Out of Thin Air

The first chapters of Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air, outline the scientific ideologies and methods utilized to describe Joseph Priestley’s discovery of oxygen. These ideologies are not only reviewed under the scope of science, but also analyzed under the scope of historical significance. Johnson presents three unique models in order to paint a picture in the natural sciences. The first is progressive “great man” history, this is described as a tendency to idolize a select few leaders in science and technology (Johnson, 43). This idea is short sighted, and only capable of representing a small portion of the actual picture. Marx attributes this model to “the class struggle, the evolution of capital itself, and technological innovations” (Johnson, 43). The concept is that one human of ideal status, cannot be accredited with historical advances. The second method, the paradigm shift theory, emphasizes a lack of linearity. It is data collection until an anomaly occurs that alters the system and essentially resets understanding (Johnson, 44). Another example of this model is nutritional science, each fad diet is proven ineffective for individuals eventually, then people must revisit their understanding of the “rules” of nutrition. The third model is ecosystem theory, Johnson emphasizes interdisciplinary science. He discusses the necessity for proper communication across disciplines (Johnson, 45-46). Interdisciplinary science is a modern strategy which is common with increased accessibility of information. 

Johnson explains Joseph Priestley’s discovery of oxygen utilizing the paradigm shift theory. Johnson describes the process as Priestley’s progression of experimentation and repetition. His strategy is portrayed as guess and check, certainly nonlinear. The mouse and plant experimentation explained in the second chapter of the book, is a prime example of ideas being discovered in a nonlinear way.

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