In the past, my research has mainly involved reading Scientific American and finding some random, useful fact for a story (see the previous post for an example). Sometimes I’ve gone looking for specific things I needed to know, but recently I’ve decided I’d benefit from a broader awareness of all the sciences.
Therefore, I have begun compiling a list of notable scientists and their accomplishments, starting with ancient Greece and moving forward to modern times. I think the historical approach makes sense. It lays the foundation for more detailed research in the future and helps me see how one discovery led to another.
At the moment, I’m in the 18th Century with Sir Isaac Newton. He’s an interesting man, and something of a personal hero. I won’t go into his whole life story, with the apples and prisms and moons falling from the sky; you can read about that elsewhere. I like him so much because he knew he was right and didn’t care that other scientists disagreed with him.
Although my overview of scientific history is far from complete, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Take Galen, the ancient Greek physician, as an example. He’s the one who figured out that sicknesses are caused by imbalances of the body’s four vital humors and that bleeding the patient can help correct the problem. I’m sure Galen deserves a lot of credit for the things he got right, but this error wasn’t corrected for over a thousand years because people trusted the wisdom of the ancients.
Although I haven’t started reading about the 20th and 21st Centuries yet, I suspect that new ideas are still met with skepticism because of our established body of knowledge. And, as a science fiction writer, I’m guessing the same problem will continue into the distant future.
Tiner, John Hudson. 100 Scientists Who Shaped World History. San Mateo: Bluewood Books, 2000.
“Galen.” Wikepedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen#Downfall_of_Galenism
Gleick, James. Isaac Newton. NY: Random House 2004.