By John Carey (ed.)

ISBN-10: 0571179010

ISBN-13: 9780571179015

Overlaying searching spiders and black holes, gorillas and stardust, protons, photons and neutrinos, this anthology plots the improvement of recent technology from Leonardo da Vinci to chaos conception. It involves bills by means of scientists themselves - astronomers, physicists, biologists, chemists, psychologists - who speak about their moments of leap forward. Ronald Ross describes his discovery of the key of malaria; the employees in Edison's laboratory prepare the 1st electric-light bulb; and readers percentage within the development of the world's first atomic pile.The publication indicates how technology has replaced paintings: how Newton's "Optics" flooded 18th-century poetry with color; how the vastness of geological time terrified Tennyson and the Victorians; and the way modernist writers struggled to conform to Einstein's relativity. The vintage science-writers are integrated - Darwin, T.H. Huxley, and Jean Henri Fabre monitoring bugs during the Provencal nation-state. So too are brand new specialists - Steve Jones at the Human Genome venture, Richard Dawkins on DNA, and lots of different representatives of the late-20th-century style of popular-science writing which, John Carey argues, demanding situations modern poetry and f

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It battens on morality, or on moralizing, like a tapeworm on the gut. Consequently science could not free itself from politics except by being amoral. Approaches to life that are, in moral terms, cold, clinical and inhuman, are sometimes labelled ‘scientific’, but this is a misunderstanding, arising from the simple-minded transference of scientific method to moral attitudes. Science endorses no such transference, and no moral attitudes, cold or otherwise. In different minds, the same set of scientific propositions can prompt quite contrary moral responses.

But when a scientist of James Clerk Maxwell’s eminence uses molecular structure as an argument for the existence of God, few will feel qualified to laugh. Of course, atheistical scientists are plentiful too. The zoologist Richard Dawkins has voiced the suspicion that all religions are self-perpetuating mental viruses. But since everything science discovers can, by sufficiently resolute believers, be claimed as religious knowledge, because it must be part of God’s design, science cannot be regarded as inherently anti-religious.

The poet remains satisfied with the conventional attributes of clocks, whereas the scientist’s exploratory mind takes him to a wholly new function for a clock, which reveals something unexpected about the universe. Of course this example is grossly slanted in Bacon’s favour, and it would be ridiculous to disparage Shakespeare on the strength of it. Shakespeare’s sonnet is no less a great poem because it is uninterested in gravitation. I have risked the comparison with Bacon because it shows us already, at the start of the seventeenth century, a scientist needing to rid himself of language’s normal constraints (the usual functions language assigns to ‘clock’), in order to think.

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The Faber Book of Science by John Carey (ed.)


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