Pearls Of Scientific Knowledge



I’m reading a book about science written by Professor Steven Goldman. It’s titled: “Great Scientific Ideas that Changed the World.” OK, so actually I’m listening to the CDs while I’m driving (I am a mobile surgeon). It’s a fascinating book. I’m learning lots of new things. If you knew any of the following pearls of knowledge, then congratulations. I sure didn’t.

“No writing, no science”

Writing was not a sudden discovery. It was the result of a deliberate effort to express ideas and describe objects with symbols. Initially, one sign described one thing (this remains the case in China, for example). Eventually, writing was simplified by the invention of letters.

Even though it was simpler, people still had to learn how to write and read. This led to the creation of schools. Goldman, the book's author, believes that writing is one factor that enabled ideas--particularly scientific concepts--to be widely disseminated through early universities.

Know-how

For thousands of years, before writing was invented, people would acquire highly sophisticated know-how about various technologies, such as agriculture, ceramics, textiles, metal work and construction, through the oral tradition. That knon-how was passed orally from generation to generation.

“Know-how is embodied in processes,” Goldman says. If you made pottery, your knowledge is directly visible. You had to master each step in order to create nice pottery. People could see how you did it, if you did it well, and how creative your efforts may have been.

But science is abstract. You cannot see Einstein’s theory of general relativity, you can’t observe that the earth spins around the sun, you can’t appreciate the fact that the earth isn’t flat, and you can’t see electrons and protons.

To disseminate knowledge, people used writing. Again: “no writing, no science.”

Grains

Botanists and geneticists tell us that it took centuries (possibly over a thousand years) to transform the wild ancestors of wheat, rice and maize (which we call corn nowadays), into modern, domesticated plants.

In the wild, grains fall off plants for reproduction purposes. From an evolutionary, or Darwinian, standpoint, that is the logical thing for a plant to do.

But humans, in order to collect the grains, wanted them to stay on the plant. This realization led to the selection of plants that would serve Man’s needs.  And the ear of corn was slowly created.

Fruits followed the same evolution. Archeologists recently discovered the remains of cultivated figs in the Jordan River Valley, in the Middle East.  Again, they are very different from wild figs. It took many generations to slowly transform the fruit.

And domesticated animals followed the same transformation. Forgive my ignorance, but I didn’t realize that wild sheep have hairy coats. Wooly sheep, from which you can make clothes, came about after centuries of selection and breeding.

This is just a glimpse of what you can read about in this book. You might want to check it out.

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