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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Science and Magic

One of the "themes" of my world in the new book is that of science overtaking magic. As I've been working on the grand finale - getting there S L O W L Y - I've had the need for some examples of the scientific revolution. The opening half of the seventeenth century is truly remarkable. Astronomy, physics, mathematics, optics...one discovery following on another...one theory proven, one debunked, ideas... I don't know that I ever appreciated it before. One guy figures out how to create a vacuum. Seems small, and yet, people hadn't really believed there COULD be such a thing as a vacuum. Another person figures out how to generate static electricity, not knowing exactly what it was. Another person realizes that balls rolling downhill accelerate at a uniform rate that can be calculated. One person starts thinking systematically and realizes the liver couldn't really produce enough blood as people had thought...and so develops the theory of the circulation of the blood...and does everything he can to find out if it's true. These things seem so simple and obvious now, but were like magic then. They required leaps of understanding.

And the most amazing thing to me...

...was the people who did this. It's easy to picture scientists who make marvelous discoveries as dedicated, focused nerdy people. But you look at the people who caused this great revolution and they are all writers, translators, clergymen, physicians, musicians, or any number of other things. Some made their own instruments. The guy who invented the barometer built telescopes and taught mathematics. And Isaac Newton...did everything from running the English Mint (and doing all sorts of things to reform the currency and punish counterfeiters) to laying the foundation of physics and calculus, to writing religious and philosophical works, corresponding and collaborating with other scientists and mathematicians, writing books, teaching, etc. etc. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants. As they did, too, of course, as much of what they started with came from Aristotle and all those others who asked questions and formulated some kind of answer.

Makes me feel like a real intellectual wimp!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love your theme already! Can't wait...

The research is part of what I love about writing. Back in school, I was interested in so many things, languages AND math AND history... Writer has to be the only job in the world where you can combine all your interests!

What saddens me today is when I ask students what their favorite subject is. (I teach remedial Math & English as private tutor.) They don't have favorite subjects anymore. But you must have some interests? Hobbies? Nope. (At least nothing more active than: listening to music.) It's so frustrating.

On the other hand, not that long ago, we had a few brilliant minds while the vast majority was deprived of any sort of schooling, or of all but the most rudimentary reading, writing, adding numbers. (Gosh, try telling a high school student what a marvellous privilege it is to be allowed to go to school for 12 years ;o)

Anyway, sounds like you are having an exiting time!

Cheers,

Anja

carolwriter said...

Research is not usually my favorite part, as it "interrupts" my flow with the story. But in this case it was so very enlightening - we do stand on the shoulders of giants. As they did. These people were driven to learn about everything, theorizing, experimenting, calculating, imagining. It was inspiring to touch on.

I share your dismay over the lack of interest in learning. I think it was always there. Speak to people of my generation and so many say, I just never liked anything in school. But often they DO find something that they enjoy. Some don't, of course. I worry about good minds that are diverted by the intensity of entertainment that we can provide. I guess future history will tell us if too many got distracted!

Tami said...

One thing that is upsetting is if you read about all the great discoveries in the past and then look at the way science is currently funded, they are at odds. With the grant system, scientist almost have to focus narrowly. And the latest generation does not seem as interested in being garage inventors.