Reflexions on science and its role in the European civilization

Jan Sebestik
Institut d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences de l’Universit√© de Paris I et CNRS 

All civilizations had some rudiments of scientific knowledge: elements of geometry and arithmetic, collections of astronomical observations, calendar, methods of treatment of illnesses, extensive knowledge of plants, animals and environment. Taking advantage of this accumulation of knowledge by their neighbors, the Greeks developed a completely different model of science unifying scattered pieces by logical methods and mathematics. While Greek science declined, the Islamic countries overtook the leading role for about four centuries, but again, science in these countries became practically extinct. The reasons of this double decline will be examined.

European science is a late product (why?): it awoke late and developed slowly since the XIIIth century, assimilating progressively Greek and Islamic heritage. After the renaissance of arts, an exceptional international scientific community came to life in the XVIIth century giving birth to science as we know it today. It was a collective work of men of genius and two of them should be mentioned because of their decisive and unpredictable innovations: Kepler and Einstein.

After two centuries that brought fundamental discoveries (unification of mathematics by set theory, mathematical logic, electricity and magnetism and unification of physics, theory of relativity, quantum theory, Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Mendel’s heredity theory, discovery of the genetic code, psychoanalysis etc, etc.), European science (and in a lesser degree also American) manifests first warning signals of recession: the interest of the general public as well as the number of students of science declines. Is democracy capable to promote the pursuit of scientific research? Science is not only our work and our heritage. it is also the only means to keep pace with the quickly developing outer world.

Image source: Radio Praha