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  • You might have recognized the names of some of the Greek natural philosophers.

  • They were individuals with quirky theories, and we have records about them.

  • But they weren't the only people making knowledge back in the day.

  • India had major urban centers, centralized administrative states, and complicated metaphysical

  • traditions long before the Greeks had anything big

  • just goats, which are small.

  • And olive trees, which are bigger than goats but still small.

  • And a few gods and goddesses doing normal stuff like cheating on each other.

  • In Indian scriptures, thousands of gods and demons made perpetual war, destroying and

  • recreating reality itself!

  • Ancient Indian thinkers didn't give rise to the same natural philosophy as

  • the Greeks.

  • India presents a convenient counterpoint to Greece because knowledge-making in india was

  • indeparable from a long religious tradition, sponsored by the state,

  • and focused on applications.

  • At the same time, both regions exchanged ideas with each other and the wider world.

  • Today we'll dive into a couple of major aspects of Indian natural philosophy, underlying

  • philosophyphilosophy, and math.

  • Oh, and we'll talk about everyone's favorite large mammalthe elephant!

  • [Intro Music Plays]

  • Ancient India was home to several schools of thought, including what would become Hinduism,

  • its more austere rivals Buddhism and Jainism, and a super-fatalistic faith called Ajivika

  • that isn't around anymore.

  • The most important Hindu texts were the Vedas.

  • The wordvedaliterally meansknowledge.”

  • These sacred texts are passed along orally, even today.

  • But they had also been written down for centuries by the time Alexander the Great invaded western

  • India in 326 BCE.

  • Science and religion were entangled in both Greece and India.

  • True, the Greek natural philosophers began to break with a mythological tradition, or

  • at least repurposed it, proposing new ways of thinking about nature.

  • Even so, we can never neatly separate out science from religion: they mutually affect

  • one another.

  • In India, “knowledgesystems were essentially, well, vedic.

  • The Vedas were written in a sacred language, Sanskrit, which was standardized around the

  • time of the first Greek natural philosophers.

  • The greatest Sanskrit scholar, Panini, wrote a book on grammar listing almost four thousand rules!

  • These covered phonetics, meter, semantics, etymologyeverything about the language

  • and how it should be used.

  • In fact, Panini's theory of how words are formed was so advanced that it was directly

  • studied into the twentieth century!

  • So you can say that the first science in India was linguistics.

  • And this tradition of memorizing the Vedas and trying to understand words eventually

  • led to the study of acoustics and musical tones.

  • But is studying a language, which is a very human thing, the same kind of knowledge-making

  • as studying fire or gravity?

  • Yes, totally!

  • Linguists make hypotheses, take careful observations, and put together testable theories about how

  • languages change.

  • They might be frustrated by the seeming randomness of their subjectsbut then again, so are

  • quantum physicists, and medical doctors!

  • Some parts of the Vedas concerned math and astronomy.

  • But mostly they concerned gods and rituals.

  • The Vedas taught that the cosmos is clearly ordered, as is human society.

  • What happens in the reality you perceive is the result of a complicated ethical algorithm

  • running in the backgroundso you have to sacrifice a lot of animals and stay in your

  • social position.

  • Thus the Vedas functioned not only as a basis for a whole language, but as a way of teaching

  • people how society should be: a mirror of an orderly cosmos.

  • And so we arrive at the present year: 321 BCE

  • It's not actually 321.

  • But it was, at one point.

  • At that time, in Greece, Aristotle had been dead for only one year.

  • Over in Babylon, in what is now Iraq, Aristotle's former boss Alexander the Great had been dead

  • for two years.

  • But in eastern India, a young adventurer named Chandragupta Maurya was very

  • much alive: that year he became emperor of nearly the entire subcontinent.

  • Alexander had only recently invaded India, wisely choosing not to start beef with the

  • powerful kingdom of Magadha.

  • When Alexander died, India consisted of a lot of small kingdoms.

  • Maurya, inspired by the model of Alexander and coached by a brilliant older adviser,

  • led a coup in Magadha.

