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To the Greeks, so occupied with human uniqueness, individualism and personal freedom ‹ as distinct from animal life ‹ the concept of individualism and personal freedom had nothing to do with intimacy or privacy. They considered two ways of life to be free, and therefore truly human. The life devoted to the polis (the ancient city-state) in which excellence produces great deeds (leading to a "bios politikos"); and the life of the philosopher devoted to inquiry into, and contemplation of, things eternal, whose everlasting beauty can be neither produced nor consumed by man. With the disappearance of the ancient city-state and along with it the disappearance of the special meaning of "bios politikos" (free from any form of social need), only contemplation remained. And this was taken over by early Christianity in its claim to be free of all entanglement in worldly affairs. Perhaps it was the shock of the fall of Rome that made philosophers doubt whether any form of "everlastingness" could be achieved.
Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes and Bacon (and before them, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen) rebelled against this notion, and their rebellion made manifest the change from ancient to modern thought. They were no longer occupied with eternity, but with the way that nature and society could become objects under human control. They argued (see Jerry Weinberger - list of works consulted) that once human intellectual effort was directed from traditional concerns to new ones ‹ from contemplation to action, from accounts of what men ought to do to what they actually intend doing, and from metaphysics to scientific examination of natural causes ‹ then the harsh inconveniences of nature and political life (as well as their challenges and demands) would be relieved or overcome.
In short, their philosophies laid the foundations of modern society and science, and Western man started on his journey towards mastery of the universe, for better or worse.
We follow this journey in the footsteps of six men who, through their visions, have played a major role in the creation of modern science and technology and in its public display. It is not an exhaustive retrospective but rather an outline of developing ideas and attitudes.
All six had this in common: they were men of the world, combining political and social involvement with a profound interest in science and technology, and in ways of involving the public. They also lived at the beginning of new eras and partly shaped them.
Our first hero, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250), lived in the era of the faithful but "prototyped" for the future: the Renaissance and the era of property-owners.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) lived at the beginning of the era of the Enlightenment and Mercantilism.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) lived during the Enlightenment, but also witnessed the beginning of the industrial revolution and the rise of self-made entrepreneurs.
Oskar von Miller (1855-1934) started his Museum on the waves of the first continental-European industrialisation and the era of mass production.
Jean Perrin (1870-1942) lived at the time when producers ‹ after the bitter lessons of two World Wars ‹ were about to become consumers too.
Frank Oppenheimer (1912-1985) was in many respects a forerunner of our own era: that of job-holders and choosers, equipped with an intelligent and critical eye.
One thing can already be observed: each era was briefer than the one before.
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In the midst of these revolutionary changes on the European continent, arose a man whom some called the anti-Christ, but others "a tower of light". His name is Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. He was born King of Sicily and elected Emperor of the Holy German Empire. The Sicily he was heir to was a remarkable place. His ancestors (Normans from France) conquered the island in the 11th century and turned it into a unique place where almost all races of Europe and the Mediterranean lived and worked freely together.
This cosmopolitanism was further stimulated by Frederick II and, shortly after he was crowned Emperor, several learned Greeks appeared at his court as secretaries, translators, and in other official functions. When inviting people to his court, Frederick gave no thought to differences of race or religion. Some of those invited were Christians, many were Jews or Muslims, all were devoted to the pursuit of learning and belles-lettres.
Frederick II applied the scientific method to a variety of pursuits. Shortly after his arrival in Sicily, evidence of scientific interest and activity appeared, notably between 1220 and 1232. Quite early in his imperial reign he had the works of both Aristotle and Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) translated, and sent copies of the translations to professors and students of the universities of Bologna and Paris.
His covering letter is a remarkable document. In his opening remarks he notes that from his youth he had been eager for knowledge and had always esteemed "inhaling tirelessly its sweet perfumes". He then tells how he had various ancient literary works collected and translated for his own use and, "because the noble possession of knowledge is not weakened when shared with others and disseminated, but is made even more fruitful and more enduring," he sought to make it widely available. He continues: "We believe it to be useful and of value to us to provide the opportunity for our subjects to enlighten themselves, because, well informed, they will more readily do what is right and, leaning upon the staff of knowledge, they will provide better for themselves and for the Fatherland".
