Most people are born with the desire of seeking a better understanding of the natural world. Perhaps that is why most major cultures in the history of civilisation have given rise to thinkers who tried to provide some kind of interpretation of natural events. There are so many individuals whose discoveries have enriched our lives, expanded our imagination and liberated us from the bonds of ignorance and superstition. The man who for the first time took a block of wood and shaped it into a wheel was a great scientist. The wheel truly revolutionised human life. But the names of many of the older ‘scientists’, whose discoveries must have made a seminal impact on agriculture, hunting and the other occupations of primitive forms of society, are now lost in the mists of time.
In earlier times, at least in the Western world, thinkers were prone to taking an anthropocentric view of the universe; the Earth was thought to be at the centre of the universe. It was only around the time of the Renaissance that modern scientific inquiry can be said to have begun in Europe. A pioneer was Nicolaus Copernicus who began a cautious process of breaking away from old assumptions, and proposed that the Earth rotated around the Sun. This was a revolu-tionary idea, one that acted as a catalyst for subsequent scientists, who came up with generalisations and theories based on empirically verifiable data. The endeavours of men like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton blazed a new pathway for Science, and there was no looking back from then on.
The selection of scientists to be considered in a book such as this one is bound to be subjective to some extent. However, within the limited scope of the book—which focuses on some eminent scientists
of the Western world—I have made a selection that ranges from the ancient era to the modern, that is, up to the twentieth century. I have also tried, in the process, to give a sense of the huge diversity of scientific thought and fields of inquiry. While some of the scientists have been chosen because their fame and influence on human life cannot be ignored, others have been selected as they have filled a certain niche through their revolutionary ideas.
The aim of this book is to give readers a brief but meaningful insight into the life and work of some eminent scientists. I hope it will inspire readers to seek out more on their own.