The Upright Thinkers | Leonard Mlodinow

Summary of: The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos
By: Leonard Mlodinow


Embark on an enlightening journey through the fascinating evolution of human thinking and scientific advancements in Leonard Mlodinow’s ‘The Upright Thinkers’. With a keen focus on how human nature and inherent curiosity have driven our species to explore the unknown, this summary delves into the roots of scientific methods, the emergence of civilizations, and the development of various fields like mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Learn how humanity’s need to understand the world laid the foundation for the theories, discoveries, and technologies that shape our lives today.

The Evolution of Scientific Thinking

Human nature and curiosity drove the development of scientific methods and analysis over time. Innovations like the earliest communities and sharing knowledge led to early technologies such as irrigation systems, and eventually, the rise of occupations and schools. The division of labor enabled people to focus on one job each day, making everyday survival possible. With the innate curiosity of children and the advantages cohabitation provided, humans have been solving problems and creating new ideas since the beginning of our species.

The Evolution of Writing and Mathematics

The development of standardized writing and mathematics revolutionized human communication and paved the way for modern science. Mesopotamian pictorial scripts were the earliest recorded form of writing that allowed people to keep records of transactions and helped communities grow. Over time, writing evolved, and combinations of symbols were used to describe complex concepts in fields like geology and medicine. The use of mathematics to make simple calculations and predictions was also evident during this time. The Egyptians developed a way of measuring the surfaces of large areas, which was beneficial in forming property lines. These advancements, though significant, were limited in scope. It would take two millennia before Indian mathematicians discovered the standard system of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication that made modern science possible. Overall, the evolution of writing and mathematics played a critical role in unlocking our ability to share knowledge effectively and systematically.

Ancient Greeks: Pioneers of Modern Science

The ancient Greeks made major scientific breakthroughs by questioning the common belief that the gods were responsible for natural phenomena and introducing a new form of rational thinking. They were among the first to study physics and conduct scientific experiments. Pythagoras analyzed musical instrument strings and developed a mathematical equation to explain the difference in pitch. Aristotle distinguished between natural and violent change and introduced the concept of “force.” These contributions played a vital role in the development of modern science.

Galileo, Newton and the Birth of Modern Science

After 1450, a new breed of scientific thinkers started expanding old observations in bold and new ways. Galileo Galilei’s precise experiments and abstract scientific mind paved the way for modern scientific methods. He designed experiments, gave his observations exact measurements, and used abstraction to expand and make predictions. Isaac Newton’s success was the result of years of research and hundred-hour work weeks. He conducted experiments using his own body and even stared into the sun once, which inspired him to continue his studies. These two thinkers were instrumental in the birth of modern science.

The Evolution of Chemistry

Chemistry, once a craft, has grown to be a vital field of science. From the discovery of mummification to the failed alchemist’s attempts to create gold, Paracelsus’ innovative concepts, and Robert Boyle’s application of scientific thinking, chemistry and its evolution has given birth to numerous developments. Antoine Lavoisier’s experiments revealed that different elements can merge or repel each other depending on the conditions, and the release of oxygen in the heating of mercuric oxide was a groundbreaking discovery. Chemistry has come a long way to reach the prominent position it holds today.

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