Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Review: The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim

As part of my research for the science class I'll be running for my own children as well as other homeschoolers, I read The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim. It was recommended by Deb in this very long post about hierarchy.

Quick take: It's a very in-depth history from pre-history until The Age of Discovery. The author brings up a lot of interesting points (in the search for knowledge-for-knowledge's sake versus the practical use of knowledge, she points out that both are important--though I think both are practical in the end). The histories of numbers and the calendar are also presented. It's written for teenagers, so the writing style is quite casual. This is a history book, not a science book, so there are hardly any equations, or experiments. The author does talk about the dominant philosophies that lead to the beginning of science and it's banishment during the Dark Ages.

Use in the science course: This book has a lot of information (not as much as the next one, but a lot of information for covering the time period before the Renaissance). There is some math included, which makes it more useful than other histories. Too much is covered from the standpoint of the course I want to offer and needs to be seriously cut. There is also no really good scientific flow--no easy indicators of what information is being relied on for the next step. There is also not enough math to really count for science.

Surprising fact I learned: Hero of Alexandria actually had a lot of steam and water powered machines to do things like open doors--and he apparently even had a steam-driven carriage.

All that being said, I took something like 50 pages of notes.

Here are some of the major points:
  • A lot of emphasis on creation stories early in the book.
  • The author says, "Paul says, [quoting the bible] 'For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.' Considering that can make you humble. We're just human beings trying our best to understand the wonder and vastness of the world around us." Small, small nit-picking on my part since most of the rest of the book is very positive.
  • Too much clutter on the pages and chopping up the text. Be prepared to interrupt the narrative to read little sidebars, timelines, text boxes, and whole sections thrown into the book. And they can't be ignored. They introduce important information that will be referred to in the main text.
  • All of the names include pronunciation.
  • Good emphasis on the scientific use of 'theory,' as opposed to the Christian Fundamentalist misunderstanding of the word 'theory.' A sidebar explains theory and hypothesis. I thought this was way too important to leave out of the main text. The definition of theory is also in a sidebar.
  • Very casual writing style. Definitely tries to appeal to teenagers in some areas (this doesn't happen all that frequently--or I got used to it).
  • Book starts with creation myths (hey--that's what I was going to do), moves to the calendar (that seemed to take a while), goes into Greece for most of the book and continues through Roman conquest and fall, through the Dark Ages and ends at the Age of Discovery.
  • Author points out that political freedom leads to freedom of thought and that laws that direct belief and thought chill independent discovery like science.
  • As you might expect for a book targeted to teens, there is no controversy presented about what is attributed to whom and when. All discoveries are presented as fact without any "we believe..." modifiers.
  • Joy Hakim really brings home the bacon when stating that Greeks are the foundation of Western Civilization. The ideas they came up are part of everyone's heritage--no matter where you are from.
  • I like that the author includes some root words in the sidebars (that seemed more appropriate to me--not critical to the text, adds something of passing interest, and small).
  • Didn't emphasize that thought exercises, like most of the early Greeks did, was not truly science as we know it today.
  • Throughout the text, the author includes timelines.
  • How the knowledge of the ancients is known today is discussed. It includes talking about how Moslems saved a number of texts and translated them as well as tried their hand at some discovery (I think it is a great misfortune that the large number of star names that begin with 'al' are not explained to be named by Moslem scientists).
  • The technological advances in China are discussed and properly set aside because they did not actually try to understand how nature worked--just enough to get the tools they needed. All of the other civilizations of the time (or before or after) are also side-stepped for the same appropriate reason--no quest for abstractions.
  • Very interesting story of how our modern numbers were adopted from the Middle East. Great story about merchants, wanting the best for their business, used the most efficient method for calculation and switched to Hindu-Arabic numerals even though they were outlawed.

