Sometimes Science Takes a Detour

And it’s not the detour we’re told happens, either.  Consider this example from J.E. Gordon’s Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, during a discussion of Robert Hooke and the development of the theory of elasticity:

In fact, throughout the eighteenth century, remarkably little real progress was made in the study of elasticity.  The reasons for this lack of progress were no doubt complex, but in general it can be said that, while the scientists of the seventeenth century saw their science as interwoven with the progress of technology–a vision of the purpose of science which was then almost new in history–many of the scientists of the eighteenth century thought of themselves as philosophers working on a plane which was altogether superior to the sordid problems of manufacturing and commerce.

It’s worth noting that the eighteenth century is frequently characterised as  “the Age of Reason,” when Europeans (at least, along with their cousins on this side of the Atlantic) began to shed their “superstitions” and move into “the Enlightenment.”  It’s one thing to say that we’re “enlightened” or “guided by reason” but it’s quite another to actually take all of this reason and put it to the solution of present problems.

Today people insist on us “believing in science” or whatever scientific thing they want us to agree with.  The minute we put the question as a subject of belief, we’ve not only missed the whole point; we’ve undermined any claims of our thought processes being guided by reason as well.  And if we simply make our goodness a product of our belief, we may feel better about ourselves, but leave the problems at hand unsolved.

One Reply to “Sometimes Science Takes a Detour”

  1. Philosophy does not go into production. We need abstract research in the sciences, but even more we need practical answers to real world problems. The industrial revolution had much of its beginning with people, mainly thr English, who applied new ways to old problems like moving goods, pumping out mines, and distilling alcohol.

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