The Intelligibility of Nature
How Science Makes Sense of the World
In The Intelligibility of Nature, Peter Dear considers how science as such has evolved and how it has marshaled itself to make sense of the world. His intellectual journey begins with a crucial observation: that the enterprise of science is, and has been, directed toward two distinct but frequently conflated ends—doing and knowing. The ancient Greeks developed this distinction of value between craft on the one hand and understanding on the other, and according to Dear, that distinction has survived to shape attitudes toward science ever since.
Teasing out this tension between doing and knowing during key episodes in the history of science—mechanical philosophy and Newtonian gravitation, elective affinities and the chemical revolution, enlightened natural history and taxonomy, evolutionary biology, the dynamical theory of electromagnetism, and quantum theory—Dear reveals how the two principles became formalized into a single enterprise, science, that would be carried out by a new kind of person, the scientist.
Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, The Intelligibility of Nature will be essential reading for aficionados and historians of science alike.
“Just as the body of knowledge evolves over time, so does the way scientists view the world they are explaining. This interplay between knowledge and mental model is the subject of Peter Dear's book. He shows how mechanistic explanations in physics and chemistry became ever more frequent after the industrial revolution, only to be supplanted by the nihilism of quantum theory in the social turmoil that followed the first world war. It is full of insights into how society, culture and people's perception interweave across biology, chemistry and physics.”
“Scientists who wish to reflect on their vocation will gain valuable insights from this beautifully contrived book, and all readers will be prompted to think more carefully about the nature and ethos of science.”
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Science as Natural Philosophy, Science as Instrumentality
1. The Mechanical Universe from Galileo to Newton
2. A Place for Everything: The Classification of the World
3. The Chemical Revolution Thwarted by Atoms
4. Design and Disorder: The Origin of Species
5. Dynamical Explanation: The Aether and Victorian Machines
6. How to Understand Nature? Einstein, Bohr, and the Quantum Universe
Conclusion: Making Sense in Science