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"Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" by R. Scott Mongrain - Last part 3 of 3
By Admin (from 17/11/2010 @ 11:00:16, in en - Science and Society, read 2293 times)


The Heliocentric Theory of the solar system was first publicly suggested by Copernicus in 1543, the year he died (Hewitt 20). For a period of two millenia prior, Aristotle’s theory that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that all other things moved about it had been the commonly accepted viewpoint, with strong backing from the Church. With trepidation, and at the urging of his closest contemporaries, Copernicus presented his findings, which were based on observation and critical analysis. The methods he used to discern the difference and the general concepts that both the Sun and the Earth were distinct bodies, at least one of which was able to move, were not new. Copernicus used both the observational methods of the time and the concept of heavenly bodies in motion to arrive at his conclusion, making a connection, using these pre-existing ideas. While his findings were contradictory to the accepted norms of the time, they weren’t new as much as they were different. Consider also the dual wave and particle nature of light defined by Einstein’s photon. Einstein combined the wave theory of Huygens with the quantum theory advanced by Planck, mathematically proving that light has properties of both waves and particles dependent on what it interacts with (Hewitt 560). At the same time, he made another scientific discovery, the Special Theory of Relativity, modifying and combining the findings of Newton and Maxwell (Hewitt 635). Each of these discoveries, while novel in presented form, is simply a combination of previous ideas. Since the time of Copernicus, who was the precursor to and inspiration for Galileo’s scientific method, Man has made scientific discoveries based on the findings and methods of those who came before them (Hewitt 21).

Whether they contradict, combine, or expand accepted knowledge, scientific discoveries are not original thought. This serves to illuminate a concept which, in my opinion, is worthy of celebration: any student of the scientific method could be the next Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, or Einstein. While it is highly improbable that a person will invent a truly novel idea, it is quite probable, and even likely that future scientists will expand, combine, or contradict previously accepted scientific knowledge. I say this due to the great volume of scientists who have contributed in such a way over the past 2000 years and in ever-increasing numbers within the past century. As science leads human beings directly to technology, the main contributor to improved quality of life, this distinction can hardly be viewed negatively. Sir Isaac Newton was not ashamed that his discoveries had benefited from the work of his predecessors. If anything, his words paint him as proud to be a part of the bigger picture; the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, and the celebration inherent in discovery. In this light, so-called “intellectual materialism”, or ownership of ideas, especially those scientific in nature, is an affront to the enormous body of work leading to each nuance that is discovered about our universe and its properties through the scientific method. The US Patent and Trademark Office claims to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries” (USPTO). To whom, then, go the rights? Scientific discoveries, being not original to any one person or team, cannot be attributed to any one person or team. They must be attributed to the entire body of scientists who provided the background research that made the discoveries possible. So states the old proverb, “Credit where credit is due.”

Science is a tool meant to help us gain knowledge for the benefit of all people, and is the result of the work of many contributors. Each contributor along the way must remember that the distance of their vision comes from the lofty perch they have attained by standing on the shoulders of those who have come before them, and that they too will provide such a place for future contributors to stand and gaze into the unknown.

Bellis, Mary. “The Invention of the Wheel.” about.com. The New York Times Company, 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2010.

Hewitt, Paul G. Conceptual Physics. 8th Ed. Reading: Addison Wesley, 1998. Print.

“The USPTO: Who We Are.” uspto.gov. United States Patent and Trademark Office, 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.

Source: thezeitgeistmovement.com