Thursday, July 27, 2006

Daedalus, or, Science and the Future

From J. B. S. Haldane's Daedalus, or, Science and the Future (1924):

Now if we want poets to interpret physical science as Milton and Shelley did (Shelley and Keats were the last English poets who were at all up-to-date in their chemical knowledge), we must see that our possible poets are instructed, as their masters were, in science and economics. I am absolutely convinced that science is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than are the classics, but the products of this stimulus do not normally see the light because scientific men as a class are devoid of any perception of literary form. When they can express themselves we get a Butler or a Norman Douglas. Not until our poets are once more drawn from the educated classes (I speak as a scientist), will they appeal to the average man by showing him the beauty in his own life as Homer and Virgil appealed to the street urchins who scrawled their verses on the walls of Pompeii.

I have just fruitlessly tried to get a link to a fascinating article from the TLS a month or so ago (the title was "Sixty years in socks") about Haldane's decision to move to India for the later part of his life, but can't seem to get into the subscriber archive. If you happen to have the old issues lying around, though, and didn't read it already, it's well worth a look (issue of 16 June 2006).

I've always been interested in Haldane (it was Daniel Kevles's book which sent me off to get this one at the library), but I've also got a particular interest in Haldane's sister Naomi Mitchison; her memoirs were one of my best sources when I was writing Dynamite No. 1, though they applied more to Sophie's great-aunt's generation than to Sophie herself.


  1. Haldane writes so well, have you read "Science and Everyday Life" (I have it in a second-hand Pelican edition), which is a collection of his columns for (I believe) the Daily Worker? It was the engagingly naive yet breezy idea that if you educated the working classes then they would be enabled and empowered. The book is full of gems like "Is a banana a fruit or a vegetable".

    Also his classic "On Being the Right Size" is fab.

    I read a good biography of Haldane by Ronald Clark -- slightly wooden but the eccentricity and intellectual arrogance (maybe I mean self-certainty) shine through. He was so sure of himself he swallowed some powerful alkali as he had calculated how much would neutralise the acid in the stomach. Also his self-experiments on diving are scary.

    Have you ever read the wonderful John Maynard Smith? He died fairly recently but he bore Haldane's torch (politically and scientifically) and wrote absolutely beautifully, with wonderful clarity of thought.

  2. A great article indeed and a very detailed, realistic and superb analysis of the current and past scenarios. I would like to thank the author of this article for contributing such a lovely and mind-opening article.