“But science is now continually reshaping its history retrospectively. It is starting to look back and rediscover its beginnings, its earliest traditions and triumphs, but also its debates, its uncertainties and its errors…Similarly, it seems to me impossible to understand fully the contemporary debates about the environment, or climate change, or genetic engineering, or alternative medicine, or extraterrestrial life, or the future of consciousness, or even the existence of God, without knowing how these arose from the hopes and anxieties of the Romantic generation.
“But perhaps most important, right now, is the changing appreciation of how scientists themselves fit into society as a whole, and the nature of the particular creativity they bring to it. We need to consider how they are increasingly vital to any culture of progressive knowledge, to the education of young people (and the not so young), and to our understanding of the planet and its future. Foe this, I believe science needs to be presented and explored in a new way. We need not only a new history of science, but an enlarged and imaginative biographical writing about individual scientists…
“The old, rigid debates and boundaries – science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics – are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous, more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe. And that is how this book might possibly end.”
And indeed so it does.
* * *
Richard Holmes’s other books include Footsteps: The Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer, Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage, Shelley: The Pursuit, Coleridge: Early Writings, and Coleridge: Dark Reflections.