Well I just read all the followups to this (Szilard wrote fiction ?
Titles please ? And Walker Percy is another example of a _great_
writer who was also a medical doctor.) I generally abhor crosspostings,
but I sent this one on to rec.arts.books - they eat up stuff like this.
I don't want to flame your second paragraph, but I hope you are aware
that it reflects a stereotype of scientists which is almost totally
without basis in fact. Scientists are better read, in my experience,
than any other profession which is not directly related to the literary
arts (so that, e.g. professional philosophers are better read than
physicists). My personal testimony is that I have always enjoyed
a broad range of art and literature.
However, performing a counting experiment on the number of science
types who write fiction (or write poetry, or paint, or tap dance)
is not a reliable method of verifying _my_ second paragraph, or
disproving yours. Scientist, and artists, are among the truly
blessed who can do professionally that which they would be inclined
to do just for fun. A good scientists finds research both vocation
and avocation, and that tends to cut into your spare time. I would
like to write fiction, but I find precious little time just to read
it now a days.
Dept of Physics
Univ. of Texas
> Well I just read all the followups to this (Szilard wrote fiction ?
>Titles please ?
He wrote some short stories. There's a collection called, I think,
"The Voice of the Dolphins." The ideas are supposed to be interesting,
and reflect Szilard's view of world politics. Personally, I didn't find
the writing to be very good. I don't really remember much else about the
More recently, Robert Pirsig mulled over the Two Culture problem
in his Chataquas on Quality in _Zen_and_The_Art_of_Motorcycle_
Someone who studies the use of symbols. I wouldn't say he's a scientist
(he reminds me more of one of those old recluses who fill their houses
with hoarded stuff like old newspaper and bits of string but never mind).
Here are some stretching-the-points:
Two authors who are probably not scientists but seem to know a lot
about technical matters are Thomas Pynchon and Richard Powers.
Pynchon worked at Boeing for a short time, and frankly anyone who
has spent more than a week in a large industrial laboratory will
see that in his books... Powers's latest book (Gold Bug Variations)
involves a molecular biologist, the DNA triplet code, etc. and he
seems to know what he's talking about.
Robert Musil, author of "The Man Without Qualities," which probably
beats out Proust for Most Highly Praised Big Book That Nobody Reads
(unfairly - it's good!) was trained as an engineer and mathematician.
Isaac Asimov (biochemistry)
Robert L. Forward (physics)
Fred Hoyle (astronomy)
David Brin (physics?)
Eric Temple Bell (pseud used was John Taine) (mathematics)
E.E. Smith (chemistry?)
Carl Sagan (astronomy)
Writing nonfiction outside their scientific area:
Carl Sagan (astronomy writing in biology)
John Locke (mathematics writing in philosophy)
Thomas Hobbes (mathematics writing in philosophy)
Rene Descartes (mathematics writing in philosophy)
Blaise Pascal (mathematics writing in philosophy)
(?) Leibniz (mathematics writing in philosophy)
(What was his first name?)
I suppose it is cheating a little to list the mathematicians
writing philosophy since at the time they did it, mathematicians
and scientists were not considered distinct from philosophers.
Aside: I'm crushed that I didn't make the 'always nice' list.
I may need to visit Fiona. (I have been meaning to call, sorry.)
J.M. Coetzee started out as a computer professional
Primo Levi was an industrial chemist
John Latham (the poet, not the piles-of-charred-books sculptor) is a
practicing scientist of some sort
Neville Shute was an aeronautical engineer
Didn't Dante have more than the average mathematical training for his time?
-- Jack Campin room G092, Computing Science Department, Glasgow University,
17 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow G12 8RZ, Scotland TEL: 041 339 8855 x6854 (work)
INTERNET: ja...@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk or via nsfnet-relay.ac.uk FAX: 041 330 4913
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> Paul Linebarger wrote science fiction as Cordwainer Smith. I don't
> remember off the top of my head whether he wrote other fiction.
He did write other fiction, yes. However, he doesn't fit into the
original question: he was a diplomat and an east Asian scholar, not a
scientist. (And, I might add, it shows in his writing: his fiction is
imaginative, and thoughtful, but it is not particularly noteworthy for
its technical content.)
The original question was to satisfy an English professor who wanted
evidence that scientists aren't illiterate goons; I have the terrible
feeling that the beliefs of this professor probably wouldn't be
dispelled by science fiction books, no matter how good they are. It's
a more interesting challenge, anyway, to come up with literature other
than science fiction!
Mostly, people have been listing famous authors who also happen to
have been scientists. (Anton Chekhov comes to mind, for example---
he was a medical doctor. In his day, he would have been called a
scientist.) How about working from the other direction: scientists
who have published one or two works of fiction, even if they aren't
particularly well known as authors?
Matthew Austern Just keep yelling until you attract a
(510) 644-2618 crowd, then a constituency, a movement, a
aus...@lbl.bitnet faction, an army! If you don't have any
ma...@physics.berkeley.edu solutions, become a part of the problem!
