Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Very Relevant Gift

Yes, I've been busy and not had time to resume our study of the Scientific Method, though my mental note-taking is proceeding. Meanwhile, a few weeks back I had lunch with a friend who is also a doctor, and we discussed some of our topics... as a result he gave me a most relevant gift. It seems funny to think of writing a discourse upon the epistemology of Science by starting from a blank lab notebook, but perhaps in the future I will have some time to make a few comments about it here.

I looked to see whether Father Jaki talked about such things, and found several strangely relevant references - likely there are others, but due to my time constraints, I will limit myself to these:
In his later years, Newton spent much precious time on erasing from his manuscripts and notebooks the name of Descartes, lest posterity learn a thing or two.
[SLJ "God and Man's Science: A View of Creation" in The Absolute Beneath the Relative and other essays, 62]

In the twelve years between 1904 and his sudden death in 1916 at the age of 56 he [Pierre Duhem] not only continued his prodigious series of publications in theoretical physics, but filled 120 large-size notebooks, each 200 pages long, with excerpts from medieval manuscripts which he had to beg from other French libraries. He had no microfilm, no xerox machines, no dictaphones, not even ball point pens at his disposal. Above all, he had no research assistants of any sort.
[SLJ "Science and Censorship: Hélene Duhem and the Publication of the Système du monde" Ibid, 178]

He [Darwin] might have been cured of his illusion about the evolution of his religious beliefs had he reread in his late years his early Notebooks. Available since the early 1970s in easily accessible edition, those Notebooks make it absolutely clear that the Darwin of the late 1830s was a crude and crusading materialist.
[SLJ "Monkeys and Machine-guns: Evolution, Darwinism, and Christianity" Ibid, 190]

To advance science therefore was to break with inherited ways of thought, a break with blatantly careless reasonings, "scientific" prejudices, and self-flattery, or, in short, to initiate a revolution. To this he [Lavoisier] referred as early as 1773 in his laboratory notebook, where he described his program as one that "seemed destined to bring about a revolution in physics and chemistry."
[SLJ The Relevance of Physics 151]

As my friend the doctor wrote, "Remember, it's for Posterity." Let us keep this principle in mind as we work.

P.S. There is an exciting episode about one of SLJ's own notebooks (and another about his exploration of the notebooks of Olbers!) both of which appear in A Mind's Matter, but I will leave these for another time.

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