The lecture Origin of Greek Science Spirit is a lecture given by Professor Wu Guosheng on Nov. 7, 2019, at Peking University. And the book What’s Science is also Prof. Wu.
To begin our discussion, let’s define science first. The science we discuss in this note is a system styled with two features: deductive and falsifiable. In addition, science is different from technology: technology is not deductive but more productive.
Some say science is one kind of faith. Yes. Modern science is a replacement of Christian. As for China, from the 1800s to 1920s, the traditional value system went corrupted, people need something to believe in. That’s why the Chinese are so fascinating about modern science.
There are two phases of Science: Greek Science and Modern Science. Greek Science is the base of modern science. Modern Science introduced the spirit of will to power, thus modern science has greatly improved productivity.
Greek Science: do science deductively for science
There are two bases of Greek Science: free and independent. Free means people do science for no certain practice purpose. People do science for science. Independent means science relay on the deduction to develop itself.
Why “free” is important? The progress from static electricity to electric cars is not and can not be powered by practical demand. Free represents unlimited potential.
Why “independency” is important? Independence ensured that no is no. Let’s take Chinese astronomy as an example: when the astronomical phenomenon is highly related to politics, misprediction lead to fables instead of correction of theories.
And Greek philosophy contribute a lot to Greek science. They invented nature. This world can not be described in math, but concepts can be. Thus, we work on nature instead of this world. This is one of the bases of Greek Science.
Modern Science: the will to power
Christian accepted the nature science proposed by Aristotle. They understand the Bible is not about science. Moreover, the proposal of Nominalism in scholasticism replace God with the human. Nominalism proposes that God is unpredictable so pray will not save you. The only way to save yourself is positively manipulating nature. They released the will to power.
Greek science did not interact with nature, the representative is Stoicheia. For modern science nature is neither holy nor cheap, science began to interfere with nature. The representative is Almagest, which is the bridge between Greek science and modern science.
And I’ve got a new understanding of how philosophy leads to the development of science. Science is very much the same as agriculture. You can not make plans for science, all you can do is to provide the right environment, which is what philosophy does. Here’s a specific example: philosopher Henry More proposed that space might be infinite, which is the direct base of Newton’s first law of motion.
The highest pursuit of Chinese philosophy is benevolence which Greek philosophy peruse free science. And Chinese philosophers believed that people are part of the world, nature worked not in its own way but a complicated way which encountered human wishes and gods’ wishes. What’s why there’s no eastern science.
From a religious point of view, our culture did not stand for one’s own will. Buddhism proposed that publicity is the source of suffering. Therefore, there’s no place for nominalism.
However, eastern technology was greatly advanced. Why advanced technology didn’t lead to science? Let’s take Chinese astronomy as an example: Chinese astronomy served Li instead of discovering nature rules. Secondly, misprediction didn’t falsify the theory: we made stories to explain misprediction.
Worth mention that science is just one kind of ideology, not the best one. Confucianism kept China prosper for thousands of years while European suffered from Dark Ages. The competition between Chinese philosophy and Greek philosophy is very much the same as the competition between Magic and Mechanism.