Cornell historian of science Dear (Revolutionizing the Sciences) here looks at central developments in Western science since the 16th century in terms of intelligibility versus instrumentality. His distinction asks of any given theory: does its success depend on its claims to expressing something about the nature of reality, or on its ability to produce experimental results? Dear draws out nuanced discussions of, for example, the way Newton's contemporaries viewed his work on gravity, the early development of the mechanical world view from the Aristotelian perspective, and the fundamental differences between the Copenhagen group's approach to quantum physics and David Bohm's. For specialists, it's science history at its best; non-specialist readers should be prepared to dig in and work hard, as much of this book presupposes at least a passing familiarity with a great deal of scientific theory.
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"In an introduction, six detailed chapters, and a final summation, Mr. Dear examines the tension between theory and practice in such sciences as celestial mechanics, taxonomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and quantum theory. The portraits of individual scientists, from Newton, Boyle, and Faraday to Einstein and Bohr, are vivid and pithy; he has a good ear for the apt quote that lets us hear their voices. His chapter on taxonomy, which franky I was dreading, proves unexpectedly fascinating."
(Eric Ormsby The New York Sun
"Arranging his main chapters chronologically from Galileo to the present, Dear uses [his] binary analytical scheme to link the centuries together, laudably devoting roughly equal attention to the physical, chemical and life sciences. . . . Eloquently written, and embracing an impressive range of topics, Dear's The Intelligibility of Nature admirably demonstrates that historians can make trenchant comments on the present as well as the past."
(Paticia Fara TLS
“Just as the body of knowledge evolves over time, so does the way scientists view the world they are explaining. This interplay between knowledge and mental model is the subject of Peter Dear's book. He shows how mechanistic explanations in physics and chemistry became ever more frequent after the industrial revolution, only to be supplanted by the nihilism of quantum theory in the social turmoil that followed the first world war. It is full of insights into how society, culture and people's perception interweave across biology, chemistry and physics.”
(Adrian Barnett New Scientist
“Scientists who wish to reflect on their vocation will gain valuable insights from this beautifully contrived book, and all readers will be prompted to think more carefully about the nature and ethos of science.”
(Richard Yeo Nature
“The Intelligibility of Nature is a very impressive and compelling book about the relationship between instrumentalism and realism in the sciences from 1600 to 1950. Peter Dear argues for a fascinating reinterpretation of the Scientific Revolution and its aftermath, showing how between the time of Descartes and that of Lavoisier, natural philosophy and practical techniques merged: that process, this book shows, was decisive for the emergence of modern science. This is a lucid and intelligent history.”
(Simon Schaffer Simon Schaffer
"Dear weaves together a great deal of academic history of modern physics, chemistry, and biology into a concise, coherent, and original narrative that is introductory without ever being superficial.”
(Matthew L. Jones Science
"An excellent treatise on the dualistic character of science in history."
(Tadeusz Aniszewski Plant Science Bulletin
"An excellent brief introduction to the (often complex) interaction between 'natural philosophy' and 'instrumentality' in the development of Western science from the Scientific Revolution to the present."
(Robert J. Deltete Quarterly Review of Biology
"A good read for anyone interested in science and as a component of an undergraduate course in the history and philosophy of sceince."
(Persepectives on Science and Christian Faith
"This is a book written for a broad audience of educated people. No specific knowledge of the state of the art of research in the history of modern science is presupposed. . . . The chapters contain a lot of useful material, helping the reader to understand the main lines of development in modern science. It is a pleasure to read."
(Michael Esfield History & Philosophy of Life Sciences