The conquests of physical science were due to minute and extensive observation conducted by vast numbers of men, and therefore, for the most part, by the unintelligent. Science attracted some few men of high culture and some even (much fewer) of strong reasoning power: but in themselves mere observation and comparison, the framing of hypotheses and the testing of them by experiment need no intellectual qualities above the lowest and therefore an obvious occupation for those who despise or do not grasp the use of the reason. It has even been maintained that the ceaseless practice of exact measurement dulls the brain. At any rate, the business of modern physical science was not attached to, and became more and more divorced from, philosophy—and therefore from theory which is philosophy’s guide.
But this, for the most part unintelligent, mass of observation, has led to astounding results….As a consequence, its prestige has risen prodigiously; its methods, conclusions, and much more, the moral atmosphere in which it works has affected every other art, and every other study; notably did it affect the spirit of history in the later nineteenth century.
Was this offhand comment fair then? Fair still now? Seems pretty accurate to me, and I speak of one of the fold.
Of course, the egos of scientists have done anything but shrink since these words were penned. Except for activists and politicians, no man is more ready to self congratulate himself over his profession than a scientist. Yet it takes some brains to do the routine tasks of these artisans. But maybe less than has been claimed. And, after all—and this is Belloc’s main point—facility with integration does not give one more insight into what defines the good life than do the abilities possessed by, say, carpenters.
Be sure you understand what is being criticized here. People not knowledge. Science is often spoken of by its practitioners as a thing, a real entity, and a poor one, too; one whose honor is always in dire and desperate need of defending; a damsel in acute distress, beset upon continuously by the forces of unreason. These perpetually nervous guardians are certain sure that if the percentage of the population who cannot on demand name the weight of a neutrino slips below a fixed level, then the mullahs and priests will take over and enforce blind dogma.
As if the weight of the neutrino is not dogma. And never mind that it was the theological bent of priests and Abrahamic religious which gave birth to Science, which in many cases, to this very day, was advanced by those sporting dog collars and cloaks.
Plus it’s true that in our culture kiddies grow up with the myths and legends of scientists. While everybody knows Einstein, how many can name, for instance, Aristotle? Or Bach?
Anyway: scientists. Sparkling geniuses all, or regular, somewhat tedious, folk?