its weight and size. So you have to find somewhere to store these things. Uh the parchment, is really hard to get your hands on like, animal skins are not, flying, out of the air like you gotta. Kill an animal and skin it and prepare the skin and all this stuff so. Huge amounts of work are gonna go into, just recording, your observations. Okay. So. Let's imagine, continuing, on so let's let's suppose you got that salt suppose you got the information, technology. Problem, solved, somehow, i don't know. If you're using clay, or. Uh whatever, right so. You've got a more embed they laughed at you when you proposed, that you could teach them the mysteries, of where the sun's gonna rise tomorrow. They thought that was a pretty, uh basic project. So, you've gotten more ambitious, now. You're going to try to. Build a model. Of where, say mars is going to be in the sky. That's pretty ambitious, that's something that they might actually if you could accomplish, that, that's something that your stone age friends might actually be impressed by because that, that's a tricky thing to do. Um. I don't know how much you know about. How planets move in the night sky. Uh if you're like me you spend almost your entire life in the city. Uh you spend your evenings by the warm light of a. Television, screen or a computer monitor. Uh. So i'll start please don't uh be offended if you already know this stuff but like i'll start from the very beginning so. Uh, the star the stars. Go across, every night as the earth rotates, the stars, go across, the sky. Good. So all of the stars, make a whole orbit around, i mean from our perspective, they're orbiting, around, us. Now the planets. Do something. Basically, like that. In the sense that they also kind of go across the sky every night. But every night they're in a slightly, different, position. Relative to the other stars. So. Uh what we've got here is a picture of mars and what mars, does. On a, so each one of those photos is like a different, day. Right and it's in a different position, relative to all of the other stars. As they're streaming, across the sky, on their nightly journey. Mars does some weird. Loops, because of the ways, that orbits work. So it's not like it's just doing a very, simple, regular, pattern across, our sky. It does some. Dips and weaves, and stuff like that. So it's not trivial, to model so suppose you've got the observation, problem solved you've got your. Sort of simple stone age observation, tool suppose you've got the information, technology, problem solved, you've got some way of recording your observations. Now you've got your stone hut. Stacked, high let's say with. Clay tablets, covered in your little, observations. How do you put them together. Into a mathematical. Model so into a simple model that would describe. Where, you should expect to see mars.
On Any given night of the year. Um. I'm gonna be, very honest with you. At this point in the project. I would give up, uh because. I don't have enough, mathematical, knowledge sort of stored in my head remember, you didn't get transported. Back with. A, textbooks, or a calculator. Or like. Whatever. You just have what's stored in your head. Uh and i do not i guarantee, i do not have enough mathematics, stored in my head, to, even, given, a stack of clay tablets with these observations, on them. A picture. Of how mars is going to behave in the sky. So. Nonetheless, ancient astronomers. Did do this kind of thing, they were able to build models. Not the. Best models they're not as good as today's models but they were able to. Sort of notice, a notice that the planets, move relative to the. Stars. Night after night. B make these observations. C record them, and d build some models of them so they were able to build kind of generalized, mathematical. Models. Of how the s, planets, move. Relative to the stars. And they used things like. Trigonometry. So. Here's, a babylonian. Cuneiform, tablet. Called, plimpton322. It's from about, 1200. Bce, so like several thousand years after. Our imagine scenario, but like. Uh and as far as anybody can tell. This is. Trigonometric. Tables. This is this is trigonometry. Uh. And if you remember your trigonometry. What you know is that uh. There are sort of like, values so for a given angle. There's a value. And that value, is. I. Figure out what that value is by plugging it into my. Calculator. There's a somebody, but somebody had to work that value out and these people had to work it out, by hand. So. Trigonometry. Seems to be one of the very important, tools that ancient astronomers, use to, turn their observations. Into. Models, of, how the sky, behaves. And. That's a whole project in and of itself so. You in the stone age, don't have access to this i mean in 3000, bc. In scotland, you don't have access to this. Uh. Babylonian, tablet with the trig tables on it, so, if you're going to do this project. You might have to work out the trig tables for yourself. Again. I don't even know what would be involved, in building a mathematical, model from those observations, because i don't know how to do that. So again, this is well past the point where i would have given up on this project, and learned how to. Fish or something, i don't know i don't know, um, yeah. And. Like. I think it's clear i don't know about you but to me this all sounds like just incredible.
