Science-related Reviews (post-millennium)

There are many earlier reviews, but these are embedded in the hypertext support of Century of Endeavour, where they relate to its content. For access, please contact the author. Also I have selected some substantive reviews for association with my 1995 Scientific Culture and National Identity hypertext construction as appendices. RJ 2009.

(c) Roy Johnston 2006

(comments to

Window into Islamic Philosophy

Rumi: Past and Present, East and West: the Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi; Franklin D Lewis; One World, Oxford, 2000.

This is not a published review, but I feel I need to give some notes and comments on this book, which was bought by Tommy Webster with the Churchtown Quaker library in mind. As librarian I read it, and decided it is a work of deep scholarship and extended scope, worthy of a serious academic research library, in the area of the history of philosophy and religion. I am therefore adding it to this catalogue, in the hopes that one of the academic libraries may express an interest in it. RJ Feb 2009.

Rumi (1207-73) has generated much serious scholarship in many languages, and is currently the subject of much current scholarhip in the US, which has almost assumed cult status, generating websites. All I propose to do here is list the main headers:

1. Influences ('Fathers in Spirit') pp41-200

2. Contemporaries (Children and Brethern in Spirit) pp205-264

3. Texts and Teachings (biographies, poems) pp271-418

4. Rumi and the Mevlevis in the Muslim World pp423-489

5. Rumi in the West and around the world:
. European impressions 499-524
. history of Rumi scholarship 528-563
. translations, versions 564-612
. Rumi in multimedia 616-640

He was an important influence in Islam outside the Arabic ambit, via his Persian cultural background, influencing Islam in Turkey and in India. This perhaps contributes to a somewhat subversive flavour, as seen from Mecca, and perhaps explains his popularity in the West.

The Imperial Civilising Mission(?)

Civilizing Ireland: Ordnannce Survey 1824-1842,
Ethnography, Cartography, Translation; Stiofain O Cadhla, Irish Academic Press, 2006.
ISBN 0 7175 3372 3 cloth €60, 0 7165 2281 9 paper €27.50

I recently reviewed for the Irish Democrat a book on a related topic by Gillian M Doherty, published by the Four Courts Press in 2004. There is however only one reference in the current book to the earlier one, relating to Irish being the language of the rural poor, which to my mind is obvious, to the extent of hardly requiring a reference. This I find strange, because both books come out of University College Cork. The Doherty book, published in July 2004, acknowledges support from Joe Lee, Dermot Keogh in the History Department, and from scholars in the areas of cartography and toponomy. The O Cadhla book is rooted in the domains of folklore, ethnology and anthropology, and is supported by extensive networking with DCU, Maynooth, TCD and abroad in Scotland, Israel, Australia and the USA. There are no acknowledgements shared.

Some of the same ground in the O Cadhla book is covered in the earlier work; I suspect that O Cadhla working in UCC might not have been aware of this, which is a pity; he might have found some pegs on which to hang his critique of the evident culture-gap. This, if true, reflects on the relative isolation of specialist researchers within Ireland, and suggests a need to develop some more systematic networking, and a collaborative interdisciplinary team approach.

O Cadhla does more than Doherty to uncover the procedures and the philosophies of the language-competent field-workers, co-ordinated by Petrie, who supported the Army surveyors who wielded the theodolites and did the actual cartography. These included O'Donovan, O'Curry, O'Keefe and others, and much if this book is devoted to O'Donovan's records, which show an ambivalent attitude to the project, consequent on his role as, in effect, a 'collaborator' (in the derogatory political sense) with what was essentially an imperial colonial project. The cover of the book emphasises this, with its redcoats in an army camp in the hills, with a theolodite, at a time when the memory of 1798 was fresh in the public memory.

The work is based on the memoirs and letters of the field-workers, some of which were initially published in 1837, covering the parish of Templemore in Co Derry, in great detail. This generated controversy, to the extent that no more were published, but they remain accessibly in the archive. Petrie's collection of antiquities formed the nucleus of what is now the National Museum. The employment of Irish scholars in the Ordnance Survey project reflected the realisation by the imperial intelligence services (who permeated the London learned societies) that dependence on military memoirs for insight into the background of 'aboriginal' culture was somewhat unreliable, thanks to the discrediting of the writings of Vallancey, who was obsessed by 'orientalist' hypoheses, and others. O Cadhla however comes up with a suggestion, supported by a quotation from Edward Said, that the 'Celticist' discourse as it has evolved is basically the same as the 'Orientalist', reflecting an imperial mind-set for understanding 'aborigines'.

