In The Invention of Air, Steven Johnson presents three different theories of scientific advancement that have been seen throughout history. The first model is the Progressive “Great man” theory, which seems to be the model Joseph Priestly follows in the book he decided to write about the great natural philosophers of his era. This model stems from the idea that science follows a continuous and progressive linear path, making one big discovery after another and getting closer and closer to understand everything about the world around us. This theory focuses on the idea that scientific advancements are made by a few influential people who are finding new things and making great discoveries. This period of scientific discoveries started shortly after the Renaissance, a time where some discoveries were made but where the progression of science was far from being a priority. The ‘founding fathers” of the progressive era of science had a lot to discover, and did not need to be specialized in anything to make their discoveries. It was easy to see scientific advancement as a progressive movement because there was a new endless curiosity and so much to find.
The second model discussed in Johnson’s novel is the Paradigm shift history. This theory was proposed by Thomas Kuhn to explain a more contemporary view of progress. He saw science and its progress as a set of ideas and facts that would be used until anomalies are found and new ideas would come out of the problems of the previous ones. In the context of Joseph Priestly, many of his ideas were revised, corrected and refined. Some of them were even proven wrong. Nevertheless, his discoveries are what allowed further discoveries to be made by other people in the centuries that followed.
The third and most recent idea proposed in The Invention of Air is the Ecosystem theory. It brings upon a more diverse yet more specialized way of studying the world. It sees science as a multidisciplinary field in which all of the disciplines work together to expend the knowledge we possess. In the history of science, many things had to happen at certain time to create the perfect condition in which a discovery could be made. This is the method Johnson use to explain how Joseph Priestly came to discover oxygen. Priestly was able to share ideas and reflect on them with other scientists by participating in the coffeehouse culture. He happened to move right next to a brewery where he started getting curious about the fermentation of beer. He also had more leisure time because his wife was taking care of the household. The combination of all of these elements eventually led him to the discovery of oxygen.
Governments and religions were dreading the invention of these machines because they meant more than what they were. They represented the start of a new era of discoveries. A time of curiosity where people had the ability to explore the world around them and see it in a new light. All of a sudden, everything that had been taken for granted, the way the government was running society and religions were controlling the people was being questioned. If ideas that had been seen as truth for centuries were pushed aside to reveal new truths, what would happen to the government and religion systems? If fact, it became somewhat dangerous to question the way the world worked. As Johnson writes in his book, both Franklin and Priestly exiled to the United States because they were no longer welcomed in England after expressing their new ideas. Their scientific discoveries did not only challenge the old age ideas of how the world worked, but also kick started a new philosophical movement that would question the power of religion and the way the country had been working for centuries. So many things that had been thought to be of supernatural and divine origins now had a reasonable explanation. All of a sudden, the Church did not have absolute authority. In the United States, natural philosophers also had to come face to face with opposition, like with the Adam’s administration. This problem of opposition to scientific advancements came from having science, politics, and religion all debating on the issue, each having a completely different and unique point of view. We see similar problems with new ideas in today’s society. For examples, there are lots of debates about stem cell research, global warming, or evolution. It is hard to change one’s concept of what something is, especially if debating with people from different milieus and points of view.
According to Sean F. Johnston, a technological fix is a technological solution to a problem in society. It is the idea that technology can improve our quality of life by resolving any social issue. Techno-fixes have become increasingly popular among political and economical elites because of the promising outcomes they have or seem to have. Especially after World War II, techno-fixes were synonym of new easy ways for societies to prosper after a time of darkness. They offered new ways to help the population by producing more food, more power, boost the economy, and overall increase the quality of life.
Huesemann and Huesemann argue that we should be cautious or skeptical about techno-fixes. They might have great positive effect, but also often have unexpected outcomes. Since negative effects of techno-fixes are often seen over long periods of time, it is often hard to relate their negative effects to their causes. It is important to stay cautious when using techno-fixes and to avoid focusing only on the positive short-term effects of them. For example, some of these fixes can have irreversible effects on the environment. We are all way too familiar to many of these negative consequences technology and its use of resources has had on the planet.