[Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

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[Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Sep 13, 2009 5:30 am

. . . which ground science in its cultural mileu.

NPR ran an interview with the biographer and 19th century literary specialist extraordinaire, Richard Holmes, on his new book. One wouldn't reflexively associate him or his usual subjects with the burgeoning world of science, but he's produced an outstanding intellectual biography of an age to great critical acclaim. You can hear the 7 min interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =112783081

Science Was A Muse To Inspire Romantic Art

September 12, 2009

In a letter dated 1800, the great Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, "I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark." John Keats' famous 1816 sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" celebrated the recent discovery of Uranus — the first new planet to be found in more than a thousand years. In fact, says author Richard Holmes, the scientific discoveries of the Romantic age inspired generations of great artists and their work.

Holmes is the author of the book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. He says the book is constructed as a "relay race" of scientific stories that span the years between botanist Joseph Banks' voyage to Tahiti in 1769 and Charles Darwin's journey to the Galapagos in 1831.

"For most people, this period really is the great Romantic period in literature, which we associate with Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley and Byron and Keats," Holmes tells host Guy Raz. "But it gradually became clear to me that the scientific breakthroughs in this period had a major effect on how people saw the world and the universe and also how people wrote about it."

Those breakthroughs included amateur astronomer William Herschel's discovery of Uranus, the seventh planet, in 1781. But Herschel himself was an unlikely discoverer. He was a German immigrant who settled in England as a young man, a musician by training and a composer and music teacher by day. But at night, Holmes says, Herschel and his younger sister Caroline spent hours scouring the sky. William Herschel used to rub raw onions on his hands to stave off the cold. Caroline wore layers of woolen petticoats.

The key to their discoveries, Holmes tells Guy Raz, was the radical construction of their homemade telescopes. Instead of traditional refractor telescopes, the Herschels made reflector telescopes using large mirrors cast from molten metal in their basement kitchen. After casting the mirrors, William Herschel would have to polish them nonstop for hours on end, to keep the metal from misting over before they were placed inside the telescope. Holmes says that during one epic 16-hour polishing session, young Caroline "put food in his mouth to keep him going and read from The Arabian Nights."

It's that kind of ingenuity that characterized the Romantic age of science.

Another character in the book, Humphry Davy, invented the miners' lamp and measured the cubic capacity of his own lungs. He also experimented with gasses — including carbon monoxide and laughing gas — on himself. This father of modern chemistry was catapulted to fame in England, Holmes says; Lord Byron even mentioned Davy and his lifesaving lantern in his satiric poem "Don Juan." But Holmes says that Davy formed a direct friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge when the poet volunteered to take part in the chemist's experiments.

"You need to imagine this extraordinary moment when the great Romantic poet, fresh from his opium experiments, fresh from writing the poem 'Kubla Khan,' goes into [Davy's] laboratory at Bristol and breathes his experimental gasses, and then gives his description of what physical and psychological effect they have on him," Holmes says.

Davy's experiments with gasses were a precursor to the later discovery of anesthesia.

In his book, Holmes chronicles the adventures of early balloonists and the explorer Mungo Park in Africa. He also explores the effects of the scientific climate on Mary Shelley's cult novel Frankenstein. In the end, he makes clear that one thing the scientists and artists of the Romantic era shared was a need to both live and describe their "age of wonder."


Excerpt: 'The Age Of Wonder'

by Richard Holmes
The Age of Wonder

Summer Books 2009
Main Story: Summer Nonfiction: True Tales Enlighten, Delight
Read And Print The Complete List Of Summer Book Recommendations
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Wonder of Science
By Richard Holmes
Hardcover, 576 pages
Pantheon
List Price: $40.00
June 24, 2009

Romanticism as a cultural force is generally regarded as intensely hostile to science, its ideal of subjectivity eternally opposed to that of scientific objectivity. But I do not believe this was always the case, or that the terms are so mutually exclusive. The notion of wonder seems to be something that once united them, and can still do so. In effect there is Romantic science in the same sense there is Romantic poetry, and often for the same enduring reasons.

The first scientific revolution of the 17th century is familiarly associated with the names of Newton, Hooke, Locke and Descartes, and the almost simultaneous foundations of the Royal Society in London, and the Academie des Sciences in Paris. It existence has long been accepted, and the biographies of its leading figures are well known.

