Homo erectus, which originated somewhere in Asia or Africa about two million years ago, travelled to many corners of the world within the following million years. It is clear that this was not just for the search for suitable habitat. Otherwise, all human settlements would have been confined to the river valleys, which were very suitable for habitation. But this ancient man had walked across fertile land and some of them have settled even in steep terrains and barren lands with very harsh climates. I see the only possible reason for this is the intrinsic curiosity of those human beings.
Ancient human beings, who, for several hundred thousand years slaughtered animals and ate raw meat, may have experienced a softer, more palatable taste when they ate the flesh of an accidentally burnt animal. So when they saw a natural fire, the dead animal would have been thrown into the fire and eaten the roasted soft flesh.
A forest fire does not occur where and when it is needed for human beings. Thus, the mind of the primitive man may have worked in finding a way of creating fire whenever it is required. This idea, matured over nearly a couple of million years, led the man to develop the technology of making fire.
What you read above is the birth of science and technology. Science is born and advanced because of the human psychological quality of curiosity (inquisitive mind). The unquenchable desire to meet one’s own needs (inventive mind) is the mental quality that drives the technology to move forward. These psychic properties perform interdependent (i.e. interconnected) functions for science and technology to be advanced.
Two million years later, these ancient human qualities are still written in every cell of the human body. Thus, science and technology is not something new that emerged just four or five hundred years ago.
It took mankind at least a million years to understand fire and another similar period to come up with the technology to make it artificially. It took tens of thousands of years to understand the motion and produce the wheel. It took thousands of years to understand the human body and develop Ayurvedic medical technology.
However, it takes human beings less than only a century to understand the virus and develop vaccines for many diseases. The story of computer technology is counted in decades, and the drone, a new science a few years ago, is now a common technology that even comes close to everyday life. Today, some people are blaming science for not being able to find a vaccine for Covid-19 within a few months.
Science and technology, which have been around for more than a million years, have reached a critical juncture a few centuries ago. Until that turning point, the science developed by experience and experimentation (most often by trial & error). Then, people discovered a fundamental way of approach, which is called Scientific Methodology. This new approach converted millions, millennia, and centuries of scientific and technological advancements into decades, years, and months.
Modern science, as we call it today, is the science that works according to this methodology that is accepted by everyone irrespective of his/her space and time. Other than that, in all aspects, there is not much difference between the science of ancient man and the science of modern man.
“Have you seen the electrons? “
“If haven’t, how do you believe that they exist?”
“Similarly, how can you say that there are no gods or no reincarnation, or no athma just because you have not seen them?”
I have met many people in the past who ask such questions. They are mostly trying to prove a particular religious’ opinion. I almost always remain silent without answering these questions. But I don’t think that it is a good response. This article is written especially for those who really want to have an answer for that.
From the beginning, science has been based on curiosity, not belief. Belief is the coffin of science. The journey of science stops on the day that the belief is established.
By science, we mean building a model based on the information that we have gathered over a period of time, and also on our analytical power. That model is valid only for that time frame. Once a scientific model is built up, we try to explain the observations in nature and construct the technology to meet our needs, based on the scientific model that is developed. Every scientific model works up to some extent and then problems arise.
Then we change the model we have built according to the accepted norms of scientific methodology. Then we step into another domain in another time frame. The accepted truth in that frame of reference, is the modified model. In this line, Science changes at every moment passby. It quenches our curiosity and arouses new curiosity. Our needs are also renewed. Accordingly, the technology that meets the requirements also changes. This is a never-ending journey. The best example of this is the story of the atom.
Man has been curious about the building block of the universe for a long time. The first concept of the building block of the universe is mentioned in Vedic texts about 4000 years ago. It was called “Brahman” (not the Brahma, the Creator of the Universe as indicated in the later Hindu scripts). We will discuss that in another article.
The earliest mention of this in Europe was by the philosopher Democritus, a contemporary of Aristotle, who lived some 2,400 years ago. He said that as the matter continues to separate, it ends up with a very small particle.
However, Aristotle held the opposite view. Aristotle was a very popular man at the time, thus, Democritus’ opinion was suppressed. Whatever the building block of matter, it may not have aroused the interest of the society at that time. And, then for the next two millennia, science was overshadowed by the belief system that dominated the rationalism of the human mind.
The idea of Democritus resurfaced about 2200 years later. John Dalton called the smallest building block of matter “the atom”. He also modelled them as small spherical solid objects. This allowed him to describe the behaviour of the gases to some extent.
But over time, studies of charges have shown that there are other smaller parts of the atom that are considered to be even smaller spheres; protons and electrons. J. J. Thompson gave the atom a new model, where the atom was represented as a tiny sphere of electrons immersed in a positively charged uniform medium.
Soon, however, Lord Rutherford’s experiments pointed out that most of the atom is empty and the tiny electrons move around the positively charged protons in the centre. This model helped to clarify many more observations and thereby develop technological tools.
Over time, some observations could not be explained by the above model so that newer concepts emerged. This winds of change blow continuously to this day. It will go on for many more millennia.
Despite the model of the atom changed over time, each model paved the way to the discovery of electricity and electromagnetic waves, which in turn produced a number of new inventions that turned the lifestyles of the entire human race upside down.
Thus, nothing in science is based on eternal truth or a belief. Scientists try to define the world by creating models as per the knowledge base and analytical skills available at a given time. When that is not possible, they change the model. In addition, they develop technology to meet human needs through the existing model at a given time.
Have I seen the electron?
Do I believe that there is such a thing as electrons?
This type of questions is meaningless. Whether or not there is really a thing as an electron exists, it does not have an impact on scientist’s intentions. He builds a model of whatever it is and tries to understand the world and meet the needs of man. He changes the model when his desires are not met.
It is because of this journey of science and technology, that you have a more comfortable life today than that of a person in the fifteenth century. We do not know whether it is a lie, an illusion, or a fact, but we can see that it has many benefits.
In the two million years of human history, the number of untimely deaths from viral diseases alone may exceed several billion. No divine power or supernatural force could stop it. But thanks to this science, which some people call as a “blatant lie”, millions of lives that would have died so tragically in the last two centuries, have been saved.