The mingling of the Orient and Occident at the Sicilian court is nowhere better illustrated than in Frederick II's own work, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (about the art of hunting with birds). One of the most striking features of this book is its evidence of Frederick's intimate knowledge of the works of Aristotle. But Frederick's own experience and observations soon led him to distrust many of Aristotle's findings.
In his preface to the Arte Venandi he says: "We discovered by hard-won experience that the deductions of Aristotle, whom we followed when they appealed to our reason, were not entirely to be relied upon." Frederick stresses the importance of first-hand investigation of natural phenomena: "There is another reason why we did not follow the Prince of Philosophers: he was ignorant of the practice of falconry.... In his work, the Liber Animalium, we find many quotations from other authors whose statements he did not verify and who, in their turn, were not speaking from experience. Entire conviction of the truth never follows mere hearsay.... Our work is to present things that are as they are."
The Arte Venandi is far more than a hunting-book. It is, in fact, a scientific treatise of the first order, employing the methods of modern science and rejecting all hypotheses which were proved wrong through practical experiment and observation.
If Frederick's interests were often directed towards the world of birds and beasts, he was no less concerned with humanity, as his efforts to improve medicine and personal hygiene bear witness. He also conducted experiments to extend his knowledge of the human species. These experiments created a scandal amongst his contemporaries, for it would still take another 300 years before the taboo against looking inside the human body was broken (leading to many paintings of anatomy lessons). What kind of experiments he actually conducted is hard to tell for the sources are conflicting and difficult to distinguish from hostile propaganda (according to his biographer and admirer Thomas Curtis van Cleve - see works consulted).
But whatever he did or didn't investigate, in this sense too Frederick II prototyped for future eras. Medical research has brought many benefits which we would no longer be without. But the objectivation of the human body and our technical ability to dissect it and research it, also give us enormous responsibilities, as the recent revelations about radioactivity experiments carried out on human beings in the USA show. Experiments which, to be sure, probably also took place in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Scientific interest in itself is "harmless". But from the moment we leave our places of contemplation, and involve our fellow creatures with the applications of our new insights, then our interest loses all its innocence and our social responsibilities start. The Greeks were well aware of this and tried, in their wisdom, to remain aloof. But theirs was the wisdom of a pension-polis, of a group of men who had delegated the burdens of daily life to others. From the Renaissance onwards, men attempted a harmonious combination: the development of science and technology with a politically-active life. And while they enjoyed their increasing insight into natural science, they struggled with the development of a set of ethical codes, that would guard their progress and control it. The development of science and technology involves, simultaneously, a struggle with questions of human nature and politics; and the development of political science.
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3.3. Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Bacon was born three hundred years after the death of Frederick II and decisive changes again took place in Europe during his lifetime. Actually, European civilisation might easily have disintegrated then, as happened in India around this time. For between 1560 and 1648 terrible wars raged across Europe, in which political, constitutional, economic and social issues, as well as religion were involved.
But Europe survived the crisis and the outcome can be summed up in the following key phrases: plurality, mercantilism, scientific thinking, and West European supremacy.
The reasons for the survival of European civilisation will always remain obscure to some extent. But one aspect of its survival stands out: the emergence of scientific thinking, which became a characteristic of European society from the middle of the seventeenth century. From the middle of the seventeenth century the influence of "intellectual capital" in Europe definitely took over from the church and eventually changed the European landscape as much as "intellectual capital" is today changing the whole world. The rising influence of "intellectual capital" began in the mid-sixteenth century and spread over two eras: the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
In the first era much progress was made in the natural sciences and in the development of scientific thinking. In the second era progress was also made in the social and political sciences, and a new group of people emerged ‹ the encyclopaedists or "philosophes", so called to distinguish them from the philosophers. They were the popularisers or publicists of the philosophers' ideas, and include such men as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, d'Alembert, Buffon, Turgot, Quesnay, Hume, Gibbon, di Beccaria, and many others.
