Keith Douglas' Web Page

About me Find out who I am and what I do.
My resumé A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.
Reviews, theses, articles, presentations A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.
Current research projects What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.
Interesting people People professionally "connected" to me in some way.
Interesting organizations Organizations I am "connected" to. (Some rather loosely.)
Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via amazon.com. I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
Professional resources Research sources, amazon.com associates programs, etc.
What is the philosophy of computing? A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.
My intellectual heroes A partial list of important people. Limited to the dead.
My educational philosophy As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.

Book Influences - History of Science and Technology

Title
Author
Purchase / Enjoy Cover
Comment
A History of Economic Thought: The LSE Lectures Robbins Illustrates well that many of the ancients in yet another field were indeed those commonly called philosophers. Also a great bibliography. I used it for the latter purpose to cross-reference some connections between the history/philosophy of economics and the philosophy of technology.
A History of Modern Experimental Psychology Mandler A disappointment: this is more of an exercise in namedropping rather than a discussion of great experiments in psychology. Some are mentioned, but such with such cursoriness that unless you had heard of them you'd be none the wiser, and certainly one would learn nothing of consequence of their history from this volume. Moreover, despite the title, the volume starts with Aristotle and then moves into (a travesty of) Descartes. Other than the recognition that philosophy and psychology go together (but without realizing that the psychology / epistemology split is false), this volume has little to recommend it.
A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts Chaikin The subtitle of the book explains it all. This is a specifically human history of the moonlandings from the 1960s and 70s. That said, there is an extended discussion concerning what the scientific goals of the various missions were to be, etc. since that was debated at the time and was reflected in the temperments of the astronauts and others. The book has one weakness - a few places rather unlikely claims are made, including reference to a supposed 130 year old person. Guiness knows no such person - I suspect the usual "double lives" fraud/misrepresentation is at play here, though I don't know for sure, having never heard of this case specifically.
A Short History of Chemistry Partington A bit less analytical and more biographical than the Norton history (below). Also, covers a slightly different time period, as it covers more protochemistry from China and India but also ends ~1940, as the book itself is only from ~1950. (As such, even the "modern" notation may be unfamiliar to the youngest readers.) Not a bad book, but some of it is pretty superficial - especially as several pages throughout are just summaries (which are a good thing for other reasons, however).
Alan Turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker Teuscher (Ed.) A collection of papers which, as the title of the volume suggests, are written in honour of Turing. Each either details a period or topic of his work, or continues the tradition he started or contributed to. There is even a script to a play included. I found Davis' paper on hypercomputation (which I had seen in pre-release as a student) and a paper on a hardware self-reproducing Turing machine by Restrepo, Tempesti and Mange amongst the most interesting. However, Davis' paper (still, obviously) does not answer I think the fundamental question: why are idealizations allowed in favour of the Turing machine but not for the hypercomputing models? I have no easy answer: my limited suggestion is that while one can profitably describe something as "approximately programmable", all the hypercomputing models degrade disastrously (infinite energies, useless in the face of noise, etc.). I have great respect for Scott (who Davis cites) and Davis as logicians, but their verificationism (or so it appears) is embarassing, too. That said, this paper is a welcome douse of cold water on the claims of others, even in the same volume! Also enjoyable was Beeson's paper on the mechanization of mathematics. I had no idea one could reduce many problems with trig identities to algebraic ones with the Weierstrass substitutions. More exciting are his list of apparently computationally feasible but interesting open problems. All and all, a welcome volume. I wonder what will be created for Turing's 100th (at the time of writing, only a few months away)!
Aristarchus of Samos: The Ancient Copernicus Heath Despite the title of this work, it is primarily a history of Greek astronomy from Homer (such as it was) to the heliocentric view of Aristarchus. The latter view is only known via testimony (of Archimedes, no less) and lots of the other views, particularly those of the presocratics, are spotty at best. Nevertheless it is very clear that concern over the skies and stars was of profound influence in the Hellenic world.
Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery Asimov A curious book, though packed with interesting stuff.
Atom in History of Human Thought Pullman I especially enjoyed the discussions of the non-Greek "philosophical" atomists. For discussions of the Greeks go elsewhere; the only noteworthy discussion of the Greeks in this book is the inclusion of Plato (!).
Cambridge Companion to Galileo Machamer (ed.) The Cambridge companions are well regarded. This one, one of two I have studied in depth, seems quite evenhanded and well-written.
Cambridge Companion to Newton Cohen and Smith (eds.) This volume is a SLIGHT bit more uneven than the Galileo volume. The papers which discuss Newton's alchemy/chemistry seem to be written simply to document that, indeed, Newton did work in that area. Very few details of what exactly went on are presented. (I realize that many of these details are still unknown.)
Classics in Coordination Chemistry (vol. 2) Kauffman   How coordination chemistry began as a field.
Concepts of Force Jammer Long before I purchased this and the other volumes of Jammer that I own, I encountered a man who used the alias Jammer on BBSes. At the time, I had not read or even heard the reputation of this masterful historian of science. History of science should be like this, not postmodern claptrap or the like!
Concepts of Mass in Classical and Modern Science Jammer See Concepts of Force, above.
Concepts of Space Jammer See Concepts of Force, above.
Dreaming in Code Rosenberg A journalist spends several years in an open source software development company and reports on the very human side of computing in this well-written book. Along the way we learn about the difficulties with meeting user specifications, selecting tools, debugging and much else. Highly recommended to non-programmers who want to learn more about why software sometimes seems so poorly designed.
From Euclid to Eddington: A Study of Conceptions of the External World Whittaker Not quite as good as Jammer, but still, actual ideas play a role here. (Not whether Descartes was transgendered or Bacon was a porn addict.)
From Galileo to Newton Hall Interesting, especially how (despite the title's impression) it covers more than physics.
From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe Koyré Another classic of the history of science. Discussed are the cosmological views of Nicholas of Cusa, Marcellus Paligenius, Copernicus, Digges, Bruno, Gilbert, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, More, Malebranche, Newton, Bentley, Raphson, Berkeley and Leibniz. Needless to say, Newton gets the most attention. Spinoza gets mentioned in passing but does not get much attention - probably due to the fact that people tried to avoid commiting themselves to his views. Koyré does have the courage to point out that Newton was a heretic and Descartes not a Christian. (And this in the 1950s!)
Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea Lovejoy Not all history of ideas need be as mathematically rigorous as Jammer or Whittaker, especially when the idea in question is squishy. Bunge first mentioned this classic to me in 1998, and I keep hearing about it. It is remarkable how a concept rooted in the most interesting aspects of the philosophical tradition also found its way into poetry in subtle and influential ways.
Histoire de la médecine Halioua This brief (it is a "ABREGES" edition, after all) book summarizes health care history from ancient times on several continents to approximately the present day. Unfortunately, the author uncritically uses the Old Testament and the traditional date of Lao Tzu and makes several other strange inclusions. (For example, why is homeopathy not discussed in the context of "charlatanisme", as it was clear even at the time that it is ridiculous. Now it is beyond ridiculous ...) It is also unclear what merits inclusion, particularly in sections devoted recent times (say, since the scientific revolution). The author also has chronological tables with things out of the order and has a habit of repeating the same information in several different sections. However, with all these flaws there are a few kernels of interesting summaries, perhaps useful as a jumping off point into primary sources or other secondary literature.
Le Macchine di Leonardo a Montreal Manisco Not available at Amazon.com This book chronicles a few dozen inventions of Leonardo as recently constructed. Some are practical, some suggest investigation of more basic scientific principles (e.g. mechanisms of flight). The book itself is not very long, compounded by the lavish illustrations of both completed machines and of the notebooks of this great Renaissance man and by the fact that the book (as befits an Italian topic in Montréal) is trilingual. There is at least one scientific error, so be warned. (Momentum is not the [vector] product of force and distance, torque is. As far as I can tell the mistake is in the presumably original Italian as well; it certainly exists in French and English.) Nevertheless, it is a nice quick and pretty read.
Le Tournesol Illustré: Éloge d'un oublié de l'Histoire des Sciences Algoud Whimsical and yet instructive, this is a pretend telling of the history of science and technology. It uses as premise that Hergé's famous inventor was in fact a real but forgotten person.
