Lecture Five: Technology in Ancient Civilizations
September 27, 2011
Differences Between Ancient Civilizations and Ancient Greece
It is suggested that the Greeks were not involved in very much scientific
research, and instead engaged in more technological research (today these two
fields have some overlap).
In more ancient civilizations, research was done mainly for practical reasons.
This was the way that knowledge was used.
In Ancient Greece, this was the opposite. People would seek knowledge just for
the purpose of learning.
In Ancient Greece, there was a focus on the individual researcher/philosopher
and recognizing their theories as their own.
In other civilizations, this was done in a more bureaucratic manner. Nameless
people conducted research that was generally accepted.
There was a gathering of knowledge (almost in a list-making way) that was
catalogued in a encyclopedic manner.
Abstract generalizations, which are attempts to explain natural phenomenon,
were popular in Ancient Greece.
In Ancient civilizations, explanations for how the world worked or why it was a
certain way was based on a supernatural entity or a religious figure.
In Ancient Greece, the focus of the philosophers was not on religious
explanations, but rather on material explanations. They were asking different
questions and therefore ended up with very different explanations for why things
were certain ways.
Implications of These Different Ideas
It was assumed that the ancient Greeks were more progressive because they
studied for the purpose of knowledge. This is why Greece is considered the
birthplace of modern science. This is a problem because people assume that the other ancient civilizations are
less progressive and their achievements are not as impressive because they
were for practical reasons.
The Western world is based on the Ancient Greek roots of knowledge. It is
believed that science is the superior subject. The Eastern world traces its roots
back to the other ancient civilizations.
Diffusion of Technology
In Ancient Greece, there was no development of of large-scale agricultural
structures. They did some of this on a small scale, although they imported and
exported many of their goods.
Because of this constant contact with other parts of the world, the Greeks were
able to spread their knowledge to other parts of the world. They were also able to
receive and adopt new theories from elsewhere in the world.
Technical Arts versus Natural Philosophy
The emphasis on natural philosophy (learning for learning’s sake), as opposed to
the technical arts, was prominent in Greece because of many reasons.
Socio-Economic - people who worked with their hands typically engaged in the
technical arts because it was practical and helped in their domain of work. They
were considered to be of lower status because they worked with their hands and
had to consider how much money they made as a way of survival.
Natural philosophers often had more money and more time. They did not need to
focus on practical technologies because they worked with their mind as opposed
to their hands.
Universal/General Knowledge - The natural philosophers were considered to be
more valuable because they developed ideas and theories that could explain
things that are occurring all over the world. Those engaging in technical arts were
considered to be very subject-specific, meaning that it would o