ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Margaret Jacob’s book helps us understand how scientific knowledge became integrated into the culture of Europe through the 1600s and 1700s, and how the different social and political conditions of different European countries influenced the application of science to material prosperity. Jacob enhances our understanding of the role of science in the Industrial Revolution, and provides insight on why Britain’s distinctive approach to the utility of science enabled it to industrialize generations earlier than any other country.

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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:13welcome to context this is Brad Harris today we're discussing the book scientific culture and the making of the industrial west by the historian of science Margaret Jacob if you value this podcast tell someone about it evangelize as today's episode is supported by curiosity stream the best source of
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00:02:27keep up with me between shows find me on Twitter at Brad Cole Harris or on Facebook at context with Brad Harris and now for scientific culture and the making of the industrial west by Margaret Jacob scientific culture and the making of the industrial west was published in nineteen
00:02:51ninety seven and it remains a standard text in undergraduate college courses on the history of science and the industrial revolution I used this book myself as both an undergraduate and graduate student to better understand the historical relationship between science and technology Margaret Jacobs major scholarly contribution was in
00:03:14helping us to understand how scientific knowledge first became integrated into the culture of Europe through the sixteen hundreds and seventeen hundreds and how the different social and political conditions of different European countries influenced the application of science to material prosperity ultimately this enhances our understanding of the role
00:03:36of science in the industrial revolution and provides deeper insights on why Britain's distinctive approach to the utility of science enabled it to industrialize generations earlier than any other country now we inaugurated context by considering Jared diamond's guns germs and steel which revealed environmental factors supporting Eurasian societies rise
00:04:02to global power but diamonds book was such a big picture view of history that it left us wondering why Europeans in particular the most backward of Eurasian societies a thousand years ago raced ahead of everyone else in the centuries since so in our second episode we turn to
00:04:22David land these epic book the wealth and poverty of nations to better understand how Europe's unique cultural values of curiosity novelty and private property along with its unique political fragmentation cultivated European discovery and innovation and ultimately established progress rather than stability as north west Europe's preeminent cultural value
00:04:49and yet as much as Landry's book enlightened us on your regisseur shifting patterns of power toward north west Europe we were still left wondering how Britain unlike any other country in history succeeded in establishing the V. most important feature of maternity namely making the pursuit of knowledge profitable
00:05:12here in our third episode Margaret Jacobs book it tends to this she starts the book with a simple claim quote my seventeen fifty roughly the same scientific knowledge had become available in all the major languages of Europe but it was taken up differently in other words the context
00:05:33of discovery or dissemination is very important in the history of science and its role in early industrialized ation indeed I shall be arguing that from at least as early as the mid sixteen hundreds British science came wrapped in an ideology that encouraged material prosperity and quote when the
00:05:54scientific revolution officially kicked off in Europe in the year fifteen forty three with the publication of Nicholas Copernicus's theory that the earth revolved around the sun Britain was still a relatively weak nation Italy Portugal Spain the Netherlands they were all richer and more powerful yet less than two
00:06:17hundred and fifty years later at the end of the seventeen hundreds Britain was the richest and most powerful nation in the world how the scientific revolution had blossomed through that interval of time culminating with Isaac Newton's publication of his mathematical principles of natural philosophy in sixteen eighty seven
00:06:41much of the new knowledge that became available was mechanical from Galileo's insights on the relationship between time speed and distance of falling objects and Robert Boyle's discoveries on the effects of pressure and volume of gases do Evangelista Torricelli is demonstration of vacuums and to Newton's laws of motion
00:07:04the array of discoveries that scientific revolutionaries were making certainly supported radically new philosophies about the human condition but they also offered new possibilities for building radically new kinds of machines and herein lay the key to Britain's ascendance from the very inception of modern science the British tended to
00:07:27interpret it through the development of new technology while much of the rest of Europe at least initially tended to interpret it through the development of new philosophy why this difference existed comprises the bulk of Jacob's book for starters Jacob reiterates the link between Protestantism and progress Galileo's trial
00:07:51by the Catholic inquisition in particular was a flash point in mobilizing opposition to Catholic tyranny and shifting scientific progress to Protestant strongholds in north west Europe after in through Z. asked Eckley publishing about his discoveries with his telescope through which he saw moons orbiting Jupiter spots on the
00:08:12sun mountains and valleys on our own moon and moon like phases on Venus Galileo had become something of a scientific celebrity in Europe and he used his influence to popularize Copernicus's theory that the sun not the earth was the center of the known universe this claim contradicted Catholic
00:08:33dogma which held that everything revolved around us and so in sixteen thirty three Galileo was hold before Catholic authorities in Rome and convicted of heresy his books were banned and Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life he got off easy he had powerful
