I recently sat for an interview (via Skype) with George Aranda of Science Book a Day, which featured The Philosophical Breakfast Club today. We chatted about PBC, my next book, how scientists can best communicate science to the general public, and what it was like to give a TED talk. You can view the interview on the Science Book a Day website (well worth checking out, by the way!) here or directly below. Read more
I somehow managed to miss this wonderful review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club that appeared last year, in the British magazine Endeavour:
“Snyder’s excellent book achieves the impossible. . . . All four of the main characters in her narrative are such dominant figures in the Victorian intellectual landscape that each of them would normally require…a substantial biography in their own right. Snyder manages to give the reader a deep look into the lives and intellectual achievements of all four in a scant 450 pages, a truly remarkable feat. Beyond this each of the protagonists was a polymath and together they cover a bewildering range of academic and semi-academic topics. . . . When dealing with these each of these topics, and the contributions that one or more of the quartet made, Snyder first gives a concise but extensive history of the subject at hand. Each of these potted histories is good enough to serve as an encyclopedia article on the topic dealt with, a second remarkable achievement.
The Philosophical Breakfast Club, and my recent TED Talk, were featured in Newsweek’s piece “Around the World in Six Ideas,” written by Christopher Dickey:
Before There Were Scientists
The word “scientist” was not coined until 1833. Before that, scientific disciplines were the domain of mostly wealthy men and women who called themselves “natural philosophers.” They might have had curiosity cabinets full of fossils, concoctions, and pickled bits of anatomy, but laboratories were few and far between. Then, oddly, the eccentric, opium-imbibing poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge challenged this use of the metaphysical-sounding word “philosopher.” The response, as in “artist” or “cellist,” was “scientist.” Laura Snyder tells this story in her fascinating book The Philosophical Breakfast Club about the way four geniuses at Cambridge University revolutionized modern science to create the many disciplines that exist under that rubric today. But there’s a downside, too, she said in a recent TED talk. Her 19th-century heroes would have been “deeply dismayed” by the way science has been “walled off” from the rest of today’s culture. She finds it “shocking” that only 28 percent of American adults can say (correctly) whether humans and dinosaurs inhabited Earth at the same time or how much of the planet is covered in water. The majority, it seems, either don’t know, don’t care, or think those are, well, metaphysical questions.
From yesterday’s TED blog, a fun piece on seven groups of writers/artists/philosophers who transformed their world—and ours.
Here’s the TED Talk on the Philosophical Breakfast Club I gave at TED Global 2012. Share!
I’m excited to announce that the video of the talk I gave at the TED Global conference in Edinburgh in June will be available for viewing on the TED website starting Friday morning, at 11 am ET. I’ll post a link here when the video goes online!
A nice piece on consilience is just out in Philosophy Now magazine. Written by Toni Vogel Carey, the article highlights the different views of consilience held by Whewell/Herschel on the one hand and E.O. Wilson/Stephen Jay Gould on the other. Definitely worth a look by anyone interested in scientific confirmation.
My review of David Berlinski’s The King of Infinite Space: Euclid and His Elements will be in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. Just in time for the Oscars, there’s even a movie tie-in:
“One of the more curious historical revelations of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is that America’s 16th president was obsessed by a Greek mathematician from the fourth century B.C. While traveling from town to town as a young lawyer riding the Eighth Circuit in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln kept a copy of Euclid’s geometrical treatise, “The Elements,” in his saddlebag; his law partner Billy Herndon related that at night Lincoln would lie on the floor reading it by lamplight. Lincoln said he was moved to studyEuclid by his desire to understand what a “demonstration” was, and how it differed from any other kind of argument.”
The entire review can be read here.
Happy 2013, everyone!
To start off the new year, here’s my latest for the Wall Street Journal: a review of three books that locate the origins of modern scientific practice where we may least expect it—in monks’s cells, magicians’ workshops, and alchemists’ hidden laboratories. Read the review here and in tomorrow’s print edition.
The books are: John Freely’s Before Galileo, John Glassie’s A Man of Misconceptions, and Lawrence Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy.
In honor of the anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species on November 24, 1859:
Footage of the moth that pollinates Angraecum sesquipedale, a Madagascar orchid, whose existence Darwin predicted 142 years ago. Because the nectar is so far down the neck of this orchid, Darwin knew that there had to be a species of moth with a “tongue” long enough to pollinate it. And now that moth has been found.
This is fascinating! Watch here.