The philosophers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century did publish their thoughts too, but the publications were mostly read by their peers; men such as Bacon, Huygens ( light theory, time-measurement), Descartes, Copernicus (astronomy), Vesalius (human anatomy), van Leeuwenhoek (bacteria), Napier (logarithms), Pascal (probabilities), Newton and Leibniz (calculus), Kepler, Galileo, etc. And publication provided stimuli for further investigation and publications. Science as an "enterprise" was born.
The hero of this section, Francis Bacon, never had much influence on the development of experimental science. He was far too busy with his duties as Lord Chancellor of England. But he did publish a number of decisive works. And he is looked upon as the "inventor" of the inductive method (moving from the particular to the general) and of empiricism.
Bacon is also regarded as the man who made the connection between science and technology by insisting that true knowledge is useful knowledge. In his view, there was no sharp divide between pure science and applied science, or between the work of a purely scientific investigator and that of a mechanic putting natural forces to work. Knowledge as power: enthusiastic Baconians thus derived the notion of progress ‹ for, surely, if we gain more knowledge, our power should also increase.
The notion of progress through knowledge has been attacked many times as being naïve optimism, pretentious rationalism, un-philosophical philosophising. Science Centres are similarly attacked by people who see them as institutions uncritically advocating "progress through knowledge". However, many of the philosophers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were well aware of the dangers of naïve optimism, and discussed all these issues at length. As did Francis Bacon, albeit in a very subtle and sometimes obscure way.
With the publication of the Great Instauration, Bacon aimed to reform human reasoning. He intended "to lay the foundation, not of any sect or doctrine, but of human utility and power," in order to "conquer nature in action". Living at a time when science was fighting actively against astrology, prejudice, superstition, the burning of witches, and religious doctrine, Bacon knew that the scientific transformation of the world would have extraordinary moral and political consequences. And that it would bring new problems to replace familiar old ones: in a world to be conquered rather than endured, what moral and political principles would guide the human energies released by the activity of conquest? (Weinberger).
Bacon's insights into modern science and technology therefore had everything to do with human nature, political science and the conditions of mankind, as he described in New Atlantis, picturing a society dedicated to the pursuit of science and the conquest of nature.
But his picture is incomplete (Weinberger). Although he wrote New Atlantis to give us a vision of the society of the future, he omitted political science from the list of sciences described in Salomon's House (see Appendix I). The fellows of Salomon's House investigate all kinds of subjects useful for man's preservation, longevity, and delight, as well as means of war and deception. But they do not study the relations between human beings, who have bodies and wills.
We are left to wonder why. In the "Advancement of Learning" Bacon says that political science, being dangerous, is a subject "secret and retired ". Perhaps it simply requires the stomach of a man like Machiavelli to write it all down with the precision of a surgeon. But according to Weinberger, it may well be that Bacon ignored political science deliberately, perhaps doubting his readers' ability to grasp both advocacy for scientific progress and, at the same time, examination of its relation to society.
Or perhaps Bacon didn't want to give us any clues to dealing with human nature and political science because he believed, as a true empiricist, that such problems can only be addressed through life, experiment and practice. Perhaps he was just waiting for the New Atlantis ‹ waiting for the arrival of a kind of New England.
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3.4. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
A programme of requirements for a seventeenth century Science Centre, is how Bacon's description of Salomon's House could be characterised. But lacking any description of outreach programmes, educational activities, public debates, temporary exhibitions or manifestations. In short, lacking live programming and societal context.
The same could be said about the philosophies of the Renaissance and Enlightenment as a whole. They were first of all a collection of ideas, of visions, forming a blueprint for a society still to come. Many of the "philosophes" of the Enlightenment looked to the United States as the place where their ideas would be put into practice‹ where the live programming of their thoughts could be explored and experimented with. And many saw Benjamin Franklin as the personification of this process of realisation.
