The Philosophical Breakfast Club and the Invention of the Scientist

The Philosophical Breakfast Club and the Invention of the Scientist


– Thank you for coming
out on such a rainy night to hear what I think you will enjoy. It’s a wonderful lecture. The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, for
those of you who don’t know is located over in the National
Museum of American History and it’s one of what I can
say now are three rare book facilities which join the
other 17 of our libraries that make up the Smithsonian
Institution Libraries Network, the third one being a brand new rare book vault in the Cooper Hewitt
National Design Museum in New York where we have a
library and where they are about to open a brand new
facility and show it off tomorrow morning. Well since 1992, the Dibner Library Lectures featured a distinguished scholar who’s
made a significant contribution to his or her field of study which must relate in some way to the Dibner’s Library holdings. Now the speakers may be
chosen based on a recently published and successful book
or well-received lectures or perhaps an entire scholarly
output in the subjects of History of Science and Technology. Many have published and freely, many of these lectures have been published and freely distributed. And some have been video
archived and we are going to video the lecture tonight and so at
the end if there are questions I just want to alert you
that it may be recorded. Topics have covered
astrophysics and astronomy, history of architecture,
medicine, chemistry, bookmaking and history of the book. We’ve looked at the pencil, the way the Earth’s diameter was measured, the American Victorian
house, magic and technology, and the printing press. Today’s lecture will join a
distinguished group of scholars from such places as Harvard,
Northwestern, Princeton, the US Naval Observatory,
University of Virginia and many others who’ve
shared with us their passion for their subjects. Bern Dibner, the distinguished
collector for whom the Dibner Library is named,
always wanted his collections to be used and appreciated
by scholars and researchers. He was himself self-taught
in these matters, but through his
publications and collecting, he became well known in the history of science and technology. His book, Heralds of Science,
which describes the 200 major works from the 15th century
to Watson and Crick’s discovery of DNA that he
thought were the most important works of science, is often
cited by book dealers as part of their description
of books for sale in their catalogs. They’ll say Heralds of Science, Number 24. These lectures have been
funded by the Dibner family to honor Bern’s memory,
first through the Dibner Fund and its President, Bern’s son, David, and his wife, Frances, and now carried on by Bern’s grandsons,
Brant, Daniel and Mark. We so appreciate their support
and I know that you’ll enjoy the latest lecture in this series. I’m now happy to introduce
the Smithsonian Library’s Head of Special
Collections, Lilla Vekerdy. Lilla’s office is in the Dibner Library and she is surrounded by images of Bern, but more important, she
is surrounded by the marvelous collection he left us. Lilla will introduce our speaker. Lilla. (applause) – Thank you, Nancy. And I want to thank you all also for coming out on this rainy
day and being our audience for this wonderful lecture
that we are going to hear. And now I would like to
introduce our speaker, Laura Snyder. Laura J. Snyder is Associate
Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University,
Queen’s, New York since September 2003, and
she’s author of the book, The Philosophical Breakfast Club. I quote, “I am thinking of the, “I am not thinking of the
rise and fall of empires, “the change of dynasties, “the establishment of governments. “I am thinking of those
revolutions of science “which have had much more effect
than any political causes, “which have changed the position
and prospects of mankind “more than all the
conquests and the codes, “and all the legislators that ever lived.” End of quote. I borrow this quotation
by Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British statesman
from Professor Snyder’s book because this special
affiliation with history manifested already early
in her career as well. She earned her first BA degree in the History of Western Thought
at Brandeis University. Her second BA and her
Masters and Doctoral degrees are all in philosophy,
earned at Brandeis University and Johns Hopkins University respectively. She specializes now in the
History of Philosophy of Science, the History of Science and
in Intellectual History. Her additional research
interests are Epistemology and Political Philosophy and
she has teaching experience in metaphysics, ancient philosophy and introductory logic. Professor Snyder has held
visiting positions as well at the University of Pittsburgh, at The University of Chicago, and Cambridge University
and was Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at
University of Pennsylvania. As we began organizing this lecture, I have been exchanging email
messages with Doctor Snyder many a day. We joke that this was like
the correspondence of the 19th century men of science
who profusely used the opportunity that at that
time, there was mail service several times daily. The other fruitful way of
scientific information exchange in the 19th century, as it is today, was publishing in professional
journals and belonging to professional organizations. These functions determine
Professor Snyder’s career as well. Professional positions
she has held include President of the
International Society for the History of Philosophy of
Science in 2009 and 2010, co-editor of the journal of this society, and organizer of the
second German-American Frontiers of the Humanities
Conference in 2005. From the many fellowships
and honors Doctor Snyder has received, let me just list a few. 2011 Dibner Library Lecture,
Smithsonian Institution, Visiting Senior Fellow,
Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bologna, Summer Research Stipend, National Endowment of the Humanities, Fulbright Scholar Award, elected life member, Clare
Hall, Cambridge University. The latest publication
by Professor Snyder, as I have mentioned, is The
Philosophical Breakfast Club, Four Remarkable Friends
Who Transformed Science And Changed The World. The book was awarded a
Scientific American Notable Book, a Selection of the Month by the Scientific American Book Club
and was the winner of the 2011 Royal Institution for Australia Poll for favorite science book. It was also reviewed in
numerous general press and scientific magazines
and, very interestingly, was published in Italian
