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HS 425 Literature and Science

Debapriya Basu
• Are not set in stone. They may appear to be
incontrovertible. They are also deeply
historicized constructs: they arise from the
knowledge and culture of their time and can
change or adapt with new developments.
• E. g.
– The atom is the smallest particle of matter
– Quarks and leptons are the smallest particle of matter
– The sun is a heavenly body that goes round the earth
– The earth is a planet that goes round the sun
Changes in the perception and meaning of definitions
lead to revolutions. We will return to this point later.
noun: literature; plural noun: literatures
Late Middle English (in the sense ‘knowledge of books’): via French
from Latin litteratura, from littera books and writings published on a
particular s(‘letter’)
• ubject. E. g. "the literature on environmental epidemiology“
• leaflets and other printed matter used to advertise products or give
advice. Eg. "advertising and promotional literature“
• written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting
artistic merit. Eg. "a great work of literature"
Factors determining Labels
• Historical background
• The image that the word provokes

The need for a new word is socially,

historically and culturally determined,
it is never merely a matter of philology
or etymology.
• From Latin scientia or ‘knowledge’. N. B. The
Greek is ‘sophia,’ also ‘knowledge’ (seen as
feminine: think of other abstract ideals that are
gendered and anthropomorphized. Why?
• Entered English in the middle ages from the
French ‘science’ (pronounced ‘see-ons’)
• Meant ‘systematized knowledge’ in the very
technical Aristotelian sense. Latin translation of
Aristotle’s use labelled knowledge gained through
reasoning scientificus.
Science: Aristotle
• Greek adjective epistemonikos (pertaining to
knowledge ; med. Latin scientialis; later scientificus) as
used by Aristotle implied demonstrable knowledge.
• Etymologically scientific means ‘productive of science’
i.e. when certain conditions are met, a syllogism will be
demonstrative ‘for it will produce knowledge’
[Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, I, ii (71b)].
• Distinction between instinctive knowledge and
demonstrable knowledge.
• Deductive method. Beginning with axioms (premises)
and arriving at conclusions following strict rules of
logic. E.g.?
The Sciences
The sciences, understood by the medieval translators of Aristotle, were
specialized branches of philosophy. These included the seven sciences of
mediaeval learning:
geometry, and
Later the number of sciences was enlarged and they were classified under the
headings of natural, moral, and first philosophy (or metaphysics). But natural
philosophy did not have the exactitude of ‘science’ and was thus different
from it. But natural philosophy did not have the exactitude of ‘science’ and
was thus different from it. We will return to the various debates about
Scientific Knowledge
• ‘Scientific’ entered English through French and
Italian (scientifique, scientifico) in 1600.
• Is the term tautological?
• Not really. It connotes specialized knowledge,
more formalized and less vulnerable to fallacy
(think about the difference between fallacious
and true). Method could be either Aristotelian
deduction with Eucledian geometry as model or
the inductive method first proposed by Francis
Bacon in 1620.
Shift in the Philosophy of Science:
Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626): ‘Father of
empiricism’: Natural philosophy must begin with the senses.
Ship between two pillars, intended as the
Pillars of Hercules in the Strait of Gibraltar,
signifying the gateway from the known world to
the unknown continents beyond the Atlantic.
The quotation underneath, Multi pertransibunt
et augebitur scientia, is taken from Daniel 12:4,
and translates as 'many shall run to and fro,
and knowledge shall be increased'.

