Alchemy – History of Science: Antiquity to 1700
All human beings, by nature, desire to know.” —Aristotle, The Metaphysics. For well over 2,000 years, much of our fundamental “desire to know” has focused on the area we now call science. In fact, our commitment to science and technology has been so profound that these now stand as probably the most powerful of all influences on human culture.
To truly understand our Western heritage, our contemporary society, and ourselves as individuals, we need to know what science is and how it developed.
Who, in fact, were the scientists of the past?
What was the true motivation for their work?
Is science characterized by lone geniuses, or is it tied to culture and the needs of a particular society?
Does science really operate in a linear progression, from discovery to discovery?
What does history reveal about the nature of religion and science?
A Complex Evolution Made Clear
In this course, an award-winning professor leads you on an exploration of these issues as he traces this complex evolution of thought and discovery from ancient times to the Scientific Revolution.
Professor Lawrence M. Principe, who is Professor of both Chemistry and the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at Johns Hopkins University, is a winner of the Templeton Foundation’s prestigious award for courses dealing with science and religion. He has also won several teaching awards bestowed by Johns Hopkins and in 1999 was chosen Maryland Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.
Dr. Principe gives living order to science’s story by considering it in terms of several penetrating questions, two of which are especially important. Who pursued science—and why? What happened—and why?
As he notes, “Science is a dynamic, evolving entity, tightly connected to the needs and commitments of those who pursue it. The real context of even familiar scientific developments will frequently come as a surprise and can suggest alternative ways for present-day thinking and science to develop.”
You will see how many scientific discoveries originated from ideas that might be considered ridiculous or humorous from today’s perspective of “cutting-edge technology,” as science’s earliest thinkers worked under the limitations imposed by the knowledge and culture of their times.
But you’ll also see that many of these early principles are still relevant and embraced today.
Follow the Transition from “Natural Philosophy” to “Science”
Our notions of “science” and “scientists” date only to the 19th century. Before then, “science” simply meant knowledge; the label of “scientist” did not exist.
Instead, the study of the natural world was known as “natural philosophy.” And even the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle are considered two of the most influential figures in the history of science.
Dr. Principe examines scientific thought and activity over nearly four millennia, beginning in the time of the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians.
He restores the vitally important context he believes has been lost from this discussion in recent times.