translation just two months after its publication
in The United States. Besides two more
monographs, Professor Snyder is the author of numerous
articles and book reviews as well. In addition, she was invited
presenter at seven meetings, gave 15 other conference
papers and 20 additional invited talks. The title of Doctor
Snyder’s lecture tonight is The Philosophical
Breakfast Club and the Invention of the Scientist. Doctor Snyder. (applause) – Well thank you both Nancy
Gwinn and Lilla Vekerdy for such lovely introductions. I would also like to take
the opportunity to thank the Smithsonian Institution
Libraries and the Dibner Family Fund for
making this possible. I’m going to talk today about the Philosophical Breakfast Club. You can still hear me here, can you not? No? – [Audience Member] No. – Do we need to fix that,
it’s okay, not okay? Should I just raise my
voice, is that better? Okay, thank you. So the Philosophical Breakfast Club and the Invention of the Scientist. And I would like to
start by setting a scene that occurred in a room much like this, I think a bit larger
but also a lovely room at the Senate House at the
University of Cambridge in June, 1833. They were holding the third meeting of the British Association for
the Advancement of Science and the room was filled with
members who had traveled from throughout Britain, of course,
but also from the continent and America to attend the meeting. And at this meeting,
there was a confrontation between two men. One of them, S.T. Coleridge, the romantic poet who oddly enough turned up at
this meeting in Cambridge, although he had not left
his home in Highgate for quite some time before then. In 1817, not many people
knew this, but in 1817 he had published a work
on scientific method, so he had a long-standing
interest in the topics of this meeting. The other of the confronters
was William Whewell, at that time a young Don at
Cambridge, he had recently retired as Professor of
Mineralogy and had just published a work on the relation
between science and religion. In a lull in the meeting,
Coleridge stood up and he demanded that the members
of the British Association stop calling themselves
natural philosophers. “As a real metaphysician,” he said, “I demand that you stop using
that term for yourselves.” Of course, people weren’t
too happy about this. They felt they were natural
philosophers as much as Coleridge was and you can imagine
there was probably a din, as people were complaining about this. Whewell, who was a very
imposing man, physically, and the host of the meeting since he was, basically I guess on the
local organizing committee, Whewell then stood up
and responded politely, agreeing with the
distinguished gentleman that a satisfactory term was wanting for the members of the association. “If philosophers,” he said, “is taken to be too wide and lofty a term, “then, by analogy with artist,
we may form scientist.” And this was, to our knowledge,
the first time the word scientist was uttered in
public, ever, in 1833. Now, the fact that it was Whewell
who first coined this term is interesting in a few ways. One is it’s consistent with
his philosophical view, which is that new discoveries in science require new terminology to
denote the new properties and entities being talked about, right? And as he put it in one of
his philosophical works, “Such a coinage of new
terms has always taken place “at the great epics of
discovery, like the medals “that are struck at the
beginning of a new reign.” And in fact Whewell became so
well known for coining terms that the young Michael Faraday,
only a few months after this meeting at Cambridge, sent
Whewell a letter saying, “I am in a trouble which, when
it occurs at Cambridge is, “I understand, referred by
everyone to you for removal.” To which Whewell responded by giving him some terms that did, that were taken up by
Faraday, in particular anode, cathode and ion, these are other words that Whewell invented. And he would later go on to
invent terms for Charles Lyell, the geologist. So the invention of the
scientist by Whewell is a sign that he believed
a new epic had arrived for the natural philosopher,
that there was a reason why a new name was needed. It wasn’t just that Coleridge
had demanded a new term, Whewell agreed with him that
it was time for a new name. And I’m going to argue in this talk today, that he was right, a new epic had arrived for
the natural philosopher, although the complete
transformation would still take decades more. And that transformation
was from the amateur, the clergyman, the country
squire, the industrialist, the factotum. Here, I see there are
some behind me as well, there are some rather
large and scary beetles, these are other beetles
that Darwin was collecting while he was basically
on his country estate. Industrialists like John
Marshall would study chemistry to try to think of how to
best bleach their fabric, or people would be employed by wealthy men who liked to
have literary companions, such as Joseph Priestly was
for the Marquis of Landsdowne when he used this apparatus
to discover oxygen, right? So this is basically the status
of the natural philosopher early in the 19th century. By the end of the century you have the professional scientist, who has a particular scientific method, professional societies
that generally speaking he belonged to and other hallmarks of modern scientific research. So that’s the transformation
that’s taking place in the 19th century. And as I talk about in my
book, and as I’m going to talk more about today, that all started about 20 years earlier. In 1812 four rather
remarkable men met as students at Cambridge University. And they were Charles
Babbage, who would go on to be the inventor of the first
prototype of a computer, he was a brilliant
mathematician and he did many different things but
he’s most known for that. John Herschel, the son of
William Herschel the astronomer. John Herschel also went on
to make many interesting discoveries in astronomy. He was also a brilliant
chemist and as part of his chemical work he turned out to be the co-inventor of photography because he’s the one who invented
the way to stop the action of light on the silver nitrate paper, basically he enabled the
fixing of photographs. William Whewell we’ve already met. In addition to being the
inventor of the word scientist, he engaged in many, sorry, many scientific pursuits. He was really the initiator of
worldwide research projects, he organized research on
the tides where people in 28 different countries were
doing observations of the action of the tides at the
same time, so that he could compile all of that to make