Many of the Enlightenment philosophes (Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, Turgot, Lessing) lived long enough to see the American Revolution. The triumphant founding of a republic was convincing evidence of real progress, indicating that reason and humanity might become governing ‹ not merely critical ‹ principles. The American Revolution turned North America from an importer of ideas to an exporter of attitudes, on human nature and on the practice of democracy. Through the fight for independence and the domestication of a whole continent, America became a kind of living Newton, but this time with the focus on human nature and political science.
"It has been said that Franklin was not entrusted with the task of writing the Declaration of Independence for fear he might conceal a joke in the middle of it," (Becker - see works consulted). "The myth," continues Becker, "holds a profound symbolic truth. In all Franklin's dealings with men and affairs, genuine, sincere, loyal as he surely was, one feels that he is nevertheless not wholly committed; some thought remains uncommunicated; some penetrating observation is held in reserve. In spite of his ready attention to the business in hand, there is something casual about his efficient dispatch of it; he manages somehow to remain aloof, a spectator still, with amiable curiosity watching himself functioning effectively in the world."
Benjamin Franklin was a true self-made man. At the age of seventeen he was already an expert printer, and had begun that close application to reading, writing, reflection, and self-improvement which continued throughout his life. Franklin arrived in Philadelphia with one Dutch dollar and a copper shilling in 1723, and by 1748 had made himself completely independent. He taught himself to read French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. In the intervals between his varied activities as printer, philanthropist, and politician, Franklin found time to study science. His passion for improvement made him the leader in many projects of community benefit. He initiated projects for establishing a city police, and for the paving, improved cleaning and lighting of city streets. He was largely instrumental in establishing the first circulating library in America, in Philadelphia in 1731; in founding the American Philosophical Society in 1743; a city hospital in 1751; and an Academy for Youth Education, opened in 1751 and incorporated in 1753 (the origin of the University of Pennsylvania).
The combination of a social commitment with a certain aloofness with regard for human nature, which can be observed in Benjamin Franklin, can also be observed in the political classic "The Federalist", written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay to persuade voters in New York to accept the proposed constitution of the United States. Man, they argued, is not all bad, but a mixture of many qualities:
"As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence." The Federalist is an expression of moderate optimism. They were practical papers advocating a government that would guard individuals' passions for the sake of order, and guard the guardians for the sake of freedom. It is a document of the Enlightenment in its hopeful realism. Again and again the word "experiment" is used in self-congratulation: the Americans had made singular and unprecedented experiments, because they trusted themselves, and experience had proved them to be right.
Looking back at the North America of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the place where the live programming of Bacon's new Science Centre was developed, we can list the following key phrases: democratic, critical, valuing experiment and experience, self-made and somewhat anti-social, self-educated, sincerity combined with aloofness, scepticism and moderate optimism, guarding the guardians for the sake of freedom, using common sense and reason to solve human problems and advance human welfare.
Of course Europe also tried its hand at "live programming" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But attempts to change society, based on the ideas of the Enlightenment were in many ways frustrated. The French Revolution ended in terror, and from 1800 to 1848 the Restoration of conservative powers thwarted further attempts to renew Europe. This created harsh socio-economic tensions and resulted in the era of "isms" (communism, anarchism, nationalism, socialism, liberalism, etc.), of ideologically driven, totalitarian, social concepts in which one had to "believe", and which served to sharpen the differences between classes.
After World War II ‹ with the arrival of the consumer-era and the general rise in incomes ‹ most of these "isms" lost their attraction. But the present socio-economic tensions, and the new rise of nationalism, show that Europe can still be tempted by political ideology. Nevertheless, with more emphasis on social security and social policies, smaller differences in income, more collective taxation and less élitism, the Europe of our present post-industrial era has moved much closer to the liberal-democratic, moderate-optimistic ideal of the USA, as conceived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are more similarities than differences to be found between the programmes of the Clinton administration and the policies advocated in the EU's White Paper.
