An Objective History of Science
#1
I will soon be starting work on a short documentary style video on the history of science, from a postcolonial (but assuredly not postmodernist) perspective. This will be a long-term project. I'm looking for team-mates for helping with collecting material, writing and fact-checking. In particular, I'd like one or two people formally on-board. Meanwhile, I'd like to get a discussion on this subject going. If interested, please comment on this thread.

The basic idea is this. There are many documentaries on the history of science. But overwhelmingly these documentaries skip the contributions of non-European cultures in many areas -including much of the philosophy and mathematics that laid the ground work for modern science to take off when Europe became wealthy after having colonized the rest of the world. In addition, the influence of European colonialism (and before them, the Islamic colonialism) on the colonies as well as the colonizers is never told in these documentaries. (For example, Islam's golden age which saw a lot of scientific development correlates with a period of Islamic colonial power and vast empire, and same in Europe a few centuries later during the enlightenment). I wish to trace the history of science from the Middle East, then Egypt, Greece/India (same period), China (somewhat disconnected, not as important a role as India because of India's contribution of the number system) and back to the Middle East (where modern science was finally developed into its currently recognizable form) and finally to Europe where it blossomed under the time and money provided by stolen colonial wealth, stolen natural resources, cheap raw materials from the colonies, taxes from the colonies and indentured servitude/slave labor from the colonies.

Of course, this thesis is the result of a lot of research on my part, and is not revisionist as would seem on first glance considering the popularity of the Eurocentric narrative. But we will be doing a lot more research as the script comes together and we put together archival video and images to make this video. At some points animation will also be used, and we will need someone capable to do this.

The importance of this postcolonial perspective:

I will preempt some of the criticism, and try to explain why I think such a project is essential.

One major criticism of such ideas involves trying to draw a line at some recent point in history to say that there is a sufficiently clear demarcation there, and that we should only consider the developments since then as science. Such criticisms miss the point. Firstly, there is no such absolute line, because science is no one thing. There are many core aspects of science that were each developed independently, sometimes several times, spread across different time periods and geographical locations. Secondly, this is about the history of science, and to accurately understand the contributions of humanity to science it makes sense to include all those intellectual contributions that were absolutely necessary to the development of science as we know it today.

But most important of all, it is important to present this perspective because of the revisionism that has been spreading from the West, increasingly now because of the media influence that the west has over the world (which is, in fact, a result of the colonial history that is causing the problem). Having lived in the US for 9 years, I have been made very much aware of the lack of historical perspective and understanding of historically established privilege, among both the young and old in America. This lack of knowledge offers a social-dominance advantage to the West, because it allows them to subconsciously embrace a tacit moral superiority. Studies have shown repeatedly that even those Westerners who make a conscious effort to suppress prejudice harbor deep-seated feelings of cultural superiority over other races. This is not just limited to those of European descent. Even Blacks and other minorities tend to feel that Whites are inherently superior.

One way to change this is to tell the true story of how many of the great civilizations of the world have had an important role in the history of science. In relation to India, if we cannot show to other Indians the value that Indians have brought to science- the importance of Indian contributions in the development of science itself, we can never hope to win over the masses in support of science. Science will always be that western thing, because right now the west is claiming it as theirs. And our masses will continue to resort to superstition in the belief that the few loony westerners who go gaga over the saffron fools are evidence that it is our culture that is superior.

That's all I have for now. Looking forward to seeing the response.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply
#2
(12-Apr-2011, 05:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: In addition, the influence of European colonialism (and before them, the Islamic colonialism) on the colonies as well as the colonizers is never told in these documentaries.

Jawaharlal Nehru, whom we can consider an honorary postcolonial visionary, has devoted a chapter in his Discovery of India in Section 7, entitled 'The plunder of Bengal helps the Industrial Revolution in England'. While his treatment is largely economic, the bottomline is that it is the colonial enterprise that underwrote the technological advancement of the Industrial Revolution.

(12-Apr-2011, 05:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: ... and finally to Europe where it blossomed under the time and money provided by stolen colonial wealth...

Besides colonial powers, plutocracies (Venice, Florence) and proto-nation states (Frederick's Prussia) have witnessed scientific heydays. BBC's Story of Science (6 episodes), aptly subtitled 'Power, Proof and Passion' notes that science does not occur in a vacuum and that societal and of course economic factors influence it.

(12-Apr-2011, 05:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: In relation to India, if we cannot show to other Indians the value that Indians have brought to science- the importance of Indian contributions in the development of science itself, we can never hope to win over the masses in support of science.

Even in the episode entitled 'The Power of Ideas' in Michael Wood's Story of India, the ideas that receive coverage are those of mystics rather than scientists. So the proposed documentary is long overdue.

