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04 Dec

That Speech that Professor Tyndall Made

The scientific naturalists, especially Huxley and Tyndall, were able to dominate the politics of science when they were at the height of their power in the 1870’s and 1880’s. They were able to challenge the scientific, and even the cultural, authority of the Anglican clergy. Through their lectures and writings they encouraged the Victorian public to question widely held beliefs about the nature of society, the place of humanity in nature, and the role of religion in a modern, industrialized world. As a result, the Belfast Address was seen as a momentous cultural event well beyond the 1870’s. Almost thirty years later it seemed to symbolize how scientific naturalism had turned the Victorian world upside down. The playwright George Bernard Shaw summed up its enduring significance in his Man and Superman (1903). “It’s a very queer world,” remarks Mrs. Whitefield, who is bewildered by the complicated behavior of the younger generation. “It used to be so straightforward and simple; and now nobody seems to think and feel as they ought. Nothing has been right since that speech that Professor Tyndall made at Belfast” (4.237).

Lightman, Bernard. “On Tyndall’s Belfast Address, 1874.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History, Dino Franco Felluga (ed). [online here]

29 Apr

Root and STEM

Taming the Electric Fluids (c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Taming the Electric Fluids
(c) PhotoAtelier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the general consciousness, philosophy is more associated with the arts than with science. The nesting of philosophy under “literature” in the Oxford Reference timeline tool is one example. In the case of Irish philosophy it’s understandable given great writers such as Swift, Wilde and Yeats fit into the category of Irish philosopher. But Irish philosophy (as all philosophy) also includes people who are interested in the natural world, mathematics and technology.

AE wrote in 1925 (Irish Statesman): “Ireland has not only the unique Gaelic tradition, but it has also given birth, if it accepts all of its children, to many men who have influenced European culture and science, Berkeley, Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan, Moore, Hamilton, Kelvin, Tyndall, Shaw, Yeats, Synge and many others of international repute.” Four of those names unequivocally played a role in the history of STEM. Three of those were also philosophers.
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28 Feb

Physics to Consciousness

[T]he passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from one to the other.”

John Tyndall on the hard problem of consciousness in the “Belfast Address”. Quoted by Galen Strawson in “Consciousness myth”Times Literary Supplement.

16 Feb

“John Tyndall Resurrected”, Wed 4 March 2015, 7pm, Royal Institute London.

On Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 7pm there will be special event to celebrate the launch of the first volume of Tyndall’s correspondence. Royal Institution historian Prof Frank James is to host an evening of expert talks on Tyndall’s early life, his relationship with the Ri and the future of collaborative humanities research. Free to Ri members, £12 standard admission, £8 concession.

Further information here, book here. John Tyndall’s showmanship in the Ri Christmas lectures is described here and the Tyndal Correspondance Project has its website here.

09 Nov

Epicurean Creation

The mechanical shock of the atoms being in his view the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The inter-action of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. “

John Tyndall references Lucretius the Epicurean (On The Nature on Things) in his famous Belfast Address (1874) in support of Darwinism and the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations.