Landmarks in Science (A Historical Perspective)

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About the Author Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa, a legend, distinguished scholar and internationally well-known historian of science, in his current book titled "Landmarks in Science : A Historical Perspective"; along with his earlier works, especially the one on "Modern Science: A Historical and Social Perspective", has provided us with a foundational source-book for starting teaching courses in history of science. His contributions, works and perspectives are well-structured and designed to evolve int...
About the Author

Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa, a legend, distinguished scholar and internationally well-known historian of science, in his current book titled "Landmarks in Science : A Historical Perspective"; along with his earlier works, especially the one on "Modern Science: A Historical and Social Perspective", has provided us with a foundational source-book for starting teaching courses in history of science. His contributions, works and perspectives are well-structured and designed to evolve interest and fascination in the young and not so young readers in India and abroad, even though his several books, as expected, have more coverage about Indian scientific heritage. His recent book along with related works on science in India and elsewhere can be the bedrock of designing history of science courses. India needs to recognize history of science and technology as an academic discipline in our Universities and there is great need to understand the origin and nature of traditional sciences, the transition from the traditional thinking to the Renaissance in Science, and the emergence as well as the growth of the new methodology- based knowledge-system, called modern science. Dr. Subbarayappa's book, Landmarks in Science.


Historians of science have the capacity not only to unfold a broad spectrum of information and knowledge, which are sometimes scattered and fragmented, but also to recognize and narrate the high-impact contributions. Such outstanding contributions, sometimes sublime but not visible at the time of the discovery, have changed the course of enquirers leading to new pathways and directions in pursuits of rational understanding of the functioning of nature or the natural phenomena. In addition, these have resulted in the accomplishment of path- breaking technologies pertaining to healthcare, energy, transport, communication and others. To do so, the interdisciplinary comprehension and the discerning ability are the key attributes of science historians. Scientific findings are rarely linear with respect to time and sometimes are unconnected like in quantum mechanics, besides being many a time unpredictable. Scientific discoveries can be due to serendipity and sometimes to strokes of genius. Also they are not the property of any nation, caste, age, social and economic stature.

Scientists are human beings first and then scientists. Thus religion, culture, economic realities of national ecosystems and their own upbringings and moorings play their roles (in a way which is not understandable) in their choice and approaches to such discoveries. With the progress of knowledge and the understanding of laws of nature which have been made possible by the savants of yo're (captured so uniquely by Isaac Newton when he says: 'as we stand on the shoulders of giants), challenges which appear to be extremely difficult to solve look more amenable towards solution, and the choice of studies, shifts to the exploration of new frontiers. Particle physics, quantum mechanics and statistics, and space technology are good examples of such new frontiers being explored with passage of time.

History of science is a continuum involving the past, present and future. It is unlike the narrative history of civilizations, kings, music, art, and indeed any other domain of human Endeavour including philosophy, though science and philosophy are intertwined to an extent and useful for the promotion of societal welfare. Science and associated technologies have changed the quality of life of human beings and other species (sometimes in a deleterious manner too). Approaches to recording their history may vary; but, broadly speaking, it is all about nature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, life sciences and, in recent years, the intertwining of disciplines for revealing the secrets of nature, cosmos, and even sophisticated technologies.

Acclaimed as the Father of History of Science and for emphasizing that this subject needs to be an academic discipline, was George Sarton (1884-1956) from Belgium. He published a pioneering book: Introduction to the History of Science, in three volumes.

Discoveries of stone-tools, fire, wheels, gold, iron, copper, bronze, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and others, sometimes, can be attributed to a person and sometimes are anonymous. But, it is not the case with modern science. For, the contributions of intellectual giants like Leonardo Vinci, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Faraday, Hertzberg, Albert Michelson, Max Planck, Ernst Rutherford, Niels Bohr, Henry Cavendish, A.L. Lavoisier, Dmitri Mendeleev, Charles Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Ramon Y Cajal and others, demonstrate the originality and also sometimes the maverick characteristics of scientists. It is not possible to conclude as to whether a conformist or maverick, or a genius or serendipity had contributed more to the progress of science. The current era of science, however; is more conformist with less number of mavericks. This is due to funding career and recognition patterns of scientists. The broad areas and interests of research, say, in particle physics, genomes, artificial intelligence, and nano-science, are also determined by funding organizations based on shared perspectives of priorities, grand challenges and sometimes discipline-based approaches of those in powerful positions in science. Interdisciplinary pursuit in science and translation of scientific discoveries into technology are the new mantras in science.

Five millennia of Indian science and innovations are currently on exhibition in the Science Museum, London till 31st March 2018. This exhibition displays with clarity and conviction that India was among the leaders in mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy and medicine, till about the 12th century AD. Eminence of Indian thinkers in these areas has been accepted: in mathematics and astronomy (Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara-II, Madhava, Nilakahtha and others); and in medicine: Caraka, Suiruta, Vagbhata, Meidhava and others. Technological excellence in metallurgy and alloys, buildings, drainage systems and the like, is well known as revealed by archaeological findings. These provide inspiration for all the generations- past, present and future.

