Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Passages that reflect the collective nature of science.
Folksonomies: science collectivism
And Harry raced back up the stairs and shoved the staircase back into the trunk with his heel, and, panting, turned the pages of the book until he found the picture he wanted to show to Draco.
The one with the white, dry, cratered land, and the suited people, and the blue-white globe hanging over it all.
The picture, if only one picture in all the world were to survive.
"That," Harry said, his voice trembling because he couldn't quite keep the pride out, "is what the Earth looks like from the Moon."
Draco slowly leaned over. There was a strange expression on his young face. "If that's a realpicture, why isn't it moving?"
Moving? Oh. "Muggles can do moving pictures but they need a bigger box to show it, they can't fit them onto single book pages yet."
Draco's finger moved to one of the suits. "What are those?" His voice starting to waver.
"Those are human beings. They are wearing suits that cover their whole bodies to give them air, because there is no air on the Moon."
"That's impossible," Draco whispered. There was terror in his eyes, and utter confusion. "No Muggle could ever do that. How..."
Harry took back the book, flipped the pages until he found what he saw. "This is a rocket going up. The fire pushes it higher and higher, until it gets to the Moon." Flipped pages again. "This is a rocket on the ground. That tiny speck next to it is a person." Draco gasped. "Going to the Moon cost the equivalent of... probably around a thousand million Galleons." Draco choked. "And it took the efforts of... probably more people than live in all of magical Britain." And when they arrived, they left a plaque that said, 'We came in peace, for all mankind.' Though you're not yet ready to hear those words, Draco Malfoy...
"You're telling the truth," Draco said slowly. "You wouldn't fake a whole book just for this - and I can hear it in your voice. But... but..."
"How, without wands or magic? It's a long story, Draco. Science doesn't work by waving wands and chanting spells, it works by knowing how the universe works on such a deep level that you know exactly what to do in order to make the universe do what you want. If magic is like casting Imperio on someone to make them do what you want, then science is like knowing them so well that you can convince them it was their own idea all along. It's a lot more difficult than waving a wand, but it works when wands fail, just like if the Imperiusfailed you could still try persuading a person. And Science builds from generation to generation. You have to really know what you're doing to do science - and when you really understand something, you can explain it to someone else. The greatest scientists of one century ago, the brightest names that are still spoken with reverence, their powers are asnothing to the greatest scientists of today. There is no equivalent in science of your lost arts that raised Hogwarts. In science our powers wax by the year. And we are beginning to understand and unravel the secrets of life and inheritance. We'll be able to look at the very blood of which you spoke, and see what makes you a wizard, and in one or two more generations, we'll be able to persuade that blood to make all your children powerful wizards too. So you see, your problem isn't nearly as bad as it looks, because in a few more decades, science will be able to solve it for you."
"But..." Draco said. His voice was trembling. "If Muggles have that kind of power... then... what are we? "
"No, Draco, that's not it, don't you see? Science taps the power of human understanding to look at the world and figure out how it works. It can't fail without humanity itself failing. Your magic could turn off, and you would hate that, but you would still be you. You would still be alive to regret it. But because science rests upon my human intelligence, it is the power that cannot be removed from me without removing me. Even if the laws of the universe change on me, so that all my knowledge is void, I'll just figure out the new laws, as has been done before. It's not a Muggle thing, it's a human thing, it just refines and trains the power you use every time you look at something you don't understand and ask 'Why?' You're of Slytherin, Draco, don't you see the implication?"
Draco looked up from the book to Harry. His face showed dawning understanding. "Wizards can learn to use this power."
Very carefully, now... the bait is set, now the hook... "If you can learn to think of yourself as ahuman instead of a wizard then you can train and refine your powers as a human."
And if that instruction wasn't in every science curriculum, Draco didn't need to know it, did he?
