Sunday, November 23, 2008

Destodgifying science

The holidays are approaching--this is a plug for a book that may change your young scientist's view of science. It may wreak havoc on her ambitions in high school, but I think it is healthy in the long run.

And it's not written for kids. It's a grown up book written by grown ups for grown ups.

Nature may be the finest science journal in the English speaking world.

Darwin, Einstein, Francis and Crick hung out there. Stories about the generosity of urchins compete with tales of the follies of man. It refuses to sanitize science, leaving in the warts and foibles as we (an inclusive "we" for anyone with functioning sense organs and curiosity) stumble upon patterns in our universe.

The first issue back in November, 1869 opened with a William Wordsworth quote:

To the solid ground Of Nature trusts the mind which builds for aye.

In 1941, Einstein gives jumps in when he contrasts science and religion:
It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thorough-going an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization.

It condemns high falutin' language, insisting from its inception in the language of science be intelligible:
"The Priests of Science," he [Philosophus] said, "must consent to use the vernacular, before they will ever make a profound impression upon the heart of humanity."

[Philosophus was a young man who loved science in a fable penned by a Nature editor back in 1869]

Last Christmas I got A Bedside Nature: Genius and Eccentricity in Science 1869-1953 from Leslie with the note "this looks like fun."

It's a collection of articles, essays, reviews, letters, illustrations and whatever other form of thought found in Nature put together by Walter Gratzer, and it belongs on your bookshelf.

Turns out it's big fun. Cheap fun. You can get the softcover version (easier to read in the bathtub) for less than $10 including shipping.

And if you're feeling too cheap for that, wander over to the Nature site, where they are giving away knowledge for free.

Yep, free. You don't even have to give them an email address.

Who says the Victorian era is dead?

The Queen Victoria photo is from the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames;
logo is from the Nature home of the journal linked above.

I do not earn any money from any clicks to anywhere--go find yourself a copy of this before it disappears.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Michael

I get the impression that your love of Science is less like Physics and more like metaphysics.

You should get a hold of Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World if you haven't already. It is a fun read. And it's not metaphysics :-)

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

doyle said...

Kia ora Ken,

I love that book. I left my love for metaphysics in a trash basket in Angell Hall at the University of Michigan around 1980--I boxed a renowned metaphysicist into a corner, and he dismissed me. He saved me a lot of time, and I'd like to buy him a pint of ale if we ever meet again.

Who needs metaphysics when we can construct marvelous conceptual models based on what can be perceived?

I may need to go read Sagan again--it's been a few months.


Anonymous said...

It looks interesting. I'm a bit disappointed that I don't have anyone to buy it for, but I guess I could just get a copy for myself and pass it on to my little cousin in a year or two.