Scientists and History

Quotes from Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World

p. 56-57 ‘Scientists tend to have little interest in history, even the history of their own subject. They turn to the past only to pluck out the discoveries and insights that turned out to be fruitful – Boyle, for instance,  is known today for “Boyle’s law”, relating pressure and volume in gases – and they toss the rest aside.

In fields where the notion of progress is indisputable, such disdain for the past is common. The explanation is not so much anti-intellectualism as impatience. Why study ancient errors? So scientist ignore most of their forebears or dismiss them as silly codgers. They make exceptions for a tiny number of geniuses whom they treat as time travelers from the present day, thinkers just like us who somehow found themselves decked out in powdered wigs.

But they were not like us.’


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