53

Put simply: by scientists, I mean a people whose job is to examine the world around them.

I know that a lot of characters even from LOTR are well educated and they used to study old books etc.
But I am looking for someone who is (in our world's words) a professional.

I am especially interested in natural science because I can imagine that there is not a sharp borderline between, i.e. wise adviser of some king and historian.

So, are there any mathematicians, physicians, zoologists, botanists, etc. in Tolkien's world? Actually, now I wonder if there is even Math…

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    Highly related, probably not duplicate: Did the Elves do mathematics? – Rand al'Thor Nov 11 at 20:46
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    @NKCampbell Aragorn in this role is more like a healer. He needs knowledge for the practice purposes of it, not for the knowledge itself. The example you mentioned would be nice, yes :). – TGar Nov 11 at 21:09
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    I think Feanor and Gwaith-i-Mirdain should qualify. While one could say they were more of inventors, Feanor presumably had do do a lot of research for his "magitech" like Palantiri. – Mithoron Nov 11 at 21:32
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    While this doesn't really answer the question, I think it's important to note that Middle Earth is essentially Europe long before the Renaissance (which is the period when the concept science as we know it was invented). Until then the study of the natural world was not based in trial / observation, but rather in religion, mysticism, alchemy, and moral codes. Forget the natural world, even the study of our own bodies had little to do with science until Vesalius, also 1500's. Math, however, is a better fit for the question. – Misha R Nov 12 at 0:01
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    I feel like The Last Ringbearer is relevent, but I'm not sure it's actually an answer since it looks at the idea that the orks weren't actually evil, merely vilified by the winners of the war between technology and magic. (Magic won obviously) and of course definitely not canon. – aslum Nov 12 at 14:03
121

Saruman

Yes, he was evil, since Tolkien was not a great fan of industrialization, but Saruman studied the natural sciences. Specifically, he was familiar with optics. His "Saruman of many colors" schtick was a reference to the fact that a prism splits white light into a spectrum; it is implied that Saruman may have been the first to discover this.

"White!" he sneered. "It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.

At the very least he was familiar with this principle of physics.

In addition, his use of the Uruk-Hai may have been magical, but might also have illustrated his study of principles of inheritance.

Finally, he is implied to be familiar with gunpowder, or something similar. He used an explosion to breach Helm's Deep, what Aragorn referred to as "lighting the fires of Orthanc".

Generally speaking, Saruman represents precisely the scientific method. He is developing Orthanc and the surrounding area and engaging in forays into industrialization.

The shafts ran down by many slopes and spiral stairs to caverns far under; there Saruman had treasuries, store-houses, armouries, smithies, and great furnaces. Iron wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded. At night plumes of vapour steamed from the vents, lit from beneath with red light, or blue, or venomous green.

It is also worth noting that Gandalf's rejoinder to the quote of Saruman's mentioned previously implies that Saruman is engaging in scientific inquiry: he seeks to understand the nature of things.

' "In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.

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    Good eye. Definitely +1. – Rand al'Thor Nov 12 at 7:33
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    I think that there might be a degree of this in the goblins, in general. IIRC there's a quote about how they don't make beautiful things, but they do make clever things. – nick012000 Nov 12 at 10:39
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    @nick012000 I half-remember a sentence in The Hobbit about the goblins devising instruments of torture, if that's what you are referring to. – lfurini Nov 12 at 17:47
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    What about Radagast? – PmanAce Nov 12 at 19:13
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    @TGar: I don't think you'll find anyone with science as a "job", seeing as the Lord of the Rings is pseudo-medival and "scientist" as a job didn't exist until well after the Renaissance. Most early scientists were either priests or university professors, neither exist. Note that most of the wisest elves were taught by the Valar in the Undying Lands of Aman, who per the lore created the world. So they have no need of "discovery" or "science", just recollection. – sharur Nov 13 at 21:53
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Tom Bombadil?

OK, he doesn't seem much like a scientist at first glance, but bear with me ...

  • He lives surrounded by nature, which he knows and understands better than anyone.
  • He has a lot of wisdom and perception, more than other characters, which is never really explained.
  • He is not motivated by worldly desires or politics, preferring to just stay in his own place and study the world around him.

All of that seems like it could fit the model of a scientist or academic. Tolkien would have known many such at Oxford. Specifically, given Tom's forest setting, perhaps a biologist.

