07 May 2012
Today most people know about James Cook as the discoverer of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia but are not aware of the public reason for his voyage. The instructions from the Admiralty concerning investigations of the postulated continent of the south were in fact given in a sealed envelope, not to be opened before departure from port, so that the official motivation for Cook's voyage would be known to the competing imperial powers as the observation of the transit of Venus.
The cost of Cook's voyage for the British state budget was comparable in relative terms to the cost incurred bu the USA to send a man to the moon. May the other powers marvel at Britain's generosity to support a scientific endevour of benefit to all; the real value of the financial outlay becomes clear to those who could access the secret orders.
06 March 2012
In lecture 8 I argued that if Greek religion played a decisive role in the rise of Greek science the first nature philosophers should have appeared much earlier than 600 BC. I pointed out that Homer, whose descriptions of the interaction between mortals and gods gives a vivid demonstration of Greek religion, is thought to have lived some three centuries before that, showing that Greek religion did not produce a new attitude to nature for several centuries.
Whether Homer ever lived and whether the works ascribed to him were written by a singel author has been a matter of doubt for quite a while. I now learnt that the origins of the Iliad go back much further, to the Mycenaean civilization around 15oo BC. this strengthens my argument considerably: The behaviour of Greek gods and goddesses was known for at least a millennium but did not spark an urge for scientific study of nature. That urge arose out of changes of the structure of Greek society.
Reference: E. Luttwak: Homer Inc. London Review of Books 34 (4), 23 February 2012.
24 January 2011
The discussion left me dissatisfied at the time, but I had to wait for an opportunity to follow it up with some analysis of somewhat greater depth. This opportunity arose last year during a visit to Europe. So I wrote an essay about the issue. I did not want to enter the original controversy again (whether Maric was deprived of acknowledgment for her contribution to the core papers on relativity or not) but focus on the question whether Maric could have had a career in science and what stopped her from having one.
I submitted the essay to the journal “Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences” for review and possible publication. It was reviewed; the reviewers were not unsympathetic to the aims of the paper but recommended rejection, and so did the Associate Editor.
I think that the combined set of my paper, the two reviews, and the editor’s reasoning for its rejection can serve as useful information on the question of Milena Maric’s aborted career. So I make the set available here. I do this in the spirit of modern developments in scientific publishing: In oceanography, which is my field of speciality, submitted papers are now published on the web together with their reviews in a discussion section of a journal and move into the final peer-reviewed section if the reviewers recommend acceptance; if not, the original paper, the reviews and any related correspondence stay in the discussion section, where they remain accessible to all – see Ocean Science as an example.
It is not my intention to write a response to the reviewers’ comments here. Instead I want to make some general remarks. It is evident from the reviews that xxxx1, xxxx2 and xxxx3 (see my comment to this post) are three eminent science historians. Their suggestions for improvements to my essay can point the way along which to proceed. It is, however, not for me to follow the outlined path. After 45 years in oceanography I know how to set up an investigation into the dynamics of the ocean and bring it to successful conclusion, which usually culminates in a few paper in reputable journals. To follow through on the reviewers’ suggestions requires not the skills of an ocean scientist but the skills of a trained historian.
I consider myself fortunate to be part of a civilization that values the study of history. A civilized society needs historians who can spend months in the pursuit of sources that can shine light on the past. It is a sign of decay that great countries of the western civilization turn increasingly to plain monetary valuation of university departments and make student numbers and student evaluation the single most important measures for the worthiness of their teaching. Great civilizations need great humanity departments. The points raised by the reviewers are worth further study, but not from someone in a science department (that used to be called Earth Sciences, but not to frighten the students with the word Science it is now called School of the Environment). So I leave my investigation of the situation of disadvantaged women of the past where it is, hoping that it may be of use for true historians, and spend my retirement on changing the situation of disadvantaged women of today, working for the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan, to which there is a link at the top right.
