Part II: Philosophy:The Contribution
of the Indo-Europeans
THE UN-INVENTIVENESS OF INDO-EUROPEANS
well established that Science drew far more from Technology during
the first few centuries of its development than it ever contributed,
as the third volume of Singer's History of Technology makes
clear. Stafford Hatfield remarks that Scientists have in fact
invented remarkably little - except in ideas. Thus of the 21
presidents of the Royal Society, only 4 invented anything, and
of 174 recipients of the Copley Medal, only 12 invented anything.
Moreover, a consideration of these 'inventions' shows that they
were sometimes more in the nature of extensions of existing ideas
than truly original contributions. As Hatfield puts it, "superficially
regarded, the scientist is discovering what is there, while
the inventor is creating what has never existed before."
He does not feel this is
absolutely true, for it makes such 'inventions' accidental by-products
of a search for something else. This is by no means the case
in applied research, but pure Science must surely result in 'accidental'
discoveries in this sense, rather than in inventions. It thus
gives us one clear distinction between Science and Technology.
Discoveries vs. solutions
The same author points out
how the most important discoveries are not the result of a search
for solutions to practical problems. As he says; 45
44. Hatfield, H. Stafford, The Inventor
and His World, Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin Books, 1948, p.38.
45. Hatfield, H.Stafford., ibid., p.39.
invented the vacuum flask, Einthoven the string galvanometer,
Aston the mass spectrograph, Crookes the X-ray tube, quite "by
the way" in the course of pure research and without any
thought of the general utility of these instruments. The same
is true of innumerable chemical methods. But the highest order
of creative effort is exemplified in the great hypotheses which
in the last marvelous 50 years of Science have sprung
from the brains of Einstein, Rutherford, Bohr, Planck, de Broglie,
Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and others. These are tested, like technical
inventions, by trying whether they will work. But it is obvious
that an aeon of experimenting would not discover them in nature,
but only result in a mountain of facts without any structure
people use some chemical in conjunction with their 'magic' they
are completely indifferent to experimenting with it. This is
beautifully illustrated by a story told recently over the BBC
and reported in The Listener.
E. H. Robinson tells how
E.Evans-Pritchard visited the Azande, an African people and discovered
that they were using a certain method to get positive or negative
answers, which depended on giving a chicken a poisonous substance
called benge. If the chicken died the answer was Yes,
or No, depending on which answer the spirits had been asked to
give. 46 Evans-Pritchard
asked what would happen if they were to administer a double dose
to a chicken which had recovered from the usual dose. The Azande
were simply not interested. No one has been fool enough to waste
good oracle benge in making such a pointless experiment.
Only a European could imagine such a stupid waste of good material!
In fact, Evans-Pritchard says that were a European to make such
a test in which Azande opinion was proved wrong, the natives
would not be impressed. They would simply stand amazed at the
credulity of the European. If the chicken died, they would say
it was not good benge - the very fact that the chicken
died would prove it! There is absolutely no desire to speculate
- and no experiment is ever undertaken merely to satisfy 'idle
In editing a valuable collection
of Papers published under the title The Intellectual Adventure
of Ancient Man, and later republished under a new title Before
Philosophy, H. Frankfort opens his introductory remarks with
the following observation: 47
46. Robertson, E.H., "The Beliefs of
Science," The Listener, BBC, (London, UK), Jan. 28,
47. Frankfort, H, and H.A. Frankfort, et. al., The Intellectual
Adventure of Ancient Man, University of Chicago Press, 1946,
we look for "speculative thought" in the documents
of the ancients, we shall be forced to admit that there is very
little indeed in our written records which deserves the name
of 'thought' in the strictest sense of the term. There are very
few passages which show the discipline, the cogency of reasoning,
which we associate with thinking.
contains a number of papers dealing with Egypt, Mesopotamia,
and the Hebrews. There is unanimity on this point. The reasons
for the absence of Science are in each case traced to a certain
mental attitude towards the world around, i.e., towards Nature,
organic and inorganic, coupled with a strange disinterest in
metaphysical problems, which discouraged certain activities such
as experiment and certain forms of thought essential to the development
of the scientific attitude.
Philosophy vs. wisdom literature
China presents a more difficult
problem. This is partly because in recent years more and more
research into their literature has been made available to Europeans,
and considerable difference of opinion has existed among the
authorities to the significance of some Chinese speculations.