Li, Qi and Shu: An Introduction to Science and Civilization in China Yoke A short introduction to Chinese protoscientific thought. Includes discussions of astronomical instruments, cosmological hypotheses, alchemical treatises, algebra manuals, etc. Also contains some discussion about the influences on traditional China on these subjects from Arabic, Persian and Indian origins. A slight oversight is found in the section on algebra - there is no mention that the Chinese could not have solved the general 10th degree polynominal equation (as it cannot be solved by radicals), as the author comes close to implying.
Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science (vol. 1) Boden Volume 1 (of 2) of a incredibly long and detailed discussion of the ideas suggested by the title. However, as Boden quickly concedes, there is no clear way to characterize what ideas are "cognitive science" and which ones not. Some are not because the thinkers in question explicitly distanced themselves from materialism, positivism, rationalism (yes, both) and such which they felt were the characteristics of this diverse movement. Nor does "cognitive science" set itself as dealing only with cognition or computer modelling/approaches, two all-to-common charges. This particular volume deals primarily with (1) prehistory, the 19th century stage setting and behaviourism as background (2) 20th century psychology to c. 1970 (3) language and linguistics and (4) anthropological approaches. Strengths of the work include the sheer volume of material, the lively style in which it is presented and the almost distracting number of intersection references. Weaknesses include having to read many different parts to get a complete picture of some key figures, and (debatably) a total hatchet job on Chomsky. See his reaction here.
Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science (vol. 2) Boden This is a continuation of the above entry. It has much the same strengths and weaknesses. It includes (1) a history of what is now called GOFAI including critics of GOFAI, (2) a history of connectionism (3) the history of computational neuroscience, (4) a (somewhat odd) history of artificial life - unclear why Boden included so much on this topic, (5) philosophical views on cognitive science, AI, etc. and (6) a look to the future.
Norton History of Chemistry Brock Illustrates another profitable style in the history of ideas. I agree, however, with the reviewer on amazon.com, which states that the pre-Lavoisier material is less developed than it could be. I am not a specialist, but I do know there is much to discuss here. Of particular interest would be the Chinese alchemical tradition, even though it did not directly influence scientific chemistry. (I suspect it may have, somewhat, but indirectly, though the Arabs, however.)
On Great White Wings: The Wright Brothers and the Race for Flight Culick and Dunmore The personalities of the Wright brothers, their unusual background (for great inventors and applied scientistst) and the "spirit of the age" in which they worked come through in this lavishly illustrated book. Included are primers on aeronautical terminology and a repeated stress that the applied science was as much an invention of the two brothers as anything else they did.
Physical Chemistry From Ostwald to Pauling: The Making of a Science in America Servos The title of this reasonably-easy-to-read volume is explained once one reads it. It turns out that although physical chemistry was initiated in Europe, it really took off in the United States. It is very interesting seeing that our "general chemistry" curricula are seemingly results of this revolution in "interdisciplinarity". In that light, it is also fascinating to learn that petrography and petrology (sciences related to rocks) also played a key role in the founding of physical chemistry. Taking a cue from Bunsen (yes, that Bunsen) who realized that some sorts of rocks are solutions, one can then use them as "tests" of one's theories of solutions, colligative properties, etc.
Science since 1500 Pledge This book is dense. It is best used as a reference, rather than a detailed analytical discussion.
Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn See my amazon.com review.
The Code Book Singh A history of cryptography; hence this book really belongs in a history of applied science or technology section. However, it is a good one, clear and patient with the reader. Most interesting to me was an example run through of the Diffie-Hellman algorithm. Quite "magical". Of course, no proof of correctness is found in this book; it is pitched at a popular level and largely succeeds for those who have roughly high school mathematics and "intellectual maturity". I do feel it necessary to point out that there is a mistake in the discussion of Turing, however. Turing's "machines" are of course idealized humans, and moreover, the phrase "Turing machine" is (not surprisingly) , not due to Turing. I also, and this is not a mistake but perhaps an area of further exploration , wonder what Singh means by the universal Turing machine giving Turing the ideas of how to build the decryption machines he worked on during WWII.
The Dawn of Software Engineering: From Turing to Dijkstra Daylight

