Events

Friday, May 28, 2010

28 May, 585 BCE: Birth of Science (according to Bob Park)

How nice to be able to pin an epochal event in the development of humanity to a specific date. Physicist Bob Park has it figured out:
[May 21] BIRTH OF SCIENCE: NEXT FRIDAY, MAY 28, SCIENCE WILL BE 2,595 YEARS OLD.
On May 28, 585 B.C. the swath of a total solar eclipse passed over the Greek island of Miletus. The early Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus, alone understood what was happening. The world's first recorded freethinker, Thales rejected all supernatural explanations, and used the occasion to state the first law of science: every observable effect has a physical cause. The 585 B.C. eclipse is now taken to mark the birth of science, and Thales is honored as the father. What troubles would be spared the world if the education of every child began with causality? We might, for example, have been spared the absurd cell phone/cancer myth.

[May 28] SCIENCE: BORN ON THIS DAY 2595 YEARS AGO.
Not everyone agreed with the designation May 28 as the birthday of science. It marks the day that Thales of Miletus is alleged to have predicted a solar eclipse. One reader thought the discovery of fire would be a better choice, but of course we don't know when that happened or who did it. Cause and effect on the other hand applies to all science. We can begin with any phenomenon and in principle trace its cause and the cause of its cause backward through time to the merger of all such tracks at the Big Bang, beyond which presumably no tracks remain. We are trying to re-create the last footprints with the LHC. We need a beginning that applies to all of science. Causality does that.
Religion seems to be a universal, transcultural human phenomenon dating back to deep time (some would say, it's hard-wired into our brains, though that's a complex issue). In part for that reason, no one can tell us precisely on what date it began. By contrast, even if we are endowed with rationality, the application of that rationality in systematic ways to the physical world implies a departure. Another of the differences between science and religion.