What Is Science?

When one is talking about civilization, can the topic of science be far behind? After all, we seem to associate the idea of civilization with scientific achievement. The only reason why i am writing this as a separate post, and not combined with this post (though the conversation happened on the same ride) is to avoid mental indigestion. But they did get on to science as a natural consequence of talking about civilization.

So what is science? Today, science is about trying to understand the atom, quantum phenomena, strings, branes, and a number of things which have emerged through scientific endeavour over the last century or so. In the process though we seem to forget that there is some very fundamental science which is still science, though to us it seems commonplace.

Would we have been able to do so much if early man didnt invent the wheel? Imagine driving a car with square wheels. Or find a way to create fire? These are clearly some of the most far-reaching and fundamental achievements of science. Yet, we take them for granted, for we know these already. Somehow, as we seem to get to know things, and become accustomed to them, these things become a part of our daily life, and we tend to lose the sense of how important these things are, and how their discovery or invention was a momentous step for science. Try lighting a cigarette with a damp matchbox and you will get what i am saying. Or, if you dont smoke, try to start a fire in the middle of heavy rain to keep yourself warm. Either way, you get the idea, dont you? Wasnt this science?

Or take the invention of the concept of zero. Though these guys are not sure whether zero should be considered an invention or a discovery. Fact is, how much of us can define zero without using some sort of circular reference, i.e., define zero without referring to itself? Or something more fundamental to our existence, like time. How many of us can define time, and yet we are not stupefied at the very idea of time because we are accustomed to its presence and familiar to its ways of working, at least for our daily needs.

Imagine the experimentation people did, over generations and centuries, to discover newer and newer forms of food for us to eat, to discover that you can roast the golden corn and it tastes delicious, or that you can make flour from the golden wheat and make bread from it. Or that you can actually talk to someone over greate distances.

In fact, some forms of knowledge seem to be getting lost as we advance more in science. These are more to do with an intuitive, or instinctive understanding of nature which, by our way of living, we seem to be losing or worse, consider as superstitions because they arent proved in our scientific framework (but more about that later). In earlier days, people could tell, by the behaviour of ants when it will rain. We seem to be losing this sort of intimate knowledge of nature. There is also a deeper form of knowledge which we dont seem to have access to. This is exemplified by the iron pillar at Delhi, or the acoustics of the Golconda fort at Hyderabad, where a whisper in one corner of the room can be heard at the other corner, through the wall, and many more such marvels all over the world.

These guys seem to believe that this was far greater science given that they didnt have the tools, or the benefit of their ancestors’ experience the way scientists today have, and that we must respect all forms of knowledge.

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7 Responses to What Is Science?

  1. akzamy says:

    True, science is not technology, which we often confuse
    We have gone leaps n bounds with technology but there is still a lot that can be done to re invent science.

    We are still majorly dependent on piston driven engines in our cars though we have come a long way in different kinds of fuel to used.

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  2. akzamy says:

    Recently I came across an article that describes how medicine was practiced during early days
    The doctors would tie a thin string around the wrist of the patient who would sit on the other side separated by a curtain, since women were not allowed to see other men, even a doctor, and diagnose her disease with careful observation of the pulse, by holding another end of the thin string. Amazing isn’t ?

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  3. Atul says:

    You are right. Or simply take something basic like papaya for an upset stomach, or asafoetoda for colic in infants, which are home remedies, and are quite effective. There is a lot of science that goes into finding these remedies, but which hasn’t been recognized as science. Nice to see things are changing now, and the world is waking up to the importance of these remedies, in a way acknowledging this as science. But yes, there is science in a number of things which we seem to take for granted today.

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  4. akzamy says:

    Yes I agree.
    Sometimes I wonder how people many would have sacrificed their lives just figure out that a fruit is edible or not.
    But not necessary, there is a collective consciousness that we are evolved with that makes us know all those basic survival stuffs by default. Else how would a monkey know to chew a herb when it’s ill.

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  5. Atul says:

    You may have something there. They say the mongoose knows where to find the herb which is the antedote for the snake’s poison, but then, some of these may be just traditional sayings. However, animals do seem to know something we don’t … like when elephants in Thailand went up to higher ground before the tsunami happened?

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