Dick Teresi, accomplished science author and co-founder of Omni Magazine, gave a lecture titled "Whose Science?" as part of the Kirkland Project's "Technology, Science and Democracy" series on Oct. 22, to a large crowd in the Fillius Events Barn. Teresi talked about his book, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science – from the Babylonians to the Maya, which explores the many scientific and mathematic contributions of non-Western cultures and how they have been ignored by Western history and education.
The common consensus has long been that science began around 600 BC in Ancient Greece. Common knowledge also dictates, however, that civilization started thousands of years prior in the Middle East and Mesopotamia - had human civilization existed for millenia without science? In fact, as Teresi points out, some major scientific achievements were made by the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures during this period, such as a place value system of numbers and the generation of Pythagorean triples. Elsewhere in the world, the Chinese had a particle theory of light around 2200 BC, something which did not emerge in Europe until the Enlightenment.
Teresi told the crowd that finding these facts for his book did not take a lot of digging - the evidence of non-Western scientific achievement is around, it is simply ignored or discounted. As Teresi said, "Seeing Machu Picchu and the Pyramids, we should have had an idea that non-Western people knew something about math and science - they weren't just winging it." How, then, have the non-Western roots of science been ignored for so long? Teresi talked about the ways in which Western historians and scientists have traditionally undermined and downplayed the achievements of these cultures. Mainly, he said, it is because we discount discoveries that were made in the name of magic or religion, or scientific methods which were unlike the ones we use today. Teresi also discussed the puzzling emotion and anger with which some people will defend the view of science as exclusively Western.
Teresi concluded by saying why he thinks books like his and the dialogue they produce are important. "If we're talking about science," he said, "it should just be right."
The lecture was a part of the series "Technology, Science and Democracy: What's At Stake?", a program of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture. The next event in the series will be a discussion with Danny McLain titled "Is Hamilton College Accessible to Persons with Disablities?" It will be held on Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. in the Fillius Events Barn. For more information on this and other upcoming events, visit the Kirkland Project Website.
This story was written by Caroline O'Shea '07.