Wednesday, 20 October 2010

On science, world-views, and absurd hubris...

Introductions first. Hello, my name is Joe. That's me on the right there. I live in Cornwall. I'm an English graduate. I play in a ukulele trio. I ride a bicycle. I like poached eggs, woolly jumpers, Kubrick movies and the music of Radiohead. But mainly I like making sense of things. That's why I'm setting up this blog.

At least that's part of the reason. In about a years time (October 2011) I hope to be starting a Masters degree in the Philosophy of Science. Now, I've never studied either philosophy or science to degree level before so I've got some catching up to do. But I really believe that the best way to understand something is to attempt to explain it to others, so that's what I'm going to be doing here. I'm going to read as much science (and the philosophy thereof) as possible and - if I'm successful - you're going to understand it.

If that sounds off-putting, don't be off-put! I won't be pasting up reams of formulae, or documenting the particular cellular chemistry of the East Asian Mangrove crab. I'm not bright enough to be a specialist and, besides, I don't want to peer so closely at the brushwork of science's cosmological canvas that I fail to see the painting. I want to develop an appreciation of the whole. I want to know what science looks like in its totality and I want to know what it

I want a world-view, if I'm honest. I'm aware that such absurd hubris has its own dangers, however. It may well be that a total appreciation of science is necessarily a shallow and dilettantish one. I hope not. My aim shall certainly be to strike a balance between close engagement and appreciative distance.

My title, incidentally, is taken from the work of the seventeenth-century English philosopher and clergyman Joseph Glanvill:

'Adam needed no Spectacles. The acuteness of his natural Opticks ... shewed him much of the Coelestial magnificence and bravery without a Galileo's tube ... It may be he saw the motion of the bloud and spirits through the transparent skin, as we do the workings of those industrious Animals through a hive of glasse.'

For Glanvill, the advance of science - in particular Galileo's invention of the telescope - was far from blasphemous. Indeed he thought it ought to have been considered spiritually enriching in so far as it afforded Mankind a recovery of his pre-Fall appreciation of the natural world. I'm not a religious person, but the sentiment - that science should help us foster a broader world-view - seems suitably apt.