Frederik Pohl mentions in his introduction on to the Instrumentality
of Mankind collection (Victor Gollancz) that Linebarger wrote two main-
stream novels, _Carola_ and _Ria_. These were published by the pseudonym
Felix C. Forrest.
( Pekka Makinen Dept. of Medical Chemistry University of Helsinki Finland )
(pema...@cc.helsinki.fi pema...@plootu.helsinki.fi pema...@finuh.bitnet)
( No opinions - no disclaimer - no money - no fun. Fiat lux. )
He wasn't a scientist, he was a diplomat-turned-academic-international-
I have never understood what SF fans get out of his writing. I've read
quite a bit of it and it's bizarrely stilted to an almost schizoid degree.
His forays into verse make Tolkien look like a pro (I would compare them to
McGonagall but at least McGonagall was sometimes funny). His storylines
are no very different from what dozens of other hacks were writing at the
same time and his visual imagination was nil. Yet there seem to legions of
fans out there who worship him as a literary hero. Why?
[ note where followups are going ]
> Talking in this vein, I am reminded of a conversation I once had
> with a Goethe scholar. He said that Goethe considered himself a
> sort of 'natural philosopher' and that he did write a few works
> about the theory of colours. ( I think he was a follower of Newton's
> corpuscular theory of light).
It is true that Goethe wrote about the theory of colors. He was,
however, not a Newtonian, but an anti-Newtonian. He attacked Newton's
belief that white light was superposition of different colors of
light. In particular, Goethe believed that Newton's experiment of
passing white light though a prism did not confirm this, because the
experimental situation was so unnatural that any results so obtained
were simply an artifact of the apparatus.
Goethe suggested an experiment of his own (I don't remember the
details; it involved viewing a surface with a solid color from two
different distances), which, he said, confirmed a different theory of
colors. From our point of view today, in the late 20th century, his
experiment seems to depend on very subjective judgments, but that
distinction probably didn't exist in his time---at least not to as
great a degree as it does in ours.
And Thomas Huxley; he's one of my favorite essayists. I'm especially
fond of his essays about religion.
Cyberiad: These are fairy tales about robots. Lem has
invented two characters called
Trurl and Klaupacius, who are robot inventors.
Star Diaries- these are memoirs of the astronaut Ijon Tichy
His Master's Voice
Solaris (it was made into a film by A. Tarkovsky)
The Futurolgical Congress
The Chain of Chance - a crime story based on the theory of probability.
and many others.
I thought _Contact_ was a better read if you broke it into two parts. The
first 60% or so, was much better (IMNSHO) and, yes, was rather realisitic
in that it had a nice "procedural-science" fiction feel to it: e.g. lots of
stuff about wrangling with governmental funding agencies, cute little
in-jokes about other phyicists and life at CalTech... that sort of thing.
I liked this part quite a lot (although I can easily imagine others not
caring for it very much).
On the other hand, the last part --i.e. after they got on board the "ship"
got just plain silly (leading up to an ending that was just plain wrong).
ncr...@bbn.com -- "COmet"... "COsmic COnnection"... "COsmos"...
"COntact"... COincidence or ...?? Carl Sagan, famous
Astonomer or Devil Worshipper... YOU Decide!
CONTACT realistic? <blink>
"Whimsical" is not the first (or second) adjective I'd of thought of,
but I agree with it.
Larry "Wonder of wonders" Hammer
L...@physics.arizona.edu \ In the deserts of the heart
sometimes a Wombat \ Let the healing fountains start -- Auden
Santayana ? I'm thinking in particular of _The Life of Reason_.
I guess we could mention other philosophers who write on the nature of science,
but that is different than writing on a particular scientific subject. Tough
Apropos, I just bought _Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist_. I haven't
started it yet. Who exactly is Russell McCormmach ?
I'll agree with the latter comment. A much better book on the same
theme is _The Listeners_ by James Gunn. (If I recall correctly, he was
an English teacher at a college in Kansas. May still be, but the book
is over 20 years old now.) Gunn holds the story together through the
end. His characters also seem more plausible.
Ian Heavens i...@spider.co.uk
Spider Park, Stanwell Street
Edinburgh, EH6 5NG, Scotland +44 31 555 5166 (Ext 4347)
Hugh Kenner (the Joyce and Beckett expert) has a sideline in geodesic dome
He's a big Buckminster Fuller fan, and has his own computer column. It
was weird realizing this English professor knew his mathematics. In his
writings on Beckett, he would suddenly bring down an analogy about the
Dedekind construction of the reals or with some programming detail or
>something<. The first time I came across this, I rolled my eyes with
a sinking feeling, but had to stop, and manually push them back.
-Matthew P Wiener (wee...@sagi.wistar.upenn.edu)
Maybe your spelling your name backwards: O'Tnarat
William Sburgfort Htims
Yes, "Geodesic Math and How to Use It." He also wrote the
"Heath/Zenith Z-100 User's Guide," and writes regularly for BYTE
magazine. His article in the September 92 issue is on the origins of
hypertext. "The Mechanic Muse" is an interesting essay on the effects
of technology on literature.
