On Understanding Science: An Historical Approach

By James B. Conant | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Illustrations from the Seventeenth Century "Touching the Spring of the Air"

IN THIS chapter and the next I shall endeavor by specific examples to illustrate the way in which some knowledge of The Tactics and Strategy of Science might be conveyed. Obviously, I can do no more in a few pages than sketch in the outlines of what might well occupy a class for a month or more. The case histories here presented have no special merit; others would do equally well or better. Indeed, the more usual classic examples I have purposely left aside as being so well known as hardly to warrant another treatment. I refer particularly to Galileo's study of falling bodies and the pendulum, the development of the Copernican theory, and what is sometimes referred to as the Newtonian synthesis. Surely the instructor in any course of the type proposed would want to spend considerable time on the first, and to place the second and third in proper perspective; that is, each case history should be studied only to the extent that it illustrates principles of the Tactics and Strategy of Science.

There is a real danger that in any consideration of historical material one may overemphasize the role of the few brilliant generalizations which from time to time in the last three hundred years have played so important a part in the advancement of science. The contributions we associate with the names of Copernicus, Newton, Joule and Mayer, Carnot, Darwin, Mendel, Planck and Einstein if studied by themselves give quite an erroneous impression

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