maps of the action of the tides across the oceans. Oh, sorry about that. I’m a little out of practice. And Richard Jones, the least
well known of the four, he was a political economist
of note who was an early critic of David Ricardo’s economic
theory, which we will be hearing a little more about shortly. They met in 1812 and they very
quickly realized they would become friends of a lifetime as they called each other. Within months of meeting,
over the summer vacation, Charles Babbage and John
Herschel were sending each other letters signed “yours ’til
death shall stop my breath.” This is one of those letters,
and I’m glad this came out large enough that you can see,
John Herschel is scribbling a cartoon here which
is entitled Dionysius, the god of functions, and
that’s their friend slash foe, Dionysius Lardner, the science
popularizer and publisher. Over the course of their lives
after they graduated from Cambridge they sent each other hundreds and hundreds of letters. They visited each other whenever possible. They took trips on the
continent together whenever England and France were no longer at war, those short periods of time. And their families were
very much intertwined. Jones and Whewell were
both godfathers to children of John Herschel. The two men who were clergymen of the four, Jones and William Whewell
performed weddings of the other ones. At one point later in
life, Whewell performed the wedding ceremony of
Hershel’s daughter, Louisa, who was marrying Whewell’s own nephew. So their family lives were
very intertwined as well. We know that for a period of time, while they were all at Cambridge together, probably in the winter
spring of 1812, 1813, they were meeting for
philosophical breakfasts. And we know that partly because in 1841 when Whewell was master
of Trinity College, he received a letter from
someone who had been invited to those meetings sometimes and
that person said to Whewell, “We have all made some
advances in physical science, “but in metaphysics, I am not
conscious of having advanced “one single step since
the period when you and I “and Herschel and Babbage
used to meet at our “Sunday morning’s
philosophical breakfasts.” Oops, that didn’t work. They used to meet in St. John’s, in the second court of St. John’s where Herschel had his rooms and Jones in a later letter wrote to Herschel, “Do you remember us all
siting at St. John’s with “feet on your fireplace fender?” And even later Babbage said to Jones that
he recognized the fruit of the undergraduate
confabulations of the good old set on every page of Jones’s
newly published work. We also know what they
ate at these breakfasts, thanks to the Irish
novelist Maria Edgeworth. During one of her tours of
England, she went to Cambridge and she had breakfast in
the rooms of a Don there and she recorded in a
letter to her mother that, “We had tea, coffee, tongue,
cold beef, exquisite breads “and many inches of butter. “All the butter in Cambridge
must be stretched into rolls “an inch in diameter and
these are sold by inches, “measured out by compasses in
a truly mathematical manner.” Apparently the students
ate even better because the visiting American student
who wrote his memoirs about the time he spent at Trinity
College told someone at their breakfast in their rooms, they
ate toast, muffins, crumpets, eggs, two inches each of
butter, ham, pulled chicken, beef steaks, audit ale, that is, they were drinking beer, tea and coffee, honey,
marmalade and anchovies with all the et ceteras, though it is hard to think
what the et ceteras could be after that long list of food. So they were having these breakfasts, they met Sunday mornings after the compulsory chapel service. They would eat all these wonderful foods. Also on the menu, some Bacon, I couldn’t really resist that one. (laughing) Sir Francis Bacon, the 16th, 17th century philosopher and politician, these men would talk about
his book, The Novum Organon. Whewell, later, when he wrote
a book about Jones and their friends at Cambridge, he
said the Novum Organon was one of their favorite
subjects of discussion. In that work, Bacon had
called for a sweeping scientific revolution and in many ways, he helped bring about a scientific
revolution in the period that we think of as The
Scientific Revolution in the 17th century. People like Newton and Robert Boyle and William Harvey were
influenced, to some degree, by Bacon’s writings which,
you know, were coming out as they still were living. But these men who were meeting for their philosophical breakfasts felt
that science had stagnated since that time and that
there was a need for a new scientific revolution based
on Baconian principles. And what I will talk about
in the rest of the time today is the way that the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club were influenced by four
aspects of Bacon’s call for a scientific revolution to
bring about a new revolution in the 19th century. And the four aspects I’m
going to talk about briefly, Bacon’s call for an
inductive evidence-based scientific method, his
idea that science should be for the good of the public,
the idea that there should be new, professional scientific
societies and also the idea that public funding
for science should be available to help scientists, men
of science, do their work. And starting with the
idea of an inductive, evidence-based method,
in the time of Bacon the medieval followers of
Aristotle were arguing that deductive method was the
way that science should run. In Bacon’s time and a
little bit afterwards, the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes was also similarly arguing that science,
like math, like geometry, should start from self-evident
truths or universal axioms and then deduce laws of nature from that. And deducing from a self-evident
truth or universal axiom would get you knowledge that was certain rather than probable. So the most commonly known
type of deductive reasoning is the syllogism, right? So the usual example, all men
are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. If it’s true that all men are
mortal, and it’s true that Socrates in a man, then it
certainly follows with necessity that all men are mortal. You don’t need to look at
nature, you don’t need any other information, it’s all
contained right there. And that’s how Descartes felt, that’s how
the medieval followers of Aristotle felt, that natural knowledge could also be gained. So for instance, Descartes who first wrote of the law
of conservation of motion deduced that law from properties of God, from his constancy and his immutability. On the other hand Bacon
felt that that was not the way to discover knowledge of nature. “The true method,” he said, “derives axioms from the
