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The Frontiers of Ancient Science

Brooke Holmes and Klaus-Dietrich Fischer, editors
Walter de Gruyter
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 338
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
, on

Histories of science sometimes paint the ancients that studied mathematics and the natural world as being unrealistic and self-serving in their explanations of how nature operates. While it is true that they were wrong about a great deal, there were many things that they got right, especially in mathematics. In any case, their work was also a first step in getting it right, for the most important aspect is that there be a curiosity or need to find an explanation of a natural something.

In mathematics, there are many proofs created thousands of years ago that have never been refuted, though sometimes a different proof has been found, sometimes more elegant, other times just one more. The count of different proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem is now rather high, but none is really an improvement on the original.

While some of the papers in this collection are about mathematics, a wide spectrum of topics is covered, from medicine to military science (artillery) to how animals reproduce. All are written in academic style, occasionally a little stiff and packed with references. As I read through the papers, I mentally commended those ancient seekers of truth. They started something that led to one of the most powerful forces in the modern world, the scientific method. Reading the papers on science is a strong reminder that science is self-correcting: it may take some time and other forces, such as religion and politics, are often interjected, but in the end the truth is discovered and made available to all.

Note: Some of the papers in this collection are not in English. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.