I probably should have drank coffee before making this…

In the first chapter of the book The Invention of Air the author, Steven Johnson provides three models for understanding the history of science. The first model is known as “progressive” or “great man” history and relies on the findings of specific individuals to explain the advancements made in science. This model is quite simplistic and is easy to grasp as history tends to idolize certain individuals over others. While there have been many individual scientists who have made large effects on the course of history it is too elementary to give sole credit to just a single actor for the progress that has defined our past. The second method is known as “paradigm shift” and it revolves around the notion that a set of newly discovered information that conflicts with a traditionally accepted paradigm leads to a cultural and scientific shift in the direction of the newly acquired information. This model relies heavily on the impact of outliers and rebels both in the scientific community and in the information itself, again, it appears that this model has some similar issues with the previous one in regards to simplicity and exclusiveness. The third model is known as the “ecosystem” model and is the most comprehensive. The ecosystem model suggests that scientific progress is the product of a network of circumstances and interactions that leads to the famous discoveries and breakthroughs. A perfect example of the ecosystem model in use is the story of Joseph Priestly’s discovery of oxygen, which Johnson depicts through a method known as coffeehouse culture. Coffeehouse culture relies on the notion that the stimulating effect on an open and intellectual environment such as the coffeehouse that Priestly was in prior to discovering oxygen created a perfect “ecosystem” for the conversations and connections that ultimately led to the discovery of oxygen. Another example of Coffeehouse culture is the culture created by college campuses that fosters critical thinking and elevated thought.

One thought on “I probably should have drank coffee before making this…

  1. I agree with what you are laying out and I’ll say, you layed it out quite well. I enjoyed the way you described each of the three models and gave both reasons and examples of how they are inadequate. No man in history has made a mark on history without the help of someone else in the background. Without the support of people in the shadows, many people who are famous for something like music or an author would be just another fish in the sea. I enjoyed how you rounded the post off relating the coffee house culture to that of college campuses.

    Like

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