Not knowing the area as well as I'd like, I saw this book advertised at AISB/IACAP 2012. Having a revisionist thesis about Turing's role in the history of computing, I think it succeeds in that respect. That is, it makes the case that Turing's influence on computing came later in time than one might think, and via some rather indirect routes. I note that it is positioned as a corrective to Davis' recent work (see my history of mathematics page for that) and for that reason found it interesting that Wilfried Sieg had helped the author with this volume - given that he's taught from Davis'. One interesting feature of Daylight's book is the "oral histories" with some of the figures important to it - four Turing Award winners. It seems that this must have been just at the right time, since they are not terribly young.

As for the actual computing (to call some of it "software engineering" is a stretch), design of programming languages, compilers, the hardware/software interface and other topics are all discussed with the right amount of detail for a simple overview.

The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview Fry This book is aptly named. It surveys historical views and those of contemporary authors. It also has the merit of emphasizing the philosophical decisions and views which shaped the scientific ones. These aspects should be carefully heeded by those that think that metaphysics has no role to play in science and that science is itself metaphysically neutral.
The Invisible World: Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope Wilson An interesting topic and a new way to look at some of the traditionally discussed philosophical debates in the early modern period make this a nifty little book on the history of microscopy, microbiology (though strictly speaking what was seen was a lot of small but macroscopic animals) etc. However, other than to show that the history of science for this period is much more complicated if one does not focus on physics and astronomy, I have trouble discerning a consistent thread of ideas here. Perhaps that's because there wasn't one historically and the book follows the same (lack of) pattern! Despite this shortcoming, it also includes a few critical remarks about Shapin and Schaffer etc. which in my view is all to the good.
The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science Burtt Historically, this book is wideranging and in a way a little superficial: the role of mathematics in the scientific revolution is one of the key themes yet it is never clearly discussed. The "conclusion" makes all the hints from earlier clear: the author has a bit of an agenda. This is fine as far as it goes. However, the viewpoint is one of an attempt to return to a form of dualism which if not discredited by the scientific revolution (he makes no mention that any form of psychoneural dualism or panpsychism has many, many problems) was certainly discredited by the 19th century revolution in biology. He is, however, correct to point out that metaphysical views changed and we have yet to fully adjust, and also that positivism (in the correct sense) is no answer; metaphysics is unavoidable. Shame he has to align himself with a nonscientific one. Finally, I think he (like many authors until recently) fails to see how heterodox religiously speaking many of the figures he discusses are - he gets it right with Kepler, but misses with Descartes and Newton, and almost certainly also with Galileo.
The Origins of Modern Science Butterfield A short history covering the period 1300-1800. However, no one topic is addressed in anything like detail, especially with the book's (modestly useful) digressions on the history of painting (to explain one source of the revolutions in anatomy c. 1600) and other matters. Not horribly wrong anywhere (except for the usual mistakes about the religiousity of the greats), but not really much there there either.
The Periodic Table: Its Story and Significance Scerri This is a book on both the history of the periodic table and philosophical issues related to it. It is much stronger on the former considerations, correcting many textbook myths. Philosophically, it is very weak, only discussing one question in any great detail, viz. the question of whether quantum mechanics explains periodicity. The book is also marred by several typos and at least one (possibly two) bad translations. For a puncturer of myths, Scerri ought to know that "atomos" does not mean indivisible!
Theories of Vision From Al-Kindi To Kepler Lindberg While in a way the book ought to be called "theories of physiological optics", that would be slightly an anachronism. Nevertheless, this book is a detailed study of 800 years of intellectual history centered around the four or so broad "schools" of understanding how we see. Also included is a whirlwind tour of the ancient Greek conceptions, as they are the roots of what was to follow. It is remarkable how the utterly fantastic (people appealing to basilisks to support their views) and the detailed and soberly scientific (use of mathematics, careful anatomical observations - though by no means perfect, etc.) mix together - at least in hindsight, if you'll pardon the pun. The book is fairly clear but has some rough spots with difficult to follow arguments; often the author is not saying much more than who he is about to or has quoted, which makes for awkward style. Nevertheless, a decent book, and certainly on a topic not often thought about. (Until I heard of this book I hadn't even come across any references to Kepler doing anything in the area, for instance.)
To Light Such a Candle: chapters in the history of Science and Technology Laidler Laidler's first strongest point is his insistence on the science/technology distinction, which I defend elsewhere. Another strong point is his remarkably complete coverage of his selected topics and their periphery. A weak point is his selection of topics. Why these - there is no real common thread tying them together. Though, the use of photography to discuss the developments in physics is novel. Another strength is his emphasis on the difference between scientific inventions (i.e. technological ones in my terminology) and merely empirical ones (what I call the results of craft).
West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer Rose A history of (then) Apple Computer, prehistory to 1985.
What's Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science Brockman (ed.) I've included this book in the history of science section as it is something of a "history of science in reverse". It is an attempt to predict (based on the interests of several young "rising stars") where the next big scientific discoveries are to come from. Many of these brief discussions still include useful reference to primary sources and patient, yet reasonably accurate details. Unfortunately the brevity is a severe shortcoming. I would like to hear more about almost all the topics: as it stands now the book is a small paperback. However, most alarming is that the book does not contain any chemists! We need chemists more than ever to help with environmental problems, medicine, fuel sources and a host of problems (e.g. discovering the degree to which chemistry is cosmically universal, more work on bonding, etc.) in pure science as well. Is this because there are no rising stars in chemistry? Or has the editor inadvertently excluded them? Either alternative does not bode well.

 

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