24 April 2007

That Other Book

Alright, I haven't actually gotten ahold of the book that we're supposed to be reading just yet, but apparently neither has anyone else. Not that that's a good excuse! :P However, I have been making slow progress through The Scientists, which is still a fascinating book. I've been putting some of the highlights into my Book of Centuries. I'm just starting the chapter called "The Newtonian Revolution" that starts with a guy named Hooke. Apparently Newton (the guy in the painting) didn't like Hooke very well. I wouldn't know: I'd never heard of the guy before when I was reading about him this afternoon. Sounds like these two & another guy were in serious - and not so friendly - competition with each other.

The three people who between them established both the scientific method itself and the pre-eminence of British science at the end of the seventeenth century were Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton. It is some measure of the towering achievements of the other two that Halley clearly ranks third out of the trio in terms of his direct contribution to science; but in spite of the Newton bandwagon that has now been rolling for 300 years (and was given its initial push by Newton himself after Hooke had died), it is impossible for the unbiased historian to say whether Newton or Hooke made the more significant contribution. Newton was a loner who worked in isolation and established the single, profound truth that the Universe works on mathematical principles; Hooke was a gregarious and wide-ranging scientist who came up with a dazzling variety of new ideas, but also did more than anyone else to turn the Royal Society from a gentleman's gossip shop into the archtypical scientific society. His misfortune was to incur the enmity of Newton, and to die before Newton, giving his old enemy a chance to rewrite history - which he did so effectively that Hooke has only really been rehabilitated in the past few decades.
-The Scientists, page 149

Anyway, as we get further into the book, the author is starting to insert his opinions a little more as he tells the story. It'll be interesting to see how this affects my enjoyment as we get into the Darwin stuff: I'm thinking he's going to treat evolution as Fact, rather than unproven Theory. (You can see my opinion on evolution here.)

No comments: