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The Life and Works of Joseph Needham

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Item Code: HAM361
Author: Edited By Sushil Kumar Mukherjee
Language: English
Edition: 1997
Pages: 224
Other Details 8.5x5.5 inch
Weight 430 gm
Book Description

The death of Professor Joseph Needham (9 December 1900-24 March 1995) which created a void in the world of intellect and research was deeply felt by a large section of people covering all culture zones. As the news of his death reached us. The Asiatic Society organised a memorial seminar entitled The Life and Works of Joseph Needham' on 22 May 1995. The deliberations in the seminar threw some new light on Needham and his scholarship in all the five realms, which are of principal validity in human experience-philosophy, history, science, art and religion. In a sense his achievements make us aware of another polymath, Sir William Jones, who founded our Society in 1784.

The Asiatic Society had the honour to present the Sir William Jones Memorial Medal for the year 1962 to Professor Needham for his contribution to both science and history of science. Though Professor Needham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, one of the first honours to come his way as a historian of science was this award from the Society. We are happy to print here his letter of acceptance of the award to the then General Secretary of the Society and a message from him which was read in his absence during the award- presentation ceremony.

We are grateful to Dr Maurice Goldsmith for permission to reprint his article from an unpriced booklet Three Scientists Face Social Responsibility published by C.S.I.R. We are also indebted to the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, for more than one reason. They have allowed us to reprint two articles from their Newsletter, both of which throw new light on the China-Needham relationship both during the Cultural Revolution and later years. The Needham Research Institute had also sent us various bibliographies of Needham's works, attempted at different points of time. Based on these we have been able to prepare a comprehensive one, courtesy Sri Amalendu Ghosh.

The delay in publishing this volume is more than justified because all the contributors have revised the papers read at the seminar and most of them have been further enriched by addition of references and bibliography. We are also grateful to Dr Mahadev Prasad Saha and Professor Arun Kumar Biswas who, though they could not attend the seminar, have contributed to our volume.



Where and to whom would one look for answers to such questions as:

Q.1. What should be the approach and attitude in a venture to write a history of science?

Q.2. Whether religious faith can be accommodated in the search for social and scientific paradigms and how?

Q.3. Why a scientific revolution occurred in the West but not in the East, though especially China and India had, many centuries back. Achieved success in various fields of science and technology?

Q.4. Is the West indebted to the East for its scientific revolution, and if so, to what extent?

Obviously, these questions are not exclusive.

The articles in this collection with three exceptions were presented by the authors at a seminar held on May 22, 1995 under the auspices of The Asiatic Society. The authors have tried in their individual manners and styles to address themselves essentially to one or more of the above questions. The reprinted article by Maurice Goldsmith attempts to make an overall analysis of Needham. Essentially on the basis of the same questions. Fortunately. Needham himself raised these questions in the appropriate place and time and had forcefully and frankly attempted to answer them. In fact, most of the authors based their estimates on the basis of Needham's own admission. Needham was a prolific writer and was in the habit of raising issues, arguing both for and against them. There are two important exceptions. These refer to the articles by J. J. Ghosh and Tushar Chakraborty, who have highlighted Needham's scientific work in the fields of biochemistry and embryology. These scientific researches were seminal and constituted an important part of Needham. Even when his interest in the history of science was growing steadily, he would not dissociate himself at all from the laboratory. At one point of time, the study of history of science in China became so engrossing to him and so time consuming that he could hardly find time for laboratory work. It is, however, to be admitted that his earliest research work revealed the mind of an outstanding thinker. It is often said that if Needham did not divert his leanings to history of science, he would have been instrumental in making some important scientific discoveries. The articles by Ghosh and Chakraborty are in a sense written to highlight this point.

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