Gandalf calls Tom a "moss-gatherer", as opposed to Gandalf's own "rolling stone". Taken at face value as a metaphor, this could simply mean Tom remained sedentary while Gandalf wandered the world. But if we look a level deeper, Tom is easy to imagine as literally a moss-gatherer, living in his forest and gathering botanical specimens to study.

In Tolkien's own words:

[Tom Bombadil] represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. [...] if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing [...] He is in a way the answer to [the Entwives] in the sense that he is almost the opposite, being say, Botany and Zoology (as sciences) and Poetry as opposed to Cattle-breeding and Agriculture and practicality.

-- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144

Tolkien himself thought of Bombadil as representing the sciences of Botany and Zoology, as well as the art of Poetry.

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    That implies that he was the science, not the scientist. – Matt Gutting Nov 11 at 21:42
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    @MattGutting In context, I don't think it does. Tolkien puts Botany and Zoology vis-a-vis Cattle-Breeding and Agriculture. We wouldn't say the Entwives were Agriculture, but they practised it. – Rand al'Thor Nov 12 at 7:32
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    Radagast would probably more of a botanist and zoologist when it comes to that. – user3819867 Nov 12 at 12:35
  • @user3819867 Interesting idea, which might be worth its own answer if you want to turn it into one with evidence. – Rand al'Thor Nov 12 at 17:22
10

The issue is complicated by the starkly different relationship that Men, Eldar, and Ainur have with Arda: It is never the true home of Men, whereas the Elves and the Ainur within Arda are bound to it until the end.

One aspect of this relationship is that the material of Arda responds to the will of the Eldar and the Ainur differently from the way is responds to the will of Men. Essentially, the former can put a bit of themselves into the artifact with which they are working.

One of the principles of science, as we understand it, is that matter simply doesn't do this; matter does what it does no matter what our desire is, and the Men in Tolkien's legendarium are as much bound by this restriction as we are.

Hence the artifacts made by the Elves had very curious and useful properties (the ropes used by the Fellowship practically had minds of their own). One of the Fellowship referred to this as magic when he saw it, to which the Elf who heard this said, in all candor and honesty, that the did not know what was meant by the term.

The upshot of this is that if there were people who studied the properties of matter, on the same understanding as our own scientists have, such people were certainly Men.


Addendum

Another thing that would hinder scientific progress is that the Men who were in extensive contact with Eldar would see them doing many wonderful things that they themselves could not equal. They would understandably conclude that there were important things about nature that they could never grasp, and that would defeat the whole point of science as we know it.

  • Considering most Men aren't aware of their status as "visitors", I'd say that's a non-issue regarding their psychology. – chepner Nov 12 at 23:23
  • Oh no, science is not about matter, it is about reality, observation, and prediction. If matter responds to the will of people, then it will become much harder to device repeatable experiments, but you can still do science. This is actually what we're doing in sociology and psychology today - there is science in these areas, it's somewhat obscured by many frauds and the progress isn't great, but it is there. – toolforger Nov 13 at 16:15
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    Or Dwarves, who certainly studied the properties of the various ores they mined. – Joel Coehoorn Nov 14 at 2:20
  • Yeah, the thing with the Elves, is that the Noldor literally had thousands of years to just literally ask Aulë or Manwë or Melkor how things worked. The Sindar queen Melian in the first age was a literal forest nymph, basically. By the third age, the Sindar and Noldor were pretty much living amongst each other and had had ore thousands of years to share knowledge. Lore is going to beat scientific method when your root source is "gods present during and participating in creation" – Jerry Schirmer Nov 14 at 15:35
8

It surprises me that no one has mentioned the Númenóreans yet. From A Description of the Island of Númenor in Unfinished Tales:

The account of the Island of Númenor that here follows is derived from descriptions and simple maps that were long preserved in the archives of the Kings of Gondor. These represent but a small part of all that was once written, for many natural histories and geographies were composed by the learned men in Númenor; but these, like nearly all else of the arts and sciences of Númenor at its high tide, disappeared in the Downfall.

They watched the stars from the top of Isengard (astronomy/astrology), had great skill at navigation and engineering (mathematics), embalmed the dead, constructed huge buildings of impenetrable stone (Isengard and the walls of Minas Tirith) cultivated athelas (it was typically found where they had dwelt).

7

The Herb-master of the Houses of Healing

This gentleman studied botany and the healing effects of said botanics. He even knew the ancient names for those plants (modern-day equivalent of knowing the latin names):

Thereupon the herb-master entered. 'Your lordship asked for kingsfoil, as the rustics name it,' he said; or athelas in the noble tongue, or to those who know somewhat of the Valinorean...'

