MAN MASTERS NATURE: 25 Centuries of Science by Roy--Ed. Porter

MAN MASTERS NATURE: 25 Centuries of Science

Email this review


Porter (London's Wellcome Institute of Medicine) has assembled a distinguished set of scientist-historians to describe the persona, the times, and the achievements of 17 notable scientists from Aristotle to Watson and Crick (eight of whom turn out to be English). Porter's aim has been to trace the precepts that underlie Western science--concepts of order and unity in nature that repeatedly motivated individuals in the West and might explain the rise to world dominance of this form of reasoning. The title derives from Jacob Bronowski--""Man masters nature not by force but by understanding""--and Porter is quick to note that up until the 20th century science has been male. However, Porter does not comment on the Baconian idea implicit in ""mastery"": that nature exists to serve human purposes--an idea often questioned today. Be that as it may, the 16 essays in the volume are of high caliber, many offering correctives of popular lore and fresh insights on character. Kepler's three laws were not framed as such by him; he sought only to discover God's plan in creation. Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood was not the work of an iconoclast, but of someone who tried to emulate Aristotle in experimenting on animals--and who was disappointed that he could only speculate on what final cause the circulation served. Priestley's concern was the ""goodness"" of air; he always denied that oxygen existed and stoutly defended the phlogiston theory against Lavoisier's attack. On the other hand, Galileo was an outspoken iconoclast--as well as a believing Catholic. Bohr's deep interest in language led him to devise the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum phenomena. Turing was a mathematician far ahead of his times. In short, there is much to be gleaned from the assiduous scholarship of the experts--both about the scientific achievements in the West, and the style and aims of major contributors.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Braziller