Science is a Relay Race

Indeed, there is a particular problem with finding endings in science. Where do these science stories really finish? Science is truly a relay race, with each discovery handed on to the next generation. Even as one door is closing, another door is already being thrown open. So it is with this book. The great period of Victorian science is about to begin. The new stories are passed into the hands of Michael Faraday, John Herschel, Charles Darwin …and the world of modern science begins to rush towards us.

But science is now also continually reshaping its history retrospectively. It is starting to look back and rediscover its beginnings, its earlier traditions and triumphs; but also its debates, its uncertainties and its errors. No general science history would now be considered complete without a sense of the science achieved centuries ago by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Babylonians. It is no coincidence that the last few years have seen the foundation, in numerous universities across Europe, Australia and America, of newly conceived ‘Departments of the History and Philosophy of Science’. The earliest pioneering ones began at Cambridge (UK), and Berkeley (California), with others quickly following at Paris X (Nanterre), Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto, Indiana, Caltech and Budapest (1994). Similarly, it seems to me impossible to understand fully the contemporary debates about the environment, or climate change, or genetic engineering, or alternative medicine, or extraterrestrial life, or the nature of consciousness, or even the existence of God, without knowing how these arose from the hopes and anxieties of the Romantic generation.

But perhaps most important, right now, is a changing appreciation of how scientists themselves fit into society as a whole, and the nature of the particular creativity they bring to it. We need to consider how they are increasingly vital to any culture of progressive knowledge, to the education of young people (and the not so young), and to our understanding of the planet and its future. For this, I believe science needs to be presented and explored in a new way. We need not only a new history of science, but a more enlarged and imaginative biographical writing about individual scientists. (I make some suggestions in the Bibliography that follows, under the heading ‘The Bigger Picture’.) Here the perennially cited difficulties with the ‘two cultures’, and specifically with mathematics, can no longer be accepted as a valid limitation. We need to understand how science is actually made; how scientists themselves think and feel and speculate. We need to explore what makes scientists creative, as well as poets or painters, or musicians. That is how this book began.

The old, rigid debates and boundaries — science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics — are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous, more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe. And that is how this book might possibly end.


It is difficult to know where to end a story about science, because the discoveries never cease and will continue into the future.

Folksonomies: history science storytelling

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/education (0.249266)

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History of science (0.974356): website | dbpedia | freebase
Scientific method (0.802816): dbpedia | freebase
Science in medieval Islam (0.724387): dbpedia
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (0.703391): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Demarcation problem (0.685892): dbpedia | freebase
Charles Darwin (0.674456): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Science (0.658926): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Philosophy of science (0.655243): dbpedia | freebase

 The Age of Wonder
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Holmes , Richard (2010-03-02), The Age of Wonder, Vintage, Retrieved on 2012-01-02
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: history enlightenment science


    11 JUN 2012

     Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

    Passages that reflect the collective nature of science.
    Folksonomies: science collectivism
    Folksonomies: science collectivism