Vexen Crabtree (vexen) wrote,
Vexen Crabtree
vexen

Update to my science page: The Ionians

I have been very busy and mostly offline due to work, but I have been doing some offline stuff. I uploaded some today. Here is a new section on my Science page (excuse the stray footnotes, they exist only on the full version online): The Scientific Method: The Ionians
2,500 years ago, there was a glorious awakening in Ionia: on Samos and the other nearby Greek colonies that grew up among the islands and inlets of the busy eastern Aegean Sea. Suddenly there were people who believed that everything was made of atoms; that human beings and other animals had sprung from simpler forms; that diseases were not caused by demons or the gods; that the Earth was only a planet going around the Sun. And that the stars were very far away. [...]

In the 6th century B.C., in Ionia, a new concept developed, one of the great ideas of the human species. The universe is knowable, the ancient Ionians argued, because it exhibits an internal order: there are regularities in Nature that permit its secrets to be uncovered. [...] This ordered and admirable character of the universe was called Cosmos. [...]

Between 600 and 400 B.C., this great revolution in human thought began. [...] The leading figures in this revolution were men with Greek names, largely unfamiliar to us today, the truest pioneers in the development of our civilization and our humanity.

"Cosmos" by Carl Sagan (1995)18

The city of Alexandria was the greatest in the ancient world. Its famous Library of Alexandria was constructed in the third century BCE by the Greek Kings, the Ptolemys. It became a scientific research centre and publishing capital of the world. Ionians forged ahead in many arenas of knowledge. "Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth [...], Hipparchus anticipated that the stars come into being, slowly move during the course of centuries, and eventually perish, it was he who first catalogued the positions and magnitudes of the stars to detect such changes. Euclid produced a textbook on geometry from which humans learned for twenty-three centuries" [Sagan (1995)19]. Such astounding wisdom backed up by studious thinking and experimentation could have launched the world into the modern era. But it didn't.

Rising superstition, the taking of slaves and the growth of monotheistic religion led to the demise of scientific enterprise. The culture changed. The last great scientist of Alexandria, Hypatia, was born in 370CE at a time when the "growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture". Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, considered Hypatia to be a symbol of the learning and science which he considered to be pagan. "In the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint"19.

The last remains of the Alexandrian Library were destroyed not long after Hypatia's death. Nearly all the books and documents were completely destroyed. The Western Dark Ages had begun, and all knowledge and science was forgotten in the West for over a thousand years.

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