I was reading this twitter thread by the scholar, Greg Carr and he mentions how much of western science was discovered locally of already established science in other cultures of the world

that the idea of "discovery" is usually only know through notation and symbolic abstraction, and other cultures had their own abstractions.

Newton didn't revolutionize science, his science was already known around the world just through a different notation

  • "Newton didn't revolutionize science, his science was already known around the world just through a different notation" ??? Is the author speaking of Newtonian mechanics ? If so, why we call it "Newtonian" ? Or about the calculus ? May 24, 2018 at 18:55
  • With "western science was discovered locally of already established science in other cultures of the world" do you mean that western science was derived from non-wstern sources ? In part, YES: from Arabic, derived from Ancient Greek one and directly from the Ancient Greek science rediscovered during the Renaissance. May 24, 2018 at 18:57
  • Sure. Bits and pieces of what we might call science existed in many different cultures prior to the invention of science in the 17th century. Combined with mathematical developments, (modern) science provided a coherent framework in which to unify these various ideas. (Few would argue that Newton did not revolutionise science.)
    – nwr
    May 24, 2018 at 22:01
  • @NickR Scientific method is considered to have been developed by an Arabian in the 10th C. Ignorance of this, willful or otherwise, is illustrative of the need for corrections around these issues en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_al-Haytham#Scientific_method
    – CriglCragl
    May 25, 2018 at 0:03
  • 1
    @CriglCragl Thanks for the link. I was unaware of such claims but I shall read more about him.
    – nwr
    May 25, 2018 at 3:42

2 Answers 2


This involves a fu damental misunderstanding about what science is. But that's not unusual, in fact a lot of scientists share it. Because they think philosophy can just stay in it's box, and don't recognise the underpinnings of their endeavors. You mistake technology, including ideas, for science.

Ancient cultures developed electroplating https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baghdad_Battery https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_plating#In_ancient_America Does this mean they had electricity? Obviously, no.

Compare these to what https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clerk_Maxwell did in his lifetime. He took a hodgepodge of electrical a d magnetic phenomena, and through a series of systematic experiments and mathematics, unified electricity and magnetism into four short equations. This is the essence of what science is about, sytematic, unifying, experimental. Not technology, which is purely incidental.

It is interesting to note widespread phenomena of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_discovery And we might add to such, development of written language https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system#History Developments of ideas, and technologies however does not necessarily mean full development of their consequences https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Needham#Needham_Question

There has been a widespread tendency in the West to overlook or underestimate cultures and societies elsewhere. No doubt that needs a corrective. But science is about finding fundamental principles that minimise assumptions and maximise explanatory power. It is about integrating and unifying methods and ideas. Not only did that not develop elsewhere, it took a lot longer to fully develop here than most people realise. Newton was an astrological alchemist, as well as a scientist.

Notation and symbolic abstraction is exactly the point.

  • You're assuming a picture of science that is based on physics, but arguably doesn't even apply to physics. (For an important critique, see Cartwright's /How the Laws of Physics Law/.) It's clearly inappropriate for fields such as sociology, ecology, or climate science. You're also assuming a questionable distinction between "science" and "technology." Is CRISPR gene editing science or technology?
    – Dan Hicks
    May 24, 2018 at 23:30
  • You mean How The Laws Of Physics Lie. No it isn't. A climate phenomena that is unexplained, for instance ball lightning, is an unsolved problem. Explanation fundamentally means relating something to other known phenomena. Predictive power is a measure of explanatory power. I carefully did not attempt a resolution of the demarcation problem, or an exhaustive attempt to define even what is 'core' to it (I consider it primarily a cultural phenomenon, rather than an ontology). I only intended to gesture at what it definitely is not, such as single insights or inventions. It is a fabric of ideas
    – CriglCragl
    May 24, 2018 at 23:54
  • @DanHicks Forgot to link
    – CriglCragl
    May 25, 2018 at 0:05
  • what was the reason that modern science developed in the west, obviously its not that they were "superior" to other cultures, what were some of the main reasons?
    – user4281
    May 25, 2018 at 1:31
  • @user4281 We were just discussing the parallel question, about philosophy philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/4537/… I was sure someone referenced a good sounding book that backed up my thesis, namely: geography
    – CriglCragl
    May 25, 2018 at 3:13

The scientific culture of the modern era has many roots; astronomy in Babylonia, Greek science and Indian and Arabic mathematics.

Notation of course is important in so far it is a way of describing ideas efficiently; for example, the decimal notation was far superior to Roman numerals for counting and arithmetic and eventually displaced it completely.

Another notational convenience was Liebniz's dy/dx over Newtons f'; one might say that the modern notion of differential forms was one way to try to make sense of the Liebniz differential.

Also, Saunders MacLane points out

that the fundamental idea of representing a function by an arrow first appeared in topology around 1940 ... and rapidly displaced the set theoretic notation for a function ... it expressed well a central interest in topology. Thus a notation, the arrow, led to a concept, the category.

So it does happen; but it's not the central motor of science which is the understanding of natural phenomena and this is by ideas rather than notation.

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