Just one small comment before I close: xxx1's distinction between mathematicians and physicists seems nitpicking to me. Anyone who reads my lecture notes to "Science, Civilization and Society" will realize that mathematics is the foundation of science. To me mathematicians are just as much scientists as chemists, physicists or biologists. Science has many faces, some more mathematical than others, but without mathematics there would not be any science.
Here are the links to the set (PDF files):
the essay: Mileva Maric: An Unfulfilled Career in Science
review 1 - deleted, see my comment to this entry
review 2 - deleted, see my comment to this entry
editorial report - deleted, see my comment to this entry
04 August 2010
In contrast to dualistic religious views of the world, where matter is one domain and mind another, Advaita Vedanta philosophy by definition implies the continuity of mind and matter, i.e. a non-dualistic interpretation of reality.
03 July 2010
09 March 2010
05 March 2010
A recent review of a study of returned servicemen after World War II illustrates the deveelopment with some interesting observations. When the soldiers returned home from the battlefields of World War I the civilian population acknowledged their suffering and greeted them with a sense of guilt: "While British state pensions and policies were ungenerous, civilian volunteers stepped into the breach, flocking to donate money and time to hospitals, rest homes, philantropies and cultural associations that sought to ease disabled veterans' isolation and pain."
In contrast, soldiers returning home after World War II were ignored, their stories of suffering paled in comparison with those of survivors in bombed-out cities. Instead of a hero's welcome, or at least understanding for trauma and depression, they found a lack of empathy and faced the disintegration of their private lives: "Divorces went up, from 4100 decrees absolute in England and Wales in 1935, to 15,600 in 1945, to 60,300 in 1947." Veterans from the Vietnam war did not fare better.
Reference: Susan Pedersen: Suitable Heroes. A review of Demobbed: Coming Home after the Second World War by Alan Allport. London Review of Books 32(4) 25 February 2010, pp. 11-12.
06 December 2009
Priestley's discovery of oxygen and Lavoisier's new description of the building blocks of nature had surprising consequences in the area of medicine. Thomas Beddoes (1760 - 1808), a philanthropic physician who cared much about the health of the poor and was an ardent admirer of the French Revolution during its first years, got carried away by the excitement of the new chemistry. He was convinced that illnesses such as "consumption" or "phthisis" (tuberculosis) and scurvy are the result of an imbalance of the elements in the inhaled air and promoted a new "pneumatic chemistry".
Scurvy (a disease produced by a lack of vitamin C) was in his view produced by a lack of oxygen in the air – evidenced by discoloration of the gums, heart and lungs – and could therefore be cured by letting the patient inhale air enriched with oxygen. The fact that seamen often succumbed to scurvy during long voyages across vast oceans could, in his view, be explained by oceanic air having a lower oxygen content. Beddoes was aware of the success of James Cook in beating scurvy through ample supply of acidic vegetables but argued that "this seems in great measure owing to his extreme care to keep his ships well aired."
The opposite, too much oxygen in the air, was in Beddoes' view the reason for tuberculosis (an infectious disease caused by bacteria now treated with antibiotica). He deduced this from the observation that occasionally pregnancy delays the progress of the disease and argued in 1793: "The foetus has its blood oxygenated by the blood of the mother through the placenta. During pregnancy there seems to be no provision for the reception of an unusual quantity of oxygene. On the contrary, in consequence of the impeded action of the diaphragm, less and less should be continually taken in by the lungs. If therefore a somewhat diminished proportion of oxygene be the effect of pregnancy, may not this be the way in which it arrests the progress of phthisis; and if so, is there not an excess of oxygene in the system of consumptive persons?"
Beddoes easily admitted that much of this was speculation. Nevertheless, driven by his urge to help humankind and improve the health of the poor, he promoted to keep patients afflicted with consumption in closed, badly ventilated rooms and established a Pneumatic Institute where patients were treated with air enriched with or depleted of various gases.
