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  • I'd like you to come back with me for a moment

  • to the 19th century,

  • specifically to June 24, 1833.

  • The British Association for the Advancement of Science

  • is holding its third meeting at the University of Cambridge.

  • It's the first night of the meeting,

  • and a confrontation is about to take place

  • that will change science forever.

  • An elderly, white-haired man stands up.

  • The members of the Association are shocked to realize

  • that it's the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

  • who hadn't even left his house in years until that day.

  • They're even more shocked by what he says.

  • "You must stop calling yourselves natural philosophers."

  • Coleridge felt that true philosophers like himself

  • pondered the cosmos from their armchairs.

  • They were not mucking around in the fossil pits

  • or conducting messy experiments with electrical piles

  • like the members of the British Association.

  • The crowd grew angry and began to complain loudly.

  • A young Cambridge scholar named William Whewell stood up

  • and quieted the audience.

  • He politely agreed that an appropriate name

  • for the members of the association did not exist.

  • "If 'philosophers' is taken to be too wide and lofty a term,"

  • he said, "then, by analogy with 'artist,'

  • we may form 'scientist.'"

  • This was the first time the word scientist

  • was uttered in public,

  • only 179 years ago.

  • I first found out about this confrontation when I was in graduate school,

  • and it kind of blew me away.

  • I mean, how could the word scientist

  • not have existed until 1833?

  • What were scientists called before?

  • What had changed to make a new name necessary

  • precisely at that moment?

  • Prior to this meeting, those who studied the natural world

  • were talented amateurs.

  • Think of the country clergyman or squire

  • collecting his beetles or fossils,

  • like Charles Darwin, for example,

  • or, the hired help of a nobleman, like Joseph Priestley,

  • who was the literary companion

  • to the Marquis of Lansdowne

  • when he discovered oxygen.

  • After this, they were scientists,

  • professionals with a particular scientific method,

  • goals, societies and funding.

  • Much of this revolution can be traced to four men

  • who met at Cambridge University in 1812:

  • Charles Babbage, John Herschel, Richard Jones and William Whewell.

  • These were brilliant, driven men

  • who accomplished amazing things.

  • Charles Babbage, I think known to most TEDsters,

  • invented the first mechanical calculator

  • and the first prototype of a modern computer.

  • John Herschel mapped the stars of the southern hemisphere,

  • and, in his spare time, co-invented photography.

  • I'm sure we could all be that productive

  • without Facebook or Twitter to take up our time.

  • Richard Jones became an important economist

  • who later influenced Karl Marx.

  • And Whewell not only coined the term scientist,

  • as well as the words anode, cathode and ion,

  • but spearheaded international big science

  • with his global research on the tides.

  • In the Cambridge winter of 1812 and 1813,

  • the four met for what they called philosophical breakfasts.

  • They talked about science

  • and the need for a new scientific revolution.

  • They felt science had stagnated

  • since the days of the scientific revolution that had happened

  • in the 17th century.

  • It was time for a new revolution,

  • which they pledged to bring about,

  • and what's so amazing about these guys is,

  • not only did they have these

  • grandiose undergraduate dreams,

  • but they actually carried them out,

  • even beyond their wildest dreams.

  • And I'm going to tell you today

  • about four major changes to science these men made.

  • About 200 years before,

  • Francis Bacon and then, later, Isaac Newton,

  • had proposed an inductive scientific method.

  • Now that's a method that starts from

  • observations and experiments

  • and moves to generalizations about nature called natural laws,

  • which are always subject to revision or rejection

  • should new evidence arise.

  • However, in 1809, David Ricardo muddied the waters

  • by arguing that the science of economics

  • should use a different, deductive method.

  • The problem was that an influential group at Oxford

  • began arguing that because it worked so well in economics,

  • this deductive method ought to be applied

  • to the natural sciences too.

  • The members of the philosophical breakfast club disagreed.

  • They wrote books and articles promoting inductive method

  • in all the sciences

  • that were widely read by natural philosophers,

  • university students and members of the public.

  • Reading one of Herschel's books

  • was such a watershed moment for Charles Darwin

  • that he would later say, "Scarcely anything in my life

  • made so deep an impression on me.

  • It made me wish to add my might

  • to the accumulated store of natural knowledge."

  • It also shaped Darwin's scientific method,

  • as well as that used by his peers.

  • [Science for the public good]

  • Previously, it was believed that scientific knowledge

  • ought to be used for the good of the king or queen,

  • or for one's own personal gain.

  • For example, ship captains needed to know

  • information about the tides in order to safely dock at ports.

  • Harbormasters would gather this knowledge

  • and sell it to the ship captains.

  • The philosophical breakfast club changed that,

  • working together.

