100 YEARS AGO
Die Kalahari. Now if we could imagine that Mr. Shandy the elder were alive, this is a book that, like many another of its class, would have delighted him. Hereby he could have proved triumphantly to Yorick the potency of that great scheme of education — that “north-west passage to the intellectual world” — which he propounded so enthusiastically upon a memorable occasion. His scheme, it will be remembered, was that upon every substantive in the dictionary (so gravely misunderstood by the Corporal and Uncle Toby) should be brought to bear exhaustively:— “Every word, Yorick, by this means, you see, is converted into a thesis or an hypothesis:— every thesis and hypothesis have an offspring of propositions;— and each proposition has its own consequences and conclusions; every one of which leads the mind on again, into fresh tracts of enquiries and doubtings.— ‘The force of this engine,’ added my father, ‘is incredible...’ ”
From Nature 23 March 1905.
50 YEARS AGO
Dr. J. R. Oppenheimer's address was ostensibly on... “Man's Right to Knowledge and the Free Use Thereof”; but he dealt more specifically with the prospect in the arts and sciences, and above all he emphasized the isolation of the specialist from the broad path of human knowledge and intercourse. With more means of communication than ever before, we can speak to each other less easily and less effectively. While more people are engaged in scientific research to-day... the frontiers of science are now separated by long years of study, by specialized vocabularies, arts, techniques and knowledge from the common heritage even of the most civilized society... The difficulties which face us are thus derived from the growth of skill, of power, and of our understanding of that world, if not of the conditions which govern their exercise. To assail such changes is futile: we need to recognize them and to take account of our resources; nor does Dr. Oppenheimer appear to put high among such resources the mass media of radio and television, the cinema, best-seller or the world tours of successful theatrical productions. Although art and science may be purveyed by such means, they have also an inhumanizing influence and can easily destroy the individual sense of beauty.
From Nature 26 March 1955.