But this second revolution was something different. The first person who referred to a "second scientific revolution" was probably the poet Coleridge in his Philosophical Lectures of 1819. It was inspired primarily by a sudden series of breakthroughs in the fields of astronomy and chemistry. It was a movement that grew out of 18th century Enlightenment rationalism, but largely transformed it, by bringing a new imaginative intensity and excitement to scientific work. It was driven by a common ideal of intense, even reckless, personal commitment to discovery.

It was also a movement of transition. It flourished for a relative brief time, perhaps two generations, but produced long-lasting consequences — raising hopes and questions — that are still with us today. Romantic Science can be dated roughly, and certainly symbolically, between two celebrated voyages of exploration. These were Captain Cook's first round the world expedition aboard the Endeavour, begun in 1768; and Charles Darwin's voyage to the Galapagos islands aboard the Beagle begun in 1831. This was the time I have called the Age of Wonder, and with any luck we have not yet quite outgrown it.

The idea of the exploratory voyage, often lonely and perilous, is in one form or another a central and defining metaphor of Romantic science.

That is how William Wordsworth brilliantly transformed the great Enlightenment image of Sir Isaac Newton into a Romantic one. As a university student in the 1780's Wordsworth had often contemplated the full-size marble statue of Newton, with his severely close-cropped hair, that still dominates the stone-flagged entrance hall to the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge. As Wordsworth originally put it, he could see a few yards off from his bedroom window, over the brick wall of St. John's College

"The Antechapel, where the Statue stood
Of Newton, with his Prism and silent Face."

Sometime after 1805, Wordsworth animated this static figure, so monumentally fixed in his assured religious setting. Newton became a haunted and restless Romantic traveller amidst the stars:

"And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The Antechapel where the Statue stood
Of Newton, with his prism and his silent face,
The marble index of a Mind forever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone."
[The Prelude, 1850, Book 3, lines 58-64]

Around such a vision Romantic science created, or crystallised, several other crucial conceptions — or misconceptions — which are still with us. First, the dazzling idea of the solitary scientific "genius", thirsting and reckless for knowledge, for its own sake and perhaps at any cost. This neo-Faustian idea, celebrated by many of the imaginative writers of the period including Goethe and Mary Shelley, is certainly one of the great, ambiguous creations of Romantic science which we have all inherited.

. . .

Closely connected with this is the idea of the Eureka moment, the intuitive inspired instant of invention or discovery, for which no amount of preparation or preliminary analysis can really prepare. Originally the cry of the Greek philosopher Archimedes, this became the "fire from heaven" of Romanticism, the other true mark of scientific genius, which also allied it very closely to poetic inspiration and creativity. Romantic science would seek to identify such moments of singular, almost mystical vision in its own history. One of its first and most influential examples, was to become the story of the solitary brooding Newton in his orchard, seeing an apple fall and "suddenly" having his vision of universal gravity. This story was never told by Newton at the time, but only began to emerge in the mid 18th century, in a series of memoirs and reminiscences.

The notion of an infinite, mysterious Nature, waiting to be discovered or seduced into revealing all her secrets was widely held. Scientific instruments played an increasingly important role in this process of revelation, allowing man not merely to extend his senses passively — using the telescope, the microscope, the barometer — but to intervene actively, using the voltaic battery, the electrical generator, the scalpel or the air pump. Even the Montfgolfier balloon could be seen as an instrument of discovery, or indeed of seduction.

There was, too, a subtle the reaction against the idea of a purely mechanistic universe, the mathematical world of Newtonian physics, the hard material world of objects and impacts. These doubts, expressed especially in Germany, favoured a softer "dynamic" science of invisible powers and mysterious energies, of fluidity and transformations, of growth and organic change. This is one of the reasons that the study of electricity (and chemistry in general) became the signature science of the period; though astronomy itself, once the exemplary science of the Enlightenment, would also be changed by Romantic cosmology. [Eg Coleridge again, see RH DR p548-9]

The ideal of a pure, "disinterested" science, independent of political ideology and even religious doctrine, also began slowly to emerge. The emphasis of on secular, humanist (even atheist) body of knowledge, dedicated to the "benefit of all mankind" was particularly strong in revolutionary France. This would soon involve Romantic science in new kinds of controversy: for instance, whether it could be an instrument of the state, in the case of inventing weapons of war? Or a handmaiden of the Church, supporting the widely held view of "Natural theology", in which science reveals evidence of a divine Creation or intelligent design?

With these went the new notion of a popular science, a people's science. The scientific revolution of the late 17th century had promulgated an essentially private, elitist, specialist form of knowledge. Its lingua franca was Latin, and its common currency mathematics. Its audience were a small (if international) circle of scholars and savants. Romantic science, on the other hand, had a new commitment to explain, to educate, to communicate to a general public.
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Re: Fab Interview with Richard Holmes on Age of Wonder

Post by Teresa B » Sat Dec 05, 2009 7:17 am

Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Corlyss! Will look for it.

