The scientific method is fundamental to our understanding of the world which we live in. Not everyone wants to be a scientist, but it is of direct practical importance for us to understand science because it is the only way to be sure that our lives will not be controlled by superstition. This article looks at some of the pioneers of science and shows us the dangers we will have if we ever lose it again...
Thales is considered to be the first person who followed the scientific method. He lived in Miletus, Asia Minor from 624 to 546BCE. In his times it was common to think that the gods were responsible for all geological activity and weather. Earthquakes and tsunamis were attributed to Poseidon while Zeus was thought to be responsible for thunder storms. Thales is important to science as he was the first person to explain these kinds of events as happening naturally, without the need for mythological entities. He is also famous for having predicted eclipses which the superstitious people of his time feared. This brought him great respect from the ignorant community and he became known as one of the Seven Sages of Greece.
Democritus continued the scientific method that was begun by Thales. He was born in 460BCE in the small Greek town of Abdera. He was called the laughing philosopher because he considered all human behaviour to be ridiculous! He is most influential for being the first person to propose the theory of atoms. He saw particles of dust floating in the sunlight and imagined that all matter was made of similar particles which were too small to be seen. The Greek word atomos literally means "cannot be cut". His theory was finally proven to be correct in the the nineteenth century by the English scientist John Dalton, who had the benefit of the microscope which hadn't been in existence in Democitus' times!
Pythagoras is now known for his mathematics but he was really of importance in his times as a mystic. He thought that numbers had sacred meanings and developed numerology, a type of horoscope which people could use to show how numbers would effect their lives. Pythagoras didn't use scientific experiments to observe the world, rather abstract thinking of perfect numbers and forms in the mind. This helped the growth of popular superstitions which later became mystery religions such as Christianity.
Hypatia was the last of the great scientists in the ancient world. She was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 350CE. She worked at the legendary library of Alexandria which contained all of the knowledge of the ancient world. She lived in times of trouble towards the end of the Roman Empire whose emperor Theodosius had recently converted to Christianity. As times were changing the Christians became more powerful in the city and they considered it heretical that a woman should be independent and educated as well as a leader and teacher of men. Hypatia's fate was connected to that of the ancient library whose destruction she tried to prevent unsuccessfully. The library was burnt and almost all of the achievements of classical civilization were lost. She became a martyr to science when she was brutally murdered in public in the year 415CE. Science would be forgotten and as a consequence Europe experienced a period known as the dark ages which lasted for a thousand years, until the renaissance in the 1400's, but women would not regain equal rights until well into the 20th century.