senses and particulars.” You first start from the
evidence in nature and, “rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, “so that it arrives at
the most general axioms “last of all.” And Bacon himself used
this method to perform an investigation into heat
by which he concluded that what heat is is motion of basically very small, even unobserved parts of matter, which was actually
pretty good in these days before they even knew
there were molecules. However, as that example I think shows, Bacon’s idea of inductive reasoning in
science was not just very simply gathering all the
information you could gather and hoping that something came out of it. It was a much more, a much more sophisticated type
of use of inductive reasoning and he pointed to that by saying, “Those who have handled
sciences have been either “men of experiment or men of dogmas. “The men of experiment are like the ant, “they only collect and use. “The reasoners resemble
spiders who make cobwebs “out of their own substance.” So that’s Descartes, right? Cobwebs out of their own
substance, from their own mind, axioms in their mind, they just sort of draw that out, alright? “But the bee takes the middle course. “It gathers its materials
from the flowers of the garden “and of the field but
transforms it and digests it “by a power of its own.” And that’s where he saw
the natural philosopher, as being like the bee, not the ant or the spider. Okay, so that’s just a
quick little lesson about inductive reasoning and Baconianism. Interestingly, in the 19th century, early in the 19th century,
there was a resurgence of deductivism, a resurgence
of the view that science could be done purely
by deductive reasoning. And that came about in
part, in great part, through economics, right? David Ricardo, a young, Jewish stockbroker who picked up Adam Smith’s
Wealth of Nations and decided he wanted to write
about political economy. So Ricardo was arguing
that economics should be a strict science like mathematics. It should be like geometry,
just as Descartes thought science should be. And the problem with that,
and you know Ricardo, sorry, take that away, Ricardo is the one who is arguing, and this is still used by many economists today, right, and Ricardo was the one who
was arguing all economic laws come from universal
axioms that are just known self-evidently like man
is a profit maximizer, and you could use that to deduce laws of how people will act in certain circumstances. Alright, that all started with Ricardo. And the problem with that
from the point of view of the members of the
Philosophical Breakfast Club is that this was sort of
trickling down into the natural sciences as well. For instance, Thomas De
Quincey, in his bestselling book Confessions of an Opium Eater,
praised Ricardo for somehow bringing order and reason
to economic theory. Where before there were just all of these messy facts all around,
Ricardo ordered everything, he “Alone had deduced a priori
from the understanding itself “laws which first gave a ray
of light into the unwieldy “chaos of materials and had
constructed what had been but a “collection of tentative
discussions into a science “of regular proportions
now first standing on an “eternal basis.” Right, and over at Oxford, Richard Whately and his followers were arguing
that all of natural science should be done this way. Right, so to try to bring natural science back to
something more like a Baconian inductive method, the members of the Philosophical Breakfast
Club began to publish books and articles for a general public promoting inductive method. In particular, Jones and
Babbage were both writing on economics at the same time,
and they were both using the same terminology. Men of science should not
be closet philosophers, like what we would maybe call
armchair philosophers, right, they have to go out and look
and see how the world is before they could come up
with laws of economics. And Jones, typically rather abrupt wrote in the very first pages of his book, “Mister Ricardo produced a
system very ingeniously combined “of purely hypothetical truths
which, however, a single “comprehensive glance at the world “as it actually is is
sufficient to show to be “utterly inconsistent with
the past and present condition “of mankind.” So if Ricardo had only gone
out and looked at the way that people actually do
act, he would have seen that his laws made no sense whatsoever. At the same time, Herschel
was writing and publishing his Preliminary Discourse on the
Study of Natural Philosophy, so this was the early
30s, in which he, I mean, he puts Bacon right on
the frontispiece, I mean, pretty clearly saying
this is the way to study natural philosophy. And Herschel’s book became
so popular, it was known as the book about scientific
method and historians looking back have often said to
be a natural philosopher in this time period meant
to be like Herschel, right? And in fact Darwin, who read
this book when he was in his last months at Cambridge,
right when it came out, later said, “Scarsely anything in my life
made so deep an impression “on me, it made me wish to
try to add my might to the “accumulated store of natural knowledge.” Right. And at the same time, Whewell
was writing many, many, many things, including multi-volume works, History of the Inductive Sciences, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, and in these multi-volume
works was hitting home again and again and again how science should be done inductively. You have to use your observations, you have to start from facts
and build your science up, not deduce it out of you like
the spider pulls his web out. And Whewell’s books, you
know, he was a Cambridge Don, his books were on the
reading lists for anyone who wanted to get the Honor’s
Degree, so a generation, several generations in fact,
of natural philosophers and then scientists who
were trained at Cambridge were reading Whewell’s books. Alright. So they were all pushing this inductive, empirical based scientific method that Bacon had talked about. They were also encouraging
people to think of science as being somehow for the good of the public, which Bacon had said, and
that was quite different from earlier medieval views of
natural knowledge which saw it as natural knowledge is something
that would either be good for a king, so that he could control people or the seas, or sort of good for a small,
private club of alchemists, you know, who could share their knowledge only amongst themselves. Bacon, however, said “Science
should be for the relief “of man’s estate. “Knowledge may not be as
a courtesan for pleasure “and vanity only, “but as a spouse, for
generation, fruit and comfort.” He did like to turn a phrase, Bacon. That’s one reason why
