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Preliterate civilizations

1) knowledge is confined to know-how, without theoretical understanding of underlying principles

2) fluidity of knowledge -> knowledge is limited to two generations , oral transmission

3) collection of myths and stories about beginning of universe, life and natural phenomena , Animism


First written language

-separately in at least four cultures
-6000 BCE: china
-3200 BCE: Egypt and Sumer
-300 BCE: America

-> from early stage, writing systems were combination of Pictogramm and phonograms



-pictures that resemble persons, animals, objects they represent
-Chinese alphabet closest to pictograms



-physical correspondence between signs and words decreased
-words are represented by written characters, that no longer resemble meaning they stand for



-signs to represent sounds of spoken language
-gradually replaced by simpler signs symbolizing meaningful sounds in language or syllables
-> led to alphabetic writing system


Written documents form an external memory

-important for science because it allows accumulation of knowledge
-read what predecessors wrote to rediscover what has previously been found
-before answering new questions, researchers search in literature for what is already known
-> built on existing insights and avoid pitfalls


Socrates (470-399 BCE) opinion on writing

-philosopher in ancient Greece
-argued that writing leads to forgetfulness, laziness and discouragement (demotivieren) of proper studying


Scholastic method

-study method in which students unquestioningly memorize and recite texts that are thought to coney the unchaining truths
-it was still prevalent in universities in 16th century


Fertile Crescent

-most important civilizations for origin of western culture
-> ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt


Ancient mesopotamia

-More sophisticated knowledge of mathematics
-applied in astronomy
-> made calendar of planets, stars and satellites and determined times for planting and harvesting


Ancient Egypt

-contributed to geometrical knowledge
-made a calendar of 12 months


Ancient Greeks

-first culture to question nature of wold
-philosophy started here around 600 BCE


Ancient Greeks - foundation of schools

-4 schools were established in Anthem
-academy -> Plato
-Lyceum -> Aristotle
-Garden of Epicurus


Plato (427-348 BCE)

-pupil of Socrates
-rationalism -> truth is based on thinking not information of senses
-views appreciated by church


Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

-contributed to biology, logic, metaphysics, psychology
-student of Plato
-knowledge is less based on reason, he left room for observation
-most popular in Renaissance, initially led to tensions with church
The world is as we perceive it -> no gap between appearance and reality -> what you observe is what there is


Ancient romans

-admired Greek culture
-transferred their methods and learning
-romans -> more interested in practical questions
-> dominated by technological inventions and improvements

-Greeks -> philosophical debates
-> dominated by philosophical writings


Late Roman and arab empire

-end of second century CE
-> political stability in Roman Empire begann to fade away and civil wars gave rise to division in east and west empires around 300



-14th-17th century
-rediscovery and imitation of Classical Greek and Roman civilization


Protestant reformation

-starting 1516
-movement against Roman Catholic Church
-> important for development of science
-emphasized need for education, critical thinking, hard work and worldly success

-> invention of book printing
-colonization of the world


Biases of historical writings (5)

1) too much centered on persons
2) Matthew effect
3) hindsight bias
4) ethnocentrism
5) History reviews are summaries of summaries


1) too much centered on persons

-zeitgeist -> indicating that time was right for certain discovery, which did not originate form a single genius, but from much wider development leading to discovery


2) Matthew effect

-tendency to give more credit to well-known scientists than they deserve
-increases perceived impact of these scientists


3) hindsight bias

-facts are interpreted on basis of what happened afterwards, individual scholars get more prominence than they deserve because we tend to assume they knew more than they actually did


4) Ethnocentrism

-too much attention is given to contributions to authors’ own group
-> tendency to give too much credit to input of economically dominant groups


Discovery of pottery



Discovery of metal



Discovery of glass



Discovery of fire

-possibly the greatest discovery of man
-once humans understood that even if initially destroys vegetation , life can grow again and fire could be kept and preserved, it became an essential characteristic of humans