Change in Science, Technology, the Arts, and Humanities

How does change differ within various aspects of society?  Are differing changes somehow related?  C.P. Snow has argued that there is a chasm between the arts and humanities, and science and technology (Snow, 1965).  However, all of these endeavors are inevitably influenced by the times in which they are pursued.

Consider the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Richard Holmes (2008) describes the lives and scientific accomplishments of Joseph Banks, William Herschel, and Humphry Davy during the “second scientific revolution” of 1770-1830.  He outlines how their popularization of findings in exploration, botany, astronomy, and chemistry influenced the poetry of their contemporaries: Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley.

Moving to the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Louis Menand (2001) presents a study of Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey that shows how these four men developed a philosophy of pragmatism following the Civil War and continuing, at least, until World War I.  Their thinking fundamentally affected America in law, science, and education, reaching far beyond academia.

Finally, considering the early and mid 20th century, Howard Gardner (1994) portrays the 20th century creative genius of Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Gandhi.  Arthur Miller (2002) focuses on just Einstein and Picasso.  He chronicles the impact of Henri Poincaré’s 1902 geometry book La Science et L’Hypothèse on the thinking of these two great geniuses.  The non-Euclidian exposition in this book influenced both the notion that gravity bends light (i.e., relativity) and the Cubist movement in art.  These are two seminal developments in the early 20th century.

Thus, change in one arena can have enormous impacts on other areas, sometimes directly but often indirectly as such changes are manifested in the broader social dialogue.  In this way, the causality of change often functions more like a network of relationships through which change propagates, rather than a simple A affects B.

References

Gardner, H.E. (1994). Creating Minds: An Anatomy Of Creativity As Seen Through The Lives Of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, And Gandhi. New York: Basic Books.

Holmes, R. (2008). The age of wonder. New York: Vintage.

Menand, L. (2001). The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Miller, A.I. (2002). Einstein, Picasso: Space, time, and the beauty that causes havoc. New York: Basic Books.

Snow, C.P. (1965). The two cultures: And a second look. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

14 Comments

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  2. Gary says:

    Being a history buff, it would have been nice to have links to the books mentioned and where they could be acquired… Guess I’ll just have to search for them myself… Yep, I’m a lazy history buff. ;-)

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