Novum Organum Scientiarum ('new instrument of

science') was published in 1620. The title is a
reference to Aristotle's work Organon, which was
his treatise on logic and syllogism. In Novum
Organum, Bacon details a new system of logic he
believes to be superior to the old ways of syllogism.
This is now known as the Baconian method.
Shift in Philosophy of Science 2
• The ‘Scientific Revolution’: Copernicus to Newton? (Parallel figures Vesalius and
• Establishment of The Royal Society
Nullius in verba
The very first ‘learned society’ meeting on 28 November 1660 followed a lecture at
Gresham College by Christopher Wren. Joined by other leading polymaths the group
soon received royal approval, and from 1663 it would be known as 'The Royal Society
of London for Improving Natural Knowledge'.
The motto 'Nullius in verba' is taken to mean 'take nobody's word for it'. To withstand
the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts
determined by experiment i. e. the inductive method.
Major publications of the Society
Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665)
Journal Philosophical Transactions (1665), which established the concepts of scientific
priority and peer review. Now the oldest continuously-published science journal in the
Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
James Chadwick’s ‘The existence of a Neutron’ (1932)
Shift in Philosophy of Science 3
• Full realization of the empirical method in
science in 1830: John Herschel’s Discourse on
the Study of Natural Philosophy.
• He coined the term ‘photography’ and first
used ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ in the
photographic context.
• Member of the Philosophical Breakfast Club
and friend of the coiner of the word ‘scientist’
William Whewell.
• Marks the transition of the cultivation of science from
the hands of the amateur to those of the professional,
i.e. experts or specialists (‘dentist’ ‘paediatrist’ ‘artist’)
• Aim of science was philanthropic, for the greater good
of mankind, for knowledge. Making money from such
work was perceived as distasteful (compare poets and
• Change in the structure of education. Technical
education given the status of the learned professions
of medicine, law and theology. Science became
another means of earning a living.
Scientist 1
• 19th Century connotations of ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ and the
increasing prestige of the physical sciences directly contribute to
the birth of the term ‘scientist’.

‘It is admitted, on all sides, that the Metaphysical and Moral Sciences
are falling into decay, while the Physical are engrossing, every day,
more respect and attention [. . . .] This condition of the two great
departments of knowledge ; the outer, cultivated exclusively on
mechanical principles--the inward finally abandoned, because,
cultivated on such principles, it is found to yield no result--sufficiently
indicates the intellectual bias of our time, its all-pervading disposition
towards that line of enquiry. In fact, an inward persuasion has long
been diffusing itself, and now and then even comes to utterance, that
except the external, there are no true sciences ; that to the inward
world (if there be any) our only conceivable road is through the
outward; that, in short, what cannot be investigated and understood
mechanically, cannot be investigated and understood at all.’
– Thomas Carlyle, Edinburgh Review (1829)
Scientist 3
The opposite point of view:
‘It has become the permitted fashion among modern
mathematicians, chemists, and apothecaries, to call
themselves 'scientific men,' as opposed to theologians,
poets, and artists. They know their sphere to be a
separate one ; but their ridiculous notion of its being a
peculiarly scientific one ought not to be allowed in our
Universities. There is a science of Morals, a science of
History, a science of Grammar, a science of Music, and a
science of Painting ; and all these are quite beyond
comparison higher fields for human intellect, and require
accuracies of intenser observation, than either chemistry,
electricity, or geology.’
John Ruskin, Ariadne florentina (1874)
What to call a Natural Philosopher
• Philosophe? No, too French.
• William Whewell posed the question and provided an answer anonymously in the Quarterly Review
‘separation and dismemberment . . . . The mathematician turns away from the chemist ; the chemist
from the naturalist ; the mathematician, left to himself, divides himself into a pure mathematician and a
mixed mathematician, who soon part company; the chemist is perhaps a chemist of electro-chemistry;
if so, he leaves common chemical analysis to others; between the mathematician and the chemist is to
be interpolated a 'physicien' (we have no English name for him), who studies heat, moisture, and the
like. And thus science, even mere physical science, loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this
result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the
knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very
oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their
meetings at York, Oxford, and Cambridge, in the last three summers. There was no general term by
which these gentlemen could describe themselves with reference to their pursuits. Philosophers was
felt to be too wide and too lofty a term, and was very properly forbidden them by Mr. Coleridge, both in
his capacity of philologer and metaphysician ; savans was rather assuming, besides being French instead
of English ; some ingenious gentleman [Whewell himself] proposed that, by analogy with artist, they
might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination
when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist--but this was not generally palatable ;
others attempted to translate the term by which the members of similar associations in Germany have
described themselves, but it was not found easy to discover an English equivalent for natur-forscher.
The process of examination which it implies might suggest such undignified compounds as nature-poker,
or nature-peeper, for these naturae curiosi ; but these were indignantly rejected.’
The Philosophical Breakfast Club
Meeting of 4 friends in Cambridge University in 1812-13
to discuss new methodologies for the progress of

Charles Babbage,
John Herschel,
Richard Jones and
William Whewell

Formed many learned societies.

Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
• invented the first
calculator and the
first prototype of a
computer. Could
not get funding.
John Herschel (1792-1871)
• Son of William
Herschel, who
discovered Uranus.
Gifted musician,
mapped the stars of
the southern
hemisphere, and, in
his spare time, co-
Richard Jones (1790-1855)
• became an important
economist who later
influenced Karl Marx.
William Whewell (1794-1866)
• not only coined the
term scientist, as well
as the words ‘anode’,
‘cathode’ and
‘ion’, but spearheaded
international big
science with his global
research on the tides.
He also wrote the
poem ‘Boadicea’
British Association for the
Advancement of Science (1831)
• These four issued a challenge to the Royal Society, which they felt had become a
group of antiquarians. They felt the need for a new ‘scientific revolution’. They
formed the British Association among many other societies.
• The Association did the following:
• Required that members be active researchers publishing their results
• Reinstated the tradition of the Q&A after scientific papers were read, which had
been discontinued by the Royal Society as being ungentlemanly
• Was the first of the major national science organizations in the world to admit
women as full members.
• Used the extra money generated by its meetings to give grants for research in
astronomy, the tides, fossil fish, shipbuilding, and many other areas. These grants
not only allowed less wealthy men to conduct research, but they also encouraged
thinking outside the box, rather than just trying to solve one pre-set
question. Eventually, the Royal Society and the scientific societies of other
countries followed suit
• Invented the figure of the modern scientist
Science and Other Arts
• Erasmus Darwin (John Carey ed. The Faber Book
of Science p. 47 ff): E.g. The Loves of the Plants personifies 90 different species, and
recounts their sex-lives, paying strict attention to Linnaeus’s botanical descriptions: 'Sweet blooms Genista in the myrtle shade,/
And ten fond brothers woo the haughty maid./ Two knights before thy fragrant altar bend,/ Adored Melissa! and two squires
attend./ Meadia’s soft chains five suppliant beaux confess,/ And hand in hand the laughing belle address;/ Alike to all, she bows
with wanton air,/ Rolls her dark eye, and waves her golden hair.' What this means, as Erasmus’s notes explain, is that the flower
of the Broom (Genista) has ten males (stamens) and one female (pistil); the Balm (Melissa) has four males and one female, with
two of the males standing higher than the other two; and the American Cowslip (Meadia) has five males and one female, with
the males’ anthers touching one another. Erasmus’s romances

• Vesalius (illustrations)

