Tuesday, December 03, 2002

A new book, Lost Discoveries by Dick Teresi, argues that much of modern science has non-Western roots or was reinvented elsewhere. Here is a review. The review raves about it and compares it to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I think both greatly exaggerate the accomplishments of non-Western development.

Consider these claims:
The Babylonians developed the Pythagorean theorem at least 1,500 years before Pythagoras was born. Indian mathematicians performed multiplication and algebra, and even ventured toward calculus, a millennium before Europeans. An Arab astronomer, Ibn al-Shatir, spelled out the theory of planetary motion 150 years before Copernicus. Many ancient cultures had inklings of quantum theory. The ancient Indians, long before Copernicus, knew that the earth revolved around the sun and, a thousand years before Kepler, knew that the orbits of the planets were elliptical.

They are all silly and foolish. The Babylonians did not even have the concept of theorem, much less the Pythagorean theorem. Archimedes ventured closer to calculus that any India, as he derived some very clever formulas that are usually derived with calculus today.

It is absurd and idiotic to say that the ancients knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, or had inklings of quantum theory. Copernicus did not even know that the Earth revolved about the Sun. The ancient Greeks debated whether the Earth went around the Sun or the Sun went around the Earth. They had no compelling evidence either way, and neither did the Indians, Arabs, or Copernicus. The first really good evidence came from Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo.

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