The scientific temper of the modern world, essay
The scientific temper began recognizably to come into evidence during the Renaissance in Europe. Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci were the masterminds of the Renaissance, most remarkably endowed with the scientific temper. In English history, the scientific age synchronizes with the period of the Renaissance in England represented by Newton and Bacon. This age is significantly called the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ The scientific temper, quickened as well as controlled by the imagination, working both as to law and impulse, is to be marked even in the essays of Bacon.
The expression ‘scientific temper’ ought not to be allowed to make us confine our thoughts exclusively to such branches and sub-branches of knowledge as are exclusively associated with the physical sciences. In many fields and spheres of intellectual activity, we notice the scientific temper in various forms. The body of knowledge known as the ‘humanities’ owes much to the scientific temper. Thus the scientific temper can be seen to be an indispensable factor even in matters not popularly associated with the sciences.
The ancient civilizations with all their glory and grandeur were a curious mixture of the scientific and the un-scientific forces working at cross purposes in the lives of societies.
Let us take the Hindu social polity and the Greek and Roman social polities. While in the first of these polities we find such anti-scientific temper at work as has resulted in untouchability, high and low castes, unforced widowhood, the Sati system, priest-craft and a whole host of superstitions and blind beliefs. In the latter two policies, we have the system of slavery and slave-trade, myth and superstition as presented in epic poetry and drama. Superstition and science seem to be playing hide and seek throughout the ages.
In politics, the assassination of Lincoln, of the two Kennedys, of Martin Luther King, and of Mahatma Gandhi were world-shaking events resulting from an unscientific political temper. Imperialism and imperialistic wars, the ‘apartheid’ in South Africa, Nazism, Fascism and chauvinism in various forms and guises are the other instances of the unscientific temper.
It does not follow that all men having the scientific temper will be dittoes or carbon copies of one another. The scientific temper will be a gainer and not a loser by the difference among scientists. Such differences only serve as correctives. Differences, frictions, conflicts, other points of views~all help in the growth and the development of the scientific temper. The scientific temper is a plant of slow growth.
The scientific temper has also radically and actively influenced literature to a large extent. The famous Latin poet Lucretius in his world-famous poem on Nature gives a brilliant proof of the scientific temper. When the opening chapters of the last novel of Dickens appeared in installments, Edgar Allan Poe anticipated and published a skeleton plot of the whole novel, nine-tenths of which were yet unwritten and unpublished. This Poe was able to do through what he himself calls the ‘Calculus of Probability’. This is a very rare example of scientific temper applied to literature.
Matthew Arnold combined in his character and poetry the classic traditions of the past and the scientific outlook of his age. Swinburne, Hardy, William Morris and, in our own age, TS Eliot, exemplify the working of the scientific temper in creative poetry. In twentieth-century prose Shaw in his plays and their lengthy introductions, HG Wells in nearly all his works, and a very large number of other eminent writers as well as the creators of a genre in fiction known as ‘science fiction’, show the all-pervasive effect of science in creative literature.
In the recent past, a book which attracted worldwide attention was CP Snow’s Two Cultures, which is a collection of papers on the conflict between culture represented by the fine arts and the overwhelming force of modern science and technology. The conflict between old and new is itself very old. In one of the frescoes in Rome, Plato and his famous disciple and critic Aristotle, are seen standing together shoulder to shoulder. While Plato is lifting his fingers skywards, Aristotle is pointing his finger to the earth. The fresco represents the difference of approach between the idealistic and the scientific temper.
In the final analysis, let it be emphasized again that the scientific temper should not remain confined to men of science only. It should colour, animate and influence the temper of humanity and human society and should be in Wordsworth’s phrase ‘in the widest commonalty spread’. Let not the pressure and urgency of modern times make us slaves of technology which, as Goethe and Shelley pointed out, may make science an all-devouring Frankenstein. Let us see to it that the civilization does not lose the balance and the equ