From Technology Transfer to the Origin of Science

From Technology Transfer to the Origin of Science

Peter Damerow

Other involved Scholars: 

Daniel T. Potts
Manfred Krebernik (Inversität Jena)
Mark Geller (Freie Universität Berlin)
Gerd Graßhoff (Universität Bern)
Mark Schiefsky (University of Harvard)

The first focus explores a series of processes in the very early phases of globalization from the transmission of practical knowledge to the emergence of science. These processes are layered, in the sense that the introduction of a new process does not lead to the eclipse of earlier processes.
The first process considered is the transfer of technology in prehistory such as metallurgy, ceramics, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Processes of technology transfer are also necessarily processes of knowledge transfer. With the rise in Mesopotamia of the technologies of writing and arithmetic, which have a shared origin, new means for the globalization of knowledge were created. Although writing was initially tied to local contexts, there was a general trend in the evolution of writing towards decreased context dependence. Ancient Near Eastern and Greek science produced a corpus of written texts documenting systematic higher-order knowledge in such domains as cosmology, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. Since this knowledge was explicitly written down, it was in later phases able to travel and eventually exerted a worldwide influence that continues to the present day.
One research venture pursued in this context studied technological transfer and innovation in ancient Eurasia (Daniel T. Potts), and analyzed numerous instances—particularly in the realm of metallurgy, agriculture and technologies like wheeled transport—where knowledge probably did spread through human agency. The case of Near Eastern metallurgy in the Bronze Age and its possible influence on China has been examined in some detail.
A second area of research on the development from technology transfer to the origin of science concerned the preconditions and the consequences of the invention and spread of writing (Peter Damerow, Manfred Krebernik). The invention of writing not only changed the conditions of the geographical transfer and historical transmission of knowledge, but in addition to these basic functions extended the human cognitive facilities by stimulating reflection processes and the creation and articulation of previously unknown mental constructions.
The relation of scientific activities and magic was investigated in two different fields. Recently accomplished work on Babylonian medicine in theory and practice (Mark Geller) challenges the usual notion that Babylonian medicine completely lacked theory. This can most clearly be seen in the close (but still distinct) relation between Babylonian medicine and magic, since magical texts often provided the theoretical assumptions upon which medicine operated.
In a similar way it has been shown that the prominent distinction between scientific activities and speculative or mystical activities like divination, magic or meteorology is not tenable for the development of early astronomy in Mesopotamia (Gerd Grasshoff).  
The importance of political and social developments in creating the preconditions for the diffusion of knowledge was analyzed in a survey of the emergence of Greek and Hellenistic science as a result of transformation processes of earlier knowledge traditions within the Near East, the Mediterranean and neighboring regions (Mark Schiefsky).