A wide swath of scientific developments since the Renaissance era, densely packed and surprisingly accessible.
Despite the hints in the title (extracted from a Wordsworth poem), this lively epistemological study by Knight (Emeritus, History and Philosophy of Science/Durham Univ.; Public Understanding of Science, 2006, etc.) is not about sea travel per se, although explorations have fueled plenty of exciting discoveries and inventions throughout the ages, starting with mapping. The author lays out more of a metaphorical voyage into uncharted waters—the awakening of curiosity about the greater world and grasping of new tools and knowledge, which prompted a scientific revolution that Knight compares to a kind of adolescence of man. Once the classical texts that had been cherished by the Arabs began to be translated in monasteries and universities in England and Italy, several important currents converged in the West that fed this revolution in science—e.g., the “bringing down to earth” of lofty (often defective) systems worked out by the ancients—Aristotle, Galen and Ptolemy—the testing of them by new methods (empirical, experimental) and the inductive reasoning as propounded by Francis Bacon. Knight underscores the importance of faith (mostly Christian) in the lives of these early men (and nearly all were men) of science, and hence the need to “accommodate” to biblical thought the new discoveries in astronomy (emerging from astrology), chemistry (from alchemy), medicine (from barbering and midwifery) and physics (God’s natural laws). The new uses of mathematics would charge the revolutionary theories of the big guns: Descartes, Galileo and Newton. Developing analogies and models was crucial, as were the founding of scientific societies and securing of royal patronage. In his compact, clear synthesis, Knight offers stimulating minibiographies of these trailblazers (with dates after each).
Essentially the story of the West’s spectacular development, told by a knowledgeable, patient teacher.