For example, Needham feels there is some justification for discerning
in the writings of the neo-Confucianists certain forecasts of
modern scientific theories regarding the nature of matter. He
holds that the Sung philosophers, in their view of Nature as
a kind of balanced system of opposing forces, were almost ready
to reach the conclusions of Bohr and Rutherford in the field
of electricity. 48
On the other hand, one recent
reviewer of second volume of Needham's magnum opus, Homer
H. Dubs, who is both a Chinese scholar well able to understand
the Chinese Classics and appears to be a Philosopher in his own
right, believes that Needham is misguided in his conclusions
here. Dubs praises much of Needham's work, but feels that at
times he mis-translates Chinese texts because he really has not
mastered Chinese philosophy. As he says, "Classical Chinese
is such a concise language that one must first understand a philosophy
before translating it." 49
Yet at the very beginning Needham
has tried to indicate that caution is required in interpreting
48. Needham, J., Science and Civilization
in China, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 1954,
49. Dubs, Homer, H., reviewing J. Needham, Science and Civilization
in China in Endeavour, July, 1957, p.178.
philosophy because "in
China the word Philosophy did not quite mean what it came
to mean in Europe, being more ethical and social than metaphysical."
This, it seems to me, is
of fundamental importance, for it means that such 'philosophers'
as China produced, were really only concerned with practical
problems. Not, indeed, problems of mechanics always, but still
practical problems; for after all, human behaviour and
interaction is a very practical matter!
This is no new thought. While Confucius
is commonly referred to as a philosopher, he actually was far
from being one. Epiphanius Wilson, a Chinese classical scholar,
points out the fallacy of this common assumption. 51
The strangest figure
that meets us is the annals of Oriental thought, is that of Confucius.
To the popular mind he is the founder of a religion, and yet
he has nothing in common with the great religious teachers of
the East. The present life they despised, the future was
to them everything in its promised satisfaction. The teachings
of Confucius were of a very different sort. Throughout his whole
writings he has not even mentioned the name of God. He declined
to discuss the question of immortality. When asked about spiritual
beings he remarked, "If we cannot know men, how can we know
The influence of Confucius
springs, first of all, from the narrowness and definiteness of
his doctrine. He was no transcendentalist. His teaching was of
the earth, earthy. . . . Even as a moralist he seems practical
-- the slight emphasis he puts on virtue of truth places him
low down in the ranks of the moralists.
much about the different systems of Chinese 'philosophy,' Confucianism,
Taoism, Mohism, Buddhism, etc., which influenced Chinese thinking
- but nothing that is presented in second volume of his great
work, has convinced me that they were really concerned with the
proper subject matter of Philosophy except as they were influenced
by Buddhism. And even Buddhism, which originated in India where
one branch of the Indo-European stock had left a clear mark upon
the thinking of educated people, when transferred to China lost
its truly philosophical character, though not immediately. Alan
W. Watts says: 52
Although Buddhism was
originally an Indian religion, emerging from the traditions of
Hindu Philosophy, it did not attain its full vitality until the
Tang Dynasty in China -- about the 8th century A.D. Philosophy,
Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and religious rites are far less significant
50. Needham, Science and Civilization in
China, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 1954, vol.
51. Wilson, Epiphanius, in the Introduction to The Literature
of China, in The World's Greatest Classics, New York,
NY, Colonial Press, Renaissance Edition, vol.39, 1900, p.3,4.
52. Watts, Alan, W., "How Buddhism Came to Life,' Asia,
Oct, 1939, p.581.
Chinese Buddhism ceased to be a matter
of other worldly mysticism
When Buddhism first came to China,
the method used for attaining spiritual illumination followed
the lines of Indian Yoga; it was concerned with the practice
of Dhyana -- a profound state of consciousness obtained by sitting
for hours, days, months, or even years in solitary meditation.
But this did not really appeal to the practical spirit of the
Chinese, who wanted a Dhyana that could be applied to everyday
It seems that
we may speak of the Wisdom of the Chinese, as we may speak of
the Wisdom of the Egyptian Ptah-hotep (and of the Sapa Inca Pachacuti
or of Solomon 53):
but we cannot perhaps properly speak of Chinese or Egyptian Philosophers.
