I have an intense memory of my first lengthy conversation with an artist (also a professor of fine art at my then home university of Leeds) about our respective experiences of bringing to light new work in art and in science. He spoke of his first experimental attempts to realize an original conception, of the confrontation of his ideas with the felt constraints of material—of paint and photographic print, of the necessary reformulation of the original concept, of the repeat of these frustrated assays not once but many times. I found that I could tell the story of almost any programme of scientific research I had experienced in almost precisely the same terms. Continue reading
One of the people who set Charles Darwin along the road to evolutionary theory was not a scientist, but the Governor of the Galapagos Islands, Nicholas Lawson. When Darwin and the Beagle crew landed on Charles Island, Lawson invited him to dinner. As they talked, Lawson mentioned that the giant tortoises for which the Galapagos chain was named varied noticeably between islands. In fact, said Lawson, if any tortoise was brought to him, he could identify which island it came from.
It turns out that the tortoise-naming party trick was not exclusively Lawson’s. Whether he was just repeating what the locals said, or had actually studied the tortoises personally, the fact remains that the person who set Darwin on the course of studying variation among species on the Galapagos islands was not a scientist.
John Bryant, the author of last week’s guest post, told this story during his lecture at this year’s Faraday Summer course, and I enjoyed it because Continue reading
Last week the Faraday Institute’s annual summer course was held in Cambridge, and we played host to sixteen lecturers and forty-six delegates from all over the world. The lectures will be posted on the Faraday website in the coming weeks, but here is a taster.
The first lecture was from Professor Tom McLeish, a physicist whose work I have described here before, and who is no stranger to posing interesting questions. McLeish’s task was to set the scene for the week, exploring the relationship between science and religion. He spent much of the time looking at two questions: ‘What is science?’ and ‘What is religion?’
The main point of his talk was that the problem with the Continue reading
Professor Tom McLeish is an unusual physicist because his academic output at Durham University includes both history and theology as well as lab-based and theoretical physics research. He has been involved in setting up teams of scientists and medieval scholars to look at scientific thinking in 12-14th century texts, and his latest book, Faith and Wisdom in Science, is on the theology of science.
McLeish gave a seminar at the Faraday Institute last week in which he laid out a manifesto for science from his own perspective as a Christian. What he said is relevant for anyone in our society today, regardless of their beliefs. His starting point – a survey of medieval texts – is unusual, but a story demonstrates why the work of these ancient scholars is important.
Anyone who has learned first aid will be familiar with the scenarios that are part of the exam. You walk into a room full of people who are injured in some way, and you have to prioritise who to treat first. The noisy people will probably be alright for a while, but the silent ones – those who for some reason have no voice – need to be given urgent attention. Continue reading