Science: The Glorious Entertainment.

Science: The Glorious Entertainment.

Reviews of the Science: The Glorious Entertainment.

There's an extended discussion about how the science distribution requirements in college are confused and ineffective; this part is spectacularly good.

Barzun is here interested in the role of science in civilization. He begins with a consideration of C.P. Snows famous dictum that the West had been divided into two culturesthe culture of science and the culture of humanities (which only a few great men could bridge, conveniently including Snow himself). This specialismnot specialization, which is a useful focusing, but instead an ideology of remaining committed to ones subjecthas ruined science and modern life, in Barzuns opinion. Specialism doesnt really make sense to meand certainly not the fears that are supposed to sustain it: in other parts of the book Barzun is quick to point out that some scientists are more than happy to overgeneralize. There is an unintended cycle, of machines creating new realities that themselves have problems which need to be solved by more technology. To his credit, Barzun does not pine for an escape backward: technology causes problems, no doubt, but its not like human dignity was particularly valued 300 years ago. He then turns to a similar critique of science which, again, in general was not new even in 1964, even if some of his insights were. He argues that most people dont actually know much about sciencethus belief in science is a kind of credulityand that includes scientists. Indeed, there is a connection between the growth of science and the growth of the middle class, as both involve quantification, abstraction, and profressionalization, he says. Which means that scientists should not be accorded oracular statusalthough he predicts more and more political debates will have a scientific guise (and points as an example debates over the fluoridation of water). By contrast, the only universal scientists remaining were scientific publishers and science fiction writers. The truth is, he says in the titular chapter 100-101, we have lost Nature. In some sense, science is not teachablespends a chapter making this point, much too longbut one can only guide someone with native talentit is like art, then. (He puts as an example the study of allusions in late Tennyson.) Barzun makes the interestingmeaning, Im not sure how to take itclaim that academics should not be creative: the two are opposites. By this point in the book, Barzun is letting his freak flag fly, dropping the hemming and hawing provisions of the earlier chapters. During the past hundred and fifty years the one great attempt to stop the dry rot of the soul produced by the conditions of life in the modern world has been the handiwork of the artists of the West, he writes on page 229. Art should critique: the Romantic impulse is needed to keep science in check. The problem, as Barzun sees it, is that the artists emulated the scientists and tried to create a system based on myth and the unconscious. Only in a few fringe-y corners did the holdouts gather: From astrology to psychical research, from nature-loving to asceticism, from the scholarship of myth to the public respect for poetry and art, from conscientious drug addiction to the old and new religions of East and West, there are only minority refuges open to the inhabitants of the scientific culture (294). He wants a new philosophyone saturated with meaning, one that gives human life purpose.

  • Science

  • Rating: 4.06
  • Pages: 312
  • Publish Date: January 28th 1964 by HarperCollins
  • Isbn10: 0060102403
  • Isbn13: 9780060102401