Naturally the Pneumatic Institute was not a success. For the patients, who were mostly close to their death already, the wrong therapy probably did not change much. But the Pneumatic Chemistry and its Institute were a sad waste of the extraordinary talents of a man who all his life wanted to better the fate of the ordinary people.
Beddoes, Thomas (1793) Observations on the Nature and Cure of Calculus, Sea Scurvy, Consumption, Catarrh, and Fever: together with Conjectures upon several other Subjects of Physiology and Pathology. London: J. Murrey.
Jay, Mike (2009) The Atmosphere of Heaven: the Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and his Sons of Genius. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.
12 October 2009
|1961||John F. Kennedy becomes president,|
2,000 US troops in Vietnam
|2001||George W. Bush becomes president,|
special forces are sent into Afghanistan after arial bombing campaign
|1963||First coordinated protests in London and Australia||Lyndon B. Johnson becomes president, says that "the purpose in Vietnam is to prevent the success of aggression."||2003||5,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan|
|1964||Student marches in US cities||16,500 US troops in Vietnam|
|1965||First large anti-war marches in the US,|
first sabotaging of military aircraft in Canada
|The war is extended into Cambodia and Laos|
200,000 US troops in Vietnam
|2005||George W. Bush is re-elected president, declares that "the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq will be remembered as great turning points in the story of freedom."|
|1966||Public opinion moves from support to rejection of the war|
|2008||Public opinion in Europe and Australia moves from support to rejection of the war, first large anti-war demonstrations in Europe|
|1969||Millions take a day off in the US to demonstrate against the war||Richard Nixon becomes president, promises "peace with honour" and an end to the war||2009||First news reports of protest demonstrations in Australia||Barack Obama becomes president, says that the previous administration "has overextended our military", sends an additional 15,000 troops, authorizes the bombing of targets in Pakistan, receives the Nobel Prize|
100,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan (66,000 US, 34,500 NATO)
|1970||First and only nationwide student strike in the US closes universities in protest against the war||US troops start incursions into Cambodia|
Kissinger pushes for intense bombing of Cambodia
|2010||???||US may start incursions into Pakistan (?)|
US may raise foreign troop level to over 120,000 (?)
|1971||More than 12,000 demonstrators arrested in Washington||Australia and New Zealand withdraw their troops||2011||???||???|
|1973||Kissinger receives the Nobel Prize|
US troops withdraw from Vietnam, the USA increase military aid
|2013||???||??? becomes president, promises to ???|
|1974||Gerald Ford becomes president, is forced to phase out aid by 1976||2014||???||???|
|1975||The fall of Saigon ends the war||2015||???||???|
|Final cost: 3 - 4 million Vietnamese and 1.5 - 2 million Laotians and Cambodians killed, 58,159 US soldiers dead||Cost to date (October 2009): over 12,000 civilians killed (about 40% by anti-goverment forces, 60% by foreign troops), 1,435 foreign soldiers dead|
14 June 2009
Now I am working with Weldon Owen on a volume Science and Society. It will be based on my lecture course but obviously have a very different presentation format - many photos and illustrations but only the most essential text.
One element of the book will be quotations from scientists and others relevant to each section of the book. I am searching for quotations from old texts related to the calendar problem. Here is what I have found so far:
The Atharva Veda says:
To the seasons we speak, to the lords of the seasons, and to the sections of the year; to the half-years, years and months: they shall deliver us from calamity! ... The five divine regions, the twelve divine seasons, the teeth of the year, they shall ever be propitious, to us! (Hymn XI, 6)
Thy summer, O earth, thy rainy season, thy autumn, winter, early spring, and spring; thy decreed yearly seasons, thy days and nights shall yield us milk. (Hymn XII, 36)
The Bible says:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and year." (Genesis 1:14)
The Qu'ran says: He it is Who made the sun a shining brightness and the moon a light, and ordained for it mansions that you might know the computation of years and the reckoning. (10:5)
Does anyone have other ancient quotations related to the calendar problem, from ancient China, Japan, South East Asia, Egypt, Greece, anywhere? If you do, please send a comment to this entry.