00:08:54friends among whom was cardinal Caesar Baronius who argued in Galileo's defense that quote the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven not tell the heavens go end quote other less well connected convex had been burned at the stake or sent to rot in prison despite Galileo's relatively
00:09:16lenient fate is condemnation energized science as an exercise in opposition to Catholic authority as Jacob puts it quote the writings of Galileo his subsequent trial and condemnation moved to the new science to the forefront of learn it discourse throughout Europe in Protestant countries support for component can exam
00:09:38could now be construed as anti pap all and hostile to the power of the Catholic clergy what a splendid incentive for its adoption this ideological linkage was to prove critical in creating the alliance between Protestantism and the new science end quote henceforth north west Europe the Netherlands France
00:09:59and Britain in particular would be the centers of scientific innovation the different forms of that innovation in the context of these different societies however favored Britain's rise to industrial power in France the most influential philosophical reaction to Catholic Tierney was offered by Renee to cart in sixteen thirty
00:10:22seven only four years after Galileo's condemnation to cart published his most famous treatise whose full title was discourse on the method of rightly conducting one's reason and of seeking truth in the sciences often short handed as simply discourse on the method it was in this treatise where to
00:10:43cart established much of the foundation of modern philosophy emphasizing rigorous skepticism toward claims to knowledge that began with his most famous reasoning I think therefore I am as Jacob writes quote in the courts version of skepticism as a method science became an unprecedented source of individual expression to
00:11:08cart offered the first intellectual synthesis of modern thought to rest entirely on the individual's ability to know nature and quote through the rest of the sixteen hundreds and into the seventeen hundreds the court's philosophy of science known as cartesian ism was critical in popularizing a rational approach to
00:11:30knowledge throughout northwest Europe is writing style was purposefully egalitarian suitable for anyone with decent reading skills and some formal education he was just as keen to rally women to the causes man and his message was explicitly designed to inspire people to think for themselves yet his instruction on
00:11:52how to develop and verify knowledge what historians call epistemology was based almost entirely on deductive reasoning that he asserted could be derived from what he called innate ideas knowledge in other words was supposed to come more from within our own minds through math and logic then from anything
00:12:14outside ourselves such as experimentation or observation since our perceptions about the world our senses could be deceiving this philosophical orientation toward science was initially all the rage not only in France but in the Netherlands and Britain as well the court's fundamental emphasis on skepticism and his insistence that
00:12:39logic in math where the surest road to knowledge was as refreshing in an age of religious repression as it was easy to understand at least in theory in practice however it proved difficult for most people to do much with those basic scientific values besides use them as an
00:12:59intellectual shield against tyranny and superstition the cart along with other mathematically gifted philosophers may have been able to develop cartesian ism into more advanced theories of matter and motion and mind but for the average person cartesian ism was more a the principle of modern reason than its practice
00:13:23in Britain meanwhile alternative philosophies of science were gaining steam so to speak not literally yet but they would soon you get the idea there an English philosopher named Francis Bacon had been hard at work through the sixteen twenties articulating a vision of science that was much more utilitarian
00:13:43than anything found in the rest of Europe in contrast to the high minded theoretical abstractions of cartesian ism bacon focused entirely on developing simple practical methods for using science to fix problems and enhance material prosperity primarily through impure Acle investigation bacon himself loved it too experimental with and
00:14:08investigate all manner of things from the effects of ice on the K. to the causes of hick ups and he insisted that using all of the senses of sight hearing smell touch and taste to explore nature was the best way to learn about it albeit through a disciplined
00:14:27scientific method to organize data and help protect against the potential errors of sensory perception that would so preoccupied to cart indeed bacon is often credited with being the father of the scientific method this brand of science often called the Coney in empiricism established a legacy of experimental hands
00:14:51on science within Britain that did not spread as readily to the rest of Europe given how in trench to cartesian ism quickly became it was inherently more practical than cartesian science for people who lacked advanced mathematical or philosophical education and bacon was more adamant about its real world
00:15:12applications about how enterprise and the administration of society alike could benefit from adopting his scientific method now the most in Orden benefit of the Coney empiricism in terms of industrialized nation according to Jacob was that it naturally lent itself to the methodical study and improvement of machines mechanical
00:15:36devices of all kinds from windmills and water wheels to clocks were proliferating rapidly across Europe in the sixteen hundreds and these technologies provided an immediate and rewarding focus of scientific attention for the Coney and enthusiasts you did not have to know advanced mathematics to take apart a water
00:15:58pump and rationally investigate its mechanism and most of the time you did not have to be a genius to see how it might be improved but if you could improve it your efforts would yield immediate profit bacon planted the seeds of an ethic of innovation in Britain inspiring
00:16:18cultural respect for individuals willing to roll up their sleeves and investigate machinery or practically anything else for that matter for the profit of home and country by contrast Jacob writes quote relatively little attention was paid by cartesian stew mechanical devices intended for industrial application end quote just about