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Re: Fab Interview with Richard Holmes on Age of Wonder

Post by John F » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:58 am

I've heard about this one and will look for it. Thanks for posting the review.
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Re: Fab Interview with Richard Holmes on Age of Wonder

Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:04 am

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

February 14, 2010
Freedom’s Laboratory
By GARY ROSEN
Skip to next paragraph
THE SCIENCE OF LIBERTY

Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

By Timothy Ferris

368 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99
To say that the scientific frame of mind has played an important part in the rise of the West is not exactly controversial. Science always gets its moment in the spotlight in “Whig history,” as historians (dismissively) call grand narratives of political and material progress. In “The Science of Liberty,” the veteran science writer Timothy Ferris makes a more extravagant claim, assigning not a mere supporting role but top billing to the celebrated experimenters and inventors of the past several centuries. As he sees it, the standard account of the history textbooks — with the Renaissance giving rise to the Scientific Revolution and thus preparing the way for the Enlightenment — fails to identify the primary causal relationship. Democratic governance and individual rights did not emerge from some amorphous “brew of humanistic and scientific thinking,” he argues, but were “sparked” by science itself — the crucial “innovative ingredient” that “continues to foster political freedom today.”

Ferris, the author of “The Whole Shebang” and a number of other books about cosmology, usefully reminds us that science was an integral part of the intellectual equipment of the great pioneers of political and individual liberty. John Locke was not just the most eloquent philosophical advocate of the social contract and natural rights. He was an active member of the emerging scientific culture of 17th-century Oxford, and his intimates included Isaac Newton, who likewise was a radical Whig, supporting Parliament against the overreaching of the crown. Among the American founders, the scientific preoccupations of Franklin and Jefferson are well known, but Ferris emphasizes that they were hardly alone in their interests. He recounts a charming episode, for instance, in which George Washington and Thomas Paine floated together one night down a New Jersey creek, lighting cartridge paper at the water’s surface to determine whose theory was correct about the source of swamp gas. Ferris also neatly summarizes the prehistory of modern science’s ascent, with subtle takes on Galileo’s clash with church authorities and Francis Bacon’s inductive method.

The most engaging chapters in “The Science of Liberty” concern the dynamic interplay of technology and commerce. As Ferris recognizes, the seemingly irresistible spread of modern principles of liberty derives in large measure from the capacity of modern industrial democracies to deliver the goods in terms of general prosperity, health and diversion. The practical side of the scientific outlook has generated endless rounds of invention and innovation (Watt and his steam engine, Morse and his telegraph, Edison and his electric lights, etc.), and the human benefits of these time- and labor-saving improvements have been extended dramatically, if haltingly, by the free market. The singular insight of Adam Smith, Ferris writes, was to recognize that wealth creation and the production of material comforts might be “increased indefinitely if individuals are free to invest and to innovate.”

By this point in his ambitious narrative, however, Ferris has given up on any real effort to argue for the decisive influence of science as such. He is content to speak of science metaphorically, as the model for openness and experimentalism in all the major realms of liberal-democratic endeavor. Thus, just as in his account of Smith’s free-market economics, Ferris finds in the United States Constitution the underlying principle that citizens should “be free to experiment, assess the results and conduct new experiments.” The American Republic might be compared to “a scientific laboratory,” he writes, because it is designed “not to guide society toward a specified goal, but to sustain the experimental process itself.”

Ferris’s refrain of “experiment” is a well-chosen trope. Few other words in the vocabulary of Western progress can match its prestige and practical appeal. To rely on experiment is to doubt authority, to cultivate self-awareness, to seek the reality behind natural appearances and received opinion. The experimental frame of mind encompasses the scientist in her lab, the inventor in his workshop and even (with some literary license) the reflective bohemian, the calculating entrepreneur and the shrewd democratic leader. But does it yield the “laws of nature” from which Locke and Jefferson drew the idea of universal human rights? Does it explain our reluctance today to compromise those rights in the name of expediency or results? Jeremy Bentham dismissed the idea of natural rights as “nonsense upon stilts,” because it stood in the way of a proper utilitarian calculus of human welfare. Arguably, one can find his heirs today atop the Chinese state, conducting technocratic experiments of their own and deploying the tools of modern science (Google beware!) to preserve a “harmonious society.” For the politics of liberty, mere empiricism is not enough.

