Science is all about looking forward. It is easy to question why people feel the need to study its history at all. A historian would tell us that examining the past allows us to plan the future. What was it that made people think thoughts that had not been thought before? What is the relevance of science to the shaping of today’s world? And perhaps most importantly; what is the purpose of science?
In learning about the development of scientific method over time, we obtain knowledge that could open doors to future discoveries. We have the opportunity to question scientific doctrine and are taught that science is not always right. It is sometimes tempting to put historical figures up on a pedestal. “Heroes” of science, however, will often have far more complex stories hidden beneath the facade. Historians commonly encounter reasons for doubting that so-called fact is as secure as has always been assumed, as demonstrated in the case of Galen and Vesalius’ contradicting medical theories. Since ancient times, people assumed that Galen’s ideas about the workings of the human body were correct, when in fact they contained many errors, which were noted by Vesalius in the 1500s. Scientists over the centuries have frequently disagreed about results and the quality of each other’s work.
Looking at science from a different perspective allows us to analyse the thought processes behind more controversial experiments, not only in terms of differing results, but also with regard to ethics. There is a great need for in-depth understanding as to why science in its present form ever existed in the first place. Can we justify all scientific method? What are our excuses for the creation of the hydrogen bomb and the increase of pollution? Is it worth using up society’s resources on ideas that may later prove to be incorrect? Studying the history of science and technology lets us analyse the thought processes behind the experiments and gather informed opinions on these debatable issues.
It also permits us to communicate science to the public, to discover how social and political changes have affected scientific development, and to examine the links between technological innovations and scientific discovery. The development of computer science, for example, facilitated large-scale archiving of scientific data – a crucial development for the world of genetics in particular.
Science has now become a huge global enterprise and a topic for discussion. The ongoing battle between religion and science is something that is still relevant today, after being hotly debated for centuries. Historians ask how the argument has developed over time. Have we come any nearer to finding the answer to the existence of life? In this vein, we can also attempt to confront the challenges of philosophers such as Paul Feyerabend, who argue that science does not retain any features that make it superior to myth and legend.
In studying the history of medicine, we learn how life (at least in the developed world) has ceased to be a short trial with the possibility of an end at every turn, and has become an altogether more stable concept.
The history of science and technology does indeed matter. It allows us to define the concept of science more accurately, to discover how it works, and to question the large-scale patterns and trends that have emerged over time. In short, it lets us discover how life as we know it came about.
Category: Sci Tech