The scientific revolution as a cultural process

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Let us begin with the foundational narrative itself: the making of modern science, which, in several respects, is one of the formative moments of environmentalism. It is fairly obvious that what is commonly referred to as science and technology, and which we might characterize, somewhat more precisely, as the institutions of Western science, emerged as an integral part of a much broader cultural transformation (Huff 1993). For Karl Polanyi, it was simply the "great transformation," while for others it has been termed the "birth of modernity." Whatever it is called it is clear that it included an important and decisive transformation of knowledge-making. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, throughout Europe, something fundamental happened in terms of how human beings go about enlightening themselves: there was a scientific revolution, with the simultaneous creation of new theories, methods, instruments, social roles, and organizations for the making of knowledge (Jamison 1989). That the scientific revolution was, in many ways, related to the social and political movements of the times is hard to deny, but such connections are difficult to pin down and, partly because of their intractability, they have only rarely been explored by professional historians. As Christopher Hill put it: "There is a curious academic division of spheres of influence... as a result of which the history of science and the history of ideas have become something quite separate from 'history'" (Hill 1965: 14).

As it has become an academic discipline - a kind of institution of its own - history, and, more specifically, the history of science, has tended to confine its attention to the bona fide scientists of the past and their thoughts and deeds, that is, to a highly circumscribed realm of human cognitive activity. Historical generalists such as Lewis Mumford, Joseph Needham, Michel Foucault, or Carolyn Merchant - or, for that matter, Thomas Kuhn of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions - who have tried to describe broader patterns in history, and discern connections between the often hermetically separated spheres of historical specialization, tend to be looked down upon by the professional specialists. As a result, the historical relations between science, technology, and the "rest of society" have been curiously under-examined.

It is only when the social status of science and technology has been seriously questioned, as was the case in the 1920s and 1930s and then again in the 1960s and 1970s, that explicit attempts have been made to relate the history of science and technology to broader social and political movements. At such times, what has been all but ignored by the professional, or specialized, historians has been taken up by "interdisciplinary" generalists and dissenting specialists, who have sought to break down barriers among the disparate disciplines and sub-disciplines, and recombine what we might term the institutionalized compartmentalizations of the past.

In the 1920s the philosopher Max Scheler, in outlining the contours of the sociology of knowledge, used the emergence of modern science as a central example of how changed social practices and social relations had inspired new modes of knowledge production. It had been in the linking of philosophy with work experience that modern science had come into being, Scheler suggested. What had been kept separate in other civilizations - what Edgar Zilsel in the 1930s depicted as the life-worlds of "scholars" and "craftsmen" - were brought together in early modern Europe into a new scientific identity. The experimental philosophers combined scholarship and craftsmanship into a hybrid form of knowledge-making, namely experimentation, as well as into a new social role (Zilsel 1941). In Scheler's sociology of knowledge the "selection of the objects of knowledge" and the development of the "forms of cognition" were made "on the basis of the prevailing social perspectives of interests" (Scheler 1980: 72-73). He was thus one of the first to seek to link changes in the social environment, or societal context, explicitly to changes in the scientific enterprise. Later, in his influential doctoral dissertation of 1938 the American sociologist Robert Merton showed that many of the early scientists in seventeenth-century Britain had been associated with the Puritan movement, but, after the Restoration, and with it, the founding of the Royal Society, they had renounced many of their broader political objectives. His point was that the institutions of modern science had directly grown out of the religious and political struggles of the seventeenth century (Merton 1970/1938).

In the 1960s, in sketching the historical development of the "scientific role," the sociologist Joseph Ben-David returned to some of these perspectives. Ben-David contrasted a "scientistic movement" in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries with the institutionalization process of academy-building that took place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (Ben-David 1971). Ben-David drew on a kind of historical detective work, which had identified in sixteenth-century Europe a range of transition figures, such as the enigmatic Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541). In beginning the transformation of alchemy into chemistry, and in developing the rudiments of scientific medicine, Paracelsus had combined a questioning of established religious and political authority with an interest in nature observation, mathematics, mechanics, and technical improvement. He had an organic view of nature, seeing in the human body a "microcosm" of the "macrocosm" of the heavenly bodies (Merchant 1980).