Ferris is on firm ground in arguing that the political influence of the scientific enterprise has been liberalizing and progressive, on the whole. Whig history has its virtues. And he provides convincing indictments of various illiberal ideologies, from Nazism and Soviet Communism to postmodernist cultural theory, for their incompatibility with scientific inquiry. He would have done his readers a favor, however, by approaching the ideas of liberalism’s most penetrating philosophical critics with more generosity; his tendency is to jeer and dismiss. Rousseau, Marx and Heidegger have indeed inspired a range of noxious intellectual and political movements, but they still have things to teach us about the failings and vulnerabilities of liberal-democratic societies.

Nor is it clear, as Ferris would have it, that science furnishes the ideal template for liberal democracy. Science, he notes, is antiauthoritarian, self-correcting, meritocratic and collaborative. As John Dewey, one of his heroes, put it, “freedom of inquiry, toleration of diverse views, freedom of communication, the distribution of what is found out to every individual as the ultimate intellectual consumer” are all as “involved in the democratic as in the scientific method.” In a like vein, Ferris also cites the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin: “Good science comes from the collision of contradictory ideas, from conflict, from people trying to do better than their teachers did, and I think here we have a model for what a democratic society is about.”

But crucial distinctions are lost in these comparisons. The scientific community may be open to everyone, in principle, but it has steep and familiar barriers to entry, as any layperson who has tried to read the research papers at the back of journals like Nature or Science can attest. When not distorted by its own personal and political rivalries, modern science is, in the most admirable sense, an aristocracy — a selection and sorting of the best minds as they interact within institutions designed to achieve certain rarefied ends. Experiment, equality and freedom of expression are essential to this work, but it is the work of an elite community from which most people are necessarily excluded. Thankfully, participation in the everyday life of democracy does not require a Ph.D., nor are theories and ideas its basic medium.

Scientists today are understandably ­eager to shape policy debates on a number of urgent issues (like climate change, to which Ferris devotes much of his closing chapter). But they have to appreciate the many ways in which scientific discourse, even in its experimental mode, makes an awkward fit with democratic politics. Only then will they find it easier to talk to — and persuade — the rest of us.

Gary Rosen is the chief external affairs officer of the John Templeton Foundation.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/books ... wanted=all
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Brendan

Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Brendan » Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:28 am

Richard Holmes wrote: The ideal of a pure, "disinterested" science, independent of political ideology and even religious doctrine, also began slowly to emerge. The emphasis of on secular, humanist (even atheist) body of knowledge, dedicated to the "benefit of all mankind" was particularly strong in revolutionary France. This would soon involve Romantic science in new kinds of controversy: for instance, whether it could be an instrument of the state, in the case of inventing weapons of war? Or a handmaiden of the Church, supporting the widely held view of "Natural theology", in which science reveals evidence of a divine Creation or intelligent design?

With these went the new notion of a popular science, a people's science. The scientific revolution of the late 17th century had promulgated an essentially private, elitist, specialist form of knowledge. Its lingua franca was Latin, and its common currency mathematics. Its audience were a small (if international) circle of scholars and savants. Romantic science, on the other hand, had a new commitment to explain, to educate, to communicate to a general public.
Sorry to be the resident pedant, but the notion of disinterested science dates back to at least the 12th century. Theories of gravitation as well as mathematics of trajectories and such emerged from firing cannon, and Leonardo and others were very interested in using science from the outset as weapons of warfare and state. The Church was always interested in natural theology and the use of science in dispensing with superstition and witchcraft (see Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas), always secure in the knowledge that rationality and intellectual inquiry into the Creation were part of God's mandate to His people. The divine logos (the word from which we derive logic amongst other things) was inherent in Christianity, Christ being the logos incarnate according to the Gospel of John.

Tina Stiefel lists the objectives and techniques of the sciences, from the twelfth century onwards:

• That a rational and objective investigation of nature in order to understand its operation is possible and desirable.
• That such an investigation might make use of techniques of mathematics and deductive reasoning.
• That it should use empirical methodology – i.e., evidence based on sense-data, where possible.
• That the seeker for knowledge of nature’s operations (a “scientist”) should proceed methodically and with circumspection.
• That the scientist should eschew all voices of authority, tradition and popular opinion in questions of how nature functions, except to the extent that the information available is rationally verifiable.
• That a scientist must practice systematic doubt and sometimes endure a state of prolonged uncertainty in his disciplined search for an understanding of natural phenomena.