By a similar token, the healers in the Houses of Healing (including the warden, who I believe is mentioned) are presumably students of biology and anatomy.

  • This is promising, but is he really doing science? Isn't it just pure healer with great knowledge? – TGar Nov 13 at 17:42
  • @TGar, isn't someone with knowledge, and who accumlates that knowledge by studying the very definition of a scientist? – Darren Nov 14 at 15:59
  • I think that scientists must bring new knowledge, which wasn't known before to the community. Your definition also includes students. – TGar Nov 14 at 16:17
  • I like this discussion! Are science students not scientists? – Quasi_Stomach Nov 14 at 17:03
  • @Quasi_Stomach Comments are not meant for discussion and if you won't mention anyone they won't notice ;) therefore I moved my answer to chat – TGar Nov 21 at 15:53
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Interesting question, because it lets us look at little deeper at our modern concept of science.

As you say, you are looking for someone who

is (in our world's words) a professional

and

whose job is to examine the world around them

There are basically two main understandings of "professional" in today's words:

A: Someone who is doing something to earn money (for a living)

B: Someone who is extraordinary good, because of his intense pursuit of something

If you choose interpretation B, then Saruman (see Adamant's great answer) is a good choice for a natural scientist.

For interpretation A things become a little more tricky. You would need some sort of person / organization, which is capable of paying, thus employing and binding people to itself. I have never seen or read that i.e. Saruman employed people to do research for his goals, though it might fit to his character.
This structure of employment for research is one key element to modern science which seems to be completely absent in Tolkien's world.

Also note that for interpretation A people's interests might shift: While the professional in B is free to act purely on his own behalf, a professional in A might be bound to the interests of his boss / employer.

  • I like this answer because it is the first one mentioning the job part of my question. But I miss some evidence of the fact that this kind of scientist is absent in Tolkien's world. – TGar Nov 13 at 17:40
  • Hey TGar, thanks for liking my answer! Giving evidence of somehing that is not present would a hard thing to do ;). Might be possible I have missed something though. Unless you do have already someone specific in mind... – Dennis Nov 13 at 22:38
  • I know it is hard and I don't have anyone in mind :). Evidence is not correct word probably, I meant rather a justification. I still believe there might be someone, so I am just not convinced enough for accepting – that is all. – TGar Nov 13 at 22:57
3

Yes. From the Tolkien Gateway, ultimately based on the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth:

The title Wise-woman was applied to women of the Edain in the First Age who had great knowledge of the history and lore of their people. Some married, while others remained unwed, they were greatly esteemed among Men. All of them passed their knowledge on to a chosen successor, as was usual among the Wise of the Edain.

Two Wise-women are known by name: Adanel and Andreth.

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    I don't see how this isn't completely opposite to the question. The question is specifically about people who study the world, not history and lore. – DavidW Nov 11 at 20:52
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    According to Merriam-Webster, lore is "a particular body of knowledge or tradition; something that is learned; traditional knowledge or belief; knowledge gained through study or experience; something that is taught." This certainly includes herb-lore, which Tolkien specifically mentions. In Minas Tirith there was a woman healer, Ioreth, who was wise in the lore of herbs. Botany, in other words. – Invisible Trihedron Nov 11 at 20:59
  • Mind you, Ioreth was merely memorizing and passing down this lore rather than making new observations, but presumably someone (Adanel, Andreth) made observations to pass down. – Invisible Trihedron Nov 11 at 21:03
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    @NKCampbell No, that is not what science does. Lore is repeatedly passed down and always considered correct. Science is endlessly re-examining its roots, and outdated ideas are relentlessly pruned. Do you know anyone who can even describe Aristotelian physics anymore? – DavidW Nov 11 at 21:57
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    @DavidW You might be surprised. In high school I was taught physics by a man who also taught Latin (in 1971). We had to deduce Newtonian equations, e.g., to describe the revolution of the Moon around the Earth. It was rather satisfying. Anyway, Ioreth was talkative but not stupid. Tolkien did not portray her as using methods that wouldn't work; presumably she would have pruned such methods. She was open to new ideas (athelas). I wouldn't call her the equivalent of a modern scientist, but again, her predecessors might have been more observational. (How did our own herb-lore originate?) – Invisible Trihedron Nov 11 at 22:14

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