[Read] Science: The Glorious Entertainment.Author Jacques Barzun – Replica-watches.co

[Read] Science: The Glorious Entertainment.Author Jacques Barzun – Replica-watches.co

The overwhelming impression I got while reading this book is of an old man endlessly puttering with his small figurines, gewgaws, and doodads And as he arranged the tchotkes, he drank, the evening wearing on and him growing and bold in his assertions understanding the world through the organization he finally achieved Some of what he says is clich d, some crazy, and some insightful, despite everything.Like Jacques Barzun is a character in a Bruce Chatwin novel.Barzun is here interested in the role of science in civilization He would probably capitalize those words himself The twelve chapters based on lectures he gave move through the argument, from acknowledging science s service, contemplating its problems, and offering a way forward.He begins with a consideration of C.P Snow s famous dictum that the West had been divided into two cultures the culture of science and the culture of humanities which only a few great men could bridge, conveniently including Snow himself Barzun dispenses with the idea, arguing that our lives are part of one culture, but the culture has many parts Science is merely one part of this general culture, although one with ambitions to subsume it all While being careful to avoid the easy science is religion trope, he compares science to Medieval theology, in terms of how it is a central tenet of thought, something everything else is constantly measured against.The problem with this argument from today s perspective is obvious We are all part of the same culture what do you mean by we, kemosabe Whose culture Whose civilization The easy dismissal of primitive society and celebration of Western civilization cannot stand in light of fifty years of subsequent scholarship.Barzun argues correctly, I think that science as science did not come into being until the middle of the nineteenth century It was a social force, another special interest, so to speak, given prestige by its connection to technology, progress and abundance But and here I begin to differ with him its heyday ended wight he dawn of the twentieth century, as it fragmented into many small subjects Afraid to err, afraid to overgeneralize, respectful of other professionals, scientists came to speak only about the small par tot the universe they studied There was no longer a unifying vision This specialism not specialization, which is a useful focusing, but instead an ideology of remaining committed to one s subject has ruined science and modern life, in Barzun s opinion Specialism doesn t really make sense to me and certainly not the fears that are supposed to sustain it in other parts of the book Barzun is quick to point out that some scientists are than happy to overgeneralize Regardless, it is true that science certainly fragmented as it grew.Barzun then stops to consider the role of technology or techne, as he calls it Jacques Ellul had offered a similar redefinition ten years earlier, but Barzun weirdly does not cite it Technology is related to science, but is not the same thing, and is not derivative of science indeed, he argues, science is often pushed forward by advances in technology The machine techne is a symbol of love and hatred in modern society he says, unoriginally even for the time Technology is often beautiful and makes our lives easier But it also destroys the meaning of Work capitalized again , leaving people with meaningless jobs Technology provides conveniences, he says in one of his useful aphorisms but not comfort comfort is a different feeling, alien to technology There is an unintended cycle, of machines creating new realities that themselves have problems which need to be solved by technology This leads to alienation and irritation although his examples are hysterically dated he complains about the Zip code several times, actually , the need to dial all the digits in a phone number, and IBM punched cards To his credit, Barzun does not pine for an escape backward technology causes problems, no doubt, but its not like human dignity was particularly valued 300 years ago More people are better off under the current system, even if this system is not sustainable and not nourishing.He then turns to a similar critique of science which, again, in general was not new even in 1964, even if some of his insights were He argues that most people don t actually know much about science thus belief in science is a kind of credulity and that includes scientists The study of science has become a career, possible for those of even modest intellectual endowment this is his claim , who specialize in their little area Indeed, there is a connection between the growth of science and the growth of the middle class, as both involve quantification, abstraction, and profressionalization, he says Which means that scientists should not be accorded oracular status although he predicts and political debates will have a scientific guise and points as an example debates over the fluoridation of water The tendency in science is to hide messy reality behind abstractions as a counterexample he cites James Watson s description of the discovery of DNA s structure, and this from lectures since Watson s book had not yet appeared By contrast, the only universal scientists remaining were scientific publishers and science fiction writers The truth is, he says in the titular chapter 100 101 , we have lost Nature In handing it over to the men of science, we hoped to receive it back augmented, transfigured, and full of light They were indeed its faithful guardians for several generations and they still talk of it in their public 101 utterances as a unified power which acts or yields secrets or responds to them in the course of their work But when the name and the capital letter is not an evasion of logic or metaphysics, it is nothing Nature is but a vast blank screen upon which the experimenter throws his abstractions and hypotheses, seeing no as modern man and specialist than the minute system of its metaphors and his inferences It is ultimately from this atomization of Nature that for modern men the vagrant despair comes, and not from the hurts to their vanity supposedly caused by Newton, Darwin, and Freud There is no longer a unified vision of the cosmos, he complains, noting that int he mid 19th century Humboldt s book of that name unified all life under the theme of evolution But modern evolution is too fragmented, he thinks, too materialistic No fan of the modern synthesis, he even resurrects Paley s old Watchmaker argument against it Rather than saying yes, than allowing humans to imagine and engage the world science is always saying no, ruling certain thoughts out of bounds as superstitious or anthropomorphic even while smuggling in its own forms of anthropomorphism It is not an accident that he cites approvingly, than once, that gadfly of science the biochemist Erwin Chargaff.In its best form, science is a kind