Theses Doctoral

Technology and/as Theory: Material Thinking in Ancient Science and Medicine

Webster, Colin

Multiple natural philosophers in antiquity proposed that nature possessed considerable technical skill. Yet, the specific conceptual implications of this assertion were quite different in fourth century BCE Athens--with its pots, bronze tools and cisterns--than in second century CE Rome--where large-scale aqueducts, elaborate water machines and extensive glassworks were commonplace. This dissertation assesses the impact that these different technological environments had on philosophical and scientific theories. In short, it argues that contemporary technologies shaped ancient philosophers' physical assumptions by providing cognitive tools with which to understand natural phenomena. As a result, as technologies evolved--even in relatively modest ways--so too did conceptual models of the natural world. To explore these assertions, this dissertation focuses on two main fields of explanation, the vascular system and vision, and includes investigations of such technologies as pipes, pumps, mirrors, wax tablets, diagrams and experimental apparatuses. It demonstrates the ways in which scientific theorists use the specific material technologies around them as heuristics to conceptualize physical processes.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Volk, Katharina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014