The progress of the sciences secures the progress of the art of instruction, which again accelerates in its turn that of the sciences; and this reciprocal influence, the action of which is incessantly increased, must be ranked in the number of the most prolific and powerful causes of the improvement of the human race. At present, a young man, upon finishing his studies and quitting our schools, may know more of the principles of mathematics than Newton acquired by profound study, or discovered by the force of his genius, and may exercise the instrument of calculation with a readiness which at that period was unknown. The same observation, with certain restrictions, may be applied to all the sciences. In proportion as each shall advance, the means of compressing, within a smaller circle, the proofs of a greater number of truths, and of facilitating their comprehension, will equally advance. Thus, notwithstanding future degrees of progress, not only will men of equal genius find themselves, at the same period of life, upon a level with the actual state of science, but, respecting every generation, what may be acquired in a given space of time, by the same strength of intellect and the same degree of attention, will necessarily increase, and the elementary part of each science, that part which every man may attain, becoming more and more extended, will include, in a manner more complete, the knowledge necessary for the direction of every man in the common occurrences of life, and for the free and independent exercise of his reason.
The advancement of science is slow; it is effected only by virtue of hard work and perseverance. And when a result is attained, should we not in recognition connect it with the efforts of those who have preceded us, who have struggled and suffered in advance? Is it not truly a duty to recall the difficulties which they vanquished, the thoughts which guided them; and how men of different nations, ideas, positions, and characters, moved solely by the love of science, have bequeathed to us the unsolved problem? Should not the last comer recall the researches of his predecessors while adding in his turn his contribution of intelligence and of labor? Here is an intellectual collaboration consecrated entirely to the search for truth, and which continues from century to century.
Any artist or novelist would understand—some of us do not produce their best when directed. We expect the artist, the novelist and the composer to lead solitary lives, often working at home. While a few of these creative individuals exist in institutions or universities, the idea of a majority of established novelists or painters working at the 'National Institute for Painting and Fine Art' or a university 'Department of Creative Composition' seems mildly amusing. By contrast, alarm greets the idea of a creative scientist working at home. A lone scientist is as unusual as a solitary termite and regarded as irresponsible or worse.
Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.
Whereas the man of action binds his life to reason and its concepts so that he will not be swept away and lost, the scientific investigator builds his hut right next to the tower of science so that he will be able to work on it and to find shelter for himself beneath those bulwarks which presently exist.
History of science is a relay race, my painter friend. Copernicus took over his flag from Aristarchus, from Cicero, from Plutarch; and Galileo took that flag over from Copernicus.
Indeed, there is a particular problem with finding endings in science. Where do these science stories really finish? Science is truly a relay race, with each discovery handed on to the next generation. Even as one door is closing, another door is already being thrown open. So it is with this book. The great period of Victorian science is about to begin. The new stories are passed into the hands of Michael Faraday, John Herschel, Charles Darwin …and the world of modern science begins to rush towards us.
But science is now also continually reshaping its history retrospectively. It is starting to look back and rediscover its beginnings, its earlier traditions and triumphs; but also its debates, its uncertainties and its errors. No general science history would now be considered complete without a sense of the science achieved centuries ago by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Babylonians. It is no coincidence that the last few years have seen the foundation, in numerous universities across Europe, Australia and America, of newly conceived ‘Departments of the History and Philosophy of Science’. The earliest pioneering ones began at Cambridge (UK), and Berkeley (California), with others quickly following at Paris X (Nanterre), Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto, Indiana, Caltech and Budapest (1994). Similarly, it seems to me impossible to understand fully the contemporary debates about the environment, or climate change, or genetic engineering, or alternative medicine, or extraterrestrial life, or the nature of consciousness, or even the existence of God, without knowing how these arose from the hopes and anxieties of the Romantic generation.
But perhaps most important, right now, is a changing appreciation of how scientists themselves fit into society as a whole, and the nature of the particular creativity they bring to it. We need to consider how they are increasingly vital to any culture of progressive knowledge, to the education of young people (and the not so young), and to our understanding of the planet and its future. For this, I believe science needs to be presented and explored in a new way. We need not only a new history of science, but a more enlarged and imaginative biographical writing about individual scientists. (I make some suggestions in the Bibliography that follows, under the heading ‘The Bigger Picture’.) Here the perennially cited difficulties with the ‘two cultures’, and specifically with mathematics, can no longer be accepted as a valid limitation. We need to understand how science is actually made; how scientists themselves think and feel and speculate. We need to explore what makes scientists creative, as well as poets or painters, or musicians. That is how this book began.
The old, rigid debates and boundaries — science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics — are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous, more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe. And that is how this book might possibly end.