  • From there, Maurya conquered the weaker kingdoms one by one, forging them into a powerful state

  • calledwait for it, what name did he name it?

  • who knows!— it's the Maurya Empire.

  • The dynasty that Maurya founded lasted from 322 to 180 BCE.

  • It sponsored research into astronomy, hydraulic engineering, and forestry.

  • Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka became one of the most powerful and culturally

  • influential rulers of India, as well as a serious convert to Buddhism.

  • He outlawed hunting and other unnecessary acts of violence towards animals, opened public

  • hospitals, and spread Buddhism as far as Athens!

  • When the Buddhist monk Faxian visited India from Jin Dynasty China, starting

  • in 399 CE, he favorably compared the two empires: both were civilized societies where Buddhism

  • could flourish.

  • Increased travel between states brought increased trade in goods as well as ideas.

  • Under the Maurya Empire, more than half of the arable land in ancient India was irrigated,

  • producing two harvests a year.

  • That sustained a lot of peopleand required a lot of planning.

  • Thus Indian states developed whole government departments to supervise the building and

  • maintenance of irrigation systems.

  • They controlled a vast system of canals and sluices, funded by taxes.

  • Breaching a dam was punishableby death!

  • The centralized Maurya Empirelike the Egyptian, Sumerian, and Chinese oneswas a “hydraulic

  • state: its control of water allowed harvests stability, keeping large populations alive.

  • To control nature, the people running these big states needed to know lots of things about

  • the lands, plants, animals and especially rivers they controlled.

  • And most especially about the people who owed them taxes.

  • First rule of history: nobody ever, ever liked paying taxes.

  • Another key to running a big state in India was the elephant.

  • Training hundreds of war elephants was important to continued military power.

  • So the Mauryas created a forestry department, because elephants lived in the forests, and

  • made the slaying of elephants punishable by, you guessed it, death.

  • Forestry management and regulating land and water would eventually develop into sciences

  • in their own right.

  • The Mauryas' administrative orusefulscience, such as their pioneering work in

  • land management, was not the same as the abstract theorizing of the Greek natural philosophers.

  • The Greeks left behind their names, thanks to their writings and their cults—I meanschools.

  • The work of those who maintained early hydraulic states tended to be anonymous.

  • A debate about the relative merits of applied versus pure scienceknowledge of the immediately

  • useful versus the abstractly trueis still raging today.

  • Just compare a scientist applying for a grant to study, say, lichen versus an engineer working

  • on computer guidance for missiles

  • But useful and abstract systems are not diametric opposites, and they were never fully separate.

  • India had been open to Persian and Chinese influences before Alexander.

  • The Chinese had already introduced alchemyor systematic questioning about what is stuffto

  • Indian thought.

  • But India definitely became more Greek-ish when a bunch of Greekssome trained by Aristotle

  • himselfpranced in talking about elements and perfectly circular star-paths.

  • Astronomy was important to all of the ancient states.

  • This is because, alongside their war-making and tax-taking, states were also religious

  • institutes, which cared about astrological schedules.

  • Because, if you're a god, you can fly around the heavens, you have houses in different

  • parts of the sky, and you want to be worshipped when you're in the right house.

  • In India, as all over the ancient world, “religionandsciencewere not separate ideas

  • in the way we might think of them today.

  • Practicing astrology meant carefully observing stars and planetsand thus also practicing

  • astronomy.

  • People who knew a lot about the night sky made up a high-status professional class.

  • These stargazers were part-priest, part-astronomer, and part-mathematician.

  • As astronomers, they divided the solar year into months, crafting calendars to regulate

  • religious ceremonies.

  • They developed a calculation for adding a leap month when necessary to keep the religious

  • calendar in sync with the solar one.

  • And they investigated the moon's cycles, as well as constellations.

  • As mathematicians, they came up with names for very large numberssuch as 10 to the

  • 40threlated to the very long cosmic cycles in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

  • In fact, astronomy and related math really took off in ancient India.

