SMS scnews item created by Martin Wechselberger at Fri 7 Sep 2007 1320
Type: Seminar
Distribution: World
Expiry: 12 Sep 2007
Calendar1: 12 Sep 2007 1405-1455
CalLoc1: Eastern Avenue Lecture Theatre
Auth: wm@p6283.pc.maths.usyd.edu.au

Applied Maths Seminar: Brown -- Words or Numbers? - poetry and a couple of Victorian scientists

Science becomes professionalised in the nineteenth century.  It is only in 1834, with
the coinage of the word ’scientist,’ that its practitioners are formally distinguished
from philosophers, while the rest of the century sees their efforts to establish
dedicated university degrees and qualifications in science, professional bodies and
journals, and more broadly to extricate themselves from a priori religious beliefs, from
phrenology and spiritualism, and from metaphysical entities, such as phlogiston and the
ether, as well as from gifted amateurs.  In the hard sciences professionalisation
involved shifts from verbal to mathematical language and modelling.  It is an index of
this rapid and radical cultural transition that some of the greatest physicists and
mathematicians of the mid-Victorian period also wrote poetry, and indeed found radical
affinities between their practices of science and poetry.  This paper focuses upon work
by two of these scientists, the physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the mathematician
James Joseph Sylvester, to explore their convictions that poetry and mathematics share
common epistemological grounds that enable them to grasp the truth of the object world.


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