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A sharper contrast could hardly be found between the "live-programming" of eighteenth and nineteenth century USA (as described in section 3.4., above), and the outlines of scientific management for industrial mass-production as conceived by Taylor. Around 1900, the USA still exported attitudes, but their slant was considerably altered ‹ would any of the founding fathers would have recognised his input?
As Marshall & Tucker rightly point out, USA-1900 was a different place from USA-1800. Fourteen million immigrants arrived between 1865 and 1900. After 1900, they continued to pour in at the rate of one million a year. Most were poor; most could not speak English; and few could claim to be more than semi-literate in any language. Thus the industrial system was designed around workers who were presumed to have very few intellectual skills. Unenlightened and unfair as the Taylor system may seem to us now, it was part of a mass-production system that produced astonishing economic progress for everyone concerned. Very large investments in complex and expensive machinery, designed to be operated by people with minimal skills, turned out standardised products in profusion at very low unit costs (M & T).
It also led to mass-production education. According to M & T, within the first 20 years of this century the American educational ideal shifted, from schools whose purpose was to ensure that some students achieved real intellectual mastery of the core academic subjects, to schools that would help almost all students adjust to the roles they would assume later in life, in particular their vocational roles in the developing industrial economy.
Much of this also happened in Europe of course, despite the pictures M & T paint of a more advanced and enlightened situation across the Atlantic. Europe also faced a rapidly growing population, with depopulation of the countryside as people moved to the cities and the emerging industries. And, as we said, the era of "isms".
It is no coincidence that the cultural role of museums, and particularly of science museums, began to shift around 1900 from "neutral " galleries, mostly displaying collections, to informal learning institutions, functioning as interpreters and intermediaries for their visitors.
In short, from 1900 onwards museums began to counter-balance the attitudes demanded by the prevailing culture of industrial mass-production. And the philosophies of the Enlightenment and of the "live-programming" in USA-1800 can be read through the arguments used by museum founders.
Kenneth Hudson divides the history of Science Centres and Museums (following Victor Danilov in this) into three to four phases. I prefer to speak simply of two phases, the phase before the opening of the Deutsches Museum in Munich (in 1923), and the phase after its opening.
Phase one is dominated by large collections, and public places in which live demonstrations, experiments and theatre were performed for smaller crowds by scientific societies (with the exception perhaps of Urania in Berlin with which we deal in section V). As Kenneth Hudson states, Napoleon's decision (in 1791) to turn the former Royal palace into a museum in many ways set the tone of the first phase, making it the goal of every major country to have a museum as vast as the Louvre.
In the second phase, Science Museums and Centres started to place the emphasis on the visitors' experience, and also began to mix models, demonstrations and interactive exhibitry with the real objects of their collections. Models are mostly used to show the operation of technology. Live demonstrations show natural phenomena or, again, basic technological principles. And interactive exhibits are designed to give visitors a feel for the scientific process of trial and error, by letting them experience natural phenomena or experiment with their technical applications.
Second-phase developments have taken place all over the world and I prefer to look at all the present science museums/centres as variations on the second-phase theme ‹ with varying emphasis on real objects, models, live demonstrations, and interactive exhibits ‹ than to categorise them into first, second, third and fourth generations. The differences between Science Museum/Centres lie more, I feel, in the emphasis they put on industry, technology or pure science, or in showing a mix of these.
Looking at those Science Museums/Centres of phase two which have had the most enduring influence ‹ the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Palais de la Découverte in Paris, and Exploratorium in San Francisco ‹ we can differentiate them by subject focus: the Deutsches Museum is mostly focused on industry and applied sciences; le Palais de la découverte much more on pure science and its processes; and the Exploratorium on natural phenomena and the way we perceive them. In sum: Applications; principles and experiments; phenomena and human awareness.
If we look then at the ideas of the founders of these museums/centres we find arguments and visions which differ in many ways from Taylorism and mass-production education.
