May 2: Science!

Now that looks like science! Get my lab coat!

Just three of the 50 volumes of the Harvard Classics are sciencey, and two are by Darwin. This one, Volume 30, is the third. (I don't count "Wealth of Nations" -- that's social science, brah!) It's understandable, of course, because science keeps changing on us, so it's hard to freeze it, Classics-style. But to me it's comforting, because us Humanities types are always being accused of ignoring science, and, although the accusations are true, it's nice to know that we've been ignoring science for generations.

And so, my fellow B.A.s, come with me now to a Michael Faraday, lecture "delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain during the Christmas Holidays of 1859–60." Juvenile -- is that all we can handle? Probably:
I WONDER whether we shall be too deep to-day or not. Remember that we spoke of the attraction by gravitation of all bodies to all bodies by their simple approach. Remember that we spoke of the attraction of particles of the same kind to each other—that power which keeps them together in masses—iron attracted to iron, brass to brass, or water to water. Remember that we found, on looking into water, that there were particles of two different kinds attracted to each other; and this was a great step beyond the first simple attraction of gravitation, because here we deal with attraction between different kinds of matter...
OMG, I wonder what they're serving in the cafeteria for lunch today. The lecture is actually quite good, and, as it was a demonstration, is full of stage directions, as it were: "[The lecturer brought his finger near a jet from which gas was issuing, when, after one or two attempts, the spark which came from his finger to the jet set fire to the gas.]" If you have kids, it will remind you of dragging them to science museums and so forth, and of trying to help them with homework when you yourself can't quite remember the relationship between magnetism and electricity, which, sadly, Faraday doesn't elaborate on -- he just demonstrates magnetism, then electricity, and one must imagine how exciting it seemed, there in the very early days of the stuff, before it became the source of blogs and George Foreman grills and stuff.

Faraday's biography, as provided by the Classics, is interesting of itself:
Faraday’s parents were members of the obscure religious denomination of the Sandemanians, and Faraday himself, shortly after his marriage, at the age of thirty, joined the same sect, to which he adhered till his death. Religion and science he kept strictly apart, believing that the data of science were of an entirely different nature from the direct communications between God and the soul on which his religious faith was based.
And you can kind of see that Faraday is the kind of guy who enjoys poking around in Creation, to see how it works. And how do you find out how it works? With things like these:



I really can't get enough of the illustrations, either.

No comments: