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PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE Volume 22 · Number 3 ¦ Spring 1979 THE CATHEDRALS OF SCIENCE DE WITT STETTEN, JR.* There are ancient cathedrals which, apart from their consecrated purpose, inspire solemnity and awe. Even the curious visitor speaks of serious things, with hushed voice, and as each whisper reverberates through the vaulted nave, the returning echo seems to bear a message of mystery. The labor of generations of architects and artisans has been forgotten, the scaffolding erected for their toil has long since been removed, their mistakes have been erased, or have become hidden by the dust of centuries. Seeing only the perfection of the completed whole, we are impressed as by some superhuman agency. But sometimes we enter such an edifice that is still partly under construction; then the sound of hammers, the reek of tobacco, the trivial jests bandied from workman to workman , enable us to realize that these great structures are but the result of giving to ordinary human effort a direction and a purpose . Science has its cathedrals . . . Thus wrote Gilbert N. Lewis and Merle Randall in the preface of their 1923 textbook entitled Thermodynamics (New York and London: McGraw-Hill). It is the purpose of this paper to consider some of the properties of these cathedrals of science, the nature of their construction , the stuff of which they are built, and the characteristics of their builders. At the outset, it is important to clarify the confusion which presently exists between science and technology. These are two quite distinct products of mankind's creativity; and among their many points of distinction , one which is clear is that the development of technology precedes history by many millenia, whereas the growth of science had to await the establishment of a written record. ?Deputy Director for Science, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20014. Copyright is not claimed for this article. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Spring 1979 311 Examples of prehistoric technology are manifold. Prehistoric man learned to cultivate the soil and even to irrigate it. He learned the technology of the domestication of wild animals so that dogs and cats, cattle and swine, sheep and goats, horses and camels, ducks and chickens were all in the domestic fold in early prehistory. He fashioned tools and weapons from sticks and stones, and ultimately of metal. He hunted, fished, and engaged in warfare. He discovered fire and developed those fire-dependent technologies: cooking, ceramics, and metallurgy. He clothed himself first in skins and grasses, but later he learned to weave textiles for this purpose. He even opened up telecommunication with drumbeat and smoke signals before he mastered the art of writing. It thus appears that the bases for many of our present-day technologists were laid prehistorically. Not so in science. The reason, of course, is very clear. Technology concerns itself with things, which many may fabricate and which have a certain durability in themselves. These things, whether a bow and arrow or a fishhook, can be passed on to succeeding generations and subjected to improvement as well as preservation. Science, on the other hand, deals with ideas, and ideas are relatively fragile. They usually will not be transmitted accurately from generation to generation by the oral route alone. The accurate transmission of ideas is an essential if science is to prosper, because scientific growth always depends upon the construction of new ideas upon older foundations. The written language thus becomes an essential for science where it is not an essential for at least early technological development. The critical nature of the scientist's dependence on his predecessors and their published record is epitomized in Isaac Newton's oft-quoted epigram: "If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants" (letter to Robert Hooke from Isaac Newton, February 5, 1675/6). Consider the ways ofthe scientist. When he commences a new project, the first thing that he usually does is to go to the library. He reads avidly in order to ascertain the present state of scientific knowledge and research and also to review the evidence upon which this knowledge is based. He may then return to his laboratory and conduct his own experiments...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 311-319
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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