  • Let's take a closer look with ThoughtBubble:

  • During the Gupta Empire, which lasted from 319 to 605 CE, families of professional astronomermathematicians

  • passed down their teachings about the stars.

  • And they competed with each other: six regional schools of thought all fought for state patronage.

  • This period also saw the rise of the siddhantas orthe solutions,” meaning high-level

  • astronomy textbooks.

  • Two of the major siddhanta writers were Aryabhata and Brahmagupta.

  • They were both brilliant polymaths,

  • but unfortunately they disagreed about astronomy.

  • Which was really too bad, because these guys would have made a team of unbeatable geniuses.

  • Written around 500 CE, Aryabhata's book of solutions includes a place-value system,

  • decimal notation, the familiar numbers that we callArabictoday, the number zero,

  • and the irrational number pi calculated to four places.

  • And Aryabhata famously posited that the earth rotatesdailyon its axis.

  • This idea was a major breakthrough in astronomy: Egyptian, Greek, and earlier Indian thinkers

  • argued that the sky rotates around the earth.

  • Aryabhata figured out that the apparentmovementof the stars is actually caused by the rotation

  • of the earth itself.

  • But Brahmagupta thought that a rotating earth defied common sense: just look at the birds,

  • all not flying off into the heavens!

  • Meanwhile, in his own siddhanta, Brahmagupta calculated the circumference of the earth

  • with astonishing precision, and he worked with negative and irrational numbers.

  • Thanks Thought Bubble.

  • Indian mathematicians were working on many topics that writers in Greece were not.

  • But the most advanced branch of natural philosophy in ancient India was more founded in Vedic

  • teachings.

  • Ayurveda, literally life-knowledge, or the science of life, began with oral traditions

  • about sacrificial animals.

  • By the sixth century BCE, it was a standardized system of medicine and way of answering the

  • question what is life?

  • Ayurvedic approaches to diseases and cures were rational.

  • There were reasons for every choice.

  • Good physicians didn't believe in strictly divine cures, but practiced medical judgment

  • based on years of study and then more years of experience.

  • The influential medical textbook Charaka Samhita, for example, calls for physicians to apprentice

  • with a master, then get royal permission to treat patients.

  • It also lists 300 bones, 500 muscles, 210 joints, and 70 vessels in the human body.

  • This was written some time before 200 CE.

  • And today's med school students complain about organic chemistry!

  • Ayurveda, which is still around today, is so complex and important that we're devoting

  • another episode to it, alongside ancient European medicine.

  • For now, just note that, Indian medicine and surgery was probably the most advanced of

  • any contemporary ancient civilization.

  • Rich in people and faiths, India was not a

  • single culture even under the highly successful Mauryas and Guptas.

  • But certain features of ancient Indian natural philosophy stand out.

  • The ancient Vedasliterally, the knowledgesinfluenced a wide variety of thinkers across a large

  • geographic region.

  • There were no sharp breaks with Vedic ways of knowingalthough Buddhism, and influences

  • from China and Greece, added new layers of philosophy on top of the Vedic one.

  • And the Maurya and Gupta states were wealthy and well-administered, known for their skilled

  • artisans and able to control vast plains in order to feed teeming cities.

  • As ancient states exchanged goods and proto-scientific ideas, Indian ideas spread far and wide: we

  • have accounts of Ayurvedic physicians, or vaidyas, working in eighth-century

  • Baghdad, then one of the largest cities on earth and a center of knowledge production.

  • Next timewe'll travel to The Americas to ask questions like, "When are we? What is time? And how to we measure it?"

  • Crash Course History of Science is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney studio in Missoula,

  • Montana and it's made with the help of all this nice people and our animation team is

  • Thought Cafe.

  • Crash Course is a Complexly production.

  • If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly with us, you can check out some of our other

  • channels like Healthcare Triage, How to Adult, and Scishow Psych.

  • And, if you'd like to keep Crash Course free for everybody, forever, you can support

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  • Thank you to all of our patrons for making Crash Course possible with their continued

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You might have recognized the names of some of the Greek natural philosophers.

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India: Crash Course History of Science #4

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/23
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