The teachings of Paracelsus were highly influential in the sixteenth century and influenced many of the early "hybrid" or proto-scientists, such as Tycho Brahe in Denmark, John Dee in England, and Giordano Bruno in Italy. In examining Bruno's "hermetic philosophy" in the 1960s, the historian of the Renaissance Frances Yates argued that:

It may be illuminatory to view the scientific revolution in two phases, the first phase consisting of an animistic universe operated by magic, the second phase of a mathematical universe operated by mechanics. An enquiry into both phases, and their interactions may be a more fruitful line of historical approach to the problems raised by the science of today than the line which concentrates only on the seventeenth-century triumph. Is not all science a gnosis, an insight into the nature of the All, which succeeds by successive revelations? (Yates 1964: 452)

In the 1960s and 1970s the importance of these historical figures was rediscovered, and given a more central role to play in the emergence of modern science. In Ben-David's scheme, for example, Paracelsus and Bruno were part of a movement phase which culminated in the writings of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) with his proposals for new methods of scientific investigation that broke with the "idols of the past." As Bacon characteristically put it in Novum Organum, his major philosophical treatise:

It is idle to expect any great advancement in science from the superinducing and engrafting of new things upon old. We must begin anew from the very foundations, unless we would revolve forever in a circle with mean and contemptible progress. (Bacon 1947/1620: 31)

Later, in the revolutionary period from 1640 to 1660, Bacon's writings formed part of what the historian Charles Webster termed the "great instauration," when dissenting groups and other "movement" organizations carried out experiments in agriculture and medicine, and produced a vast amount of popular scientific and technical literature in their pamphlets and informal treatises (Webster 1975). From an environmental perspective, the most interesting of the radical groups was perhaps the Diggers, who planted crops together and developed a "law of freedom" according to which no one person could own the earth (Hill 1975: 128ff). The institutions of science grew from seeds planted by such Puritan activists, who were driven by a millenarian world-view to create a new kingdom of God, and to share the Earth collectively. In recounting that story in the mid-1970s Charles Webster reflected on the way in which historical research itself was connected to contemporary concerns:

It is perhaps only in the most recent phases of acute crisis in science and technology that we have moved into a position whereby a sympathetic estimate ofthe millenarian worldview can be made ... Environmental circumstances have necessitated reference to an idea of the social accountability of science, analogous to the view which the Puritans more readily derived from their religious convictions ... Although the Puritans looked forward to an unprecedented expansion in human knowledge, they realized that it would be necessary to exercise stringent discipline to prevent this knowledge resulting in moral corruption and social exploitation. (Webster 1975: 517-18)

What eventually came to be characterized as modern science represented a form of knowledge production that drew much of its inspiration from earlier and much broader social and political struggles while narrowing, or specializing, the focus and organization of the research activity. The historical project of modernity, we might say, did not begin as a new scientific method, or a new mechanical world-view, or, for that matter, as a new kind of state support for experimental philosophy in the form of scientific academies. It was, rather, a much more all-encompassing project: to "turn the world upside down" as one pamphleteer at the time of the English Civil War put it (Hill 1975). And it was a project, or series of projects, in which "nature," or non-human phenomena, continued to be imbued with meaning and life - either in terms of the magical spiritualism of the Neoplatonists or the more radical "organic" spiritualism of the Paracelsians and the Diggers (Merchant 1980). In the words of Carolyn Merchant:

The pantheistic and Paracelsian ideas ... were part of a radical social philosophy that for some groups meant the seizing of common lands and the establishment of egalitarian communal societies like those attempted by the medieval millenarian utopists. Gerrard Winstanley, organizer of the Diggers, who in 1649 took possession of St. George's Hill in Surrey and began to cultivate the commons and wastes, believed that by working together the poor could make the earth 'a common treasury' for all. (Merchant 1980: 123)

As the broader movements gave way to more established institutions in the course of the seventeenth century, political and social experiments came to be transformed into scientific experiments. The political and religious reformation, tinged with political radicalism and filled with mistrust of authority, was redefined and reconstituted as a scientific revolution (Porter 1986). And a broader, open-ended movement of discovery and exploration came to be transformed into the institutions of modern knowledge-making. As Merchant has put it:

From the spectrum of Renaissance organicist philosophies ... the mechanists would appropriate and transform presuppositions at the conservative or hierarchical end while denouncing those associated with the more radical religious and political perspectives. The rejection and removal of organic and animistic features and the substitution of mechanically describable components would become the most significant and far-reaching effect of the Scientific Revolution. (Merchant 1980: 125)

The Renaissance had glorified life, and the interest in things technical that spread among scholars during the sixteenth century was meant to enhance man's powers and man's capacities (Rothenberg 1993). In his review of utopian thinking, Lewis Mumford put it this way: "The earlier utopias were concerned to establish the things which men should aim for in life ... The utopias of the later Renaissance took those aims for granted and discussed how man's scope of action might be broadened" (Mumford 1922: 106-108).

The Renaissance artist-engineers retain for us an almost superhuman fascination. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Albrecht Diirer continue after half a millennium to epitomize the fullness of human life. Their pursuit of knowledge knew no bounds: science, art, philosophy, engineering, architecture, music, even spiritual and mystical teachings were all reinvented as part of their attempts to infuse new life, a new human energy, into Western civilization. With the turn to the scientific and the experimental, however, the means to that enhancement came to take precedence over the goal of a richer life: the medium started to become the message, and the broader movement, or social ambitions, became institutionalized into scientific profession-building. "Under the new ethic that developed, science's only form of social responsibility was to science itself: to observe its canons of proof, to preserve its integrity and autonomy, and to constantly expand its domain" (Mumford 1970: 115). Ingenuity, we might say, was deflected into narrower trajectories, at the same time as the production of knowledge came to be supported by, and increasingly dependent on, the patronage of the powerful.