No philosophy, no science
It is my thesis that the
evidence indicates that where Philosophy is absent, Science does
not develop, because it is indicative of the absence of philosophic
thinking. China had no Science because she had no Philosophers
to exercise themselves and carry out experiments for the sheer
delight of understanding, although the technical skills for instrumentation
were readily available. If one confuses Philosophy with practical
Wisdom, one will confuse Science with Technology. It is, in both
cases, a confusion of 'concerns' -- neither Science nor Philosophy
strictly concern themselves with 'practical problems' in the
ordinary sense of the term. I think throughout his treatment
of Science in China, Needham is overlooking this fundamental
53. It is hardly necessary to give
references from the proverbs of Solomon, but a few sayings of
Pachacuti (or Pachacutec) may be of interest. Envy
is a worm that gnaws and consumes the entrails of the envious.
is very just that he who is a thief should be put to death.
who destroy the peace and happiness of others, ought to be declared
thieves and punished with death as such.
who secretly receive gifts from litigants ought to be looked
upon as thieves and punished with death as such.
noble and generous man is known by the patience he shows in adversity.
Such sayings are the accumulated wisdom of many, born of experience,
and expressed pithily in a few words. These examples are taken
from Philip A. Means, "The Incas: Empire Builders of the
Andes," National Geographic Magazine, Feb., 1938,
Multhauf, in a review of the second volume of this work says: 54
That [Needham] fails to
produce a clear exposition of the relationship of technology
to scientific thought is a weakness of the book, but an understandable
one - since it remains to be accomplished in the relatively better
known area of Western Science.
then concludes that the Chinese world-view depended on "a
totally different line of thought" from the West. It is
an "organismic" world-view, a view which looks upon
Nature as a Person, acting as an organism rather than a 'thing'.
This attitude is quite characteristic of all non-Indo-European
peoples, who have therefore tended to favour the idea that man
and Nature are personally related, a view reflected in Totemism.
In our own Culture, man is again tending more and more to be
made simply a fragment of the natural order. But instead of the
marriage being achieved by the personalization of nature, it
is achieved by the depersonalization of man.
World view: the relationship to nature
In other Cultures this feeling
of community with Nature, curiously enough, led to a peculiar
callousness in the treatment of animals. It seems to have been
the result of a feeling that the equality of man and animals
gave both parties the same opportunity to defend themselves so
that there was no thought of the 'defenselessness' of the latter.
In any number of cases, in fact, the animal had the advantage,
and where his presence was not essential to the native for food
or clothing, he would exult in being cruel because it was a kind
of savage triumph he enjoyed in an effort to shame the defeated
In Europe, while man has
not felt this community of spirit, he has taken the view instead
that the stronger must protect the weaker, a certain 'love' of
nature has resulted. It is a curious kind of inversion.
Now Taoism, according to
Needham, differs from Confucianism in this respect that while
Confucius said man must achieve social security by dominating
nature, the Taoist said this social security will be achieved
more successfully by attempting to gain an insight into nature's
workings so that one may no longer be afraid of its power. This
does not encourage experiment however, for such an activity would
be almost rude! It means only
54. Multhauf, Robert, reviewing J. Needham,
Science in China, vol.II in Science, vol.124, Oct.
5, 1956, p.631.
study and observation. And even
this involves no theorizing. One merely observes and learns, though technical
aids in this are entirely in order, such for example as astronomical instruments
- which were developed quite successfully.
Thus in speaking of Taoism,
he says "the spirit of technology without science seems
thus to be found within Taoist philosophy itself" but he
also points out that although Taoists never developed a systematic
theoretical account of Nature, this did not at all prevent great
progress in all practical Technology. As he says, "Technologists,
lacking scientific background to their thought, have a habit
of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and this was
very true of China." 55
A. L. Kroeber, the Dean of
American Anthropologists and a keen student of Culture patterns,
It is significant that
the Chinese have made many important inventions, but not one
major scientific discovery. They have sought a way of life but
neither an understanding nor a control of nature beyond what
was immediately useful.
And a Chinese
scholar, Lui Wu-Chi, writing of his own people's attitude to
Confucianism, said: 57
The distinguishing features
of Confucianism are many. First of all it is a moral system which
is both practical and practicable. Without any trace of the metaphysical
and the supernatural (i.e., of philosophy or religion) its contents
are readily understood by the man in the street; and its ethical
teachings, replete with wisdom and common sense, can be applied
to daily life.
