Research Collaboration: a Chain Reaction

researchUniversum - C. Flammarion, Holzschnitt, Paris 1988

Collaboration in research has been an essential element in developing new technologies throughout the entire human history. Passing on knowledge from generation to generation, each of which learning and improving it, is a never ending chain reaction of collaboration.

In the 17th century, John Donne, (one of the first metaphysical poets), published Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, containing one of the most famous passages in English literature: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main […]”.

Around the same century, Italian visionary Galileo Galilei fashioned its own scientific method and, according to Morris Kline in Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty, laid the groundwork for modern science by abandoning the Aristotelian method of seeking a physical and not mathematical explanation and proof of events.

Modern science received an important push by Galileo’s work. While his breakthroughs were indeed the result of his genius, they were also supported by the work of other philosophers, mathematicians, and even alchemists from the past.

The Chain Reaction of Research | Before and After Aristotle

Methods of understanding nature before and after Aristoteles were different (400BC). The Edwin Smith Papyrus, for example, is the oldest medical document known. It describes several types of traumas and tumors and it is believed to be a copy from a previous document possibly written by Imhotep, during the the Old Kingdom era in Egypt, 3000–2500 BC.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus explains in detail every known wound and trauma. Every aspect is described and analysed with precisio. In addition, a thorough guidance for the identification and treatments of wounds is offered. Thanks to the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum and the translation of James Henry Breasted, we have a better understanding of the Ancient Egypt medical care methods.

The oldest evidence of developments in mathematics comes from around 20,000 years ago on the riversides of the Nile River. It is a bone, the Ishango Bone, with a series of marks carved alongside resembling what can be interpreted as calculations with numbers or some sort of a lunar calendar.

The evidence supported by the Plimpton 322, a clay tablet with 15 rows and 4 columns in cuneiform script, reveals that Babylonians knew about the Pythagorean triple almost a thousand years before the Greek. Studies suggest that the table is from 1800 BC and belonged to an ancient Babylonian mathematician.

The Ancient Greeks improved mathematics up to a point that some of their theorems are still in use today. The Pythagorean triple has been in use for more than 2500 years now: by builders, sailors, ballistic experts, and even crime investigators.

But it was Aristotle, (384–322 BC) who created Formal Logic and thus the first to use a structured scientific method described in his studies in logic, Analytica Priora. This method remained unsurpassed until 19th century. Modern science is based upon two concepts introduced in the Aristotelian Method: observation and measurement. Induction is than used to obtain knowledge.

Aristotle’s work set the beginning of a new era for science in Greece that continued in the Roman Empire. Though, after the fall of Rome in the 5th century many documents were either lost, or stored in monasteries away from society.

It was the Muslim scholars who translated Aristotle’s works in Arabic after their expansion between 7 – 8th century throughout North Africa and Europe. Because the Q’uran encourages the accumulation of knowledge, Muslims created the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in the begining of 9th century and stored  there as many Ancient Greek works in mathematics and astronomy as be possible. Mathematician, Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 A.D.) adapted and popularized the Decimal Positional Number System.

In 11th century almost every available document from the Greeks was already translated and preserved in Arabic. Europeans started to open the frontiers with their neighbors, the beginning of the end of the Dark Ages. The legacy of Ptolemy, Aristotle and Euclid was soon to return to Europe thanks to Gerard of Cremona (1114–1187 A.D.), the Italian translator who found several documents by Greek thinkers in Toledo, Spain and translated them into Latin.

Probably less than a century later, Roger Bacon, (1220-1290 A.D.), studied Aristotle in Latin and became one of the finest lecturers of his doctrine in Oxford University. Subsequently, Aristotle’s ideas spread and lead to an outburst of new possibilities in science, art and politics. The Renaissance didn’t start in the 14th century but long before.

What we call Modern Science is the specific result of direct and indirect collaboration among researchers and thinkers throughout centuries. Without Aristotle the work of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking may have never existed.

Just as in the Butterfly Effect Theory any movement, no matter how little it is, might alter the rest of the world in an irreversible manner.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne – Meditation 17 Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

About the Author

Manuel Bláuab
Editor-in-Chief Manuel Bláuab is a journalist and writer from Argentina. Has worked in radio, newspapers, theater and online publications since early 2000's.