(12-Apr-2011, 05:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: I wish to trace the history of science from the Middle East, then Egypt, Greece/India (same period), China (somewhat disconnected, not as important a role as India because of India's contribution of the number system)

Besides contributions in deep antiquity, Indian contributions have been considerable even in the more recent medieval period, notably that of the 'Kerala school of mathematics', a brief history of which is available in this book 'Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India' which is more formally researched and referenced than the other storied book 'Vedic Mathematics'.

EDIT: I will be glad to contribute to this project by supplying references and proof-reading/ cross-checking (my multimedia skills are very limited).



Reply
#3
(12-Apr-2011, 08:18 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: Jawaharlal Nehru, whom we can consider an honorary postcolonial visionary, has devoted a chapter in his Discovery of India in Section 7, entitled 'The plunder of Bengal helps the Industrial Revolution in England'. While his treatment is largely economic, the bottomline is that it is the colonial enterprise that underwrote the technological advancement of the Industrial Revolution.

Interesting! I will add that to the list of reference materials.

Quote:Besides colonial powers, plutocracies (Venice, Florence) and proto-nation states (Frederick's Prussia) have witnessed scientific heydays. BBC's Story of Science (6 episodes), aptly subtitled 'Power, Proof and Passion' notes that science does not occur in a vacuum and that societal and of course economic factors influence it.

Yeah, I did watch that series. That was one of the inspirations for the proposed video. It is indeed clear that a key requirement for the blossoming of scientific culture is economic and socio-political stability.

Quote:Even in the episode entitled 'The Power of Ideas' in Michael Wood's Story of India, the ideas that receive coverage are those of mystics rather than scientists. So the proposed documentary is long overdue.

Another series that I watched and own. I constantly struggled with alternating feelings of satisfaction (when they talked about the good stuff) and frustration (when they focused on the mystical history) while watching it.

Quote:Besides contributions in deep antiquity, Indian contributions have been considerable even in the more recent medieval period, notably that of the 'Kerala school of mathematics', a brief history of which is available in this book 'Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India' which is more formally researched and referenced than the other storied book 'Vedic Mathematics'.

Coincidentally I was recently reading about the feats of this group of mathematicians, and their contributions to trigonometry and calculus. Fascinating stuff. However, Im not sure if the work of this school made it into the mainstream and influenced the development of science itself.

Quote:EDIT: I will be glad to contribute to this project by supplying references and proof-reading/ cross-checking (my multimedia skills are very limited).

Excellent! I would love to have you on board this project. As I mentioned this will be a long-term project, and I intend on developing it over the period of many months. I would like to have a rough draft of the script in a couple of months. In the meantime we can begin collecting relevant materials, and continue discussion on this thread towards developing the timeline and narrative.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply
#4
Avoiding Pseudoscience and Nationalistic Distortions of the History of Science

This post is in reference to an article posted by Madhav here. Quoting the relevant part:

Quote:"To men like Tirathji, it was clear that if the secret of Western domination over India lay anywhere, it lay in the knowledge of the sciences, and mathematics stood at the heart this knowledge. What better answer to such hubris than to show that in fact all of mathematics had already been revealed in the Vedas?

The sutras, unfortunately, only reveal how little Tirathji knew of mathematics. Today, they only symbolise the strivings of a colonised mind searching for some self-respect, and we can find their equivalent in the Sangh Parivar’s absurd attempts to search for the technology of the jet engine in the udankhatola of The Ramayan."

I wanted to bring this up in the context of the video we're making because we must be careful not to make the mistakes that Hindu nationalists have made when attempting to revive India's reputation in the intellectual realm. I have no doubt that such revisionism is not necessary. But more importantly, it is absolutely essential that we are accurate to every last detail.

In fact, a brief segment in the video could address the issue of such revisionism and its dangers to public understanding of science.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply
#5
I stumbled across the wikipedia page on inoculation and was startled to read that Eduard Jenner didn't really invent the idea of inoculation when he came up with the small pox vaccine, like I'd learned when I was in high school. Apparently the practice of inoculation (and consequently the seeds for the germ theory of disease) had existed in India and China many centuries prior, from where it had spread to the Middle East, and had been imported from there to Europe in 1721, years before Jenner was born.
Of course, Jenner is a hero for his work, which took the rather primitive concept of inoculation and produced immensely useful things called vaccines that are non-lethal and well described by science. No doubt the conditions in the West were well suited for the scientific revolution of vaccines to take place at that time. But there is a direct line here of the idea going from the East to the West.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
Reply


Possibly Related Threads...
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  Indian language subtitles for TED talks related to science, freethought and humanism arvindiyer 1 4,534 20-Nov-2013, 04:31 PM
Last Post: Nagesh_S



Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)