Thursday, September 18, 2008

Science with a View

from the novel Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (1997):
And so he struggled on. As he did he saw it anew, as fresh as in his undergraduate days: the structure of science was so beautiful. It was surely one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit, a kind of stupendous parthenon of the mind, constantly a work in progress, like a symphonic epic poem of thousands of stanzas, being composed by them all in a giant ongoing collaboration. The language of the poem was mathematics, because this appeared to be the language of nature itself....[It was a] dialogic process in which thousands of minds had participated over the previous hundreds of years; so that figures like Newton or Einstein....were not the isolate giants of public perception, but the tallest peaks of a great mountain range....In truth the work of science was a communal thing, extending back even beyond the birth of modern science, back all the way into prehistory....Now of course it was highly structured, articulated beyond the ability of any single individual to fully grasp. But this was only because of the sheer quantity of it; the spectacular efflorescence of structure was not in any particular incomprehsible, one could still walk around anywhere inside the parthenon, so to speak, and thus comprehend at least the shape of the whole, and make choices as to where to study, where to learn the current surface, where to contribute.

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