Bacon, coming at the endpoint of the Renaissance, can be considered one of the first articulators of an instrumental rationality. But with Bacon the project remained programmatic, visionary, prophetic. Later in the seventeenth century Boyle, Newton, Huygens - the aristocrats of experimental science - linked scholastic interests in understanding nature with practical interests in exploiting nature (Jacob 1997: 73ff). They brought into being a new social role and set of experimental practices, and they defined a new technically oriented mode of knowledge production: experimental philosophy. They developed a range of new scientific instruments, created new social spaces for conducting scientific experiments, and formulated a new philosophy of nature based on the principles of mechanization and human domination (Shapin 1996).

These experimental scientists brought about the "death of nature" that effectively created a lifeless landscape of mechanical, "clockwork," relationships (Merchant 1980). More generally a new form, or mode, of knowledge-making came to be institutionalized. A way of knowing reality was constituted that was mediated through technology (Bohme et al. 1978). This was accomplished both by means of new scientific instruments and experimental rituals, as well as through mutual interaction between scientific inquiry and technical improvement, such as took place in the development of steam power, ship-building, and navigational techniques. As the telescope and microscope literally disclosed new dimensions of reality, the clock and the compass provided the scientist and the merchant with images and metaphors within which to recognize the natural world around him (Jardine 1999). And the perfect human construction - mathematical logic - was refined in order to reconstruct reality into forms that were amenable to optimal human intervention.

The new institutions of modern science did not go unchallenged, however. Experimental philosophy was opposed both by the upholders of traditional, religious knowledge and by the marginalized radicals and their descendants (Russell 1983: 136ff). In the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the scientific "aristocracy" that had emerged in London and Paris at the Royal Society and the Academie des Sciences was challenged by dissenting groups and representatives of the emerging middle classes. The Enlightenment also embodied a kind of social movement, or broader-based cluster of social activity. Many of the radical dissenters fled from Europe to the colonies in North America, and some of those who stayed behind established scientific societies, often in provincial areas in opposition to the established science of the capital cities.

Many of the participants in the "radical enlightenment" shared with the academicians and their royal patrons a belief in what Max Weber termed the Protestant Ethic - that is, an interest in the value of hard work and the virtue of making money - and most had an interest in what Francis Bacon had termed useful knowledge. But the new movements that developed in the Enlightenment and helped to inspire the French and American Revolutions objected to the limited ways in which the Royal Society and the Parisian Academy had organized the scientific spirit and institutionalized the new methods and theories of the experimental philosophy (Jacob 1997: 99ff).

The Enlightenment led to a geographical diffusion ofthe scientific spirit and "academic culture" to places like Sweden and Denmark and North America, where academies of science were created in the early eighteenth century. It also led to new kinds of scientific disciplines, or what Michel Foucault termed a new "episteme," the discipline of ordering, naming, and classifying which is epitomized in the works of Carolus Linnaeus, who was also an important actor in the establishment of the Swedish Academy of Sciences (Frangsmyr 1989). The Enlightenment, in other words, was a new kind of "movement" that also fragmented from its "nascent state" into radical and established, or mainstream, forms.

The various attempts to democratize scientific education in the wake of the French Revolution and to apply the mechanical philosophy to social processes - that is, to view society itself as a topic for scientific research and analysis - indicate how critique and opposition helped once again to bring about new forms of scientific practice (Hobsbawm 1962: 336ff). The revolutionary government was the first to establish a science-based institution of higher education, the Ecole Polytechnique, and it was there that visions of a technocratic order developed in the writings of Count Saint-Simon, and his secretary, Auguste Comte. The institutionalization process included the articulation of new philosophies of science -positivism, in particular - and new disciplines which were related to the emergent needs of an industrializing social order: statistics, geology, thermodynamics, political economy, and the sociology of Comte (Teich and Young 1973).

Out of the "new" social movements of egalitarianism and political democracy, in association with regional, or local industrial development, emerged new scientific institutions and disciplines, new forms of knowledge-making. Adam Smith's science of political economy developed in the Scottish hinterland, and many of the first industrial applications of experimentation and mechanical philosophy took place in the provinces rather than in the capital cities, where the scientific academies were located (Musson and Robinson 1969). James Watt, the innovating improver of the steam engine, was a typical example of the new forms of knowledge-making. He worked as a technician at the university in Glasgow, making scientific instruments for use in academic research as well as taking part in a wide range of infrastructural projects. He brought into the world of scientific experimentation both artisanal knowledge and an entrepreneurial mentality that proved particularly valuable for the industrial breakthrough (Jacob 1997: 116ff).

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