History of Scientific Method - Early Methodology

Early Methodology

There are few explicit discussions of scientific methodologies in surviving records from early cultures. The most that can be inferred about the approaches to undertaking science in this period stems from descriptions of early investigations into nature, in the surviving records. An Egyptian medical textbook, the Edwin Smith papyrus, (c. 1600 BC), applies the following components: examination, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, to the treatment of disease, which display strong parallels to the basic empirical method of science and according to G. E. R. Lloyd played a significant role in the development of this methodology. The Ebers papyrus (c. 1550 BC) also contains evidence of traditional empiricism.

By the middle of the 1st millennium BC in Mesopotamia, Babylonian astronomy had evolved into the earliest example of a scientific astronomy, as it was "the first and highly successful attempt at giving a refined mathematical description of astronomical phenomena." According to the historian Asger Aaboe, "all subsequent varieties of scientific astronomy, in the Hellenistic world, in India, in Islam, and in the West – if not indeed all subsequent endeavour in the exact sciences – depend upon Babylonian astronomy in decisive and fundamental ways."

The early Babylonians and Egyptians developed much technical knowledge, crafts, and mathematics used in practical tasks of divination, as well as a knowledge of medicine, and made lists of various kinds. While the Babylonians in particular had engaged in the earliest forms of an empirical mathematical science, with their early attempts at mathematically describing natural phenomena, they generally lacked underlying rational theories of nature. It was the ancient Greeks who engaged in the earliest forms of what is today recognized as a rational theoretical science, with the move towards a more rational understanding of nature which began at least since the Archaic Period (650 – 480 BC) with the Presocratic school. Thales was the first to refuse to accept supernatural, religious or mythological explanations for natural phenomena, proclaiming that every event had a natural cause. Leucippus, went on to develop the theory of atomism – the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms. This was elaborated in great detail by Democritus. Similar atomist ideas emerged independently among ancient Indian philosophers of the Nyaya, Vaisesika and Buddhist schools.

Towards the middle of the 5th century BC, some of the components of a scientific tradition were already heavily established, even before Plato, who was an important contributor to this emerging tradition, thanks to the development of deductive reasoning, as propounded by his student, Aristotle. In Protagoras (318d-f), Plato mentions the teaching of arithmetic, astronomy and geometry in schools. The philosophical ideas of this time were mostly freed from the constraints of everyday phenomena and common sense. This denial of reality as we experience it reaches an extreme in Parmenides who argued that the world is one and that change and subdivision do not exist.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, the Greek physicians Herophilos (335–280 BC) and Erasistratus of Chios employed experiments to further their medical research; Erasistratus at one time repeatedly weighing a caged bird, and noting its weight loss between feeding times.

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History Of Scientific Method - Early Methodology - Aristotelian Science and Empiricism
... Aristotle largely ignored inductive reasoning in his treatment of scientific enquiry ... To make it clear why this is so, consider this statement in the Posterior Analytics, We suppose ourselves to possess unqualified scientific knowledge of a thing, as opposed to knowing it in the accidental way in which the sophist knows, when we think that we know the cause on which the fact depends, as the cause of that fact and of no other, and, further, that the fact could not be other than it is. ...

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