G. Fothergill in a study of the history of evolutionary thinking,
notes an interesting point here, namely, that among the Chinese,
the primary elements are wood and gold, which are both substance
of great value and utility. The primary elements of the Greeks
on the other hand can be considered more as abstractions - earth,
air, fire and water -- as he says "equally useful, of course,
but much more in the nature of ideas than things as the Greeks
themselves conceived them." 58
55. Needham, J., Science and Civilization
in China, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 1954,
56. Kroeber, Alfred, L, Configurations of Culture Growth,
Berkeley, CA, University of California, 1944, p.184.
57. Wu-Chi, Liu, A Short History of Confucian Philosophy,
Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin Books, 1955, p.9
58. Fothergill, Philip G., Historical Aspects of Organic Evolution.
London, UK, Hollis and Carter, 1952, p.10
In fact the same writer draws attention to another important
equation which the Greeks made. He remarks: 59
Unfortunately there is very
little record and no extant continuous account at all of the
development of the biological ideas of the ancient Chinese, Babylonian
and Egyptian Cultures. The marvellous civilizations of the East
have left few traces of their scientific thought. The Greeks...
regarded science as a branch of philosophy, and in fact did
not discern between the two. [Emphasis mine]
Rise of philosophy: the Aryan contribution
In many of these works on the history
of Scientific thought, the Greeks are given credit for its beginnings
as such. This may not be altogether justified. The Aryans in
India played their part also -- and independently.
In Eveiyman's Encyclopedia, under "Philosophy,"
there is the following observation: 60
It was not until man sought
wisdom for its own sake, and with no religious or other
motives, that he philosophized in the true sense, and previous
theogonies, cosmogonies, etc., cannot strictly claim the title
of Philosophy. . . .
The beginnings of Philosophy
are as a rule attributed to the Greeks but the Indian ideas of
the sixth century B. C., and much later, form an interesting
parallel philosophic development.
history of Indian chemistry, edited by Prof. P. Ray, of Calcutta,
has recently been reviewed by Partington in the British journal
Nature. The reviewer makes reference to the relationships
between Indian and Greek thought. He says, on this point:
The problem of the independent
development of alchemy and chemistry in India is an extremely
difficult one. It will no doubt continue to give rise to conflicting
opinions and it may never be satisfactorily solved. The related
problem of the Greek and Indian atomic theories also gives rise
to controversy, although informed opinion now seems to consider
that they may well have been independent.
59. Fothergill, Philip G., ibid., p.9
60. Everyman's Encyclopedia, London, UK, J.M.Dent, 1913
Edition, vol.10, p.305, 306.
61. Partington, J.R., reviewing The History of Chemistry in
Ancient and Medieval India, edited by Professor P. Ray, in
Nature, Jan.5, 1957, p.5.
is quite enlightening to see how this philosophical bent expressed itself
in India. Ralph Linton, another deep student of Culture patterns, points
out that the Hindus were always highly receptive to new philosophic ideas,
"but have shown an almost complete indifference to improved techniques
of manufacture". 62 The material world was felt to be of
so little importance that minor advances in its control were not considered
worth the trouble of changing established habits.
In the same connection, A.
L. Kroeber observed that "Hindu civilization is not only
other-worldly, but mystical, rationalizing, and extravagant in
its ethos." 63
And Robert Lowie adds that "the Hindus made their contribution
in the field of pure mathematics, to which they added the concept
of negative numbers" 64 -- a highly abstract mental creation.
Miriam Chapin points out
that Hindustani has an enormous vocabulary, and that it contains
words for all kinds of scientific concepts and for "the
most abstruse speculation." 65 It is a development out of the more ancient Sanskrit,
a language well able to give expression to philosophical concepts.
Speaking of a 'philosophy
of grammar,' it is interesting to note that Hegel referred to
this aspect of Hindu thought. In his Philosophy of History,
he wrote: 66
The recent discoveries of the
treasures of Indian Literature, have shown us what a reputation
the Hindus have acquired in geometry, astronomy, and algebra,
and that they have made great advances in Philosophy, and that
among them Grammar has been so far cultivated that no language
can be regarded as more fully developed than the Sanskrit.
spite of this capability, India added little to the world's scientific
knowledge. The reason for this was probably because the technical
background which might have been supplied by the non-Indo-European
element in India was either lost (with the destruction of the
Indus Valley Cultures) or made impossible by the reduction
62. Linton, Ralph, The Study of Man, New
York, NY, Student's Edition, Appleton-Century, 1936, p.343.
