Science and Culture Non-Western Cultures Essay

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Science and Non-Western Cultures

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While the way of "doing science" in Western cultures is based on the Greco-Roman tradition, while borrowing as much as possible from other countries, the Middle East in particular (algebra, astronomy, etc.), it still remains tied to a more Western paradigm of reductionism and linear thinking. The history of science is, in fact, written from a Europeanized perspective, and "does not recognize different types of civilizations or cultural science. It has represented Western science as the apex of science, and maintained its monopoly" (Sardar, 2000, 53). In fact, even inventions that were taken from other cultures and incorporated into Western technology still get little or no credit from the Western Scientific mind. China, for instance, had a number of scientific advances during the Early Middle Ages in Europe that would not become noteworthy until almost 600 years later: gunpowder, pharmacology, climate change, geomorphology, and zoological classification (Fraser and Haber, 1986). In a similar way, science from non-European based Ancient cultures is not considered more pseudo-science than real science. It is important to make a distinction, though, between primitive science and pseudo-science. Even such pillars of Western science, like Isaac Newton, did not see a stringen line between "science," what we would call the "occult" or "alchemy." Indeed, it was all part of the discovery of the natural world, things that may be explainable now were explained in a different manner in the past (Newman, 2010).

Essay on Science and Culture Non-Western Cultures Assignment

One of the more interesting victims of this Western bias has been the native grand civilizations of Meso and South America; the Inca, Aztec, Toltec, and Maya. The Maya, for instance, were an energetic people who's civilization spread throughout modern day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. By the 2nd century, the Maya were one of the most technologically advances civilizations of their time. They were experts in math, astromony, astrology, agronomy, and even chemistry and pharmacology. Compared to other indigenous populations in the Americas, theirs was the most sophisticated of numerical systems -- better than the Romans. They also had the only fully developed written language in the pre-Colombian Americas. At its peak, in fact, it was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world (Danien, 2009).

Unfortunately, due to pestilence, warfare, disease, and conquest, what little we know about the Ancient Maya comes from sparse (but intriguing) archaeological evidence that points to a far more sophisticated system than we can imagine. Too, while the stone sculptures and artiacts (e.g. The Dresden Codex) allow scholars to learn about the Mayan calendar, astronomical and astrological research, and their counting and inventory systems, they did not really leave theoreoms or algorithms as did many Western scholars. This means that much of their theory must be inferred. For instance we know that they used a vigesimal system -- one for counting and what we would term aritmetic purposes, and one for the passage of time or less tangible measurements of time and space (Lounsbury, 1978).

This vigesimal system was based 20 rather than our Arabia 10. Numerals were based of three symbols: zero (shell), one (dot), and 5 (bar) -- so the number 16 would be written as three bars under a dot. Numerals after 19 were written vertically up in powers of twenty. For example, 36 would be written as one dot above three dots, atop two lines.

Thus, addition and subtraction are actually quite easy -- certainly easier than using X, L, C, M, and I (Coe, 2005, 212-15).

In addition, unlike the Roman system, the Mayan calendar required a place holder, or the use of a zero to keep track of that they termed "long count" years; or their ability to track their own culture and the astronomical observations over greater periods of time. The zero was also important in calculating great distances; without it, numerical values for certain cultural aspects would be quite long. The zero was vital, too in their ability to calculate lineage and time… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Science and Culture Non-Western Cultures.  (2010, October 1).  Retrieved April 6, 2020, from

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"Science and Culture Non-Western Cultures."  October 1, 2010.  Accessed April 6, 2020.