Category: Quotation

Historians too are explorers

…we must be aware of a danger well known to explorers of both the micro- and the macrocosmic—that of confusing the thing observed with the mind of the observer, of constructing not a picture of external reality but simply a mirror of the thinker.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (New York, 1968), 240

A Distorted Picture

Modern man has formed a curiously distorted picture of himself, by interpreting his early history in terms of his present interests in making machines and conquering nature. And then in turn he has justified his present concerns by calling his prehistoric self a tool-making animal, and assuming that the material instruments of production dominate all his other activities.

L. Mumford, “The Mindfulness of Man” in The Myth of the Machine.

Facts Are Never Enough

Scientists hope to dispel antiscience prejudices by better science education, and pundits hope to sway public opinion on issues like Obamacare or global warming by presenting the public with accurate facts and expert reports. Such hopes are grounded in a misunderstanding of how humans actually think. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we cling to these views because of group loyalty. Bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance is likely to backfire. Most people don’t like too many facts, and they certainly don’t like to feel stupid.

Y. Harari “People Have Limited Knowledge” in NY Times—A review of S. Sloman & P. Fernbach’s The Knowledge Illusion.

Disciplinary Histories from Within

Disciplinary history written from within that discipline tends to be not only teleological but also parochial and hagiographical. Most importantly, disciplinary history written from within that discipline tends to be unprofessional, in the sense that it is written by scholars who have been trained in the discipline that they are studying but not in the discipline of history or the history of science.

L. Daston and G. Most, “History of Science and History of Philologies,” Isis 106(2015), 386.