63. Kroeber, A.L., Anthropology,New York, NY, Harcourt
Brace, 1948, p.294.
64. Lowie, Robert, An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,
New York, NY, Farrar and Rinehart, 1940, p.340.
65. Chapin, Miriam, How People Talk, Toronto, ON, Longmans
Green, 1947, p.121.
66. Hegel, Georg, W. F., The Philosophy of History, in
The World's Great Classics, New York, NY, Colonial Press,
vol.20, p.161, 162.
to a low caste of the survivors
of those Cultures. Labourers and mechanics are lowest in the Brahma Caste
Yet philosophy alone does not give rise
To sum up what has been said
thus far, a somewhat lengthy quotation from Maritain beautifully
draws these threads of evidence together. He writes: 67
It is not surprising that
all peoples in the primitive stage of history were ignorant of
philosophic speculation. But it is more astonishing that even
certain civilizations were devoid of philosophy- for example,
the Semite, and the Egyptian, which is, in this
respect in the same category as the Semite. Despite the high
level of scientific [i.e., technical ACC] culture reached by
the intellectual aristocracy of these races, the sole philosophical
conceptions, it would seem, which the Egyptians and Chaldeans
possessed, were a few very general ideas, implicit in their religion,
concerning the Deity, the human soul, and its state after death,
and the precepts of morality. These truths, which, moreover (as
in the case of every race), are purer the further back we follow
their history, were never made the subject of rational study
and speculation, but were simply accepted, as also were their
scientific beliefs, as part of a sacred tradition. Religion took
the place of philosophy, and from religion these races received
certain philosophic truths; philosophy they had none. In this
matter the Jews did not differ from their fellow Semites. Scornful
of human wisdom and the achievements of pure reason, and, indeed,
without aptitude for such investigation, they produced no philosophers
(at least not before Philo). . . .
remark is a striking observation, because Philo was a Jew who
had rejected his own Culture and adopted the Gentile one, at
least to the extent of receiving a Greek education and becoming
thoroughly conversant with their systems of philosophy. Only
such Jews became philosophers, as Jessie Bernard pointed out.
Their inspiration was not from within their own culture.
Maritain then examines briefly the other Indo-European Cultures
which lie outside the European area, such for example as the
Persians and the people of India. He opens this inquiry with
the words: 68
All the great Indo-European
civilizations, on the other hand, manifest an impulse, which
no doubt took widely different forms, towards rational and, in
the strict sense, philosophical speculation.
67. Maritain, J., An Introduction to Philosophy,
New York, NY, Sheed and Ward, 1937, p.25.
68. Maritain, J., ibid., p.26.
Persia this impulse expressed itself in a deeply speculative attempt to
give a rational explanation of the vast problem of evil. This attempt
took place under the stimulus of Zoroaster, somewhere about the 8th to
the 6th century B.C.
In India, as Maintain puts it:
When the original religion --
the primitive religion of the Vedas -- no longer proved sufficient
to satisfy the intellectual demands or social needs of a more
advanced civilization, philosophical notions, which seem to have
originated as interpretations of sacrifice and other sacred ritual,
but developed in a spirit hostile to the ancient traditions and
the cult of the gods, found a home among the sacerdotal class
and took possession of the priesthood... The priests... directed
their worship no longer to the old gods, but to the undefined
and secret forces of the Universe.
This resulted, after a period
of confusion, in the formation of a new system, Brahmanism (or
Hinduism), which is essentially a philosophy, a metaphysic, a
work of human speculation, was invested from the outset with
the sanctions and attributes of a religion.
history of Indian philosophy is then traced by Maritain very
briefly, until the rise of a heterodox teacher, Cakya-Muni, surnamed
Buddha, who began to place more emphasis upon practice instead
of contemplation and speculation, though his philosophy was grounded
in (and may be regarded as a corruption of) the Brahman philosophy.
Its practical emphasis appealed to the Chinese who soon abandoned
most of what remained in Buddhism of the older Hindu speculative
elements. In India, Buddhism was still a philosophy, though agnostic
or atheistic - in China it became a practice.
Later on, Maritain touches upon
the Chinese 'philosophers.' Of Confucianism, he says there can
be no doubt that it was a form of enlightened selfishness, and
completely indifferent to metaphysical speculation. 70 Of Lao-Tse, he speaks with
some hesitation, doubting whether the interpretations of his
teachings offered by modern Taoists are altogether valid.