the four members of the Philosophical Breakfast
Club turned their attention to economics first. I mean one reason was to
counter this Ricardian idea of deductive method in science,
the other was because they felt that the economic theory
that Ricardo was promoting had really negative and
even dangerous consequences for society at that time. This was a period where people,
there were so many people who were poor, who were
starving, the pauper problem was one of the big issues of the day, what should we do with people? Many were incorrectly
interpreting Ricardo’s position as leading to the view that
you should just throw people into work houses from which
they could never escape. And our members of the
Philosophical Breakfast Club disagreed. It also didn’t hurt them
that they gained an immediate large audience for their
writings if they started out writing about economics
because everybody was reading and talking about economics at the time. They also felt they were
promoting the public good by pushing for funding and
pushing for the building of Babbage’s engines, I wish
I had more time to really talk about these engines,
that’s a different talk. Babbage invented two versions
of the difference engine. This is a piece of the
first difference engine that was built in his time, this
was actually his personal copy. This difference engine
number two was only built in the 1990s from his plans. The difference engine was, in both versions, a general
purpose calculating machine. He later designed an analytical
engine which had all the properties, really, of
a modern-day computer except that it was mechanical,
would have been mechanical had it been built, rather than electronic. But these four, these friends
of Babbage were arguing that his engines would improve
navigation, engineering, construction, banking,
insurance and for that reason should be built. And the reason that these
machines would have helped in all of those areas is that at the time, there were all of these books
that were tables with all the kind of data, statistics and
numbers that now we could pull out a pocket calculator and figure out if we needed to know taxation rates, interest rates,
you know, mortgage rates, something. This all had to be in
books because there were no pocket calculators and
nobody could sit around for an hour to get a number, right? So they were published in books. They were calculated by computers, that’s what the people were
called, who sat and did these calculations, just like
typewriters in the early days of typewriters were the
people who would type things, the computers would calculate. They were usually clergymen,
school teachers, surveyors, often they were women. They were working part-time using a fixed procedure
over and over and over again to get these tables of figures. For instance, the Nautical
Almanac that every captain on a ship would have to
help determine longitude by the position of the moon in the sky, they needed the lunar, oops, I’m so sorry, they needed the lunar differences
for that particular time. And each month required 1,365 calculations using logarithms applied to
numbers in base 60, right? So I mean you could just
imagine how many calculations that is and how hard it
is and why the tables were riddled with error, I mean just so many ways
error could creep in, in the calculation, in the
transferring of numbers from the sheet to a table,
in the proofreading section and the typesetting part, right? And their sort of friend,
Dionysius Lardner once just looked at a sample of
40 tables and found 3700 acknowledged errata, you
know, that they had put slips in the front of books
when they found mistakes, and even errata of errata,
man, just to show you. And Herschel tried to make this point when they were trying to
encourage the building of the Babbage engines, “An undetected error in a
logarithmic table is like,” I mean it’s almost very literally like “a sunken rock at sea yet
undiscovered upon which it is “impossible to say what
wrecks may have taken place.” Because if you calculated
your longitude wrong, who knows how lost at sea you’d
be and for how long, right? However, one reason why the
engines were never fully built in Babbage’s time is that politicians doubted the
usefulness of these engines. But not only politicians,
even men of science doubted it. For instance, Charles Biddell Airy, the Astronomer Royal, said, “I think it’s likely Babbage
lives in a sort of dream “as to the engine’s utility.” Right, to which Babbage in his usual, irascible way responded, “Propose to an Englishmen any instrument, “however admirable, and you will observe “that the whole effort of
the English mind is directed “to find a difficulty, defect
or an impossibility in it. “If you speak to him of a
machine for peeling a potato, “he will pronounce it impossible. “If you peel a potato with
it before his very eyes, “he will declare it useless
because it will not slice “a pineapple.” (laughing) I mean, he did have reason
to be irascible but I think it was also natural. Bacon also had proposed
new scientific societies as a way to bring about
a revolution in science. In his book, New Atlantis,
he depicted an ideal scientific society called Solomon’s House. So New Atlantis is his
version of the Travelog books that were very popular in his time. Only for Bacon, his book depicts sort of Western European savages who are lost at sea who come upon a land unbeknown to the West
but the people in this land are the really civilized ones. And part of their
civilization is that they have this sort of house
for men of science, for natural philosophers
called Solomon’s House. Everybody in there has some
role to play in gaining or using or promulgating
scientific knowledge. It’s funded by the king of
the island and so these men have science as their career. This is an etching from an
early edition of the book, I think even from when, so I think even from the 17th century, I guess this is the house. I don’t know, these men
seem suspiciously like they’re inventing the childhood
game of stringing string between two cups to see if you can hear. They must be doing something
else, though, I don’t know. The Royal Society of London,
when it was founded in 1660, was explicitly meant to
be a scientific society like Solomon’s House. Only by the 19th century,
it was really no longer fulfilling that purpose. With his habitual interest
in numbers and statistics, Babbage had calculated that only about 10 per cent of the
members, the fellows of the Royal Society in his time had
actually published any real scientific work in the
transactions of the Royal Society. Most of the people at this
