History of Science – An Overview

Bala Poduval

Science, a word with a Latin root meaning knowledge, pertains to accumulation, testing and organization of knowledge. It is a systematic investigation and exploration of nature using scientific methods consisting of data collection through observation and experimetation and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Pursuit of science and scientific knowledge has been carried out since time immemorial in all cultures and civilizations. In ancient times the word philosophy was used in place of science and seekers of truth or explorers of nature were called natural philosophers. The word scientist was coined very recently in the 19th century by William Whewell, a historian of science.

In the ancient times science, and technology as well for that matter, was simply “the application of thought to a problem” (E. P. Hoyt: A Short History of Science), such as making a fire, the invention of wheel, domesticating animals and agriculture. After the development of agriculture survival was no longer a problem because of the surplus of food. As a result people were able to spare more time for making advancements in various fields. Astronomy seems to be one of the earliest science topics that developed much earlier than the advent of writing.

In modern times, science can be classified into natural science, that include physics, chemistry, biology and geology, and social science that includes studies of society and human thoughts and behaviour. Further, natural science can be categorised into pure or basic science and applied science. Moreover, topics such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, logic form a different category known as formal science. Knowing the histoical development of science is thought to be of great use to students of science to understand science and scientific methods and put them in perspective. It will be interesting to draw a time line of various inventions, discoveries, theories and experiments. This is hoped to achieve through a series of articles under this title.