Memento mori, mimic classical painting, postures show the agony of the human
condition, emotional and artistic idiom in which the scientific illustrations are
executed. Beauty and aesthetics important. Science is also and always art. (compare
'rightness' in Kuhn's conclusion and the theory of beauty in mathematics.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
• Thomas Kuhn (1922 – 1996) was an
American historian and philosopher of
science who began his career in
theoretical physics before switching
career paths.
• The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
was first published in 1962
• One of the most cited academic books of
all time
• Challenged the prevailing view of
progress in “normal science,” which was
that science has been a continuous
increase in a set of accepted facts and
• Instead posited that the history of
science has been episodic, with periods
of continuity interrupted by
revolutionary science during which a
new “paradigm” changes the rules and
direction of scientific research.
• Questions the ‘objectivity’ of science.
Kuhn 2
• A scientific community cannot practice its trade without
some set of received beliefs. These beliefs form the
foundation of the "educational initiation that prepares and
licenses the student for professional practice". The nature
of the "rigorous and rigid" preparation helps ensure that
the received beliefs are firmly fixed in the student's mind.
Scientists take great pains to defend the assumption that
scientists know what the world is like...To this end, "normal
science" will often suppress novelties which undermine its
foundations. Research is therefore not about discovering
the unknown, but rather "a strenuous and devoted attempt
to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by
professional education".
Kuhn 3
• So how are paradigms created and what do
they contribute to scientific inquiry?
• Normal science "means research firmly based
upon one or more past scientific
achievements, achievements that some
particular scientific community acknowledges
for a time as supplying the foundation for its
further practice". These foundational
principles are paradigms
Kuhn 4
• Doing research is essentially like solving a puzzle.
Puzzles have rules. Puzzles generally have
predetermined solutions.
• A striking feature of doing research is that the
aim is to discover what is known in advance. This
in spite of the fact that the range of anticipated
results is small compared to the possible results.
When the outcome of a research project does not
fall into this anticipated result range, it is
generally considered a failure.
Kuhn 5
• Paradigm changes can result from discovery
brought about by encounters with anomaly.
• The more precise and far-reaching the
paradigm, the more sensitive it is to detecting
an anomaly and inducing change. By resisting
change, a paradigm guarantees that
anomalies that lead to paradigm change will
penetrate existing knowledge to the core.
Kuhn 6
• A scientific revolution is a non-cumulative developmental
episode in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or
in part by an incompatible new one .
• A scientific revolution that results in paradigm change is
analogous to a political revolution.
• Political revolutions begin with a growing sense by
members of the community that existing institutions have
ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an
environment that they have in part created.
• "the normal-scientific tradition that emerges from a
scientific revolution is not only incompatible but often
actually incommensurable with that which has gone
Kuhn 7
• During scientific revolutions, scientists see new and
different things when looking with familiar instruments
in places they have looked before. Familiar objects are
seen in a different light and joined by unfamiliar ones
as well.
• Because paradigm shifts are generally viewed not as
revolutions but as additions to scientific knowledge,
and because the history of the field is represented in
the new textbooks that accompany a new paradigm, a
scientific revolution seems invisible.
• If the supporters of the new paradigm are competent,
they will improve the paradigm, explore its
possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong
to the community guided by it.
Kuhn 8
• Read the Conclusion of the book.
• He seems to be talking about debunking the
myth of ‘objectivity’ in science.
• He ends by reinforcing the highly individual
and eccentric figure of the scientist as genius.
Micrographia (1664)
• Non possis oculo quantum contendere Linceus,/Non
tamen idcirco contemnas Lippus inungi. ('Your eyes will
never see like Lynceus'; still/You rub them with an
ointment when they're ill.' trans. John Conington MA
• Lynceus was a companion of Jason on the Argos,
reputed to have the ability to see through solid objects.
His name is derived from the Greek word for 'sight', as
is the name of the Lynx.
• Eyesight is the most privileged tool of early-modern
science and is celebrated and referred to repeatedly
during this period, from the choice of the name of the
Roman Accademia dei Lincei in 1603, to Hooke's
dictum: "with a sincere hand and a faithful eye".
Micrographia: The Baconian Frame
• In the Novum Organum (the new
instrumentality for the acquisition of
knowledge) Francis Bacon classified the
intellectual fallacies of his time under four
headings which he called idols.
• An idol is an image, in this case held in the
mind, which receives veneration but is
without substance in itself. Bacon did not
regard idols as symbols, but rather as
fixations. In this respect he anticipated
modern psychology.
Micrographia: The Baconian Frame
