Skip to main content

Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

See other formats

SCIENCE, in the more restricted sense in which it is normally
employed in English-speaking countries, is that activity by which
to-day we attain the great bulk of our knowledge of and control over
the facts of nature. This activity, like oilier human activities, lias
developed and evolved, and by no means all the stages in its evolution
have merited the title of scientific. In remote prehistoric times, our
early ancestors worked by trial and error combined with simple,
intuitive common-sense. This pro-scientific approach, however, was
combined with the non-scientific methods of control that we call
magic, and equally non-scientific rationalisations in the field of
Once agriculture had given the possibility of settled civilisations,
with written record and specialised social classes, the hand-to-month
methods of common-sense could be replaced by something much
more scientific. Science was born --witness the astronomy and geo-
metry of ancient Mesopotamia and ligypt. But science in this phase
was still, to our modern view, unscientific in two major aspects—it
was traditional and it was esoteric* Scientific knowledge was confined
to a limited group among the priesthood and it was casl in a mould of
tradition which rendered change and progress slow. Being associated
with the priesthood, it was also intimately bound up with non-
scientific practice and non-scientific interpretation-—magic and
The era of groping trial and error lasted from the first dawn of
essentially human intelligence*, as marked by true speech, to the begin-
nings of settled civilization—perhaps a million, perhaps half a million
years. The next, or traditional-esoteric phase, lasted for thousands
instead of hundreds of thousands of years. Alter some three or four
millennia, the Greeks suddenly burst free of the prison of secrecy and
traditionalism and proclaimed the freedom of intellectual inquiry.
The "birth of science" is usually fathered on them, but the assumption
is only a half-truth. At best, their achievement was the acquisition of
freedom and self-consciousness by the scientific spirit, not: the emerg-
ence of a wholly new activity called science. And secondly, the type
of science which it inaugurated differed radically from modern science
in several respects. It was almost entirely divorced from industry
and practical application; it was exceedingly speculative and did