Calvin Demmon tells all

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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Poor Isaac Newton:
A writer disembodied

"I've often been struck by the fact that philosopy students read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, political science majors read the U.S. Constitution, and literature classes read Shakespeare, but students of science rarely read the works of Mendeleev or Lavoisier or Einstein. The widely used college textbook from which I learned mechanics, the area of physics whose foundations were laid largely by Isaac Newton, contains a beautiful exposition of classical mechanics but only a handful of mentions of Newton, no excerpts from his Principia, and no pages at all on the history of the subject. From this one observation an intelligent creature from outer space could determine that there exists a profound difference between the disciplines we call natural science and those we call humanities or art or social science. Modern textbooks on science give no sense that scientific ideas come out of the minds of human beings. Instead science is portrayed as a set of current laws and results, incribed like the Ten Commandments by some immediate but disembodied authority." -- Alan Lightman, "A Cataclysm of Thought," review of "Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics," Atlantic Monthly.


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