point in the 19th century who belonged to the Royal
Society as fellows were antiquarians or, you know,
noblemen who liked to have the soirees with the natural philosophers, they were not actively
working in science themselves. So the members of the
Philosophical Breakfast Club felt that it was important
to have scientific societies that were only open to practicing
members of the profession of science, and so they were involved in forming a number of these. And what these societies did was limit membership to people
really working in science. They brought back an
old tradition of having discussion of papers, a Q and
A, after papers were presented at the Royal Society. At this time that was not
allowed, it was felt to be ungentlemanly, so keep that
in mind during our Q and A, it was ungentlemanly to question anybody. The British Association
brought back that tradition of really, you know, having
questions and answers so that other practitioners of science could push you a little bit and see what your results really meant. And another very important
result of the societies that the Philosophical Breakfast
Club was involved in organizing was that it gave women a
foot in the door of science, because at this time women
were not allowed to be members of societies. The British Association,
though, was a roving society, so it was held in the provinces,
it wasn’t located only in London and members would have to travel to wherever the meeting was. And they were encouraged
to bring their wives, their sisters, their daughters
and the women were allowed to attend the public lectures
that were held in the evening, the all-important conversazione
as they were called, where there would be promenading
and ices and champagne and discussion of what had
gone on during the day and little by little by little, they started attending the
regular session meetings. And the organizers of the
British Association would talk about this and their concern was is there room in these meeting
halls for all these women who want to come in? But they didn’t stop it, and it was really a way that
women got a foot in the door of science as it was actually
practiced and in fact, when the British Association
allowed women as members of the Association, it was
decades, even more than decades, before the Royal Society would
have fellows who were women. The last aspect that I’m
going to talk about today of the Baconian revolution that the Philosophical Breakfast
Club helped bring about in the 19th century was the idea that there should be
public funding for science. We saw that in the Solomon’s
House the idea was that the king was paying for
all the research that was going on there. In the early 19th century, there
was no real public funding. The Royal Academy in France
did pay stipends to the few people who were members
there, but there were many strings attached. Basically you had to be doing
the kind of research that Royal Academy felt was
important and, you know, even to the point where you were required to attend
all the meetings and your seat was determined by your
seniority, so it was not really free public funding, it came
with many strings, right? So for instance, in England
James Watt spent all of his own money to develop and
build the steam engine. Occasionally there were prizes
like the Longitude Prize, people have heard about. There’s the Harrison Printometer
that was built in response to that call to figure out
a way to determine longitude at sea without needing the
Nautical Almanac anymore. But there weren’t grants, and, you know, prizes were good but you only, you would have to do the
work hoping to win the prize. Right? You weren’t being funded
while you were doing the work and if you didn’t win the prize
then basically you had spent all that time for nothing. But the British Association
initiated the idea of giving grants in advance
for scientific work. They used the membership dues,
they had made a lot of money on the ladies tickets for
attending the public lectures. Whewell got a lot of these grants, but so did many other members
of the British Association. And soon afterwards, the
Royal Society of London and the French Academy of
Science sort of followed suit and began giving grants for research to men of science. Babbage was really in
the vanguard as well. Although he inherited over
100,000 pounds in those days from his father when his father died, Babbage felt really strongly
that he should not be spending his own money
to build his engines. Herschel and Whewell were
constantly writing letters and lobbying people to get
money for Babbage’s engines. And he did get a lot of
funding from the government. In the end, he had received
the equivalent of like 2.5 million dollars to build the engines, which then were never
in fact built anyways, and at that time that was
more than double the cost of an admiralty war ship, like that one. And they also were lobbying for the government to pay for an
expedition to find the magnetic South Pole and so in a diary
entry, Herschel writes, “Dined today with the
Queen at Windsor Castle, “where had much conversation
with Lord Melbourne “about the projected
South Polar Expedition.” And in the end, with the
lobbying of Herschel and Whewell and others, the government
did fund that expedition. So, the scientist. The members of the
Philosophical Breakfast Club devoted their lives to bringing
about their college dream and what I find, sorry, what I find so remarkable about that is that they really did succeed. They wanted to bring about a
Bacon-influenced revolution in science. They did, in many ways,
not only these four. By the end of their
lives, the scientist was a professional who
belonged to certain groups, who read certain journals, who
published in those journals, who followed a certain
method, who could get funding, who could make, you know, have
a career and make a living as a scientist. So, in that sense, they and
the people around them were involved with the invention, brought about the modern-day scientist. Just in conclusion, now,
I would like to point out, you know, that’s the
heroic part of the story. They did, in a sense,
invent the modern scientist. However, there’s also a
kind of a flip side to that, an irony if you will,
which is they were amateurs and generalists. I mean, they were natural philosophers and there are some aspects of
this revolution they wrought they would not have been
completely pleased with. Incidentally these are images
of the three who were still living in the 1860s and
1870s and they were all towards the end of their lives in these. Actually these are all photographs. What wouldn’t they have been happy about? The overspecialization, for one thing. Only ten years after Whewell
