So our next meeting is going to be on the stirrings of the Scientific Revolution in the late 16th and 17th centuries. We are going to focus on what this rise of science meant for our world and our way in it.
Science is alternatively portrayed as a threat, as an impersonal technical achievement, as the great engine of civilization, as our only possible salvation, etc., etc.
Which is it?
(No doubt, a lot depends upon which Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you happen to be watching at the time.)
We admire scientists who are friends.
We sometimes fear scientists we don’t know.
The way science is taught in the classroom can seem dull and repetitive, like following a recipe in a cookbook.
Yet sometimes even a brief exposure to an idea derived from science can lead us to stop everything and wonder about the nature of our very existence.
Is science just a method, a technique for acquiring practical knowledge? Or does it mean anything in itself?
What are the values it promotes?
What does science fail to capture about your lived experience?
What does science get wrong, despite all the evidence arrayed in its favor?
I am putting together a few readings to get us going for discussion. (Please feel fee to send your own suggestions in by email. Or bring them to the discussion.) I plan to keep adding to this as the day of our meeting approaches, so please keep checking back for more.
1. Excerpts from Scientific Method by Barry Gower (click on title for the chapters on Galileo and Bacon)
2. A sonnet by Edgar Allan Poe:
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
3. Another poem questioning the value of science, this one by Robinson Jeffers:
Man, introverted man, having crossed
In passage and but a little with the nature of things this latter
Has begot giants; but being taken up
Like a maniac with self-love and inward conflicts cannot manage
Being used to deal with edgeless dreams,
Now he’s bred knives on nature turns them also inward: they
have thirsty points though.
His mind forebodes his own destruction;
Actaeon who saw the goddess naked among leaves and his hounds
A little knowledge, a pebble from the shingle,
A drop from the oceans: who would have dreamed this infinitely
little too much?
4. Excerpts from The Scientific Revolution: A Brief History with Documents by Margaret C. Jacob. (I have included the introduction, which tells the story of the Scientific Revolution and puts Galileo and Bacon in context.)
5. Some brief excerpts from the The Cambridge Companion to Bacon, edited by Markku Peltonen
6. Excerpt from Francis Bacon From Magic to Science by Paolo Rossi
7. Excerpt form Time Reborn by Lee Smolin (read this for its interesting take on Galileo and Newton’s — and science’s — possible limitations)
8. Excerpt from Sympathetic Vibrations by K. C. Cole, on the “Sentimental Fruits of Science”
9. Excerpt from The Silence of Animals by John Gray (questioning the role of science in contributing to “progress”)