IT is with science in the making rather than with science as we
understand the word to-day that we have to deal in the present
chapter. Modern science implies not only the collection of
observed facts and the application of those facts to practical
problems, but a study of the underlying principles and their
formulation into natural laws. Meteorology, for instance, is far
more than either weather lore or weather statistics.
It seems hardly legitimate to apply our present conception of
science in dealing with the older civilizations of Egypt and
Mesopotamia. The majority of writers on Greek science assume
that the scientific idea suddenly emerged with the Ionian Greeks.
The Egyptians taught orally; the Greeks by writing. For this
reason, far less is known of the Egyptians than the Greeks, and
the writer on Egyptian science starts at a disadvantage. The
Egyptians never had the consuming intellectual curiosity which
is characteristic of the Greek spirit. In their enthusiasm for the
marvel of the Greek achievement many writers have been apt
to forget the debt Greece owed to Egypt—a debt the Greeks
themselves acknowledged in no uncertain terms.
Thales and many others after him were profoundly impressed
and stimulated by the Egyptian civilization. In Egypt they
found an immense store of practical and useful knowledge, if
not exactly science in the full sense in which we use the word
to-day, at any rate the raw material of science. Yet future
research may reveal a more developed scientific attitude in
Egypt than has hitherto been suspected.
A study of the beginnings of science in Egypt enables us to
gain some idea of the processes of thought which underlie the
remarkable development which took place among the Greeks.
The material available for study is relatively meagre, and fresh