05 June 2008

This afternoon, Harold J. Cook gave a stimulating lecture to the members of the Descartes Centre and the Huygens Institute on the close relationship between science and commerce, specifically looking at the gathering of factual knowledge within a context of trade.

In the 17th century, Dutch physician Jacobus Bontius spent 4 years in Batavia (now Jakarta) during which he appropriated medical know-how from local practitioners, valuing "matters of fact" over belief systems. The extent to which this can be considered an exchange of knowledge remains unclear, however. No evidence has been found to proof that local healers adopted Western medicine in their practice. Only in the case of Willen ten Rhijne in Japan can we recognise an interchange of information, as Japanese scholars intentionally tried to learn elements from European science and medicine. Nevertheless, it seems that this exchange only applied to goods, materials, and elementary therapeutic practices. The philosophical theory or the fundamental scientific system within which these goods and practises of medicine operated appear to be completely disregarded.

Read Harold Cook's latest book: "Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age." Yale UP, 2007


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