“Ian McEwan appeals for a living tradition in science as in literature, to guide our progress from the past through to the future.”
From The Age (Australia):
Eliot did not find it preposterous “that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”. We might discern the ghost of Auden in the lines of a poem by James Fenton, or hear echoes of Wordsworth in Seamus Heane. Ideally, having read our contemporaries, we return to re-read the dead poets with a fresh understanding.
Can science and science writing, a vast and half forgotten accumulation over the centuries, offer us a parallel living tradition? If it can, how do we begin to describe it? The problems of choice are equalled only by those of criteria. Literature does not improve; it simply changes. Science, on the other hand, as an intricate, self-correcting thought system, advances and refines its understanding of the thousands of objects of its study. This is how it derives it power and status. Science prefers to forget much of its past – it is constitutionally bound to a form of selective amnesia.