Amid the rise of “smart” content in online platforms accessible to the Moroccan wider public, especially the youth, it is crucial that we start engaging the necessary tools for healthy critical thinking. A History of Knowledge, a very good book on history of science among other topics, proves to be a good starting point for any good critical mind.
Gracefully weaving history of science, ideas and people over the course of human history with the right amount of philosophy required to be able to reflect on the deep issues of our times, A History of Science is a concise yet encyclopedic work, written by Charles Van Doren, a prominent American intellectual of the 20th century.
During our discussion, we highlighted the importance of history of science to understanding the present, its accessibility to people, and most importantly its relevance to our day-to-day lives. Leading people to question the very basic ideas they take for granted, and letting them discover the history and context within which those ideas were born is indeed very empowering.
The importance of such books is akin to that of Descartes’ cogito to thinking itself. Once we are aware of the traceability of ideas, not just historical facts, we are able to better comprehend the present, our actions, and our thoughts too. It is also important to say that history of science is not just about history of scientific discoveries or the biographies of historical scientists, but also a history of the evolving relationship between humans and the world they live in, and a record of the different philosophies adopted at different times in the past.
My experience reading the book was full of insights. When reading about the late decadent Roman Empire, I felt that many aspects of today’s world were an exact reflection of late Roman materialism. The developments within the Catholic Church also served me as a guide to understand the mid-life crises of other religions. The attitudes towards science or occult practices in the past helped me understand just what exactly those things mean, more than just what they are.
As someone who is particularly interested in environmental issues, tracing back the history of the mindset that led to the Industrial Revolution, the roots of the idea of material progress, and the “desacralization” of Nature has helped my research a lot, especially in guiding my reading to further detailed works to deepen my understanding.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly, alongside any series on the history of science available online.