Hassle, Like this is so much work. To come up with a model of how mars is moving in the sky. And. Like. How do you sell, the main question for for, the, philosophical. Framework as i mentioned before one of these, essential recipes, is, how do you sell this to people. How do you sell this as an important, enough project, to like put all this energy into. But, somehow people did it so here's for example. What appears, to be an observatory. In, mexico. Uh in chichen itza. Um. It's. Like. An enormous, stone, building, and, there's no cranes. There's no like, backhoes, to get this done it's all human and animal power. And they built it looks like they built this building, specifically. Around, so similarly. To the standing, stones. Uh. Built this building, around, where various, planets, and other sort of. Objects in the sky would be at various times of the year. And. It seems to be that they did this because, the sky had a kind of religious, significance, for them so. Their picture of the universe, their, philosophical. Framework, you might say. Which was profoundly. Both religious, and apparently, also. Deeply imbued, with this kind of, observations. Of the natural, world so it's a kind of fusion, of. Religious, ideas. And, natural observation. Uh. Motivated, them to, put together a whole building. Around, the idea of like finding out where venus would be at various times of the year. Uh that's just it's just a huge amount of effort that goes into it and. There are various reasons why your sort of, worldview. Or your philosophy. Or your your kind of overall big picture. Matter to the way that you do science, but the one i want to pick out just right now is. That you have to find a reason, to be motivated, enough to go through all this stuff like it's a lot of work. Uh and which. You know. A religious, framework, can give you so. This is a this is a reconstruction, of stonehenge, this is a. Not great cgi, reconstruction, of stonehenge as it probably looked when it was originally, built. And, it looks like so as far as we can tell again this is sort of reconstructions. After the fact but, as far as we can tell it's a kind of mix, of both. Similar to the complex, of chichen itza. A mix of both. Calendar. Observatory. And, a site for, religious, rituals. So. All three of these things, like, making, practical, observations. Making, sort of like more. Empirical, scientific, observations. Uh keeping track of what day of the year it is, and. Your religion. Are all merged, together into this complex. Web. And that's enough apparently, to motivate, people to haul. Massive stones, hundreds of kilometers, and build them into this giant ring. So, for most of the periods that we're going to be talking about throughout, this course. Uh. Religion. Plays, a crucial, role, in motivating. Uh. Sort of, observations. Of the natural, world, so. For. The babylonians. For the people who built stonehenge. For the. Ancient. Maya and the aztecs. Religion, was a reason, to do science. Not. Something that was in conflict, with i mean i'm calling this science but it's something very different back then right it's this mix of, observation. And religion, and, practical, things like knowing when to sow your crops, and that kind of stuff. So. That's one way. Political, reasons are another good, sort of motivator, for doing science, so. This is a picture from. What's called the translation, movement this happened in the. Islamic, world from somewhere, between, 700, and 1200, a.d. And. Here we've got a nice, sort of mixed, political, and religious, motivation, for doing. Scholarly, scientific, work. Um. We'll talk more about this when we talk about science and empire. But, part of though at this point history. Islamic. Caliphates, which is sort of like an empire. Had expanded. Massively. Right they've taken in a whole bunch of different cultures.
And The translation, movement was all about. Finding, important, insights. Both sort of, natural. Philosophical. Medical, and so on. In the various, areas that had come under their political, rule. And then consolidating. Them translating, them into arabic. Which is the language in which the quran is written so it's like a sort of like the language, they were trying to make arabic into a language of learning and they were quite successful, at it, by. Putting out huge amounts of funding. And this, massive, project of, collecting, various people's. Knowledge. Translating. It synthesizing. It, turning it into something that they could use. So part of this was the sort of religious injunction, to. Uh. Be learned to like learn about the world the natural world. But also it was a good political, move, so. When you're. When you've taken over a whole bunch of different areas. You want to legitimize. Yourself in the eyes of the people you've taken over. And. Trying to find out about their culture and integrating, it into your culture is a really good way of doing that and seems to have been quite successful. So. Political, reasons as well. Okay so. All of this boils down to. So there's a bunch of reasons why you need a philosophy, to do science but one of the most important ones is, straight up funding, you need money, you need. Resources, of some sort. Because. All of this is going to take as we said a huge amount of work to get any progress, on right and all of that. Work is work that you could have been used, uh. Time and energy you could have been using for something else right so. You know you're staying up late at night doing your observations, of mars with your, barge together. Sort of astronomical. Tool. That means you wake up at noon when you could have woken up at the crack of dawn, and help people with something else. So you need to sell this project to people somehow, right, you need to convince, the people around you, that what you're doing is important, enough to take resources, away from other possible, projects. And put it into yours. And that's been a perennial, question. All throughout science, we'll we'll look at a variety, of ways in which people have, answered this question so what makes science, so. Worthwhile. That. You know it's worth not doing something else, and. For pretty much the whole history of science the answer isn't, there's going to be immediate, technological. Benefits. Right so, you don't you know you with your, barge together astronomical. Tool. You're not going to invent an iphone, next week and be like look guys, all that science was worthwhile, it's going to be a really long time until that project, pays off. So. You need some kind of story to tell people, why this, matters. So. Funding that's another. Very important recipe i will almost say this is necessary. For, science to happen is some reason, why. Your project, is worth funding. Okay, so. This has been a kind of. Admittedly. Somewhat strange. Uh hopefully, interesting. Imaginative. Project where we're trying to, try to think back to the before, we, were sort of, neck deep in science, before, we even started this project or, way way back in this project, as we said. The people in. 3000, bc, already, knew quite a bit about the natural, world. Uh, so, we're just going like way back not all the way back. Uh. And we've tried to do a kind of experiment, in our imagination. About. What it would be like to be there you know what would you do if you were back there, as. Partly as a way of trying to do what history, is really good at, which is to get us out of our. Uh sort of assumptions. And our sort of uh. Ways of seeing the world that we're born into. And. I would like you to sort of really savor and try to appreciate. How, much, work has already been laid down for us to do science. The way we do it today. And the first research report is basically, on this topic so i'm going to ask you to pick a time and place. And imagine, yourself trying to do a project and, tell me what you would do. So that's. Keep that in mind keep that thinking about that as we go along, okay. So, uh just to reiterate, we've got this kind of basic recipe for science, uh. Tools. For observation. Information, technology. Math, philosophical. Framework. Funding. That's more or less the sort of bits you're going to fill out on that first project. So, start thinking about this now if you can, okay. Thanks. You.