“People are afraid of not understanding science.”

On June 24, 1833, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) held a large gathering at the University of Cambridge attended by 852 of its members. At one time, the famous romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge He asked to speak, got up from the audience and suggested to stop calling themselves “natural philosophers” For members of the association who have been involved in tasks such as prospecting for sediments or conducting experiments with electrical appliances, this term will be reserved For true metaphysicists like him.

In front of the loud protests presenter of the event, William and Will, Take the floor and propose Create a new term, the word “world” (World), to designate these people and differentiate between the two types of sage.

This is the starting point for “The Philosophical Breakfast Club”It is a book written by an American historian Laura J. Snyder Written in 2011 and now published in Spanish thanks to Acantilado. A work focusing on the births of the Library of Alexandria and the role of four scientific friends (William Wewill, John Herschel, Charles Babbage And Richard Jones) “About Science and Change the World.” We spoke to her about the effects of this transformation over the phone from her home in New York.

Question: You talk in your book about a period of time when science was changed forever, so what are the consequences that we are still seeing today?

Answer: In general, I think there are positive and negative results. A positive aspect is the general professionalism of the scientific profession. They have gone from a talented amateur, usually a wealthy person who collects beetles, to professionals who have general agreement on the scientific method and work for the greater good.

But on the downside is this split between science and the arts that occurred after Wewell introduced the word “scientist”. There was a split between the common people and the discoveries of scientists. Historians and science writers had to take on the task of translating scientific discourse, but it would be better if the scientists themselves did it.

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Another negative consequence was the loss of a certain humanity in favor of a more mathematical and technological view. Science became elusive and became separate and this separation occurred in other worlds. I remember that when I was studying history and philosophy, there were people who boasted that their works would only be read and understood by seven people in the world, and that seemed very sad to me.

Isn’t it strange that it was poets who demanded this division and that physicists were not called “natural philosophers”?

I’ve wondered about that at some point. It is particularly interesting in the case of Coleridge, who was the one to ask for it, because he also wrote about science and was little between the two worlds. I think there was a certain class among poets, who did not like to be included in a group of people with their hands dirty in the mud, with their hammers, or to perform complex sequential experiments in their vaults. I think Coleridge and other poets of the time saw themselves as metaphysical scientists who sat thinking about the natural world. They did not want to be grouped with the experimenters or those who measured things.

“Good storytelling is essential to bringing science closer to people.”

Is this rejection of science inherited today in a section of the humanities world?

I actually think there are more artists out there who are interested in science than we think. They are interested in technology and the way of looking that science provides them, but to me the biggest divide is between the general public and science, meaning that people are afraid of not understanding science and think they need classes in mathematics and quantum physics to understand something. I think that’s not true, and I think it will help improve science education that doesn’t make people feel like they have to know very complicated things, a way of telling it’s affordable. Telling good stories is essential to bringing science closer to people.

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Science without a novel

Historian Sarah Fry places in the time of John Tyndall the moment when facts began to scatter (facts) from the story (novels). Is this why newspapers today tend to sterilize and not tell?

I think yes, that’s part of the process that was put in place at the time. The professionalization of science in the way the members of the “Philosophical Breakfast Club” did turn the profession of a scientist into something that was acquired at university and had to be published only in certain journals. And it sparked a reaction that finally ruled out storytelling and storytelling, that is, an attempt to make science understandable or interesting to anyone outside of it, even to scientists in other fields. In general, as Maxwell said, science has become highly specialized.

“Professionalism led to a reaction that left the narrative and any attempt to make science understandable”

To what extent are personal relationships essential to understanding what has happened in the history of science?

Note, in this case, that any of the four characters of the book has an interesting resume, but I chose to talk about the group. I think the discussions they had throughout their lives were very important, how they encouraged each other, how they helped each other, or how they argued and even yelled at each other. I believe that there are no single geniuses, and no one discovers out of nowhere. The way in which Herschel, Babbage, Wywell, Jones, group weight, and intellectual currents of the time related it is very important in science.

Could it be said that the Philosophical Breakfast Club set rules that left themselves off the board?

Yes, and ironically, at the end of his days Herschel refused to be called a “scientist”, and in England it took a long time to be adopted in the long run, much longer than in America. Professionalism was seen as decadence, which for the poor, they wanted to continue being naturalistic philosophers.

“The problem is not how scientists work, but where they are asked to put their efforts”

In a recent hugely successful Spanish-language book in which quantum physics is recreated from fiction (“unintimidating horrible”), one character asks “when did we ever stop understanding the world”. Do you think it all started with the change you described in your book?

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I don’t know if I can specify a specific time, but something happened and when [James Clerk] Maxwell transformed Michael Faraday’s lines of force into mathematics. The latter represented these forces with a series of drawings that were easy to understand, at least easy to assimilate. But Maxwell “calculated” all this into equations and at that time not even some Cambridge mathematicians were able to follow it, let alone the general public. If we had to put in a moment where we start to run out of metaphors, that would be the moment.

And how can we get those who study reality and those who make metaphors to work together again?

In terms of how to fix it, it’s hard to give an answer. I agree that many scholars are interested in the arts, music, and philosophy, but I am not sure that those who study science in most educational systems receive training in literature, history, and other subjects. In some cases, yes, and I think the solution is through more diverse education. But the biggest problem for me is the tendency to communicate only with your peers, you only worry about where you are going to post, you have your own lab, help them …

The problem is the frame of reference in which scientists operate. It’s not about how they work individually, but where they are asked to focus their efforts.

to know more: “The Philosophical Breakfast Club” (cliff)

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