• Idols of the Tribe are deceptive beliefs inherent in the
mind of man, and therefore belonging to the whole of
the human race. They are abstractions in error arising
from common tendencies to exaggeration, distortion,
and disproportion. Thus men gazing at the stars
perceive the order of the world, but are not content
merely to contemplate or record that which is seen.
They extend their opinions, investing the starry
heavens with innumerable imaginary qualities. In a
short time these imaginings gain dignity and are
mingled with the facts until the compounds become
inseparable. This may explain Bacon's epitaph which is
said to be a summary of his whole method. It reads,
"Let all compounds be dissolved."
Micrographia: The Baconian Frame
• Idols of the Cave are those which arise within the mind of the
individual. This mind is symbolically a cavern. The thoughts of
the individual roam about in this dark cave and are variously
modified by temperament, education, habit, environment,
and accident. Thus an individual who dedicates his mind to
some particular branch of learning becomes possessed by his
own peculiar interest, and interprets all other learning
according to the colors of his own devotion. The chemist sees
chemistry in all things, and the courtier ever present at the
rituals of the court unduly emphasizes the significance of
kings and princes. (GESTALT SWITCH required?)
• (The title page of Bacon's New Atlantis (London 1626) is
ornamented with a curious design or printer's device. The
winged figure of Father Time is shown lifting a female figure
from a dark cave. This represents truth resurrected from the
cavern of the intellect.) GENDER AGAIN.
Micrographia: The Baconian Frame
• Idols of the Marketplace are errors arising from the
false significance bestowed upon words, and in this
classification Bacon anticipated the modern science of
semantics. According to him it is the popular belief
that men form their thoughts into words in order to
communicate their opinions to others, but often
words arise as substitutes for thoughts and men think
they have won an argument because they have out
talked their opponents. The constant impact of words
variously used without attention to their true meaning
only in turn condition the understanding and breed
fallacies. Words often betray their own purpose,
obscuring the very thoughts they are designed to
Micrographia: The Baconian Frame
• Idols of the Theater are those which are due to
sophistry and false learning. These idols are built up
in the field of theology, philosophy, and science,
and because they are defended by learned groups
are accepted without question by the masses.
When false philosophies have been cultivated and
have attained a wide sphere of dominion in the
world of the intellect they are no longer
questioned. False superstructures are raised on
false foundations, and in the end systems barren of
merit parade their grandeur on the stage of the
• For Bacon, therefore, understanding included memory
(history), imagination (poetry), and reason (philosophy)
• Like Bacon, Hooke does not believe that reliance upon
the senses is sufficient for natural philosophy. Instead,
the senses need to interact in an appropriate fashion
with memory and reason.
• The microscope is the first step in the coordinated
augmentation of these three fundamental faculties, so
that, “by a continual passage round from one Faculty to
another,” the health of philosophy may be improved.
• In this coordinated circulation, it is reason that plays
the crucial role, yet it is a reason disciplined by the
continual movement between augmented senses,
memory, and reason.
• An ambiguous attitude toward human nature
(men like beasts, see preface, 1st para) is related
to the relative values of the natural and the
artificial. Human corruption comes from
abandoning “the Prescripts and Rules of Nature,”
yet this error is rectified not by returning to such
natural rules but by employing “artificial
Instruments and methods.”
• The two tensions are linked insofar as humans
stand alone in having natures that call for the use
of artifice.
• the Royal Society should move beyond Bacon’s
initial call for wide fact collection to the next
stage of his method: the examination of
prerogative instances, observations selected
to aid the inductive process.
• Since memory could suffer from the
accumulation of irrelevancies, care had to be
taken by reason in selecting appropriate and
relevant facts from the senses.
• reason properly integrated with augmented
senses and memory outperforms reason
employed in ungrounded speculation, the
“work of the Brain and the Fancy.”
• discovering the cause of a phenomenon from
its microscopic appearance: e.g. cork
(springiness and lightness caused by porous
• Machine as metaphor
• greater perfection may be achievable by
noticing how nature outdoes art and seeking
to improve art in turn.
• improve the artificial to better approximate
the natural by using the microscope as part of
the design process
• the specific rhetoric of Micrographia may be
understood in the context of the identifiable
social and political concerns of the early Royal
• The early Royal Society simultaneously pursued
two activities, one scientific and the other
rhetorical: 'doing' the New Philosophy and
'writing' about it." In this context, printing was "a
way to establish, enhance, and protect its public
• Compare this with Hooke’s address to the Royal
Society re: methodology
Hermeneutic Toolbox
• Five parts of the classical art of rhetoric:
• Inventio,
• Dispositio,
• Elocutio,
• Memoria,
• Actio.
• Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory,
Intended to shape a new scientific genre