  • Whewell's worldwide study of the tides

  • resulted in public tide tables and tidal maps

  • that freely provided the harbormasters' knowledge

  • to all ship captains.

  • Herschel helped by making tidal observations

  • off the coast of South Africa,

  • and, as he complained to Whewell,

  • he was knocked off the docks during a violent high tide for his trouble.

  • The four men really helped each other in every way.

  • They also relentlessly lobbied the British government

  • for the money to build Babbage's engines

  • because they believed these engines

  • would have a huge practical impact on society.

  • In the days before pocket calculators,

  • the numbers that most professionals needed --

  • bankers, insurance agents, ship captains, engineers

  • were to be found in lookup books like this,

  • filled with tables of figures.

  • These tables were calculated

  • using a fixed procedure over and over

  • by part-time workers known as -- and this is amazing -- computers,

  • but these calculations were really difficult.

  • I mean, this nautical almanac

  • published the lunar differences for every month of the year.

  • Each month required 1,365 calculations,

  • so these tables were filled with mistakes.

  • Babbage's difference engine was the first mechanical calculator

  • devised to accurately compute any of these tables.

  • Two models of his engine were built in the last 20 years

  • by a team from the Science Museum of London

  • using his own plans.

  • This is the one now at the Computer History Museum in California,

  • and it calculates accurately. It actually works.

  • Later, Babbage's analytical engine

  • was the first mechanical computer in the modern sense.

  • It had a separate memory and central processor.

  • It was capable of iteration, conditional branching

  • and parallel processing,

  • and it was programmable using punched cards,

  • an idea Babbage took from Jacquard's loom.

  • Tragically, Babbage's engines never were built in his day

  • because most people thought that

  • non-human computers would have no usefulness

  • for the public.

  • [New scientific institutions]

  • Founded in Bacon's time, the Royal Society of London

  • was the foremost scientific society in England

  • and even in the rest of the world.

  • By the 19th century, it had become

  • a kind of gentleman's club

  • populated mainly by antiquarians, literary men and the nobility.

  • The members of the philosophical breakfast club

  • helped form a number of new scientific societies,

  • including the British Association.

  • These new societies required

  • that members be active researchers publishing their results.

  • They reinstated the tradition of the Q&A

  • after scientific papers were read,

  • which had been discontinued by the Royal Society

  • as being ungentlemanly.

  • And for the first time, they gave women a foot in the door of science.

  • Members were encouraged to bring their wives,

  • daughters and sisters to the meetings of the British Association,

  • and while the women were expected to attend

  • only the public lectures and the social events like this one,

  • they began to infiltrate the scientific sessions as well.

  • The British Association would later be the first

  • of the major national science organizations in the world

  • to admit women as full members.

  • [External funding for science]

  • Up to the 19th century,

  • natural philosophers were expected to pay

  • for their own equipment and supplies.

  • Occasionally, there were prizes,

  • such as that given to John Harrison in the 18th century,

  • for solving the so-called longitude problem,

  • but prizes were only given after the fact,

  • when they were given at all.

  • On the advice of the philosophical breakfast club,

  • the British Association began to use the extra money

  • generated by its meetings to give grants

  • for research in astronomy, the tides, fossil fish,

  • shipbuilding, and many other areas.

  • These grants not only allowed

  • less wealthy men to conduct research,

  • but they also encouraged thinking outside the box,

  • rather than just trying to solve one pre-set question.

  • Eventually, the Royal Society

  • and the scientific societies of other countries followed suit,

  • and this has become -- fortunately it's become --

  • a major part of the scientific landscape today.

  • So the philosophical breakfast club

  • helped invent the modern scientist.

  • That's the heroic part of their story.

  • There's a flip side as well.

  • They did not foresee at least one consequence

  • of their revolution.

  • They would have been deeply dismayed

  • by today's disjunction between science and the rest of culture.

  • It's shocking to realize

  • that only 28 percent of American adults

  • have even a very basic level of science literacy,

  • and this was tested by asking simple questions like,

  • "Did humans and dinosaurs inhabit the Earth at the same time?"

  • and "What proportion of the Earth is covered in water?"

  • Once scientists became members of a professional group,

  • they were slowly walled off from the rest of us.

  • This is the unintended consequence of the revolution

  • that started with our four friends.

  • Charles Darwin said,

  • "I sometimes think that general and popular treatises

  • are almost as important for the progress of science

  • as original work."

  • In fact, "Origin of Species" was written

  • for a general and popular audience,

  • and was widely read when it first appeared.

  • Darwin knew what we seem to have forgotten,

  • that science is not only for scientists.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'd like you to come back with me for a moment

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【TED】Laura Snyder: The Philosophical Breakfast Club (Laura Snyder: The Philosophical Breakfast Club)

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/06/10
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