17 Mar 2016
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
470 Stephens Hall
Professor of Near Eastern Studies Department of Near Eastern Studies and Office for the History of Science and Technology and Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology University of California, Berkeley
Already centuries before the Greek physikoi began to explore matter and motion as fundamentals of nature, cuneiform scribes produced bodies of knowledge that unquestionably bear relation to science in terms of rational, empirical, and quantitative methods applied to what was deemed knowable (and worth knowing) about the world. Knowledge of phenomena in cuneiform texts is not formulated in terms of a physical framework, nor is there evidence for an interest in the properties of matter as such, or “laws of nature.” Still, a kinship between the methods and goals, if not the content or the framework, of the intellectual project of cuneiform knowledge and those of later natural philosophy and science is such that inquiry into the phenomena of the world in cuneiform antiquity can equally well be understood as a product of the scientific imagination as that which operated (and operates) within the framework of nature. This paper makes a case for the workings of a scientific imagination in the production of knowledge in the ancient Near East and explores implications for the history of science.
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