00:16:43the time those seeds were planted moreover Britain experienced a major political upheaval that would intensively fertilize them quote no single event in the history of early modern Europe altered the fortunes of the new science more profoundly than the English revolution with the outbreak of civil war against Charles
00:17:07the first the sixteen forties became an exhilarating time for social reformers as well as for natural philosophers and scientific experimentar is sympathetic to the parliamentary cause within the context established by revolution and civil war modern science in its English guys was perceived in terms of its social usefulness
00:17:30and linked to a larger version of reform and enlightenment end quote anytime established authority is disrupted there will be people who perceive opportunities for progress and in Britain in the sixteen forties the focus of that opportunity was on scientific progress with the old monarchy and its religious extension
00:17:54of power through the Anglican church overturned quote policing mechanisms in publishing and mores largely dissolved the censorship of books a function of established Anglican church censors largely disappeared as a result more books were published from sixteen forty to sixteen sixty than in the entire rest of the century
00:18:17put together end quote amid the English revolution and then suddenly a couple of decades after bacon explained his scientific philosophy the seeds of the Coney empiricism blossomed among a whole new generation of acolytes eager to apply his practical scientific methods to the reform of English culture politics and
00:18:41industry in sixteen sixty the Royal Society the world's first national scientific institution was founded to help rationally steward England's restoration the new parliamentary government would rely heavily on its guidance and as Jacob points out one of the most conspicuous ways that the royal society sought to deploy a
00:19:04scientific progress once through technology that would deliver tangible economic gains quote great emphasis was placed on technological improvements on mechanical devices intended for industry and agriculture and on learning from artisans the inspiration for these projects was but Coney an end quote fellows of the Royal Society were not
00:19:30just exceptional philosophers and experimental scientists they were keen political actors who understood that economic prosperity especially in rural areas would provide a bulwark against further political chaos in fact by the late sixteen hundreds Britain's rural economy was already becoming an incubator for industrialized ation rural mining for coal
00:19:56and minerals along with light manufacturing we're attracting some of the most enterprising people in the country who were eager to profit from the mechanization of power technology horsepower windmills water wheels and of course human muscle were deployed at a greater scale in these rural industrial centers than most
00:20:17other places in the world by that time and records from the sixteen eighties onward indicate concerted interest within the Royal Society for rallying science specifically to the cause of industrial power and Jacob argues that critical for the subsequent history of the industrial revolution the leaders of British science
00:20:40sees did that moment afforded by England's reformation to cultivate an entirely new cultural value toward mechanization as Jacob writes quote the society was receptive at that time to what was to become a socially revolutionary argument the fellows discuss the notion that mechanical devices could and indeed should save
00:21:04labor in effect decrease rather than increase employment at the time of those discussions it was extremely difficult to get a patent from the government for any device if its inventor argued that it would save labor yet in the minds of the restoration natural philosophers associated with the Royal
00:21:24Society we can find a mentality discernible the industrial in the modern meaning of that term and most important an eagerness to promote their vision of industrial progress end quote the idea that machines should save labor is taken for granted today by three hundred and fifty years ago it
00:21:46was revolutionary by supporting this disruptive idea Britain scientific leaders of the late sixteen hundreds understood that they were shifting Britain's economic power away from landowning and commercial elites who dominated England's well since the Middle Ages old money and toward manufacturers artisans inventors and venture capitalists new money but
00:22:12for Britain to retain both its scientific and economic momentum this shift was deemed necessary and proved to be one of the most effective ways for Britain to remain competitive against continental rivals like France which enjoyed a much larger population and much greater landowning wealth they shift was just
00:22:34setting into place when Isaac Newton published his mathematical principles of natural philosophy in sixteen eighty seven solidifying the cultural authority and influence of modern science as we know it with Newton's brilliance presentation of the universal laws of motion and gravitation Jacob argues that science became a kind of
00:22:57natural religion in Britain quote doctrines like transom stand she ation or even the Trinity as well as belief in the existence of hell quietly slipped away the laws of science vindicated god's existence end quote studying science became an ever more conspicuous proxy for religion the book of nature
00:23:21as it was called an ever more popular alternative to the Bible quote the model of order based on noble laws embodied in the Newtonian synthesis offered a powerful alternative to a variety of other belief systems not least to the doctrines of scientifically naive clergy with the dissemination of
00:23:41the new science in the early seventeen hundreds through lectures sermons journals and textbooks all educated people were expected to know something about science end quote since most people couldn't understand Newton's mathematical reasoning physical demonstrations especially with machines was the most common form of science education in Britain with
00:24:05Newton's laws summoned to showcase how mechanisms of every kind might be perfected and in that spirit quote the application of the new science could hardly be resisted indeed it had been encouraged by scientists of the Royal Society as early as the sixteen eighties after seventeen hundred ideology came