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The Museum should not only display objects, but should also present the workforce engaged in the industrial process. From the outset, the museum was intended to be much more than a showcase. It was meant to inform and influence people, and its design (including the building itself) was based upon three approaches: logical, psychological-pedagogical; and teleological.
Visitors should perceive a systematic structure underlying scientific development. Thus, each instrument would be shown in its relation to the whole, and each object in relation to the kind of work behind it. Its intrinsic, human value.
The museum should not lead to a mere extension of factual knowledge or technical understanding, but should provide insight into the creation of objects themselves. Otherwise, it was feared, people would bow their heads to the tools and products of culture and not to culture itself.
The museum should function as a "Lehrplan-Konstruction", working with real objects, in contrast to schools which worked largely with words. First the core parts of a machine should be explained; then the essentials of its construction; then the machine as a whole; and finally its (historical) development. And the labouring processes involved should be related to other processes in society.
To do this well, the museum would give insight through directions, explanations, pictures, tables, and diagrams, but these were not regarded by its founders as the most important parts. They were convinced that by displaying real objects and moving machines, by showing how the different functions interact, a visit would be made most rewarding. And there would also be guided tours, demonstrations, and opportunities for visitors to explore and experiment for themselves.
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Perrin hoped that the masses, with their latent untapped potential, and young people with their eagerness to discover, would all find a place in the Palais de la Découverte. To achieve this, Perrin argued that one should show the phenomena, the experiments, the processes of science. He wanted to familiarise visitors with fundamental scientific research and with scientific culture ‹ its precision, its search through experiment, and its freedom to judge.
The first exhibition was an enormous success and it was immediately planned to make it permanent. Perrin said that it should not become a static museum, but should continue to evolve, in close contact with the evolution of science and of the public. The Palais de la Découverte calls itself a centre of scientific culture and a dynamic museum. Its aim has always been to show the cutting edge of science, not to conserve the past. The public should be made aware of the principles and applications of science: it is primarily a didactic museum.
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"The Exploratorium was not designed to glorify anything. A large part of the play of children involves using common physical and cultural components of society in a context that is divorced from its primary purpose. It is through such inventive and repetitive play that they learn to feel at home with the world. In this fashion, our exhibits are also playful.
Through this play, the visitors make genuine discoveries, and we avoid the too frequent shortcoming of the so called "discovery method" of teaching where students are allowed to "discover" only what the instructor has in mind. Only a limited amount of understanding comes from watching something behave" (Frank Oppenheimer).
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It is worth repeating my statement at the close of section 3: the concepts of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, of the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, and of the Exploratorium in San Francisco were magnificent and deserve their enduring influence. We still can learn a lot from them and their concepts are rich enough to inspire us in the next decades ‹ to innovate, though, not to replicate ‹ as we have done throughout the history of scientific and technological culture.
All three men quoted above took their visitors extremely seriously. Their approach was humanitarian, progressive and optimistic. They expected visitors to "see through" appearances and to discover basic principles. They assumed considerable latent learning potential in the "masses", and an eagerness to investigate and find out.
The weakness of the Deutsches Museum concept was perhaps its overtly ideological approach. Combined with its role in heritage-conservation, this renders the museum vulnerable to public opinion and to becoming outdated. Jean Perrin tried to avoid the "vulnerability trap" by placing much more emphasis on scientific culture itself and its continuous evolution. But both the Munich and Paris institutions may be labelled "preachy" in contrast to the Exploratorium, where Frank Oppenheimer emphasised open-ended playfulness so that visitors might make discoveries beyond those designed and programmed by museum staff. Without doubt, the Exploratorium's approach gives visitors much more freedom, but it too is a target for criticism: "is it merely a playground?" Yet the playing around was only intended as a tool, never as a goal in itself (Sally Duensing).
Whatever their weaknesses, these three museums' achievements are enormous and without them we, as members of the science-centre community, could never have become so successful world-wide.
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