Newton's Optical Writings, by Dennis L. Sepper
Can there be more than antiquarian interest in scientific works that have long been superseded? To judge by their actions, most contemporary scientists would answer no. Few modern-day chemists have read the works of Antoine Lavoisier, the founder of their subject. Few physicists have read Isaac Newton. Masterworks of Discovery, however, a series of “guided studies of great texts in science,” answers with an emphatic yes.
Harvey Flaumenhaft, the general editor of the series, argues the importance of understanding where we are by the light of where we have been. Science feeds on questions, and in the normal course, he writes, “new questions are built from the answers that were given to the old questions”; but then
the old questions are . . . no longer asked. . . . Progress thus can lead to a kind of forgetfulness, making us less thoughtful in some ways than those whom we go beyond.
As a result, he warns, we may easily become prisoners of second-hand or ready-made opinions:
Only by actively taking part in discovery—only by engaging in rediscovery ourselves—can we avoid both blind reaction to the scientific enterprise and blind submission to it.
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