The concept of zero and numerals in ancient times, to Boson in recent times, coupled with the remarkable successes in basic sciences, space and nuclear technology in the current era are the major accomplishments of Indian science and technology. However, India did have a low accomplishment period from the late 12th to the 19th century for several reasons- not being independent and the lack of confidence as well as the courage to pursue originality with convictions. The closure of excellent international universities like Nalanda, Vikramaila and Odantpuri by the 12th century, arguably contributed to the substantial lowering of Indian contributions to science till about the 19th century.


The history of modern science is not merely a chronological narrative of scientific ideas, their turns, trends and inventors but also a record of the scientific methodology, theoretical and experimental, that has shaped them into a veritable knowledge-system. The origins of modern science and its methodology can be traced to the new mood (15th-16th cent.) which emerged in Europe, when the ancient speculative ideas about matter, motion, space and time began to be questioned; and the new concepts with their mathematical-physical approach laid a solid foundation for understanding the natural phenomena, both celestial and terrestrial. Over the past five centuries, modern science has made remarkable progress and earned the distinction of being the greatest intellectual enterprise of mankind today. Significantly, this new knowledge-system which has the appellation of Modern Science, has been unique in the sense that, unlike the other knowledge-systems, it has transcended the constraining barriers of region, religion, race, color and creed. Its applications, which are generally known as technology, have been enormously beneficial to the enrichment of our material life in a manner that no other knowledge-system has been capable of accomplishing it so far.

The advent of the methodology-oriented modern science was not in the nature of a bolt from the blue. It had before it a broad spectrum of knowledge relating to astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and the physical and biological world, generated and fostered over the millennia by ancient cultures-Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Chinese, Greek and Islamic-each in its own way. Generally called the traditional sciences, their approach to the natural phenomena was influenced in one form or the other by the religio-philosophical ideas and practices as well as the cultural compulsions. For this reason and also because of the perceptible characteristics by which the traditional science of one region can be differentiated from that of the other, they are recognized by their geographical nomenclature like, Egyptian, Greek, Indian or Chinese astronomy, mathematics and medicine.

Dr Baldev Raj, the dynamic and eminent Director of the National Institute for Advanced Studies and an eminent nuclear scientist who was very much interested in developing and offering courses for college- lecturers as well as several scientist-friends of mine who had read my earlier book titled: Modern Science: A Historical and Social Perspective, suggested, that I should try to prepare an educative, Resource-Book on history of science, which could help not only in charting out a course on history of science for the under- graduate-level students but also a book in the nature of a general reader on the history of scientific ideas from early times to the present. I have made an attempt to prepare one under the title: Landmarks in Science: A Historical Perspective, expanding, and modifying the material of the two chapters as well as some passages of the former book (the copyright of which rests with me as its author), and also adding new ideas and their exposition at several places.

As the title indicates, this book, besides presenting briefly a profile of traditional sciences (with a little more details about Indian scientific heritage), provides a perspective on the major ideas of modem science, from the time of Renaissance in Science to the end of the twentieth century. It has confined itself to the ideas relating to physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and geology, in a historical mould, like the other books on history of science normally do. However, the historically presented scientific ideas in its 14 Sections may be of help in developing a semester course for PU/ under- graduate students, with some additional inputs, wherever necessary, from the Faculty desirous of teaching history of science in their institutions. The importance of lectures with appropriate illustrations as teaching aids can hardly be overemphasized. Such illustrations (photographs and diagrams) can be found in internet and in the published catalogues and other publications of the History of Science Museum, Oxford; Science Museum, London; Douches Museum in Munich; and Smithsonian Institution, Washington. It is my fond hope that the history of science which is an inter-disciplinary subject of sound educational value in the modern context, will soon find its place on the educational canvas of at least some Universities, IITs and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.

I am most grateful to Dr Baldev Raj for acceding to my request and writing a thoughtful and encouraging Foreword. My profound thanks are also due to him for his valuable suggestions which led to the improvement of the book, particularly the omissions I had made and since rectified. It is unfortunate and tragic that he breathed his last a year ago. I miss him and his wise counsel which was indeed a source of inspiration to me. May his soul rest in peace.

I am thankful to Prof. M.D. Srinivas, Director, Centre of Policy Studies; and Prof. M.S. Sriram, Retired Prof. of Physics, Madras University, Chennai and Prof. S.M.S. Ansari who have gone through the manuscript, for their encouraging words and making some suggestions for improvement of the manuscript. I am indebted to Prof. Vidyanand Nanjundaiah who has gone through especially the biological portions and made some suggestions for their authentic presentation. Prof. S.R.Sarma's ideas about Jai Singh's astronomical acumen, and help in respect of the astronomical instruments are gratefully acknowledged. I am most grateful to the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi and especially to Dr S.K. Aruni, the Director of Research, of this organization, for the handsome financial subsidy which was of great help in publishing this book.

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Item Code: NAR633 Author: B.V. Subbarayappa Cover: HARDCOVER Edition: 2019 Publisher: MUNSHIRAM MANOHARLAL PUBLISHERS PVT LTD ISBN: 9788121513272 Language: English Size: 9.00 X 6.00 inch Pages: 313 (Throughout B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.49 Kg
Price: $32.00
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