Stiefel, Tina – The Intellectual Revolution in Twelfth Century Europe [Macmillan 1985 p3]

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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by DavidRoss » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:32 am

Note especially:
Brendan wrote: • That the scientist should eschew all voices of authority, tradition and popular opinion in questions of how nature functions, except to the extent that the information available is rationally verifiable.
Those who pride themselves on speaking from a scientific perspective should give this principle careful consideration in all matters, including human-caused global warming.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:36 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
Holmes is the author of the book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. He says the book is constructed as a "relay race" of scientific stories that span the years between botanist Joseph Banks' voyage to Tahiti in 1769 and Charles Darwin's journey to the Galapagos in 1831.
Checked it out. Couldn't get into it. Can't say why. :)

Same is true of the following, which may interest our members:

Banquet at Delmonico's : how evolution conquered Gilded Age America by Barry Werth

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Carnivorous Sheep » Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:42 am

DavidRoss wrote:Note especially:
Brendan wrote: • That the scientist should eschew all voices of authority, tradition and popular opinion in questions of how nature functions, except to the extent that the information available is rationally verifiable.
Those who pride themselves on speaking from a scientific perspective should give this principle careful consideration in all matters, including human-caused global warming.
From a merely scientific perspective, all that scientists generally claim is that there has been a rise in global temperatures that correlates with an increase in human industrial activity. Which is rationally verifiable, and those who would deny this are simply denying fact.

Do note, however, that science also has a long-standing caveat of "correlation does not equal causation." It could, it could not. The answer to that question remains yet to be seen.

99% of the time, reports of "science claims humans cause global warming!" or "science proves global warming is a myth!" are nothing more than selective journalism, designed for sensationalism built on a sensitive topic. Popular science, I'm afraid, is no more reliable in terms of veracity than, say, a Harry Potter book, and much less entertaining most of the time.

Brendan

Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Brendan » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:11 pm

Carnivorous Sheep wrote:From a merely scientific perspective, all that scientists generally claim is that there has been a rise in global temperatures that correlates with an increase in human industrial activity. Which is rationally verifiable, and those who would deny this are simply denying fact.
Could you please provide evidence for this if it is undeniable fact? Plenty if scientists do dispute this, and the cold period at the end of the 19thC was when the industrial revolution had been in full swing for decades.

Just another claim sans evidence or rational thought so far.

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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:32 pm

Carnivorous Sheep wrote:all that scientists generally claim is that there has been a rise in global temperatures that correlates with an increase in human industrial activity.
A close study of both the scientific debate and the politics would demonstrate that to be incorrect. "All scientists" who claim it are not qualified to speak to the issue. Many of the scientists who claim it are not climatologist or geophysists or atmospheric scientists or modelers or satisticians. It simply makes their professional lives easier not to fight the money and the tide.
Which is rationally verifiable, and those who would deny this are simply denying fact.
A close study of both the scientific debate and the politics would demonstrate that to be incorrect.
Do note, however, that science also has a long-standing caveat of "correlation does not equal causation." It could, it could not. The answer to that question remains yet to be seen.
Quite true.
99% of the time, reports of "science claims humans cause global warming!" or "science proves global warming is a myth!" are nothing more than selective journalism, designed for sensationalism built on a sensitive topic.
A close study of both the scientific debate and the politics would demonstrate that to be incorrect.
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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:33 pm

Brendan wrote:The Church was always interested in natural theology and the use of science in dispensing with superstition and witchcraft (see Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas), always secure in the knowledge that rationality and intellectual inquiry into the Creation were part of God's mandate to His people.

That must have been after they realized they couldn't stop the Protestant Reformation by burning scientists as heretics. I remember my Western Civ prof saying that the Jesuits were teaching the forbidden science in Latin America where it had no political consequences, but it was impossible to do so in Europe where empires were at stake.
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Re: Fab Interview with Richard Holmes on Age of Wonder

Post by NancyElla » Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:18 am

Corlyss_D wrote:--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

February 14, 2010
Freedom’s Laboratory
By GARY ROSEN
Skip to next paragraph
THE SCIENCE OF LIBERTY

Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

By Timothy Ferris

368 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99
To say that the scientific frame of mind has played an important part in the rise of the West is not exactly controversial. Science always gets its moment in the spotlight in “Whig history,” as historians (dismissively) call grand narratives of political and material progress. In “The Science of Liberty,” the veteran science writer Timothy Ferris makes a more extravagant claim, assigning not a mere supporting role but top billing to the celebrated experimenters and inventors of the past several centuries. As he sees it, the standard account of the history textbooks — with the Renaissance giving rise to the Scientific Revolution and thus preparing the way for the Enlightenment — fails to identify the primary causal relationship. Democratic governance and individual rights did not emerge from some amorphous “brew of humanistic and scientific thinking,” he argues, but were “sparked” by science itself — the crucial “innovative ingredient” that “continues to foster political freedom today.”