Philip Jourdain, speaking
of Egyptian mathematics and their solutions to certain practical
geometric problems, says: 71
69. Maritain, J., ibid.,
70. Maritain, J., ibid., p.39.
71. Jourdain, Philip, "The Nature of Mathematics,"
in The World of Mathematics, edited by J.R.Newman, Simon
and Schuster, 1956, vol.1, p.12.
This method seems also
to have been known to the Chinese nearly 3000 years ago, but the Chinese
made no serious attempt to classify or extend the few rules of arithmetic
or geometry with which they were acquainted, or to explain the causes
of the phenomena which they observed.
remarkable how consistently this attitude of indifference to
theory has therefore been reflected among non-Indo-Europeans,
whether ancient or modern, primitive or highly civilized.
Intellectual bifurcation: technology and
Thus it appears that we have a kind of
intellectual bifurcation of mankind into two broad classes, technicians
and philosophers, a bifurcation which seems to be culturally
if not racially determined. Whether this is due to the nature
of Indo-European as opposed to non-Indo-European language structure
is a point worthy of some careful consideration. Has the mentality
given us the language or the language the mental attitude? Certainly,
as we shall seek to show in the next chapter, language is of
great importance. As Harry Hoijer put it: 72
It is quite an illusion to imagine
that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language,
and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific
problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter
is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously
built up on the language habits of the group. . . . The worlds
in which societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same
world with different labels attached.
Langer has said that to master a new language is to enter a new
universe. At any rate, among Indo-Europeans there seems to be
a certain calculated indifference towards, or at least an inability
to detect, the practical usefulness of things. We have already
mentioned how both the Hittites and the Chinese used cast iron.
We use millions of tons of it now, too, but it is known that
the Romans evidently 'discovered' it, but failed to recognize
their discovery! R. J. Forbes says, on this point: 73
There is the possibility that
some knowledge of Cast Iron reached the Roman Empire from the
country where cast iron was invented, from China by way of the
desert route. It seems to have been known to the Graeco-Roman
world, as an accidental and useless product formed by raising
the temperature (in smelting iron ores) but since its nature
was not recognized it was thrown away. Even at Halstatt sites,
for instance at Byciskala near Brno, cast iron pieces were found
in the slag heaps.
72. Hoijer, Harry, 'The Relation of Language
and Culture", in Anthropology Today, edited by A.
L. Kroeber, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 1953, p.558.
73. Forbes, R. J., R.J., Metallurgy in Antiquity, Leiden,
NL, Brill, 1950, p.407.
How differently the Chinese treated this 'useless product'! Of
course, this was a long time ago. Would it happen today? Well, the story
of Kipping's discoveries in Chemistry is revealing.
E.G. Rochow, in his
work on the Silicones, refers to Kipping's experiments. He points
out that between the years 1907 and 1944, Professor F.S. Kipping
published no less than 51 papers on silicone compounds which
resemble organic compounds of carbon. It was a subject which
he opened up himself and upon which he was for the entire period,
the world's leading authority. In 1937 Kipping delivered the
Bakerian Lecture to the Royal Society. In this he declared that
he could see no future for such compounds, and remarked, "The
prospect of any immediate and important advance in this section
of Chemistry does not seem very hopeful." 74
Yet Kipping never investigated methylsilicone,
though he must have encountered both it and similar products
on hundreds of occasions. Since 1940 these products have assumed
enormous importance and have opened up an entirely new branch
of the Plastics Industry. In a recent article on these substances,
Dermot Canning says: 75
Silicones have been called "magic
sand with a thousand uses," and certainly the possible utilizations
and applications of this resourceful chemical family do seem
to be almost unlimited
Silicone chemistry, although still very
much in its infancy, has already shown that it is one of the
most useful gifts science has bequeathed to us, and the intensive
research now going on is certain to increase the applications
of silicones still more.
Today it has
been estimated that the silicones have come to represent somewhere
in the neighbourhood of one third of the entire plastics industry.
Yet his scientific mind missed their practical importance entirely.
The same thing has happened with other chemical discoveries in
the past. Insecticides were being synthesized over 50 years ago,
but were not recognized.