>I have just been asked by an English prof if I was aware of any scientists
>who have published works of fiction, as opposed to the Stephen Jay Gould
>types who write popular accounts of science.
>FYI this discussion was centered around the comment often given by
>"arts" type people who complain that "science" types dont do enough
>to broaden their horizons. My counter argument is always to ask
>about how many "art" types actually try to understand the technical
>world around them!
>Any input appreciated. Please no flames regarding the philosophy of
>the last paragraph!
A few points:
(1) The yawning divide between science and the arts presupposed by your
second paragraph is a historically recent pheonomenon which is both highly
artificial, I would argue indefensible, and at best partly true. (Whatever
some scientitst say in their defence, I personally know some career
physicists who fit the caracature like a glove, but then I also know some
who play jazz trumpet when not at the job.) One of the Chapters of Paul
Johnson's `The Birth of the Modern' (I forget the number) is called `Forces,
Machines, Visions' and is partly about the creation of the division which
underlies your paragraph and the English prof's question. Read the whole
book as soon as you can - its great, but that chapter is made for you and
(2) Look at a good history of positivism (if there are any) to get more on
the divide, and the contemporary attempts of scientists to write like some
stoic catholoics wanted to have sex.
(3) Some writing which is great and indespensible science is highly
literary, and in some cases takes fictional forms. Galileo's greatest work
is a dialogue, Francis Bacon wrote some `parables', Descartes' `Discourse on
the Method' has been called the first example of a modern novel, Hume wrote
dialogues, etc etc. (Some of these you may want to call `philosophers', but
I have no time for the distinction.)
(4) Even science writing which is not in a literary form may be highly
_literate_ (there is an anthology called `The Sacred Beetle' you may want
to look at, edited by Martin Gardner (sp?)) the most cursory glance at a
good passage of Mill, or Hume, or Darwin (etc etc) can show this to be the
(5) I can't think of any specifics off hand, but Goethe wrote a theory of
colour, and a few scientists are active in science fiction writing. (not
sure if that is what you are after.)
| David Spurrett, department of Philosophy | `I have seen the truth, and |
| University of Natal, Durban | it makes no sense.' |
| email: spur...@superbowl.und.ac.za | - OFFICIAL! |
>Hugh Kenner (the Joyce and Beckett expert) has a sideline in geodesic dome
Not to mention his regular contributions to BYTE.
Which brings up the example of that fine author and brilliant scientist
it was a *joke* ferchrissakes!
**New mail(2k), From: Mail Delivery Subsystem, On: Returned mail: Host unknown
That is the understatement of the year! Almost everyone prominent
in "hard SF" today is a scientist or engineer. Benford, Brin, Azimov,
Clarke, and the list is much longer than my memory. Analog SF/Science Fact
would be a good source for a list of these authors.
>| David Spurrett, department of Philosophy, University of Natal, Durban
>| email: spur...@superbowl.und.ac.za
That was really excellent.
Those of us in the middle of it know about the problem, but it takes an
outsider to really put it in interesting terms. The current issue of
Physics Today has a viewpoint by "Professor Mozart" addressing a similar
problem with scientific seminars and talks at meetings.
Somehow I think it is one of those problems we all know about but never
form the consensus to try to solve it. I know someone who tried to put
a rather amusing cartoon character in a level diagram that showed one
nucleus beta-decaying to many levels in another nucleus -- it was a little
liquid drop leaping from the ground state of the parent nucleus -- and
got a terse letter back from the editor advising him that he had better
change that figure if he wanted the paper reviewed.
J. A. Carr | "The New Frontier of which I
j...@gw.scri.fsu.edu | speak is not a set of promises
Florida State University B-186 | -- it is a set of challenges."
Supercomputer Computations Research Institute | John F. Kennedy (15 July 60)
>l...@soliton.physics.arizona.edu (sometimes a Wombat) writes:
>>ham...@ravel.udel.edu (Chris Adams) writes:
>>> Carl Sagan wrote a neat little ficition story
>>> about finally finding extra-terrestiral life.
>>> fairly realistic, if a little whimsical
>>CONTACT realistic? <blink>
>I thought _Contact_ was a better read if you broke it into two parts. The
>first 60% or so, was much better (IMNSHO) and, yes, was rather realisitic
>in that it had a nice "procedural-science" fiction feel to it: e.g. lots of
>stuff about wrangling with governmental funding agencies, cute little
>in-jokes about other phyicists and life at CalTech... that sort of thing.
>I liked this part quite a lot (although I can easily imagine others not
>caring for it very much).
>On the other hand, the last part --i.e. after they got on board the "ship"
>got just plain silly (leading up to an ending that was just plain wrong).
Agreed! The first part was a fun read, however, when I got to the silly
part, I tossed the book.
INTERNET: r...@Celestial.COM Ray A. Jones; Celestial Software
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uunet!camco!ray Mercer Island, WA 98040; (206) 947-5591
The probability of one or more spelling errors in this missive approaches