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The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991. EHobsbawm (1995) (pp. 556-7)

August 9, 2013

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“The truth is that ‘science’ (by which most people meant the ‘hard’ natural sciences) was too big, too powerful, too indispensable to society in general and its paymasters in particular to be left to its own devices. The paradox of its situation was that, in the last analysis, the huge powerhouse of twentieth-century technology, and the economy it made possible, increasingly depended on a relatively minuscule community of people for whom titanic consequences of their activities were secondary, and often trivial. For them the ability of men to travel to the moon or to bounce the images of a Brazilian football match off a satellite so that it could be watched on a screen in Düsseldorf, was far less interesting than the discovery of some cosmic background noise which was identified during the search for phenomena that troubled communication, but confirmed a theory about the origins of the universe. Yet, like the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, they knew that they lived in and helped to shape a world that could not understand and did not care about what they did. Their call for the freedom of research was like Archimedes cri-de-coeur to the invading soldiers, against whom he had devised military engines for his city of Syracuse, and who took no notice of them as they killed him: ‘For God’ s sake, don’t ruin my diagrams.’ It was understandable, but not necessarily realistic.”

[op. cit., pp. 556-557]

Manuel J. Matos‘s insight:

So, Hobsbawm left some pearls for scientists, not just for economist or politicians …

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