There is a rather illuminating
(and amusing) instance of this kind of lack of practical appreciation
of what is available. This is in the area of electricity. It
came as a very great surprise to the technical world when wet
cell batteries were found in the Middle East, at least 2000 years
old, and evidently used for the plating of metals. We have already
mentioned this discovery. It is however by no means the only
case of the use of electricity by non-Indo-Europeans.
74. Rochow Eugene G., An Introduction
to the Chemistry of Silicones, New York, NY, Wiley, 1946,
75. Canning, Dermot, "Science Utilizes Silicones,"
World Science Review, Feb., 1958, p.25.
one hundred years ago (1858), George Wilson, Regius Professor of Technology
at the University of Edinburgh, presented a Paper before the then Canadian
Institute, on the use of Electricity for therapeutic purposes in antiquity.
Among those who were using various species of electric eels, etc., in
various ways, he mentioned the Egyptians, Abyssinians, Etruscans, and
the South American Indians, as well as some African tribes. 76
The Romans thus learned of these animals
and the uses to which they had been put, from the Etruscans;
and both Roman and Greek physicians copied the practice. Many
classical writers refer to these fishes, including Plato, Aristotle,
Cicero, Plutarch, Pliny, Oppian, Aelian and Athenaeus.
Subsequent references are to be
found in the works of Scribonius Largus (1st century), Galen
(2nd century), Aetius (5th century), and Paulus Aegineta (7th
century). Questions began to be asked about the nature of the
shock received from contact with these creatures by such writers
as Aegineta who asked "Is not this an application of the
principle of galvanism in medicine?" This was the beginning
of a series of questions and experiments.
Meanwhile, headache, gout,
rheumatism, and various more serious mental cases were given
'the shock treatment.' Its use in Abyssinia is described by Dr.
Bradley in the following way:
The patient is first strapped to a
table, and the numb-fish then applied successively over every
organ of the body; the operation is reported to be both painful
along the Old Calabar River made therapeutic use of an electric
fish found in the river to cure sick children, simply by putting
such a fish into a bowl of water and leaving the child to play
with it! Sometimes a baby was put into the tub first -- and then
the fish thrown in. Humboldt stated that the American Indians
used the species gymnotus in medicine, and the same author
reports its use in Dutch Guiana, at Demerara for instance,
to cure paralytic affections. Wilson concluded his paper with
these words: 77
Writing as a physicist, I would
remind naturalists, that it was the careful study of the powers
of the torpedo (fish) that first enabled electricians to understand
some of the most important laws of action of their artificial
machines and batteries.
76. Wilson, George, "On Electric Fishes
as the Earliest Electric Machine Employed by Mankind," The
Canadian Journal, New Series, 13, Jan.,1858, p.58ff.
77. Wilson, George, ibid., p. 69.
Cavendish tried to imitate the effects of the Torpedo fishes
with electricity and as a result enunciated the difference between intensity
and quantity, i.e., between amperage and voltage.
And so we find non-Indo-Europeans
employing electricity in two forms but never apparently asking
any questions. Then the Indo-European picks up the trail and
begins to ask, Why? Through Galvani and Volta we come to Faraday,
and it is here that the humour and surprise of the record comes
One of Faraday's great discoveries
was the phenomenon of induction, without which modern electrical
equipment would never have been possible. According to David
Dietz, there is a story of a visit by Prime Minister Gladstone
to Faraday's laboratory at the Royal Institution in London. 78 Faraday was then engaged
in those experiments which led in time to the development of
generators, electric motors, transformers, and a host of other
"What's the use of all
this?" asked Mr. Gladstone.
Faraday thought for
a moment, and then replied. "Don't worry, Milord, you'll
tax it yet!"
What really inspired Faraday
was not the possible use of his findings which he quite probably
did not see, but curiosity. As one writer on this famous man
put it recently, "He wanted to know why electromagnetic
induction occurred." 79
The differences between 'discovery' and
Interestingly enough, a trade journal
recently carried an article entitled "The Role of the Scientist
and Engineer in Society," by L. R. Hafsted of the General
Motors Corporation. Hafsted has a right to speak on this subject,
for he is Vice-President of Research, a position of no mean importance.
In his article he says: 80
A scientist's work is completed
when an item of information is established and recorded. The
same man who makes a discovery may choose, or be persuaded, to
attempt to apply it to a practical problem. In this case he ceases
to be a scientist and works essentially as an engineer. He
is not motivated internally as a Scientist, but externally
by society. (Emphasis mine]
78. Dietz, David, Cultural Values of Physics,
in the Smithsonian Report for 1940, p.143.
