30 August 2007

Science, Civilization and Society now in book form

The material for the lecture course Science, Civilization and Society is now available in book form. It can be downloaded from the website in PDF format.

The book is a condensed version of the lecture notes found on the website. As a book it cannot include the animations that are used on the website to explain physical principles. It also arranges the material in a somewhat different order. But it offers a good way to study the history of science and civilization and the interaction between them away from the computer.

NOTE: See the update of 29 July 2008.

23 August 2007

The 3rd Earl of Shaftsbury

Lecture 22 associated the ethical principle "Help those in distress, if you sympathize with their sufferings!" with a person named as Shaftsbury. This was rather vage information. I changed it to Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671 - 1713), the English moral philosopher who expressed that principle in his works.

The Jantar Mantar at Delhi

My original information about the Jantar Mantar at Delhi said that it was "built under the reign of the Mughal ruler Muhammad Shah, who reigned from 1791 to 1841." That seems to be incorrect. I think that the observatory in Delhi was also built on the orders of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, ruler of the state of Jaipur in Rajasthan from 1699 to 1743. I changed the text accordingly. If anyone has a reference to verify this I would appreciate a response to this comment.

17 August 2007

Reformatio Sigismundi

There was an error in the original text of lecture 19, which said: "The reformatio sigismundi, a pamphlet produced in 1439 on one of Gutenberg's new printing presses ..." Gutenberg's invention was not complete until 1455. I corrected the text to "The reformatio sigismundi, a pamphlet produced in 1439, printed in 1476 on one of Gutenberg's new printing presses, reprinted seven times and distributed throughout Germany ..."

Did China survey the world in 1421?

When I prepared the core question of lecture 17 (Why did China not colonize the world during the 15th century?) four years ago, Menzies' book "1421, the Year China Discovered America" had just hit the market. It provided some clues that could help to resolve the contradiction between China's technological capabilities and its abstention from colonial conquest.

Over the last few weeks I had another look at Menzies' claims and what others say about them and am no longer so convinced about his book. It contains many dubious statements and relies on evidence provided by people with dubious records; as a result, Menzies has lost much of his credibility. I changed the text of the lecture accordingly and shall install the changed version later today. While I still think that Menzies raises interesting and important questions my lecture notes no longer refer to his theory as a serious contribution to scientific debate. I now leave it to the readers to follow up the question of China's role in 15th century exploration themselves if they want to.

The one thing that has not changed in this discussion is the superiority of Chinese technology over European technology during the 15th century.