Author Topic: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?  (Read 304 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« on: February 25, 2019, 03:20:48 PM »
I've listened a bit to the audiobook version of Pale Blue Dot. It is partially read by Carl Sagan, and those parts are really "soulful" in a way because you can really hear that he wrote it by the way that he emphasizes words and sentences. There are definitely chapters in that book I could see myself listening to again in the future.

Very early on in the books, he speaks about the ancient Greeks and Romans. He wrote approvingly about the atomists and the Epicureans. One thing that stood out for me was that he called Lucretius "the first popularizer of science".

I wonder, would that really be a correct description? Yes, I know that Sagan wrote for the people, not for ancient history nerds like me, but still. Was science really developed as a concept back in Lucretius' days? What do you think?

(To clarify, I too am a big fan of the atomists and the Epicureans. Brilliant people who were roughly, but largely, correct, by observation and thinking hard. Democritus even had a blunt idea of human evolution and anthropology.)
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2019, 04:22:22 PM »
Just speaking off the top of my head, I would say that science is more than just careful observation and hard thinking. Those are involved. But without experimental verification of predictions, I'm not sure I'd call it science.

My sister belongs to a quasi-Hindu church that claims to be "scientific," on the grounds that the founder came up with his teachings through observation. Of course it makes no testable predictions and is chock-full of Depakian woo.

The ancient world had some brilliant thinkers, and perhaps a few serious observers, but I don't think they had science. Anybody who listens to the Sawbones podcast for a while will know that the ancient world certainly didn't apply the scientific method to the treatment of illness.
Daniel
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Offline Billzbub

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2019, 12:46:05 PM »
Perhaps by "science", he meant trying to figure out things through physical investigation rather than supernatural.  Sure, the process didn't really get good until we came up with blinding and peer review and what not, but just the idea that the world could be investigated and understood without invoking the supernatural was the beginning of science.
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Offline Noisy Rhysling

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2019, 06:13:48 PM »
I'd go with Thag Simmons.
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2019, 09:09:21 PM »
The OP doesn't refer to doing science, it refers to popularising science. In modern terms, science communication - ie, bringing science (and in this case, philosophy) to a general nonspecialised audience.
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Online Rai

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2019, 01:36:43 AM »
I have never seen anything that points to Lucretius' one known work to be any different from previous "scientific" writings when it comes to target audience or distribution.

It is especially weird to point at a Roman, when Greek thinkers were habitually speaking in public and founding schools to spread their ideas hundreds of years before.

Though, this is just Eurocentric drivel. There has been proto-scientific inquiry all over the world, so always going back to the Greco-Romans and hailing them as firats is kinda weird and very outdated. It's not like they weren't themselves building on thousands of years of African and Near-Eastern scholarship, which is always neatly relegated to the sidelines (at least it is not almost completely ignored like Asia or the Americas)

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Was Lucretius really "the first popularizer of science"?
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2019, 04:57:37 PM »
I have never seen anything that points to Lucretius' one known work to be any different from previous "scientific" writings when it comes to target audience or distribution.

It is especially weird to point at a Roman, when Greek thinkers were habitually speaking in public and founding schools to spread their ideas hundreds of years before.

Though, this is just Eurocentric drivel. There has been proto-scientific inquiry all over the world, so always going back to the Greco-Romans and hailing them as firats is kinda weird and very outdated. It's not like they weren't themselves building on thousands of years of African and Near-Eastern scholarship, which is always neatly relegated to the sidelines (at least it is not almost completely ignored like Asia or the Americas)

I agree with your general points. But the book is from 1994. Perhaps general awareness has increased since then. And Sagan does implicitly criticize Eurocentrism in that book.
"I appear as a skeptic, who believes that doubt is the great engine, the great fuel, of all inquiry, all discovery, and all innovation" - Christopher Hitchens