O Cadhla goes further, and comes up with the (valid to my mind) claim that post-colonial emergent nations in general tend to inherit the mind-sets of their colonisers: '...nineteenth century English antiquarian notions, translated into Irish, served to re-map revolutionary Ireland, symbolically cordoning the homely aborigines in Gaeltacht reservations..'. He hints at what might have been an alternative path, when he notes (p106), in the context of Irish-speaking markets serving Presbyterian colonist: '...those unacquainted with the language are regarded as foreigners, and to cheat them is regarded as a praisworthy deed..'. This motivated an interest by colonists in the Irish Bible: '...they feel that their ignorance of (Irish) is highly inconvenient..'.

O'Donovan was dismissive of the work of the 'romantic ascendancy antiquaries' as 'hagiology or fairyology', in which category he included Crofton Croker's 1825 'Fairy Legends and Traditions', which at the time was ranked with Grimm. This literature according to O Cadhla, '..emptied the narratives of storytellers' subversive messages..'. He was also dismissive of much local lore, especially about archaeological relics, raths and such, which usually were attributed either to the Danes or to Finn McCool. O'Donovan however does show skill in drawing out relevant local knowledge, especially in pinning down place names, which he tries to spell in a way which will enable an English speaker to get their pronunciation at least approximately right.

This book will be seen as controversial, and Eamon O Cuiv TD in his forward looks forward to its role in helping to understand the workings of the English colonial mind.

Roy Johnston, March 21 2007.

Science and Society in Peace and War

Chemical Heritage, USA, circa December 2006.

Andrew Brown, JD Bernal: The Sage of Science, Oxford University Press. 2006. 562pp. £25.

John Desmond Bernal (1901-1971) began as a physicist and crystallographer, but developed wide-ranging interests, stimulating the invention of the word 'polytropism' among his biographers. The domains and issues to which he contributed robust critical writings include science in history, science and society, science and government, science in war and in peace, the peace dividend, the 'third world', development economics, also modelling complex systems in stochastic environments, which process eventually emerged under the label 'operational research'.

Bernal's primary scientific work in X-ray crystallography was dedicated to the understanding of the structures of proteins and viruses, the physical basis of life. He was responsible for the development of the experimental technology which enabled Watson and Crick to solve the structure of DNA, an important link being the work of Rosalind Franklin (see Brenda Maddox, The Dark Lady of DNA, Harper-Collins, London 2002, in which there are many Bernal references). The author treats in depth, in one closely-argued scientific chapter, the details of Bernal's scientific career, which fuelled Nobel Prize work by Bragg, Blackett, Crick, Kendrew, Perutz, Watson, Wilkins and others, all of whom generously recognised Bernal's influence.

The bulk of the book however is taken up with the politics of 'science and society', which was dominated by the second world war and the cold war. Prior to WW2 Bernal had established a reputation as a Marxist social critic; by sticking to internal British politics he managed to avoid the 'Soviet intelligence' route taken by his Cambridge colleagues Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt. Under pressure of the threat of war in 1938 he was recruited into civil defence work, analysing the effects of bombs, and was recruited during the war by Mountbatten into the planning of the Normandy landings, in the context of which the 'Operational Research' process was invented. For example, he managed by assembling quantitative evidence from a variety of improbable sources to evaluate the Normandy beaches as regards their ability to land heavy equipment, without direct access to them.