Scientists, and their conclusions, included

  • Babylonians--calendar
  • Thales--no supernatural, finds heights of objects by measuring shadow, amber attracts after rubbed, first fossils, all is water
  • Anaximander--earth curved like a cylinder, stars on a sphere (not a bowl)
  • Anaximenes--air make everything, air is small particles, rainbows were natural (not a goddess)
  • Anaxagoras--brought the learning to Athens, taught (?) Pericles, Euripedes, and Socrates, inhabited planets, powerful mind brought order from chaos, moon is ordinary matter that reflects sunlight, sun was a fiery stone, "Reason rules the world," tried for going against religion
  • Empedocles--everything made of earth, air, fire, and water
  • Phoenicians--celestial navigation
  • Pythagoras--circles are perfect, ran a cult devoted to numbers, he wore trousers from China instead of regular robes, first to model the world in numbers, numbers were real like stones, developed theory of vibration of strings applied to music, the Pythagorean theorem
  • Democritus--all things are made of atoms (unbreakable small particles), volume of a cone
  • Socrates--because there's no experimenting, studies the soul because it's in that realm that is in motion (the regular world), "know thyself"
  • Plato--didn't trust his senses, perfect and ideal was the world of thought, Platonic solids
  • Aristotle--examined existing objects, eventually lead to experimentation (much, much, much later), loved to integrate, revered by later Europeans so much that they didn't want to contradict his conclusions even when they were wrong, thought water, fire, air, and earth were elements, the heavens were perfect and unchanging, Earth (and things in the 'earthly sphere') were imperfect
  • Aristarchus--Earth revolved around the sun, size of the moon, distance to the moon, Earth spins on it's axis, inclined axis causes the seasons
  • Alexander the Great--Library of Alexandria, center of civilization, learning, and scientific progress at Alexandria
  • Hero of Alexandria--steam engine, siphons, pump, area of triangle, six simple machines (pulley, lever, wedge, wheel and axle, screw, siphon), used compressed air for gadgets, upside-down glass in water, vending machine, pneumatic gun, water clock, solar-powered fountain, automatic doors
  • Euclid--prime numbers, made light part of geometry, "The Elements," axioms
  • Apollonius of Perga--conic sections (yay for conic sections!)
  • Archimedes--Earth rotating around the sun, practical applications of science were ignoble, but he did it anyway and did it incredibly well, war machines, volume of an irregular shape by water displacement ("Eureka"), density, law of the lever, center of mass, concentrating light with mirrors
  • Erastosthenes--diameter of the Earth
  • Lucretius--lightning and thunder, sound, light, atoms
  • Eudoxus--set up a coordinate system for the sky, mapped the stars
  • Hipparchus--found a new star, remapped the stars in case it had been missed, magnitude of stars, noted a shift of stars over long period of time (200 years), invented stargazing tools, epicycles on planet orbits, modeled geocentricity through math, round Earth, used the celestial coordinate system for Earth, father of trigonometry
  • Claudius Ptolemy--geocentric, Earth was mostly dry land, thought Earth was 30% smaller in diameter than actuality
  • Hypatia--killed for lecturing the Greek philosophers
  • Augustine--like practicality and religion, continued with Aristotle's ideas
  • Boethius--translated Aristotle's logic
  • Pope Sylvester--pipe organ, wooden planetarium, collected ancient manuscripts, studied in Islamic Spain, brought the abacus to Europe, physics is a branch of mathematics, read Plato and Aristotle, started a trend of studying in Spain
  • Adeland of Bath--translates "The Elements" to Latin, atoms
  • Maimonides--worked with Aristotle's science, also clarifying it
  • Avicenna--worked with Aristotle's science, also clarifying it
  • Averioes--worked with Aristotle's science, also clarifying it
  • Aryabthata--used 9 digits, base 10
  • Brahmagupta--0, negative numbers
  • Fibonacci (Leonardo Pisano)--abacus, 9 digits, place value, 0 as place-value holder
  • Thomas Aquinas--merge science and religion, think about both the after-life and the here-and-now, can learn from pagans like Aristotle
  • Roger Bacon--scientific knowledge cannot be blindly accepted from authorities, scientific truth is the fruit of observation and experimentation
  • Johannes Gutenberg--printing press

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