Barzun, Jacques. Science: The Glorious Entertainment. New York: Harper, 1964.

 

Barzun, Jacques. Science: The Glorious Entertainment. New York: Harper, 1964.

This book contains so many quotes worthy of inclusion that to include them all would be
impossible. Then, too, one feels compelled to explain the position of the author: there is a need to
argue with the author's Romanticism precisely because it is so attractive.

There is much here that is "typical" of the 1950s. It is clearly prior to the "Angst" of the '60s and
the devilish '70s. The author anticipated both developments and clearly perceived the trends
which were later to develop. Exemplifying his stance on science is this analogy: Barzun stands
regarding science as a priest might defend Holy Mother Church against an agnostic historian. The
historian might point to Alexander VI, or the excesses of the Counter Reformation, as evidence
that Holy Mother Church is neither a Mother nor is she Holy. Barzun so ideally defines science
that one cannot but agree with his judgment "...no man capable of understanding what science
accomplishes can repudiate or try to dishonor it without giving up part of his manhood." (p. 282)
Now how can anyone write a description of cheating in science with that sort of statement?

His definition of science is only part of the story: "I understand by modern science the body of
rules, instruments, theorems, observations, and conceptions with the aid of which man
manipulates physical nature in order to grasp its workings. Taken together, these ideas, symbols,
and apparatus form the subject and the method of the so-called pure sciences." (p. 14) But
science is more: it offers man something more than the Faustian need for food and clothing and
entertainment, the consequences of which are too well known. Science offers an alternative to
techne's model of man, the machine. Science is more than an expensive metaphor for which
Faust sold his soul. Science offers, as Barzun's friend Rene Dubos put it in a later book,
"enthusiasm," the God within. The scientist penetrates Nature in a way that is transcendent.

That science has had paradoxical consequences for man and for art, Barzun is the first to admit.
But that kind of paradox is inherent in greatness.