Bernal's role with Mountbatten was later challenged, in arguments which arose in the context of his obituary, by Bernal's sometime colleague Solly Zuckerman, who had subsequently fallen out with him. The author in a postscript demolishes Zuckerman's arguments, which had influenced an earlier biographical attempt by Maurice Goldsmith. The latter was blacked by Bernal and his trustees, who went on to produce, after much delay, a more rounded omnibus biography, with contributions mostly by people who knew him (I got to do the 'Irish roots' chapter). This was published by Verso in 1999, edited by Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian. Andrew Brown acknowledges this book as a valid contribution, but goes into much greater depth in all aspects of Berrnals polytropic existence, including his many women (designated disparagingly by Zuckerman as his 'widows' in the post-obituary controversies), most if not all of whom retained lasting respect for him.

The book is structured in a rough chronological framework, but switching between the various domains according as they acquire priority with Bernal, so that one sometimes get overlapping chronologies in different domains. Most readers, being critical-minded scientists, will treat this as an interesting zig-saw puzzle which when fitted together will be seen to give a superb picture of a Renaissance character, of Leonardo da Vinci stature, spanning all aspects of human culture, and pioneering in modern times the resurrection of science as a key cultural component.

My own interest in Bernal goes back to my 1940s time in Trinity College Dublin, where I attempted to understand aspects of the 'science and development economics' domain in the context of left-wing politics in post-colonial Ireland, then stagnant and crippled by 'brain-drain'. I discovered Bernal's 1939 book The Social Function of Science, and was hooked. Later in the mid-1960s I corresponded with Bernal when I was associated with a group of scientist and engineers lobbying the Government to take seriously the 1963 OECD Report Science and Irish Economic Development. He replied with some good suggestions, though he was then in bad health. After he died I came across the unauthorised Goldsmith biography, read it critically, and found the Irish background material in it seriously deficent; this prompted me to research it, leading eventually to my chapter in the 1999 Verso book. See also my own book Century of Endeavour, the Irish edition of which was published by Tyndall/Lilliput in April of this year, following a US edition by Academica in 2003; an overview is available at the URL

Andrew Brown treats Bernal's early views on Soviet science, which were somewhat uncritical (for example he initially accepted Lysenko), without any whitewashing. My own explanation is in terms of his Catholic background; I have observed cases where people abandon Catholicism for Marxism and remain in a similar mind-set, substituting Moscow for Rome. Bernal however managed to avoid the worst aspects of this syndrome; his later work in the peace movement during the Cold War undoubtedly contributed to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis; he had a direct line to Khrushchev via the Soviet scientific establishment. His work on the 'peace dividend' concept, pioneered in his book World Without War (London, 1958), deserves to be developed in greater depth, taking into account our current understanding of global warming and the fossil fuel crisis. Indeed, any scientific agency specialising in addressing the global warming problem, and promoting the necessary reorientation of the US government's policies relating to energy, could well be named the Bernal Institute!

Roy H W Johnston Techne Associates Dublin Sept 2006

Science, History, Public Awareness

Books Ireland, June 2006

The group of books under review presents this reviewer with the problem of how best to relate them to a rapidly evolving context, to which they all relate, from differing perspectives, and with widely differing philosophies. The first one was produced some time ago and was not reviewed, so I am resurrecting it because it was the first one in a series, of which I was asked recently to review the second, along with the other two recent publications.

I can see why the first one was sidelined: it lacks a coherent philosophy, not does it have a well-defined target readership. It attempts to set the scene for a 'science studies' community, but alas no such community has emerged, at a level such as to enable it to 'get its act together'. The market does exist; I identified it decades ago: it is among those concerned to learn from the Irish experience, good and bad, of the interaction between global science and the emergent national culture, in the 20th century 'colonial to post-colonial transition' process, in which Ireland was among the pioneers.

In the 1980s I pulled together my 1970s Irish Times 'science critic' column material into a chronological series of snapshots of the evolving 'science and society' scene, in a variety of defined domains, for the publisher Tycooley, with which Sean MacBride was associated, and which supplied the UN Development Programme and other UN agencies with relevant material. Unfortunately this publisher went out of business, and I was left with my unpublished masterpiece in a binder. I have re-edited it for hypertext, and in the current context perhaps a resurrection is on the agenda, as a sort of 'prequel' to the Ahlstrom book.