of play, a free inquiry In some sense, science is not teachable spends a chapter making this point, much too long but one can only guide someone with native talent it is like art, then There should be humor even mockery Why can t there be a feast of fools for the scientists, he wonders People should make fun of scientists for their pretensions, for spending ungodly sums on silly studies Instead, we have popularizers of science who wants to reduce everything to science and enshrine science as the only way to reach truth.And this persistent elevation of science has had many baleful effects on the generation of knowledge generally, from the insistence that all research be novel to even disciplines far afield from science like literary criticism aping its trappings, breaking and analyzing writings into their smallest bits He puts as an example the study of allusions in late Tennyson Barzun makes the interesting meaning, I m not sure how to take it claim that academics should not be creative the two are opposites There is something to recommend this thought we want academics grounded in reality and not completely without rules although creativity has its own rules Still, I wonder if Barzun applies this to himself Does he think his critique here is not creative in some sense The problem is acutely seen, he says, in the so called behavioral sciences sociology, psychology, economics which Barzun hates with a deep passion He thinks they are nothing so much as B.S and politics dressed up in science An entire chapter is devoted to knocking them down Another contrasts them with what he calls The Misbehavioral Sciences by which he means the humanities, but calls history History, law, poetry these use words to capture unrepeatable experiments They are rooted in experience and stand against abstraction In another of his useful aphorisms, he contrasts the exactness of the humanities to the precision of the sciences What one ought to say, therefore, is that the law is exact, but not precise science is precise, but not exact In this sense all the historical disciplines from poetry to law are exact they grip tight the single particular of the moment and never by chance mean the one next to it Along with this bit of wisdom, the reader also gets a long disquisition on the iniquities of current metaphors which rely on science they are inexact This bit of the book reads a bit as if it had been written by Abe Simpson Old Man Yells at Clouds By this point in the book, Barzun is letting his freak flag fly, dropping the hemming and hawing provisions of the earlier chapters During the past hundred and fifty years the one great attempt to stop the dry rot of the soul produced by the conditions of life in the modern world has been the handiwork of the artists of the West, he writes on page 229 Art is not an alternative to science but a necessary complement, a needed opposite Art should critique the Romantic impulse is needed to keep science in check Already the cycle has played itself out before after the Enlightenment, the Age of Revolution showed the sophisticates what action was There was a again a scientific insistence that nature was neither sentient nor alive, which provoked the Romantics 301 Since then, the model of the universe and humankind as a machine held away again but with no Romantic response Artists betrayed the people, he says, led astray by Freud and Frazier an unlikely pairing The problem, as Barzun sees it, is that the artists emulated the scientists and tried to create a system based on myth and the unconscious He doesn t name it, but clearly he s thinking of surrealism, and its spawn abstract expressionism What is needed, though, is a breaking down of systems, a contending against science, not compromise.And ad a result of art s failure, the West is left with the anomie of modernity He spends a chapter documenting this, though he captures the essence in a single sentence Our great and sardonic reward for introducing labor saving machinery is that it has not lessened but increased servitude 257 Even in 1964, this criticism was not new There was no escape from the system, he said Nothing is easier nowadays than to believe in the conclusions and also the fantasies of science nothing harder than to take a simple, unaffected view of the truths of poetry or religion The predicament of the age is to regain the high ground where the thoughtful man cam be at ease with his repressed intuitions and satisfy through many means his equally many capacities for reason and belief 286 Only in a few fringe y corners did the holdouts gather From astrology to psychical research, from nature loving to asceticism, from the scholarship of myth to the public respect for poetry and art, from conscientious drug addiction to the old and new religions of East and West, there are only minority refuges open to the inhabitants of the scientific culture 294.The final chapter points toward what is needed, though it resists fleshing out the movement By this point in the narrative, it is fairly obvious where Barzun will end up He wants the machine to kneel to human needs He wants something to oppose abstraction and analysis He wants a new philosophy one saturated with meaning, one that gives human life purpose He wants to preserve different levels of certainty to make life safe not only for the known but the unprovable and the doubtful, the contradictory after all, life has all those things, even if science rules them out of bounds Besides, he says, science is not unified anyway biology and physics overlap, sharing some ideas, but also diverge He celebrates the possibility of multiple consciousnesses, many ways of seeing the world, For example, Pascal had his geometry, but also what he called finesse the power that seizes on relations by an immediate impression and without literalism 289 90 It is not precise, but it is exact.The book, like the old puttering man, is exasperating I can t say that I enjoyed the time that I spent with it, but I also have to admit I learned something, and came away changed. Like every Barzun book I ve read, this was filled with amazing insight into western society that I had never thought of or heard from another source Like most good contrarians his thesis on the methods in which science and scientific concepts have infected our lives in irresponsible ways sounds dangerous, but he argues well and expresses his concepts thoroughly Some arguments are overly explained and he sometimes comes off like a crotchety old man complaining about rock and roll music, but it is overall a great work. I m writing about this book, but actually I scanned about 10 Barzun books He protests against a lot of modern decadence, but disappointingly without really having eternal standards to match against it so he comes across as saying that the modern world is bad because it s nothing like the one before a bit of a superficial objection He praises Whitehead s Science and the Modern World, which I m still working on More on this later. 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