00:24:25to bear relation to reality and simultaneously the lectures of the London coffee houses moved into the provinces the provincial academies also eagerly took up that science and replicated the lectures in their classrooms by seventeen thirty not incidentally over one hundred steam engines were at work in Britain the
00:24:48scientific culture that gave pride of place to mechanics permeated Britain more broadly in deeply than any other place in Europe end quote so %HESITATION half a century before the industrial revolution even began the British had already established what historian Larry Stewart calls public science and how refreshing this
00:25:12must have been for a population accustomed to centuries of arcane existential battles Newtonian science wasn't just another philosophical theory it wasn't just another religious war no it offered something that people could see and experience and personally profit from widespread unprecedented mechanical progress confirms the sentiment in sixteen ninety
00:25:39eight the English inventor Thomas Savery designed the world's first steam powered water pump which worked but proved impractical in seventeen twelve Thomas Newcomen used to Newtonian mechanics and the science of vacuums to invent the first steam powered pump that worked well enough for mine owners to actually buy
00:26:00then in seventeen seventy six James walked was ready to install his first dramatically more efficient steam engines throughout the minds of Cornwall England by van Britain's industrial revolution was getting fully under way and quote mechanical science and the ideology of progress it promoted seem to to the leaders
00:26:22of mechanized industry the answer to all human misery end quote it took decades for other countries to catch up with Britain the first lectures on Newtonian mechanics weren't offered at the university of Paris until seventeen forty by which time two generations of British entrepreneurs and engineers had been
00:26:44working assiduously together to applying Newtonian science to manufacturing mining metallurgy and textiles production any literate British person women included Jacob emphasizes could learn more about applied mechanics in a London coffee house than a privileged French or Dutch engineering student could learn at the best continental universities through the
00:27:09middle of the seventeen hundreds just as importantly even after Newtonian science finally did permeate France it remains the exclusive province of higher education unlike the British inclination to make science public to democratize science in other words the French at least until well after the revolution of seventeen eighty
00:27:32nine maintained an elitist approach to science and engineering for example Jacob writes quote when asked in the seventeen seventies to drain the harbor at Nantes the military engineers and professors of hydraulics sent by the government found themselves described in treated as experts by the local merchants there is
00:27:55not a shred of evidence to suggest that the engineers consulted with local entrepreneurs about their transportation interests or needs nor were they asked to consult and quote by contrast in Britain most entrepreneurs took pride in being scientifically educated and come parable engineering projects typically involves extensive conversations between
00:28:21business people and engineers in a shared language of scientific rationality James walked the engineer may never have been able to develop his world changing steam engine had not Matthew Boulton the businessman shared enough of what's scientific understanding of the mechanical problem to back him what both men understood
00:28:44above all was that science the pursuit of new knowledge and ways of doing things could be profitable and this unique cultural conviction is what brought entrepreneurs and scientists and engineers together to create the industrial revolution in Britain and make it the richest and most powerful nation in history
00:29:06up to that time the moral of Jacob's story is that quote the widest possible dissemination of scientific knowledge the democratize ation of learning will do more to foster an indigenous creativity in matters of application or innovation then will the importation of foreign experts or the maintenance solely of
00:29:30a leap cadres the language of science must be capable of absorption by thought process sees also expressed above other common place elements in a culture or society if an aristocratic and close to system dominates in the academy's then theory may dominate over application or science in general will
00:29:53receive less attention end quote in D. while many cynics today maintain that Britain became for a time the richest and most powerful nation in history for bad reasons through conquest and colonialism and exploitation and oppression Jacob reminds us that Britain earned its wealth and power for good reasons
00:30:17to and making the pursuit of knowledge profitable democratizing science by making it relevant to the material prosperity of its society making science a public value were among those good reasons in my experience academics and so called intellectual elites of every stripe today not so much in the hard
00:30:40sciences but in the social sciences and the humanities too often judged the merit of their ideas by how hard they are for non specialists to understand this kind of intellectual elitism echoes what doomed France to lag so far behind Britain in Margaret Jacobs story one of the primary
00:31:00goals of experts in any field should be to make their knowledge as relevant and useful to the rest of us as possible because when that happens our collective prosperity and intelligence increases and when it doesn't anti intellectualism gains popularity next time on context will consider one of the
00:31:22most famous books on the history of science ever written which has ironically done far more to complicate our understanding of science than clarify it Thomas Kuhn's nineteen sixty two classic the structure of scientific revolutions lots of academic upstarts love citing kun to argue that scientific progress and even
00:31:46truth itself are just illusions of western conceit let's see for ourselves if his argument isn't just an example of counter productive academic OB few station after that will leave the history of science behind for a while to explore other factors in the rise of the modern world I'm
00:32:08Brad Harris so long

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