With some delay, today I found out that the Dutch philosopher and Indologist Frits Staal, Emeritus Professor of philosophy and South/Southeast Asian studies at Berkeley (having retired in 1992), passed away on February 19th at age 81 in Thailand, where he had lived since his retirement. Staal was in particular a specialist on Vedic rituals and mantras; he also wrote extensively on the Indian grammarian Panini, and on the history of science in general. He argued convincingly for the view that the development of science in the so-called western world can only be understood as a very complex story, involving intertwined events in at least three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia).
Staal’s take on the historical development of artificial languages through the centuries has been an important source of inspiration for my own conceptualization of the history of formal languages (which I present in chapter 3 of my forthcoming book), even though I do not agree with all the details of his interpretation. (See in particular his “Artificial languages across sciences and civilizations”, Journal of Indian Philosophy 34 (2006) and “The generosity of formal languages”, Journal of Indian Philosophy 35 (2007).) Generally speaking, Staal’s work has had the vastly beneficial effect of making us less Euro-centric in our conceptions of the origins of modern science.
He remained active as a researcher and writer all the way until the end of his life. In particular, in 2006 he organized a wonderful workshop on the Asian contribution to the formation of modern science in Amsterdam, whose proceedings were then published as a special issue of the Journal of Indian Philosophy in 2007; I highly recommend all the papers in the volume! Unfortunately for me, at the time I lived in the United States and thus did not attend the workshop; I never got to meet him personally. Undoubtedly, his fascinating ideas will continue to inspire generations of researchers on Indology, the history of science, and beyond. (Check here for his bibliography, including many freely available papers.)