The need for a 'science and society' community became apparent acutely again recently in an international conference held in DCU which I attended: the topic was 'Development Education', and there were people there from the UN and from Africa, Asia and the Americas, expressing a keen interest in the role of science in the development economics context, anxious to learn from Irish experience, and appalled at the non-recognition of its importance in Ireland. So these books, supported by my hypertext, and other related recent books listed in their bibliographies, constitute a background for an agenda for the science funding agencies, in the context of the need to fund a high-level Bernalist focus for 'Science and Society Studies' capable of achieving international standing.

Science in Irish Culture: Why the History of Science Matters in Ireland; Vol 1. Ed David Attis & Charles Mollan. Royal Dublin Society, 2004, 174pp, npg, ISBN 0-86027-047-5.

This first volume of the RDS series had the task of defining the series philosophy, and despite a preface by Mollan and an introduction by Attis this comes across only tentatively; there are too few hints at an understanding that the market for this experience is essentially exportable, not only in the 'hard' sciences, but also in the humanities, social sciences and business schools, who produce the teachers, development economists and entrepreneurs needed both in currently prospering Ireland and in emergent post-colonial nations abroad.

Dorinda Outram contributes a 1980s reprint, updating it; I remember commenting at the time, in an attempt to open the present debate. Gordon Herries Davies writes on science and political violence, showing how the colonial system helped to generate the cultural barrier. David Attis reinforces the imperial image with his study of William Petty and the 'Down Survey'. Garrett Scaife's history of the Holland submarine helps reinforce the initial impression that science and scientific technology is dominated by military requirements, which indeed for centuries it was.

The latter part of the book begins to explore 'civil society', with chapters from Sean Lysaght, Greta Jones and Ruth Bayles on aspects of Darwinism and natural field studies.

This inauspicious beginning however begins to be compensated for by the second volume, produced in an attempt at a comprehensive overview in the context of the 2005 British Association (BA) meeting in Dublin, a relevant target market.

Science and Ireland: Value for Society; Vol 2.Ed Charles Mollan. Royal Dublin Society, 2005, 294pp, npg, ISBN 0-86027-050-5.

It begins with two dedications: to Arthur Hughes (1908-2000) who was MD of Guinness from 1966 to 1973 and Secretary of the BA from 1965 to 1971, and to Adrian Philips (1936-2003) the geologist who set up the first TCD campus company in 1983, ERA (Environmental Resources Analysis) which specialised in remote sensing technology. Helen Haste in a forword for the BA market highlights the roles of John Tyndall on the mid-19th century and JL Synge in the 20th as communicators of science to the lay public.

Charles Mollan's introduction skates rapidly over the surface of the history of the BA's links with Ireland, and highlights the current revitalised science scene, contrasting it with the earlier post-Treaty depression. He pays tribute to the few who worked abroad and opted to come home in the earlier period, without however managing to name them. Nor does he make use of the analysis of the BA meetings in Ireland published in the Crane Bag in 1983 by the present writer, or even reference it; this however is understandable, being an aspect of the problem: there is no focus in Ireland for the retention and collation of this type of knowledge.

Passing over Peter Pearson's introduction to Dublin for the benefit of visiting participants, we again have Mollan, this time attempting to give a historical overview sketch of Irish science, which he begins, regrettably, by putting 'Irish' in quotes, thus confusing the nature of the problem of nationality in this context. The perceived nationality of the individual scientist is not the problem; it is the relationship between the emerging national culture and the culture of science, the latter being intrinsically global.

He offers overviews of the history of science in Ireland within disciplines: Astronomy, Chemistry, 'Physics and Mathematics' (together), and then a final nod in the direction of Technology. I have serious philosophical problems with this approach: firstly, many of the scientists listed do not sit easily in such a classification (Bernal a chemist? He was a physicist primarily, pioneering 'Science and Society Studies' in marginal time; Marconi a physicist? surely a pioneer of communications technology, derived from the physics of Maxwell and Hertz). And if one does impose a discipline structure, why amalgamate maths with physics? No, in this context, history within discipline is meaningless.

