Man’s antiquity is measured not in centuries but in millennia, and the beginnings of science are lost in dim and distant ages, but nevertheless, there is no doubt that long centuries had passed before man had obtained a firm enough hold in the struggle for existence to be able to consider the facts of his life. Unfortunately for the historian, many more centuries passed by, before science would develop systems of writing, which allowed for records to be made and preserved, and today, he who undertakes the task of understanding the origin and early beginnings of science has before him a very difficult, though intensely interesting, task. The task is difficult, not only because of the paucity of the records that remain, for we must believe that comparatively few have survived the destructive acts of fire and flood, of monarchs and mobs, but even more, particularly because it is almost impossible for us to divest ourselves, in imagination, of our present knowledge, and to place ourselves in the position of the early pioneers of science. And yet, if this is not done, the early ventures of the race can neither be understood nor appreciated. When modern science forgets or neglects the history through which it has come, it is untrue to its own principles and in danger, too, of misunderstanding its own significance and potential.
Though many of the scientific pursuits, which engage men’s thought, can trace a long and ancient history, yet few, if any, can lay claim to as early a beginning as the science, which, today, is known as astronomy. Primitive man was compelled to accommodate his acts to attacks of disease, to the fortunes of war, and to the irregular changes of weather, but not less was he forced to attend to the alternations of light and darkness, and of heat and cold, and one of his earliest conclusions would, no doubt, be that the sun was in some way connected with these varying phenomena. This led to a search for other signs in the heaven, and if the appearance of an unusual phenomenon in the sky, say, of an eclipse, were associated with any particular terrestrial event, for example, the death of some chief or some scourge of plague or famine, the coincidence, as we would call it, would certainly impress him very greatly.
Thus, it came about that humans of remote ages observed and recorded the occurrences of comets, eclipses, meteor showers and like phenomena. Not only were these facts observed, but suggestions were made to explain the facts. The earth was once thought to be a circular plane, surrounded and bounded by the solid hemispherical vault of the heaven. The stars seemed to be fixed in this vault, the moon and, later, the planets were supposed to crawl over it. That the sun also was supported in the sphere of heaven and, like moon and planets, made his way across it. No doubt the difficulty which they felt in making this supposition was due to the fact that in the day-time the stars were no longer visible. Another problem, which faced them, after they had placed the sun in the vault of heaven, was how to explain that the sun, having set in the West, should rise again in the East. Was it the same sun or a different sun? From such practical conditions, and out of such perplexing difficulties as these just mentioned, the science of astronomy began slowly to evolve and develop.
These questions and many others engaged the ancients and led to the development of rational intellectual thought. As theories were tested and confirmed or denied, science began to develop and move forward. Out of astronomy came physics, out of physics came chemistry, and out of chemistry came biology. All of this came about because of the new questions brought forth by each successive level reached. Current science could not satisfactorily answer these new questions with the knowledge they had, and in this way, science progressed. The history of science, although it cannot be definitely told in the way one can talk of a war or a statesman’s life, can be understood. We know what propelled it forward, namely the reflection on the facts of one’s life and the striving for answers that this entailed.
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