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5-08-2015, 23:05

THE FIRST SCIENTISTS

EXAMINING THE WORLD



Miletus was located in eastern Greece, in a region called Ionia in current-day Turkey. Trade, colonization, and war brought the people in frequent contact with civilizations in the areas of modern-day Egypt and Iraq. They exchanged goods and also ideas, customs, and styles. Poetry flourished and parties became a popular form of socializing and entertainment. Philosophy and science also thrived as leading thinkers asked questions and pushed the boundaries of what was known and believed. This period during the 500s and 600s BCE, called the Ionian Enlightenment, would influence the remarkable achievements of scientists during the golden age of classical Greece.

Thales, the most famous and influential philosopher of the time, was also a scientist. Stories say he predicted the solar eclipse that so startled the warring soldiers. He may have done so by observing the timing between lunar and solar eclipses so he could calculate when it was coming. Whatever

his methods, it helped establish Thales as one of history’s first scientists.

Thales was not only known for his study of astronomy; he also theorized that everything came from water and that Earth floated on it. Two of his students, Anaximander and Anaximenes, questioned and built on Thales’s theories, arguing that perhaps everything in fact came from air or from another unknown substance. A century and a half later, during the heyday of classical Greece, the innovative thinker Democritus devised another theory: that all matter was composed of tiny particles called atoms. Although Democritus was wrong about a few things—for example, he believed all atoms were made of the same material and only differed in shape and size—his explanation was remarkably advanced for his time.

Hippocrates



Hippocrates of Cos, an early figure in Greek medicine, wrote several papers with his followers examining different medical conditions in the 400s and 300s BCE. These were primarily case studies that took a logical approach to medicine.

One paper looks at the disease of epilepsy. Hippocratic doctors argued against calling it a disease from the gods simply because its true causes were not understood. Instead, in the Hippocratic tradition, doctors emphasized observation and treating the body as a whole organism. Echoes of Hippocrates are still found in the Hippocratic Oath, taken by many doctors when they enter the medical profession. In it, doctors pledge to use their knowledge only for good and never for harm.

PIONEERS IN MATH



Although the Greeks certainly didn’t invent or discover mathematics, they were among the first to study it as an actual discipline. They grasped the concepts and abstractions of math, whereas previous civilizations had only applied it in practical situations. The Greeks studied the ideas of irrational numbers, prime numbers, and infinity.

The famous Pythagorean theory states that in a right triangle—one with a 90-degree angle—the squares of the two shorter sides added together will equal the square of the longest side, the hypotenuse. The Greek Pythagoras, who receives credit for this theory, was not actually the first to notice it.

The Chinese had noticed the relationship centuries before. But Pythagoras, who lived in the 500s BCE, pointed out that the formula didn’t just work occasionally. It applied every time, without exception. What’s more, he proved it. It was that part that made Pythagoras’s theory so significant. The

concept of the mathematical proof gave structure and stability to the study of math. It was one of the greatest contributions to the field.


Every thorough education in math includes geometry, but it might not have been that way without the Greeks, particularly Euclid, who lived in the 200s BCE. Euclid did not invent geometry; it had been studied long before he lived. Although he did not unearth new mathematic principles, he explained the ones that were known in an organized way so that a learner could logically build his or her knowledge. His primary work, The Elements, doesn’t just cover geometry, however.

It consists of several volumes and also covers algebra and number theory. It was designed to be an introduction to mathematics, and it remained an essential textbook for centuries after it was written.

THE ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM



In 1901, divers investigating an ancient shipwreck in the waters off Greece found an amazing artifact which has since been described as the world’s first analog, or mechanical, computer. The Antikythera Mechanism, dated to the 100s BCE, is a sophisticated mass of bronze gears that looks somewhat like a complex alarm clock. Rather than waking the ancients up in time for work, however, researchers have determined the device functioned as an astronomical calendar. More than 30 gears, housed inside a wooden box, worked together to show the positions of the sun, moon, and the five planets the ancient Greeks knew about.

Modern researchers used X ray technology to find tiny inscriptions on the device that indicate its purpose. They found words such as “Venus,” “little golden sphere” (probably the sun), and “stationary” (perhaps noting how planets seem to stop moving at times). By turning a dial, a person could choose a certain date. Gears connected to the main dial then rotated to show where celestial bodies were located on that date. Earth does not orbit the sun in a perfect circle; it travels more in an ellipse, or elongated circle.

The device’s creators changed the spacing on the device to account fc r this irregular pattern.

Much expense and craftsmanship went int< creating the device. Scholars believe it was probably a luxury item because it would have been easier and cheaper to calculate the astronomical cycles by hand.

Calling a Truce



The Olympics provided an opportunity to take a break from war. During the games, the Greeks observed an official truce. No wars were permitted, armies could not threaten the games, and any death sentences were put on hold until afterward. In 420 BCE, the Spartans launched an attack during the truce and were heavily fined for it after. They protested the truce had been announced after their attack. The Spartans were then banned from the games. One Spartan pretended to be from a different city and entered the chariot race, but he was caught and beaten up.

 

 

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