The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece Review

The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece
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The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece ReviewI would have thought that to be an expert on early Chinese science was enough to occupy at least one lifetime, and the same can be said about expertise in early Greek science. Only amateurs would claim to know enough to write about early science in both civilizations and make comparisons. And yet, in this slim work, a leading authority on ancient Greek science and an equally knowledgeable China expert have talked and corresponded and shared drafts with each other and with other scholars at conferences over a ten-year period resulting in a truly pathbreaking work. Geoffrey Lloyd (now Sir Geoffrey) is emeritus professor of ancient history at the University of Cambridge and author of definitive works on early Greek science. Nathan Sivin is professor of Chinese culture and of the history of science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is probably the world's leading expert on Chinese science and has written extensively on most of its aspects. He is the author of the section on the theoretical background of Chinese alchemy in volume V part 4, and edited the medical volume, volume VI part 6, of Joseph Needham's monumental Science and Civilization in China. The dustcover begins our education depicting an ancient Chinese character for tao, the Way, and the Greek λογοò, logos, the Word. The Way carries with it the sense of process, of change, which is not implicit in the Word. The chapter headings give us pause for they suggest, though erroneously it turns out, that the book is assembled from individual writings by the two authors. The chapters are: Aims and Methods; The Social and Institutional Framework of the Chinese Sciences; The Social and Institutional Framework of Greek Science; The Fundamental Issues of Greek Science; The Fundamental Issues of the Chinese Sciences; Chinese and Greek Sciences Compared. Although the headings suggest sharp separation, every chapter includes significant comments regarding corresponding characterisitics in the other civilization. There is no change in style when a Chinese chapter gives way to one on Greece, a truly remarkable achievement. If readers are looking for a description of early Greek and Chinese scientific and technical achievements, they will be disappointed. The three classic Chinese innovations of gunpowder, printing, and the compass without which, according to Francis Bacon, the modern world would be unthinkable, cannot be found in this book. They all came later than the period 400 B.C. to 200 A.D. that the book discusses. Bacon of course had no idea those novelties came from China. Nor can one find more than a mention or two of some of the many dozens of innovations known to the Chinese centuries before the West as described by Joseph Needham. No, the purpose of this book is not to summarize what is already well known. Rather The Way and the Word tries to understand how two independent civilizations managed to create scientific worldviews whose basic approaches, presuppositions, and concepts were fundamentally different, and yet which ordered their awareness of the natural world in ways that led to major advances we would still call scientific. We can no longer ask which of the two is superior. In fact, the authors inform us, historians today trace the ancestry of modern natural science to "the cosmopolitan blend of Syriac, Persian, ancient Middle Eastern, Indian, East Asian, and Greco-Roman traditions that formed in the Muslim world" (p. xiii). Long before the book reaches the concepts of the sciences, the authors ask about the social, political, and institutional aspects of the two cultures and these not as separate entities. The authors realized that the interactions that united these aspects into a single whole had to be studied also. The authors speak of a cultural manifold as the context of the emerging sciences. This is cultural history at its best. Within that manifold they place those individuals who chose to devote their time to scientific questions. They ask what social strata these persons came from and how they earned their living. One fascinating and unexpected emphasis is the fact that in Greece thinkers kept on thinking of new alternative ways of looking at natural phenomena because only in this way would they gain recognition, students, a following, a livelihood. In China, controversy tended to be avoided and new views, although equally frequent, were carefully tailored to look like essential consequences of classic formulations. We can no longer say that the Greek view of nature was a particulate view, the atomistic, granular picture of Leucippus and Democritus, because the alternative continuous picture of nature also had its proponents. And wheras Plato's Timaeus builds nature from a few defined triangles Aristotle's concept of nature is qualitative rather than geometric. Still there is a fundamental divide between Greek and Chinese conceptions characterized by the tao and the Word. Helpfully an appendix outlines the evolution of the Chinese consmological synthesis showing how, within the tao, the cycles of yin and yang and of the five phases (often mistaken for elements) became ways to characterize the activity of ch'i. The Chinese cosmology turns out to be enormously appealing, as it unites macrocosm and microcosm, seeing the heavens, earth, society, and the human body as existing in or straining towards harmonious resonance. It is the underlying worldview of the modern ecologist. Until I read this book, my own picture of Chinese science was granular, staccato, disjointed. I had dipped into numerous books and articles that gave me insights into the astounding achievements of Chinese thinkers and doctors. Never did an overview of the Chinese world emerge. This book finally gave me that overview not only of the Chinese but also of the classic Greek world. To help the reader, a chronology of Chinese and Greek historical events covering the book's six-hundred year timespan is included. It is a book that I strongly recommend. It will greatly enlarge our understanding of the world we live in.The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece Overview

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