Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review: The Origin of Science

‘The Origin of Science’ by Louis Liebenberg is about the nature and origins of scientific thinking, and explores the question, How did the human mind evolve the ability to develop science. The book begins with an observation: “if you want to do interesting research you need to look for an apparent paradox in science and then try to resolve it”. And he finds a paradox in human evolution: How did the human mind evolve the ability to do scientific reasoning if it was assumed that scientific reasoning was not required for hunter-gather subsistence? Kalahari hunter-gatherers become a prime source of information.

Human evolution cannot be treated in isolation from the environment. The environment is not a static background, but an interacting agent, and humans  should  be  seen  as  a  part  of  the  biological  community, and  the evolution of hunting and gathering would have played a principal part in human evolution.  The book then goes on to explain how we came to develop many of our attributes and capabilities.

Like the human nature to walk on two feet. Foraging is the searching for and collecting of plant foods and in this, bipedalism may have been found more economical for walking than knuckle-walking. Persistence hunting that involves speculative tracking (attack future position of target) would have been the first form of hunting that involves creative human culture.

Bluffing, the precursor of many advanced techniques, which would have been in use to drive dangerous animals from their kills, is a bold aggressive act that requires knowledge of how different predators react under specific conditions.  This could have been found helpful not only in reducing the risk of injury by avoiding physical contact, but also in enabling humans to drive off predators that were too dangerous to confront directly.

When it comes to the techniques of tracking, there is unlimited possibility. Like, to identify, the presence of a lion by the faint sound of the flicking of ear, the animals’ gender by the relative position of urine and feces’ markings. Or of intuition – the art of reaching a conclusion on the basis of less explicit information than is ordinarily required to reach that conclusion, in the interpretation of tracks and signs. Or how, each tracker becomes an individual researcher contributing to the common good.

The author links the explosion of our intellectual ability to systematic, as well as speculative (involving calculation of possible target movement) tracking in difficult conditions that requires much greater skill to recognize signs and probably a much higher level of intelligence.

Thereafter, the origin and growth of scientific knowledge is discussed as a natural property of our race. Also, another paradox! If scientific reasoning is innate, why are superstition and irrational beliefs so common? 

The author reflects on the propensity of the early people to hoard totally unnecessary knowledge, like the vast information about ants that far exceed the practical requirements of hunting. Or the proliferation of superstitious beliefs in early races, origin of which can be linked to celebration of creative scientific imagination. I think such instances resemble quite well, the ideas I have expressed through my books and need further study. That the actual motive for all that we do is far different from what we see, can be easily linked to the post mating agony of life.

Each one of the author’s ideas is unique, and notable. For example, discounting the emphasis on modern ‘scientific’ methods, the author says, “Creative science is essentially a product of the human mind that allows humans to interact with reality in a way that increases our chances of survival”.

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