died, one of his students, James Clark Maxwell,
in a review of an early sort of life and letters
collection of Whewell that had been published, wrote, “We frequently hear the
complaint that as the boundaries “of science are widened, its
cultivators become less of “philosophers and more of specialists, “each confining himself with
increasing exclusiveness “to the area with which he is familiar.” That’s of course continued
into the modern day, you don’t have people like
Herschel or Whewell anymore, you know, who could, like
Herschel, do chemical experiments in the daytime, then
when the stars came out, go to his telescope and make
astronomical observations, who could, you know, do math problems
to help figure out how the difference engine should
calculate and then on vacation take a geological hammer
and look for fossils. It’s very hard to find
people like that anymore. The other result of the modern scientist, the invention of the modern
scientist that the members of the Philosophical Breakfast
Club would have bemoaned, I think, quite a bit, this
disjunction between science and the rest of culture. C.P. Snow, in his famous
lecture on the two cultures, which was given in the
very same senate house room where Whewell invented
the word scientist said, “The intellectual life of
the whole of Western society “is increasingly being
split into two polar groups. “Between the two, a gulf
of mutual incomprehension, “sometimes even hostility and dislike.” These men straddled both cultures. They were scientists and artists. Whewell and Herschel both wrote poetry, they both translated the
German romantic poets, they had a sense of wonder in nature, they approached the natural
world not just as scientists but as artists. And Whewell really expresses
this so beautifully in a letter to Jones before he goes off to the Lake District before he
goes off to some geologizing. He says, “You have no idea
of the variety of different “uses to which I shall turn a mountain. “After perhaps sketching
it from the bottom, “I shall climb to the top
and measure its height “by the barometer, knock
off a piece of rock “with a geological hammer
to see what it is made of,” and then he borrows some
quotation from Wordsworth, “into the still air above it.” They had a sense of wonder in
nature which they also were able to give to the general public,
to really transmit to others. And that’s why Darwin later in life said, “I think sometimes the general
and popular treatises are “almost as important for
the progress of science “as original work.” I mean, Origin of Species
itself is a book that was written for the general
public, that’s why it’s written the way it is. That’s why he starts with breeding, right? Variation under domestication,
because he knows everybody in the culture has some relationship to
breeding, either because they grew up on a farm, they
have relatives on a farm, they live in London and breed pigeons, they have a country estate
where they breed hunting dogs, right? So what these guys, what these
men all did so beautifully was not just make discoveries,
but then bring them to the public in a way that
the public could understand and appreciate the
importance of doing that. And in fact, not only were
they writing books and articles for the general public, they
were engaging the public and showing them you, too,
can do scientific work. Whewell was publishing,
published a book on how to make tidal observations, right? And he would invite people to
mail in to him their results. At the same time, Babbage
was publishing a form that you could use when touring a factory. In his book on factory
manufacturing, there’s a form on questions to ask when
you’re touring a factory so you could have all the
data that you need to make conclusions about the importance
of factory manufacturing for economic theory. And Herschel at the very
same moment was talking about skeleton forms, that a scientist
or a member of the public could take with him or her
when you go to the seaside, go to the mountaintop, you know, to record your observations. Today, I fear these men
would have been very sad to look out and find such a disjunction between the two cultures. This is a little bit
different, you know, today we have a situation where at best, 28 per cent of the American
public can be considered scientifically literate. That is tested by asking
questions like did humans and dinosaurs live at the same time? What approximate proportion of the Earth is covered in water? You know, not very hard questions. You know, just as we’re
being asked to weigh in as citizens, as voters on fairly
complex scientific topics. So what can scientists do? I’m luckily out of time, (laughing) so I can’t really go into a
very long discussion about that, but I would just like to
leave you with the thought that possibly scientists today couldn’t go very wrong by taking a little bit of inspiration from the 19th century natural philosopher, ironically, from the
very people who invented the modern scientist. Thank you. (applause) – Thank you very much for
that very enlightening talk. I think we can start
with the questions now. – Okay, oh sure. Questions, comments? Yes? – [Audience Member] Can
you think of any other group that were in line with this
group that might have made a similar contribution? – In this time period? – [Audience Member] Or any time period. – [Audience Member] Can
you repeat the question? – Well the question was are there other groups of
people who have made similar contributions? You know, yes, there are
many other periods where you could find groups of people who had important impact on culture. In terms of science, yes, you could look at the 18th century, I mean Jenny Uglow wrote Lunar Men, that’s a lovely look at a
group of men in that period who were industrialists, who were changing science
in different ways. Even in this period, in the 19th century, of course there were other
people who were involved in making this change
to the modern scientist. You know, I don’t mean to
suggest that it was only these four, it was the people
who were all around them as well. But what’s so interesting
about these four is, you know, they met, they
very explicitly decided they wanted to make a change
in the way science was done. They stayed friends and in correspondence with
each other about that project for 60 years and then by the end of their lives,
that change had happened. And over the course of
the 60 years they had so much to do with that
change, so in a sense I picked them out because
they did have a lot to do with that change but
also because their lives track that change so wonderfully. Yes. – [Audience Member] I’m just wondering in this day and age in terms of professionalization or specialization, and there were a few examples of it and they worked together in