Ferris, the author of “The Whole Shebang” and a number of other books about cosmology, usefully reminds us that science was an integral part of the intellectual equipment of the great pioneers of political and individual liberty. John Locke was not just the most eloquent philosophical advocate of the social contract and natural rights. He was an active member of the emerging scientific culture of 17th-century Oxford, and his intimates included Isaac Newton, who likewise was a radical Whig, supporting Parliament against the overreaching of the crown. Among the American founders, the scientific preoccupations of Franklin and Jefferson are well known, but Ferris emphasizes that they were hardly alone in their interests. He recounts a charming episode, for instance, in which George Washington and Thomas Paine floated together one night down a New Jersey creek, lighting cartridge paper at the water’s surface to determine whose theory was correct about the source of swamp gas. Ferris also neatly summarizes the prehistory of modern science’s ascent, with subtle takes on Galileo’s clash with church authorities and Francis Bacon’s inductive method.

The most engaging chapters in “The Science of Liberty” concern the dynamic interplay of technology and commerce. As Ferris recognizes, the seemingly irresistible spread of modern principles of liberty derives in large measure from the capacity of modern industrial democracies to deliver the goods in terms of general prosperity, health and diversion. The practical side of the scientific outlook has generated endless rounds of invention and innovation (Watt and his steam engine, Morse and his telegraph, Edison and his electric lights, etc.), and the human benefits of these time- and labor-saving improvements have been extended dramatically, if haltingly, by the free market. The singular insight of Adam Smith, Ferris writes, was to recognize that wealth creation and the production of material comforts might be “increased indefinitely if individuals are free to invest and to innovate.”

By this point in his ambitious narrative, however, Ferris has given up on any real effort to argue for the decisive influence of science as such. He is content to speak of science metaphorically, as the model for openness and experimentalism in all the major realms of liberal-democratic endeavor. Thus, just as in his account of Smith’s free-market economics, Ferris finds in the United States Constitution the underlying principle that citizens should “be free to experiment, assess the results and conduct new experiments.” The American Republic might be compared to “a scientific laboratory,” he writes, because it is designed “not to guide society toward a specified goal, but to sustain the experimental process itself.”

Ferris’s refrain of “experiment” is a well-chosen trope. Few other words in the vocabulary of Western progress can match its prestige and practical appeal. To rely on experiment is to doubt authority, to cultivate self-awareness, to seek the reality behind natural appearances and received opinion. The experimental frame of mind encompasses the scientist in her lab, the inventor in his workshop and even (with some literary license) the reflective bohemian, the calculating entrepreneur and the shrewd democratic leader. But does it yield the “laws of nature” from which Locke and Jefferson drew the idea of universal human rights? Does it explain our reluctance today to compromise those rights in the name of expediency or results? Jeremy Bentham dismissed the idea of natural rights as “nonsense upon stilts,” because it stood in the way of a proper utilitarian calculus of human welfare. Arguably, one can find his heirs today atop the Chinese state, conducting technocratic experiments of their own and deploying the tools of modern science (Google beware!) to preserve a “harmonious society.” For the politics of liberty, mere empiricism is not enough.

Ferris is on firm ground in arguing that the political influence of the scientific enterprise has been liberalizing and progressive, on the whole. Whig history has its virtues. And he provides convincing indictments of various illiberal ideologies, from Nazism and Soviet Communism to postmodernist cultural theory, for their incompatibility with scientific inquiry. He would have done his readers a favor, however, by approaching the ideas of liberalism’s most penetrating philosophical critics with more generosity; his tendency is to jeer and dismiss. Rousseau, Marx and Heidegger have indeed inspired a range of noxious intellectual and political movements, but they still have things to teach us about the failings and vulnerabilities of liberal-democratic societies.

Nor is it clear, as Ferris would have it, that science furnishes the ideal template for liberal democracy. Science, he notes, is antiauthoritarian, self-correcting, meritocratic and collaborative. As John Dewey, one of his heroes, put it, “freedom of inquiry, toleration of diverse views, freedom of communication, the distribution of what is found out to every individual as the ultimate intellectual consumer” are all as “involved in the democratic as in the scientific method.” In a like vein, Ferris also cites the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin: “Good science comes from the collision of contradictory ideas, from conflict, from people trying to do better than their teachers did, and I think here we have a model for what a democratic society is about.”

