Category Archives: About

A Mission Statement

The History, Philosophy and Mythology of Science an Unholy Triumvirate.

Since at least the early 1960s it has been common practice to regard the history and philosophy of science as a specious of Siamese twins somehow joined at the hip, in a well-known (well-known amongst philosophers of science that is!) bon mot Imre Lakatos wrote, “philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science blind” producing a wonderfully Münchhausian definition of the two disciplines and their interdependency. One cannot do history of science without first defining what this thing ‘science’ is that one wishes to investigate historically, a task that definitely belongs to the philosophy of science. On the other hand for the philosopher of science to define ‘science’ he really needs a comprehensive knowledge of how it evolved historically. A classical chicken and egg problem that can only be solved by ‘science’ lifting itself out of the sump of vagueness on its own hair.

In this blog I intend mostly to deal with the history of science in the early modern period, that is roughly the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (although I will allow myself to roam into other time periods as the mood takes me) and I shall be guided by my own personal blend of the philosophy of science that is made up of roughly equal parts of Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, Stephen Toulmin, Christopher Hill, Erlanger Constructivism and my own weird take on the discipline that involves such concepts as ‘patchwork pluralism’ and the ‘drunken hotel guest theory’ of the progress of science, both of which are potential themes for future postings. My historiography is also guided by my own dictum, ‘methodology becomes dogma; dogma blinds’.

However it is the third member of the unholy triumvirate listed in the title that is the main driving force for most of my work and will also provide much of the substance of this blog, the mythology of science. It is considered a prerequisite for an educated person to know the main features of the history of Western science and these are duly taught in our schools, colleges and universities. Unfortunately that, which most people believe to be the principle or outline ‘facts’ of the history of science are not facts at all but myths. What is taught in our educational establishments is not the history of science but the mythology of science. Unfortunately this pervasion of falsehoods is not restricted to polite cocktail party chat but is used by such people as historians and philosophers (of the non-scientific variety) to formulate their theories, leading to some real intellectual perversions. My life’s function as a historian of science is to serve as a myths-of-science buster and one of the principle functions of this blog is to expose and explode those myths.

Like all of my role models I of course reserve the right to also blog about anything and everything that takes my fancy or currently occupies the vacant lot that I call my brain.

I hope some will stick around for the ride.

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WHO AM I AND WHY AM I HERE?

Who am I
To stand and wonder, to wait
While the wheels of fate
Slowly grind my life away.

The doorbell rang and when I opened the door this albino gorilla with a thick Aussie accent said, “ Yer should start yer own effin blog or I’ll sit on yer!” * so here I am…

As I am asking you to read a blog, mainly about the history of science, written by me I think it only fair to explain why I think I am qualified to expound on such a subject, apart from the arrogance of a natural born genius that is. Like Mr Wilkins (who is to blame for my presence in the blogosphere) I am an eternal student but unlike him I have never managed to finish any sort of formal education and so I remain an unqualified ignoramus. When I was sixteen years old my father gave me a copy of Eric Temple Bell’s Men of Mathematics to read and I have been addicted to the history of mathematics ever since, which goes to show that even bad history of science (and believe you me E.T.B. is bad) can have a positive effect. Upon leaving school I studied archaeology, mathematics and metallurgy (I have always had a strange love of eclectic diversity, a useful trait in a historian) but having decided that this was not where my future lay became a dropout. For the next ten years I occupied myself with a wide range of ways of earning money including electrician, carpenter, field archaeologist and theatre technician all the while following my passion for the history of mathematics. In the mid 70s I stumbled accidentally over Stephan Koerner’s  The Philosophy of Mathematics in the town library of Malmo in Sweden; at the same time and in the same place I discovered Karl Popper and the philosophy of science. My addiction expanded to include the history and philosophy of science, although retaining a special love for mathematics.

In 1980 I went on holiday and somehow ended up living in Franconia where I entered the local university, as a mature student, and spent more than ten years studying mathematics, English philology, history and philosophy with an emphasis on the history and philosophy of science. In the same period I worked for ten years in a research project into the social (read external) history of formal logic; my special area within the project being the British algebraic logics of the 19th century. All of this time I was working full time in order to pay my rent and eat. In the end I found writing my master’s thesis (The Life and Work of Hugh MacColl) and working full time too much of a strain and being aware of the fact that history of science would never provide me with a living wage I dropped out again. However I still kept up my reading on the history of mathematics.

In 2001 I attended my Professor’s 65th birthday celebrations and spurred on by a comment from a  fellow exstudent I once again took up serious research into the history of science, this time drifting back to the Renaissance where I now reside conducting a long term investigation of the evolution of the mathematical sciences in Europe from 1409 till 1759. If you stick around this blog long enough I shall in due course reveal the secret behind these strange dates.

Although I have no formal qualifications and have the world’s worst publication record, bar none, I am a recognised authority on various historical subjects and am on first name terms with many renowned authorities in the history of science (he said in his modest manner).

I have decided to blog informally on those themes in the history of science that interest me and I hope that they might interest a handful of readers as well. I shall give more details of the main substance of this blog in the following post.

* Actually John sent me a very sweet and friendly email asking if I would be interested in joining him at Word Press and blogging for myself and as you can see I finally decided to give it a try.

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