Cuneiform Knowledge and the History of Science
In the modern West, we take for granted that what we call the natural world confronts us all and always hasbut we are wrong. In reality, nature is a human construct.Before Nature is an exploration of that almost unimaginable time when there was no such thing as natureno word, reference, or sense for it.
Long before the concept of nature formed over the long history of European philosophy and science, our ancestors in ancient Assyria and Babylonia developed the cuneiform script, the earliest system of writing used for documenting and observing the world in a way not wholly dissimilar to our modern science With Before Nature, Francesca Rochberg explores that Assyro-Babylonian knowledge tradition and shows how it relates to the history of science, despite not being focused around a conscious category of nature. From a modern, Western perspective, a world not conceived somehow within the framework of physical nature is difficultif not impossibleto imagine. Yet, as Rochberg lays out, ancient Assyro-Babylonian investigations of regularity and irregularity, norms and anomalies clearly established an axis of knowledge between the knower and an intelligible, ordered world. Rochberg is the first scholar to make a case for how exactly we can understand cuneiform knowledge, prediction, and explanation in relation to sciencewithout recourse to later ideas of nature. Systematically examining the whole of Mesopotamian science from a remarkable analytic and historical perspective,Before Nature will open up surprising new pathways for studying the history of science.
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