this way of what you say is true I’m wondering if other people were not equally attracted for broader socialist. – Yes, and the 19th century
does seem to be this moment where there is more and
more professionalization going on. What’s interesting about this happening in science is that I think it’s happening a little bit later by the time it actually
happens and that the change is so great. Really from the, science being the province
of the amateur completely to the point where, I mean I should say, and of
course I didn’t have time for all the nuances in
this talk, but you know, many men of science did not
want to be called scientists at first, they did not want to give up natural philosopher, they
did not want to give up the amateur status because
that was seen as somehow being more gentlemanly. And so, although this change happened
by the end of the century, you know, some people were
dragged kicking and screaming into that professionalized mode. And many people rejected
the word scientist for quite some time. In fact, there’s this funny moment in the 1860s where the, I think the President of
the Antiquarian Society wrote in a letter that, oh, this word scientist,
this barbarous, American, tri-syllable word, because I guess the idea was
everything bad and savage comes from the Americans, so even the origins of the
word were kind of lost. But yes, the 19th century
is sort of an age of professionalization, certainly in England. I think there was, yes? Yes, Ken? – [Ken] Laura, I’m just curious, you kind of mentioned toward the end of your talk, that women were getting the foot in the door. At what point do women start making more notable contributions to science on their own and not just through the involvement in their societies? – Well, they were making
contributions to science in this period and certainly before. You know, for example, in the book when I talk about
the origin of photography, you know, which is part
of the story I tell there, it was really a woman in the 18th century, a British woman, who did early experiments that showed that the sun could act on certain metallic salts and darken or change
colors, I mean, that’s really the origin of photography. In the time of these, the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club, there are women, there’s Anna Atkins who’s doing important work in classifying algaes and she uses the cyanotype process that Herschel develops to do that, to publish books, showing photographs of the algae. So anyways, there are many cases, women are making contributions, but they weren’t really accepted into the communities of the natural
philosophers in the same way. They weren’t allowed
to join as full members of these societies. I think it was the Botanical Society, The Royal Botanical Society
in England that was the first that allowed women as full
members, and that was in the 50s. But of the major sort of generalist societies,
the British Association was decades before the Royal
Society, almost 100 years before and then the general
societies of other countries were much later. – I got the note that people
can’t hear the questions. – Oh, okay. – So I just came here
to repeat the questions. – Okay, sure, thank you. – Back there, please. – [Audience Member] Yes the British are rather funny and I wonder if there were branches of The Philosophical Breakfast Club and other Commonwealth or in the United States? Did it spread? – Well, not directly from these people. I mean there are other
societies, you know, in the US there’s the Philosophical Society, American Philosophical
Society that, you know, Benjamin Franklin was involved with in Philadelphia. But these men didn’t really
have a direct influence on science in the provinces. I mean, their works were being read, that is for sure, and Whewell
and Herschel’s books were very popular in England and
I suspect they were here as well, but I haven’t
really followed any paths of influence to America. – Yes, back there. – Yes, that’s a really good question. Perse was extremely influenced by Whewell and I actually kind of came
to Whewell through Perse in a sense and what’s so
interesting about Perse is (sneezing) that if you read his early
manuscripts, there are many references to Whewell. Then, in the published
versions of those manuscripts, all the references are taken out, so I think he was very
influenced by Whewell’s epistemology which, which stressed the fact that we kind of see the world through
certain ideas in the mind, which Whewell thought you
get partly through experience and partly they’re just sort
of innately in your mind. And Perse, I think, and
his view of, you know, sort of seeing through concepts I think is directly influenced by Whewell’s writings. Yes? – [Audience Member] I just
want to share with you that a portion of. – I can’t see. – [Audience Member] Scientific literacy is going down. I’ve noticed Americans are, and I went to Iran in the 80s and as a geologist I’ve always asked how old is the Earth? And for many years none of them knew. And now my fifth graders are saying oh, it’s four and a half million. – Yay! (laughing) – [Audience Member] It’s
a real change between old programs. – You know what? There is a lot of positive stuff going on, you know, absolutely. I do think part of the
problem, of course education is important. I think part of the problem
is that at a certain level kids are turned off of science or they decide not to become a
scientist and then as adults are not that interested. And I think part of the
reason for that is that scientists themselves
are not really encouraged to spend time bringing
their results and, you know, their fields to the public. You know, it doesn’t help you get tenure, it doesn’t help you get
a grant from the NSF, it doesn’t help you set up a lab. But I also feel that this dysjunction between the
two cultures comes partly just from the feeling that, you know, science doesn’t
have anything to say to me, you know, if I’m not a scientist, it’s sort of not impinging in my life. Which, you know, obviously
it is, and I feel more could be done to make
that point to people. I’m trying to, I think
historians can have a part in that as well. – [Audience Member] Start
selecting at age seven. – Yes, well that’s what I, I mean I certainly think education is really key, absolutely. And I mean, institutions
like the Smithsonian that, you know, are bringing
in kids and letting them, I mean just this room, I want
to spend the next two hours in this room. (laughing) You know, it’s wonderful, quite wonderful. And important.

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