Who was the earliest known scientist?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by John J. Bannan, Jul 6, 2007.

  1. John J. Bannan Registered Senior Member

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    Did he invent science?
     
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  3. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

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    How are you defining "science"?

    Many people would name Roger Bacon as the first scientists since he was the one who popularized the notion of learning by observation (an important forerunner to Francis Bacon's formalization of the scientific method). Even before him, though, there were others using the method (often without reflecting deeply on "why" they were using that method). That method itself was seen in some form or another as far back as 1600 B.C. in connection with medical diagnoses and treatments. (See, e.g., here (discussing the scientific methods described in the Edwin Smith papyrus)).

    If by "scientist" you mean one who systematically tried to answer questions about the world around him through investigation, then I'm sure people would cite:
    • Thales (astronomer and mathematician as well as founder of the tradition of "natural philosophy"),
    • Anaximander (astronomer who first formulated the notion of the evolution of life from forms that originally all lived in the sea),
    • Empedocles (introduced the idea of matter being made of elements—fire, earth, air and water);
    • Anaxagoras (correctly theorized that eclipses are caused by the Moon);
    • Xenophanes (speculated, based on marine fossils found on mountaintops, that the surface of the Earth must rise and fall over time);
    • Leucippus (postulated that matter is made up of indivisible units (atoms))
    None of these "invented" science though, they just happen to be the ones whose names were first recorded. The Babylonians had astronomy before even Thales, and Imhotep is credited with all manner of "scientific" accomplishments in Egyptian tradition (so many accomplishments that some scholars suggest they can't all be trusted) as early as 2600 BC.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2007
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    We've got another thread going, "Are there any real scientists here," in which it became obviously necessary to define the word "scientist." I think the same need exists here as well. The definition from the other thread won't work because it only applies to contemporary people, who live in the era since the Enlightenment when science was codified, and have access to scientific education.

    Panda's list is pretty good, although it has a bias toward Mesopotamian civilization, to the point of Eurocentrism. So many of the people we think of as early scientists were astronomers, and all six of the world's civilizations did some really good work in astronomy, considering the absence of telescopes. Imhotep represents Egypt. We will never know the names of the Aztec and Inca pioneers but the Chinese and Indian names are surely recorded.
     
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  7. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

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    Hmm, perhaps the first "scientist" was the first guy to throw a pointy stick at a game animal with the intent of killing it.

    Maybe the first guy who tied a sharp, pointy rock to the end of the pointy stick?

    The first guy to tie a string to the ends of a pole so as to propel a little pointy stick with little sharp, pointy rock tied to the end of it?

    What's a scientist?

    Baron Max
     
  8. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

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    Since chimpanzee's have been known to hunt using weapons, including spears, that would mean that the first scientist might predate the first human...ot at least that not all scientists on this planet are human.
     
  9. John J. Bannan Registered Senior Member

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    A scientist follows the scientific method. An inventor puts a pointy rock on the end of a stick and throws it at an animal.
     
  10. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

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    Even that may beg some questions (most basically, "what is 'the scientific method'). The scientific method as a completely realized theory of how things should be done didn't exist until the 17th century (notably with Francis Bacon), but the use of observation and experiment to prove an hypothesis and disprove alternate hypotheses (one important aspect of the scientific method) dates back much earlier (and in some basic form probably predates formal written history in the "touch the stove to see it if it hot" sense of an "experiment"—if you burn yourself, the "hot hypothesis" has been proven). In the 13th century, Roger Bacon was the first person I know of to insist on observation, hypothesis, experimentation and independent verification as vital to scientific process...but most philosophers of science do not consider his to be a complete formulation of the "the scientific method."

    Depending on how you define "the scientific method," you'll get a different answer to the question of the first scientist.
     
  11. John J. Bannan Registered Senior Member

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    It's hard to believe that the ancient Greeks did not have scientists. It's got to go back at least that far.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    As Panda infers, astronomy is a science. (Unlike math, which is just one of the scientist's tools.) The first astronomers predate writing. Actually they may predate civilization. Although civilization existed at the time Stonehenge was built, the people who built it were Neolithic.
     
  13. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

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    I'll second everythign Pandaemoni has said.
     
  14. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

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    China had many scientific invenventions long before any other cultures.
     
  15. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Infers?
    Implies?
     
  16. srikar Registered Senior Member

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    There is nothing to invent in this universe but to discover.
     
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Boy you folks are sure holding me to a higher standard since I became moderator of Linguistics.

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    One of the meanings of "infer" is to suggest, whereas the only meaning of "imply" is to suggest, so I can probably squeak by with either word in this case and be just as right.

    Or wrong. The primary meaning of "infer" is to surmise or draw a conclusion. It isn't Panda who's doing the inferring. What I really should have said is "From what Panda says, I infer that he considers astronomy to be a science."
     
  18. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    One of my pet peeves - I stopped watching the Inspector Morse TV series when he used "infer" to mean "imply" (bearing in mind the premise behind the series was that Morse was supposed to be an Oxford graduate who did the Times crossword in five minutes).

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