The History of Science: 1700-1900 by Frederick Gregory (The Great Courses)

1. The History of Science: 1700-1900 by Frederick Gregory (The Great Courses)

a. About 18 hours

b. Not recommended.

c. How I chose it: I enjoyed the other two courses on the history of science from the Teaching Company covering Antiquity to 1700 and the 20th century. Of the three, I liked the one covering the 20th century best, the one covering antiquity second best, and this one least.

d. I found the first half of these lectures fairly boring because they focused a great deal on physical natural history, but I find that topic fairly boring and I don’t feel that I got much of an understanding of how people used to think about natural history during that period. In addition, I preferred the coverage of natural history in Making Modern Science. The highlight for me was the coverage of theistic rhetoric and The Vestiges, which was a natural history written anonymously in 1844. More on that in my more complete notes[link]. But it wasn’t that much of a high point. I think this period may have been less interesting because the Scientific Revolution was already under way before the period began and the many of the more mind-blowing technological applications came along in the 20th century.

Note: Audible chapters are one ahead of the chapters listed here.

The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (by Roger Chambers) was published anonymously in 1844. It offered a naturalistic account of the history of the world, including evolution and the formation of stars and planets. It was an international best seller at the time and sparked controversy because people felt it didn’t leave enough of a role for God, despite Deistic passages discussing how our understanding of God’s work glorified Him. (Chapter 19)

In Britain in the 1860s, most people were not persuaded that new information in the natural sciences required them to change their religious views. Religious thinkers were significantly less concerned about this than they were about “Higher Criticism” of the Bible. (Chapter 21, 13:00)

Darwin’s theory worked even if evolutions were random. This made it impossible to predict where evolution was going, which conflicted with Victorian ideas of progress. Consequently, Lamarckian evolution—which emphasized notions of “progress” more—got more popular acceptance than Darwinian evolution. (Chapter 21, 27:45)

When attacking the theory of spontaneous generation, Pasteur used anti-Deistic rhetoric in addition to his legitimate scientific arguments. It was something like, “This other conception leaves so little room for God.” (I think in Chapter 22 somewhere)

Pasteur developed a vaccine against chicken cholera (a disease that affects chickens) using a flawed theory of disease. Pasteur thought that vaccines worked by putting weakened microbes in the host, which would eat the nutrients that the microbes needed to survive. But someone else made an anthrax vaccine using dead microbes, which made no sense on Pasteur’s previous view. (Chapter 22, 19:00)

Pasteur liked to make a big show of his scientific discoveries. He inoculated 25 sheep on a farm and left 25 unvaccinated, and then infected all the sheep. A rival had made a very similar vaccine earlier, but didn’t publicize it in a comparable way. The rival didn’t get much recognition for this. (Chapter 22, 23:00)

Herbert Spencer and Georg Buchner drew very different social implications from advances in evolutionary theory. Buchner took it in a communist direction. (Chapter 23, 28:30)

Ampere suggested that magnetism was just electricity in motion. He said this was true even if permanent bar magnets. (Chapter 26, 16:00)

Claim: Physicists learned more about heat from engineers who made engines than the other way around. (Chapter 27, first half I think)

Babbage ran out of funds for his calculating machine in the 1820s. It was around this time that natural philosophers started calling themselves scientists and tried to separate them from philosophers. (Chapter 28, maybe somewhere around 20:00)

There was an “Age of Realism” in the latter half of the 19th century in Britain that emphasized scientific materialism. (Chapter 32)

New works on extraterrestrial life were written in the first half of the 19th century. In 1837, the cleric Thomas Dick wrote a book called Celestial Scenery. The author calculated the number of people that lived on planets, asteroids, and even the rings of Saturn. Mercury had 8,960,000 inhabitants. The rings of Saturn had the most: 8,141,963,826,080. He said there were about 22 trillion in total. (Chapter 34, 17:00).