Today I am not in the mood for biology research and wanted to post something on history and philosophy.
Let us pick the year 1850 as the center, and draw a circle of radius 150 years. 1850-150=1700 and 1850+150=2000. Now imagine 1700 as the early morning, 1850 as high noon and 2000 as late evening.
In the morning, science in Protestant world was young and unaccepted. Scientists had to define their place in the larger context of the society and they were seen as people challenging existing order. So, scientists were not afraid to discuss philosophy, and called themselves ‘natural philosophers’. Another characteristics of the morning - there were few scientists (philosophers), but they all did ground-breaking work in many areas of science and non-science. The ‘polymath’ concept was common and well-accepted in that era.
Euler - “He made important discoveries in fields as diverse as infinitesimal calculus and graph theory. He also introduced much of the modern mathematical terminology and notation, particularly for mathematical analysis, such as the notion of a mathematical function. He is also renowned for his work in mechanics, fluid dynamics, optics, and astronomy.”
Goethe - “He was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath.”
To best understand the morning, you need to study the life of Newton. We all know that his work on calculus and laws of motion are two pillars of what is taught as science in school. What is less known is that Newton was also the head of British treasury (therefore an ‘economist’), a reputed Bible scholar of his era and also went after currency counterfeiters as a private citizen (‘Justice of the Peace’).
High noon -
i) By this time, science was well accepted by the society. So scientists were free to report their observations without feeling any social pressure.
ii) Almost all specialized fields of modern era were born in this time. Scientists of this period were keen observers of nature. Even though they did not have advanced technology, we are still working within the broader regime of science defined in this era.
iii) Scientists themselves were not specialized in their training, although they gave birth to specialized fields of today. Darwin did not train in a specialized field like ‘molecular evolutionary biology of squamate reptiles’.
iv) Scientists of this era maintained objectivity and most importantly integrity.
Late evening -
i) Science has become too specialized, and too many scams have been brought into the umbrella of ‘science’. Anyone, who wants to exploit the past achievements of natural scientists, calls himself a scientist. So, we have political science, social science, economic science, environmental science - all with different standards for objectivity.
ii) As a result of(i), broader society is starting to become distrustful of science. An outside observer cannot tell whether an ‘economic scientist’, a ‘molecular biologist’ and a ‘medical scientist’ working for a drug company are all using equal standards. Any question by outsider gets an answer like ‘please defer to us, because you are not a specialist’.
iii) Specialization is encouraged, whereas in early morning, ‘polymaths’ were rewarded.
iv) Natural science is getting too dominated by technology. Most leading papers seem to be worship of technology, and not keen observation of nature. When I sift through the pages of Science and Nature, I often wonder what fraction of a paper represented access to technology and what fraction represented keen observation of nature. Usually first part tends to the second.
I can go on and on about other observations on early morning, high noon and late evening. In early morning, mathematics was science. In high noon, mathematics still represented an important part. In late evening, mathematics left natural science. Nobody can tell the names of ten top mathematicians in the world.
The same cycle also shows up in other aspects of society - music, arts, business, economics. Just compare music of 1750s and 1850s with rap of today. In economics, Newton chased out the counterfeiters. Today counterfeiters run the show and no scientist has intelligence, integrity or interest to challenge fraudsters like Summers or Krugman. In business, long term businesses are out, and everyone wants to strike gold with an IPO and leave.
Our regular contributions will return soon.
Here is a headline from today’s news that fits the above narrative well.
An Oregon University professor has controversially compared skepticism of global warming to racism.
Sociology and environmental studies professor Kari Norgaard wrote a paper criticising non-believers, suggesting that doubters have a sickness.
The professor, who holds a B.S. in biology and a masters and PhD in sociology, argued that cultural resistance to accepting humans as being responsible for climate change must be recognised and treated as an aberrant sociological behaviour.