Where did the study of geology and all other modern science begin?
Look for the starting place and you might go all the way back to the ancient city of Miletus in Ionia, among Greek-speaking people living in the Aegean coastal area of present-day Turkey.
A.M. Celâl Şengör, professor of geology at Istanbul Technical University, will talk about what happened there, and why, in the topical luncheon presentation “Was the Geology of the Aegean Responsible for the Rise of the Human Civilization?” at AAPG’s International Conference and Exhibition, set Sept. 14-17 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Celâl Şengör will discuss the thesis “that it was the peculiar natural conditions of the Aegean Sea, the archipelagos – that is, the original sea of the Greeks – that made civilization possible.
“I am interested in finding out how the problems geology deals with have arisen. Without a knowledge of why and how certain questions are asked one cannot really understand the answers given,” he explained.
“This naturally leads one to the Greeks, especially to the Ionian Greeks,” he said. “They were the first ones to question nature directly without assuming that a god or any superior being has to intervene.”
By searching for natural instead of supernatural explanations for reality, the ancient Greeks moved humanity toward science and, ultimately, modern civilization, according to Celâl Şengör.
In describing his concept of the origins of science and civilization, he cited the influence of the Austrian philosopher Karl Raimund Popper, author of “Logik der Forschung” (“The Logic of Scientific Discovery”).
Popper wrote that the scientific method relies on empirical falsification or disproving hypotheses, and he “pointed out in a paper titled ‘Back to the Presocratics’ that it was this method that the Ionian Greeks had invented,” Celâl Şengör said.
The Presocratic philosopher Thales “had become aware in Egypt that knowledge of geometry was possible without the help of the gods, although the Egyptians themselves had not made that mental leap,” he noted.
“He inquired back in Miletus, with his friend Anaximander, whether natural phenomena could also be ‘known’ like geometry,” he said.
Thales and Anaximander soon realized the short answer was “No.”
“The two friends realized that a complete knowledge of nature was not possible because it was boundless both in time and in space – the concept of apeiron, that is, boundless, proposed by Anaximander,” he noted.
“Therefore the sensible thing to do is to generate testable hypotheses,” he said. “When Thales and Anaximander invented this method, science – and with it, human civilization – was born.”
It’s All Greek to Him
That realization, founded in that place and time, was a turning point for humanity, Celâl Şengör noted.
“Science and the scientific method have great implications for us. We live by them whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not,” he observed.
“Imagine living without your computer, your medication, your GPS or without a knowledge of atmospheric phenomena – or without geology, which would mean relinquishing almost all our energy resources and everything that goes with them,” he said.
Celâl Şengör described himself as “a geologist who would like to think of himself as a generalist.”
“Regrettably, I am not smart enough to live up to the demands of being a ‘complete geologist,’ as George Gaylord Simpson might have said, so I concentrate on tectonic problems and mostly on those in Eurasia, with general implications on such topics as crustal growth, mountain-building, rifting, et cetera,” he said.
He’s also a geologist with a keen interest in modern science and civilization.
“Curiously, civilization has never been invented elsewhere independently,” Celâl Şengör said. “This is a most curious fact of human history. Our present human civilization is single-handedly a Greek product.”