Voyaging in Strange Seas: The Great Revolution in Science
Yale University Press (Inbooks), $49.95 hb, 344 pp, 9780300173796
Science may well have revolutionised our world, but David Knight finds ‘revolution’ to be an inexact metaphor for the ‘chancy, many stranded story’ he describes. He explores models from biography, with associated concepts of infancy, adolescence, and maturity, before settling on voyages of exploration and discovery. This choice is inspired in part by Newton’s self-portrait of playing on the shore before a great ocean of undiscovered truth, and Wordsworth’s subsequent poetic expansion of Newton ‘Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone’ for all eternity. Indeed, voyaging in strange seas provides a much more resonant and nuanced metaphor than the more common (and perhaps more marketable) revolutionary subtitle.
Voyages of discovery have a close connection, both literal and metaphoric, with the development of science. As Europeans discovered the rest of the world, with different ways of being and doing, they also discovered different ways of seeing and thinking. New cultures and new creatures challenged European preconceptions about the order of the world and their place in it. Asian and African approaches to mathematics, astronomy, engineering, philosophy, literature, and medicine permeated into Europe, generating the necessary preconditions for a new approach to knowledge generation. The same ships that carried these new ideas and new experiences also brought with them new technologies, creating unimagined possibilities in industry and education.