The quote is from Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God", 1941, and in full is:

It took man six thousand years really to discover science, three hundred to put it to work. It took Kidder's creatures two hundred days to equal man's mental attainments

I do not understand where the figure of 6,000 years could have been derived from.

What was Sturgeon referring to?

  • 3
    Maybe Sturgeon was referring to the span of recorded history, in which case 6300 years might be a reasonable ballpark estimate? I guess you could argue that, before 4500 BC, nobody was really trying to discover science?
    – user14111
    Aug 3, 2017 at 19:24
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    @eshier I don't see anything wrong with the question. It's not a question about religion, it's about the meaning of a line in Sturgeon's science fiction story.
    – user14111
    Aug 3, 2017 at 19:25
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    This is a perfectly fine question, with some editing: 1) Get rid of the portion about "a creationist story," and replace it with "the Biblical account" or something. 2) Just delete the bit about a "glaring historical error."
    – Adamant
    Aug 3, 2017 at 19:34
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    @eshier The question does not treat a religious doctrine as fiction. It simply asks whether the source of "six thousand years" in Sturgeon's science fiction story is young-earth creationism or something else. Maybe your objection is that the word "story" in "creationist story" suggests that creationism is fiction? That can easily be changed. In any case, creationism is just a fringe "scientific" theory, not necessarily any more religious that flat-earthism, although it may appeal to some fundamentalist religious people.
    – user14111
    Aug 3, 2017 at 19:36
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    There is nothing wrong with this question. Nothing that 6000 years of scientific endeavor couldn't cure. If we use the idea that there was little in terms of written language before 3500 BC, then counting forward from there, would be the first attempts at recording information (including scientific ideas). Thus 6000 years isn't an unreasonable number to define human history in terms of our goal of using science effectively. Only in the last 300 years or so has science and its application EXPLODED on the world. Seems reasonable to me. Aug 3, 2017 at 19:41

3 Answers 3


Assuming the nature of science fiction story telling of the period, Theodore Sturgeon's point was that humanity's flirtations with science began occurring with our capacity to write and transfer information.

  • Not only was the transfer important but the ability to build on the knowledge of previous generations. Since all knowledge was based on the word of mouth transfer of information, it was imperfect and unlikely to be as efficient as scientific study would be after we learned to write things down circa 3,000 BC give or take a few centuries.

  • It wasn't until after the Renaissance, a period in European history, from the 14th to the 17th century, regarded as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history that scientific inquiry exploded into the world and replace religious thought as the primary vehicle for moving science forward.

  • What made Kidder's Neoterics amazing was they were able to learn every aspect of what made information transfer perfect and thus able to experience the sum total of our level of scientific inquiry due to their accelerated lifespan in a matter of weeks comparatively (28 weeks) and then exceeded it with ease.


Homo Sapiens are anatomically modern humans evolved from archaic humans in the Middle Paleolithic, about 200,000 years ago.

3.4 million years before that our proto-human ancestors had managed to create primitive stone tools, create clothing, and our crowning achievement the use and mastery of basic fire. All of this happened between 3.4 million years ago and 200,000 years ago. This is considered the Stone Age.

From 200,000 to about 12,000 years ago, we were primarily nomadic peoples wandering the Earth, hunting and gathering. Our lore was transfered primarily by word of mouth and transferred to the most learned members of our tribal groups.

This remained the status quo until early agricultural societies stopped wandering and started farming. This ranges from 7,000 to 9,000 years ago.

  • The transition out of the Stone Age occurred between 6000 BCE and 2500 BCE for much of humanity living in North Africa and Eurasia.

  • The first evidence of human metallurgy dates to between the 5th and 6th millennium BCE in the archaeological sites of Majdanpek, Yarmovac, and Pločnik in modern-day Serbia (a copper axe from 5500 BCE belonging to the Vinca culture), though not conventionally considered part of the Chalcolithic or "Copper Age", this provides the earliest known example of copper metallurgy.

  • Note the Rudna Glava mine in Serbia. Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy from about 3300 BCE carried with him a copper axe and a flint knife.

During a period of around 6,000 years ago, various forms of writing began becoming common. Used to deal with trade, resource management, and transfer of lore and legends, the creation of writing began humanity's first inklings of transferring knowledge at a significant level between generations.

  • It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was independently conceived and developed in at least two ancient civilizations and possibly more.
  • The two places where it is most certain that the concept of writing was both conceived and developed independently are in ancient Sumer (in Mesopotamia) around 3100 BC, and Mesoamerica by 300 BC, as no precursors have been found to either of these in their respective regions.

  • Several Mesoamerican scripts are known, the oldest being from the Olmec or Zapotec of Mexico.

Thus while much of the Human experience up to this point was dependent upon certain individuals holding the knowledge, with the advent of writing, knowledge could be passed to anyone who could be taught to understand the written words (this unfortunately was still far too few).

However, such writing would allow ideas (scientific or otherwise) to be seen and used through time allowing later generations to consider how early peoples saw the world and thus scientific endeavor became possible.

Thus 6,000 years, give or take, would be our first regular flirtations with scientific ideas which would allow for the creation of cities, buildings, calendars, sewer systems, aqueducts, fireworks and other results of scientific inquiry.

  • While most of these systems were in place before the 13th century, it was the Renaissance where transformations of how science was addressed allowed it to become the predominant thought process which drove civilization.

  • In the last 300 years, our use of science has transformed the Human experience and we have discovered more in the last three hundred years than we discovered in the 12,000 before it.

  • With the aid of computers, modeling, the rigorous scientific method supporting it, we are a species capable of advanced scientific thought, even in our youngest members, presuming they are exposed to scientific thought in their childhood.

  • 1
    The 300 years can be made more precise: Isaac Newton. nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton He lived about 300 years before the writer. It is said about him: He was "first of the scientists and last of the alchemists." Aug 4, 2017 at 7:25
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    Both your answer and the other assume the author meant '6000 years AGO' and '300 years AGO' counting back from the author's 'now'. That's not what the quote says though. It says, "It took man six thousand years to discover science" not, "six thousand years ago man discovered science" which means that the author thought that from the time he understood humans to have started existing, to the time he thought humans had 'discovered science', 6000 years passed. Similarly, 300 years after that, science was 'put to work'
    – MMAdams
    Aug 4, 2017 at 17:09
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    That's how you choose to interpret it. I chose to interpret it differently. Please don't make this an argument back and forth. You can feel free to write YOUR interpretation as an answer. Aug 4, 2017 at 17:30

He is most likely referring to the time since the beginnings of civilisation. Today, with more recent discoveries of proto-cities and neolithic settlements we'd say that civilisation started around 7,500 BC, or 9,500 years ago; in 1941, civilisation was generally held to have begun with Ancient Egypt which could, with a few rounding errors, be said to have started around 6,000 years ago.


He's probably referring to the rise of what we'd see as the path of the state, and technology. Cities, complex stratified social structures, laws, trade, writing, mathematics, monuments. All of these did really start about 6000 years ago or a bit more (maybe a few thousand more depending when you date it from, but it's close enough to figure the concept he's got).

But in saying that, I have to add a personal comment that this is a "something-very-narrow"-centric view in at least 2 if not 3 ways.

First because "science" isn't technology. Science is the scientific method much more than any technical manifestation. The idea and drive of trying things, seeing what works, what doesn't, building knowledge empirically, trying to find rules that fit the observations, and then refining, testing, experimenting, and improving on those rules, passing what had been learned down the generations for others to use and start from. The ancient Middle East and China didn't shoot up from nothing. They in turn built on hundreds of millennia, maybe a million or more years of humans doing science, not a mere 6000 years. Slowly (very slowly at first) and gradually. Caves and ventilation, fire, and how to use and manage it, hunting methodologies, tools, textiles (or in very ancient times, furs and tanning techniques), stone making, metal making, pottery making, safe and unsafe plants and all their uses, agricultural technologies and methods, conceptualisations... All of these from a cold standing start, and a paleontologist would walk you round a museum to show how they used science, in the form of the scientific method, which they also had to discover empirically as well. It wasn't modern (post-Pyramid!) technological science and it wasn't thought of or organised as "science" is. In that regard Newton was right. Paraphrased, we stand on the shoulders of others...... and then we think how wise we are as a result. Make no mistake just how much "real" science and "real" discovery of + through science was there, before the first ancient Egyptian ever built a pyramid, before the first Australian native ever built a floating boat or canoe.

The second way he's missing the point is the marginalisation of so much in that sentence. To judge that it's today (or in these times) that we can "really" congratulate ourselves and we "really discover" science. To eliminate in a figure of speech, half the human species from that adventure. If we stand back, we know more now that was known in the past. We will know more in the future than we know now. Science has guided us since way, way, back. More surely now, and quicker, but it has been there since the first proto-humans started to discover what made good hammer-stones and bad ones, back in the days when flint was cutting edge technology that kept us alive. It will be there in future. No generation is privileged to claim to be the epitome of science or the small period of time when "real" (rather than "fake"?) science was the norm. We will probably look like ignorant fakers in 4000 years when they look back at how few people "really" understand much of anything scientific, or think scientifically, or "do" science, if we're still around.

In short, it's clear what he's referring to. But the point being made is very weak and I would not suggest it is taken as anything like truth, without really considering what "really" science is.

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