The new philosopher scientists

Thomas Wright in The Telegraph:

Wright_main1_2419950bRelations between scientists and humanities students weren’t friendly when I was at university back in the Nineties. I remember several boozy arguments between the two factions which began with provocative questions and ended almost with the throwing of punches and pints. Our debates were minor skirmishes in the so-called “science wars” of the time, between the scientific “realists”, who believed that if nature could talk it would spout equations and atomic numbers, and the “postmodernist” humanities students who held that nothing existed outside language and their own minds. “We’ll believe it when we see it” was the scientists’ motto; “we’ll see it when we believe it” the slogan of the opposing camp.

Without knowing it, we were merely dressing up a number of celebrated 19th-century arguments in new, and rather garish, costumes. We were also restaging many of the scraps that followed C P Snow’s Fifties lecture on the division between the “two cultures”. Alas, our rowdy symposia served only to illustrate, and reinforce, the great divide; it was rare that an enlightened soul would bridge the gulf between the boffins and the bohemians. Yet that very mission has been taken up, in the past decade or so, by a number of intrepid English biographers. At the end of The Age of Wonder, a group portrait of scientists from the Romantic period, Richard Holmes appealed for “a more enlarged and imaginative” approach to writing science lives that would “explore” science “in a new way” and so overcome “the perennially cited difficulties with ‘the two cultures’”.

More here.

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