79. Kondo, Herbert, 'Michael Faraday," Scientific American,
Oct., 1953, p.93.
80. Hafsted, L.R, "The Role of Scientists and Engineers
in Society,' The Tool Engineer, Apr., 1957, p.223.
This seems to me to contain several very important observations.
It will be noted that he uses the word 'discovery' in relation to Science,
just as Kroeber and others have been careful to do -- and not the word
'invention.' He points out that when the scientist becomes an engineer
(or technician) he has ceased be a scientist. Thereby, he underscores
the fundamental difference between the two. And finally he remarks upon
the fact that the scientist is motivated by an internalized urge to discover,
the technical man by externally applied pressures demanding invention
or creation to satisfy a recognized need in society. An excellent illustration
of this is to be found in Plutarch's account of how Archimedes had to
be persuaded to put his genius to practical use to prevent the Romans
from capturing Syracuse, and how he afterwards refused to leave any record
of the devices he invented for this purpose.
I suggest therefore that the real
contribution of non-Indo-Europeans has been in the field of invention:
and of the Indo-Europeans in discovery. And that these
both result from an attitude of mind, a feeling towards the Universe
which is significantly different in the two classes of people.
Each has its advantages. Properly wedded they produce the grandest
results. Neither alone, as we can see, produces this high achievement;
for in China a certain level was reached in a materialistic civilization
beyond which it did not go; and in India, where circumstances
left the intelligentsia without technical assistance, a mystical
culture reduced the greater number of its vast population to
almost abject poverty and privation.
Before closing this Chapter,
one further observation is in order. In his study of Science
in Antiquity, Benjamin Farrington has this to say: 81
After the death of Aristotle
the renown of Athens as a center of scientific research was rapidly
eclipsed by Alexandria. Here Ptolemy, one of the great generals
of Alexander the Great, had established himself as head of a
portion of the vast empire Alexander had won. And the dynasty
he founded in the new capital of Egypt, where a Greek court ruled
over the ancient people of Egypt . . . patronized learning with
lavish generosity. The Museum which the Ptolemies founded and
maintained in Alexandria rapidly became the centre of a Scientific
Movement that might have transformed society into a semblance
of the modern world. Ancient society halted on the threshold
of a modern age.
Why? Could it be because
the Indo-European influence was slowly eclipsed by a Semitic,
an Arab one?
In itself however, a philosophical or scientific mind is not
necessarily a superior type of instrument to the
81. Farrington, B., Science in Antiquity,
Home University Library, Oxford, 1947, p.168.
inventive mind. It is not to our
credit that we developed Science where non-Indo-Europeans did not. It
is to everyone's benefit when the two contributions become complementary.
There is no room for racial pride here. As
Abbott Payson Usher put it: 82
Although transcendental idealism
is justly insistent upon the fundamental importance of abstract
concepts and the analytic truths, the idealists misrepresent
the processes of thinking and of evaluation when they represent
abstract concepts as the highest and ultimate level of thought.
of Indo-Europeans to practical ends has been as marked as the
indifference of the non-Indo-Europeans to speculation. As Lord
Raglan says: 83
The Scientists of the 17th century
were but little interested in the utilitarian aspect of their
inventions. Their object was to cause wonder and surprise, to
produce "a most incredible thing." Nothing was farther
from their minds than the idea of developing their inventions
for the purpose of altering the conditions under which they lived.
in his Ivory Tower may be a kind of heroic figure in our Culture,
but he can also be a ludicrous one. James Conant says "the
scientific attitude is essentially that of the savants who, drinking
to the next discovery, coupled with their toast the hope that
it might never be of any use to anybody."
84 And Robert Clark, to match this, makes
reference to the great Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton,
who, when he had developed a theory of quarternions in the middle
of the 19th century, "was very pleased because it has no
practical application!" 85
82. Usher, Abbott P., A History of Mechanical
Inventions, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1954,
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Chapter (Part III)
83. Raglan, Lord, How Came Civilization? London UK, Methuen,
84. Conant, James B., On Understanding Science, New York,
NY, Mentor, 1951, p.117
85. Clark, R.A. Six Talks on Jung's Psychology, Pittsburgh,
PA, Boxwood Press,1953, p.22.