(Clockwise from left) Leonardo da Vinci drawing, title page of Francis Bacon book, Pluto, page in Darwin journal; painting of Copernicus (Risa Ryan)
Scientific inquiry has long provided the basis for seminal works that document our desire to better understand our world, our cosmos, and ourselves. Today, though, we too often learn about issues in science through a debate among semi-informed politicians or in a journalist’s brief article.
Spend a fascinating day discovering the works of great scientist-writers that moved scientific development forward over the centuries, from writings by Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle through 20th-century classics in biology, physics, and cosmology. They are a reminder that scientific inquiry is an essential, often deeply personal, sometimes- flawed, and frequently brilliant way of understanding the world.
Writer and historian Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, leads this investigation into the literature of science and the timeless lessons it holds.
9:30–10:45 a.m. The Beginnings of Science: From the Greeks to Copernicus
An era of firsts: Initial accounts of the universe; an ancient theory of evolution; use of mathematics to measure the universe; a secular scientific text; the rise of a sun-centered universe. Hippocrates, Aristotle, Socrates, Lucretius, Ptolemy, and Copernicus
11 a.m.–12 p.m. The Birth of the Scientific Method: From Francis Bacon to Isaac Newton
The emergence of the modern scientific method and observation and experimentation; instruments and laboratory work arrive on the scientific scene; the development of still-viable rules of reasoning. Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and Isaac Newton.
12–1 p.m. Lunch (boxed lunch is provided)
1–2 p.m. Reading the Earth: From the First Geologist to the Great Asteroid Catastrophe
The birth of the first modern science, geology; the concept of “deep time”; uniformitarianism vs. catastrophism; the origins of continental drift. The Comte de Buffon, James Hutton, Charles Lyell, Alfred Wegener, and Walter Alvarez.
2:15–3:15 p.m. Reading Life: From the First Biologist to Dawkins and Gould
The evolution of the science of life; the beginnings of biology; theories of natural selection and inheritance; cell-level discoveries; biology and the destiny of humankind. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, James Watson, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould.
3:30–4:30 p.m. Reading the Cosmos: From Einstein to the Butterfly Effect
The limitations of Newtonian physics; quantum theory; the triumph of the Big Bang; chaos theory. Albert Einstein, Erwin Schroedinger, Edwin Hubble, Steven Weinberg, and James Gleick.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)