But crucial distinctions are lost in these comparisons. The scientific community may be open to everyone, in principle, but it has steep and familiar barriers to entry, as any layperson who has tried to read the research papers at the back of journals like Nature or Science can attest. When not distorted by its own personal and political rivalries, modern science is, in the most admirable sense, an aristocracy — a selection and sorting of the best minds as they interact within institutions designed to achieve certain rarefied ends. Experiment, equality and freedom of expression are essential to this work, but it is the work of an elite community from which most people are necessarily excluded. Thankfully, participation in the everyday life of democracy does not require a Ph.D., nor are theories and ideas its basic medium.

Scientists today are understandably ­eager to shape policy debates on a number of urgent issues (like climate change, to which Ferris devotes much of his closing chapter). But they have to appreciate the many ways in which scientific discourse, even in its experimental mode, makes an awkward fit with democratic politics. Only then will they find it easier to talk to — and persuade — the rest of us.

Gary Rosen is the chief external affairs officer of the John Templeton Foundation.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/books ... wanted=all
I saw a review of this book in the Washington Post this weekend, but you beat me to posting about it. I think the thesis is intriguing, and the book might make it onto my "to read" list. Here's the Washington Post review:
Book review: 'The Science of Liberty,' by Timothy Ferris


By Curt Suplee
Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE SCIENCE OF LIBERTY

Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

By Timothy Ferris

Harper. 368 pp. $26.99

From our privileged vantage on the prow of the 21st century, it is clear that modern science and modern democracy have evolved in striking parallel over the past 350 years. Can that epochal concurrence really have been a mere coincidence?

Absolutely not, says Timothy Ferris in this important, timely and splendidly written book. In fact, he says, history shows exactly the opposite: "The democratic revolution was sparked -- caused is perhaps not too strong a word -- by the scientific revolution, and . . . science continues to empower political freedom today." Why did this happen? "Science demanded liberty and demonstrated its social benefits," he contends, "creating a symbiotic relationship in which the freer nations were better able to carry on the scientific enterprise, which in return rewarded them with knowledge, wealth and power." Put bluntly, the tenets of science are principally responsible for today's advanced democracies and the spread of human freedom.

This hypothesis is somewhere between ambitious and outrageous, depending on the reader's predisposition, and the person advancing it had better be enormously credible. Fortunately, Ferris fills the bill. An academic polymath known chiefly as the author of "The Whole Shebang," about cosmology, and other uncommonly lucid books, he is among the half-dozen foremost explicators of the physical sciences alive today. He is also a man for whom the English language is not a tool, but an instrument on which to perform with grace and precision. As a result, "The Science of Liberty" is a profound delight whether one puts it down convinced or not. Either way, contemporary civilization won't look quite the same.

Ferris develops his argument in three stages, each with a somewhat different appeal. The first traces the tandem progress of science and society from the Renaissance to the American and French Revolutions and their aftermath, with science providing the drive: "The Enlightenment without science would have been a steamship without steam." Ferris makes a strong case that the antiauthoritarian, self-correcting aspects of science and the scientific mindset -- and especially the primacy of empirical evidence over all other means of knowing -- intensely influenced the minds of our Founding Fathers and early advocates of democracy elsewhere.

One rather knew this about Jefferson and Franklin, but Ferris also focuses on such surprising cases as Thomas Paine (whose ideas likely "arose from exposure to science") and George Washington (with his "sturdily empirical habit of learning from experience and a lifelong scientific curiosity"). No wonder, then, that "the founders often spoke of the new nation as an 'experiment,' " and that the United States was conceived in science as much as in liberty.

Even when he is covering familiar ground, Ferris's perspective is a joy, and his vivid account of the vast conceptual divide between the American Revolution's appeal to reason and the French Revolution's tyranny, hysteria and terror (which Ferris attributes largely to the anti-scientific, delusional, "fact-free thought" of Rousseau) is itself worth the price of admission.

The second part of the book examines the impact of science on the structure and behavior of the most advanced societies since the early 19th century. Ferris lays out the empirical economics pioneered by Adam Smith ("comparable to Newton's dynamics or the discovery of binary computing"!) and contrasts it with the explicitly unscientific bases of communism, Nazism and other totalitarianisms. This leads him to dismiss too hastily the widespread belief that the Soviet Union and the Third Reich actually had formidable scientific capabilities, and he also wastes the (admittedly amusing) following chapter, titled "Academic Antiscience," on the brief scholastic mania for "deconstructionism" and its spawn, with their woozy conviction that "science is culturally conditioned and politically suspect -- the oppressive tool of white Western males," a controversy of utter insignificance to anyone outside a university faculty.

