Interview with Steven Weinberg

Dan Falk in Quanta:

QUANTA MAGAZINE: As a physicist, how is your perspective on the history of science different from that of a historian?

ScreenHunter_1091 Mar. 18 17.20STEVEN WEINBERG: One difference, of course, is that they know more than I do — at least, in their particular field of specialization. Real historians have a much better grasp of the original sources than I could possibly have. If they’re historians of the ancient world, they’ll be experts in Greek and Latin, which I’m not even remotely knowledgeable about.

But there’s also a difference in attitude. Many historians are strongly opposed to the so-called “Whig interpretation” of history, in which you look at the past and try to pick out the threads that lead to the present. They feel it’s much more important to get into the frame of mind of the people who lived at the time you’re writing about. And they have a point. But I would argue that, when it comes to the history of science, a Whig interpretation is much more justifiable. The reason is that science, unlike, say, politics or religion, is a cumulative branch of knowledge. You can say, not merely as a matter of taste, but with sober judgment, that Newton knew more about the world than Aristotle did, and Einstein knew more than Newton did. There really has been progress. And to trace that progress, it makes sense to look at the science of the past and try to pick out modes of thought that either led to progress, or impeded progress.

More here.