But the core of this section is a hard-headed look at the notion that "Western" science has been "discredited by its association with Western imperialism and colonialism." If so, then much of what we call progress has been illusory. Not surprisingly, Ferris easily proves that by virtually any metric -- from personal wealth to life expectancy -- humanity is better off thanks to science and that such blessings tend to be distributed in proportion to how much each society values personal liberty.

The final chapter -- deliciously polemical, if less coherent -- is titled "One World." It finds Ferris attacking "religious and political dogmatists [who] react against science and liberalism" by suppression or outright terror. He takes on Islamic extremists, climate-change skeptics, creationists and the second Bush administration, and he ventures some remarkable assertions. One is that "atheists and agnostics are, if anything, less apt to commit serious crimes" than self-identified religious sorts. It's more fun than a congressional pie fight.

But it does not obscure the serious central message of this volume: Ferris's deeply humane conviction that science is the most powerfully liberating force in history and the single most dependable agent of social progress.

Curt Suplee, author of "Physics in the 20th Century" and other science books, is a contributor to The Post's Health section.
"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." --Willa Cather

Brendan

Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by Brendan » Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:55 am

Corlyss_D wrote:That must have been after they realized they couldn't stop the Protestant Reformation by burning scientists as heretics. I remember my Western Civ prof saying that the Jesuits were teaching the forbidden science in Latin America where it had no political consequences, but it was impossible to do so in Europe where empires were at stake.
Actually, the 12th Century was before the Reformation. See the titles cited so far, as well as Constable's The Reformation of the Twelfth Century, Marica Colish's Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition 400-1400, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century by Charles Haskins, Ozment's The Age of Reform 1250-1550, Crosby's The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600 and Toby Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science, from which I quoted Stiefel earlier.

The universities that nurtured science and free intellectual inquiry were founded by Churches or monastaries.

The European medievals, fully cognizant of their intentions, created legally autonomous, self-governing institutions of higher learning, and then they imported into them a methodologically powerful and metaphysically rich cosmology which directly challenged and contradicted many aspects of the traditional Christian worldview. Instead of holding these “foreign sciences” at arms length (as the Middle Easterners did), they made them an integral part of the official and public discourse of higher learning. By importing, indeed, ingesting the corpus of the “new Aristotle” and its methods of argumentation and inquiry, the intellectual elite of medieval Europe established an impersonal intellectual agenda whose ultimate purpose was to describe and explain the world in its entirety in terms of causal processes and mechanisms. This disinterested agenda was no longer a private, personal, or idiosyncratic preoccupation, but a publicly shared set of tests, questions, and commentaries, and in some cases, centuries-old expositions of unsolved physical and metaphysical questions which set the highest standards of intellectual inquiry. By incorporating the natural books of Aristotle in the curriculum of the medieval universities, a disinterested agenda of naturalistic inquiry had been institutionalized. It was institutionalized as a curriculum, a course of study, and it was this curriculum that remained in place for the next four hundred years in the European universities. It thereby laid the foundation for the breakthrough to modern science.
Huff, Toby – The Rise of Early Modern Science [Cambridge 1993, 2003 p189], his emphasis.


Protestants killed as many if not more witches than Catholics. Salem wasn't the Pope's fault, nor were the bloodbaths of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General.

Galileo wouldn't shut up and talked himself into mild house arrest and inconvenience. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa had already established the idea of other suns and solar systems within Catholicism (and gave Copernicus the nod to go where results led him. Cusa was familiar with non-Ptolomaic astronomy through his contact with Orthodoxy and Islam) - ideas which Kepler, a former music student of Vincenzo Galilei, took up and the Galilei family did not like at all. Music, mathematics, theology and science were interwoven for the course of Western history until very recently indeed.

The mythology of the evil Papist Church suppressing science and burning witches has long been discredited by those who do the research.

DavidRoss
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Re: [Retitled] Two Important Science Histories . . . .

Post by DavidRoss » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:14 am

Interesting that these reviews of Ferris's book suggest that he recognizes the relationship between democratic political institutions and scientific/technological progress, but gives short shrift to the economic underpinnings of both, and seems even hostile to the Christian religious values that informed all of these developments which transformed barbaric Europe into the fount of Western enlightenment.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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