The interesting features begin to emerge if one gets a chance to see how the discipline-mix, and indeed the 'brain-drain' process, evolves with the changing socio-political and economic situation, with focal environmental events such as the napoleonic wars, the famine, the land war, the first and second world wars etc defining the context. The key question at all times. which Bernal would have asked in the Irish context, is: how does the global culture of science relate to the perceived requirements of an emergent nation and its culture? This relationship can be negative, if the emergent national cultural perception is of science as being an imperial tool. This perception is widespread in the post-colonial world, and this is a problem which Irish culture has learned to overcome; whence the importance of Irish experience globally.

Don Thornhill, a former Chairman of the HEA and Secretary of the Dept of Education, overviews the policy enironment within which the current research culture has developed, key influences being the OECD report series: 1963 (when the process of recovery began, Thornhill dates it 1966, but I have a copy and it is dated 1963) and then 1974 and 1985. Other reports in the sequence were Cooper-Whelan 1972, Telesis 1982, Culliton 1992, STIAC 1995. This gives the top-down view of the evolving sience support environment: initially the 1967 National Science Council, then the 1978 NBST, which merged with the IIRS to become Eolas in 1987; this in the 90s complexified into Forbairt, Forfas, ICSTI, PRTLI, SFI etc, suggesting a serious need for the systematic, and indeed scientific, study of the relationship between science and government. I can't resist quoting from an e-mail I got from David Dickson (not the TCD historian, but the Editor of, the web-site which is becoming the essential global knowledge-base for the domain addressed by this review itself, and the books under review): 'Come back Bernal, all is forgiven'.

The following sections include one on the Environment by John Feehan, on Agriculture by Liam Downey and Gordon Purvis, Forestry by Edward P Farrell, Marine Science by Christopher Moriarty, Biomedical Research by Dermot Kelleher, Genetics and Biotechnology by David McConnell, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences by Matt Moran, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by Henry McLoughlin; the series concludes with a paper on Irish Contributions to International Science by Fionn Murtagh.

In this context sectoral overviews make sense, and it is worth trying to pick out a few highlights. The Environment paper picks up on the ' absence of sustainable transport provision..'; in agriculture the sustainability issue is addressed with a call for effective use of home-grown feeds, with closer integration of crops and livestock production and deseasonalised milk production. In forestry problems of management and logistics are emerging; the marine domain contains complex issues arising from the application of advanced technology in what is effectively a hunter-gatherer environment.

Biomedical research suffers from organisational obstacles to the development of a dynamic interaction with clinical practice. In the genetics domain McConnell delivers an interesting historical paper which shows how the evolving complexity of the funding system generated problems, some of which remain with us, despite the current relatively benign reign of the SFI. In this important current area of research it is increasingly important who sets the objectives, who owns the results, and what they are used for; these are all issues which scientists and the general public need increasingly to address. The same is true of the chemical and pharmaceutical domains, where the industry in Ireland is moving 'up the value chain' and increasing its R&D content, in response to global pressures.

The ICT area suffers from lack of references or bibliography, a consequence perhaps of its meteoric development; it is presumably from the author's experience, which alas did not include contact with the 1960s Aer Lingus real-time reservations project. This was highly productive, and spun off many important innovative enterprises, many of which are still with us. This history needs to be written comprehensively; John Byrne in TCD I understand is, or was, working on it; I wonder did it see the light of day? The lack of reference to it here suggests otherwise.

The final chapter lists among the internationally important projects the Shannon Scheme, peat technology, molecular biology (including the Schroedinger link), and early computing, in which context he credits the present writer, for which I thank him, though the nature of the link is obscure. I explain it in more depth in my book Century of Endeavour, recently published in a revised Irish edition, and currently on the review agenda of Books Ireland, I understand. Murtagh picked it up from the abortive 2003 US edition. He continues with notes on the various EU collaborations, the SFI and John Bell, concluding with the 'grand challenge': how to set up the institutional framework so as to get the dynamics right, between research, development, innovation and intellectual property.

Flashes of Brilliance: The Cutting Edge of Irish Science. Dick Ahlstrom (Science Editor of the Irish Times). Royal Irish Academy, 2006, 174pp, npg, ISBN 1-904-890-15-6.

Ahlstrom's 'Flashes' are selected from his Irish Times features over the period 9 May 02 to 26 Jan 06; each takes 2 pages with a good picture; they are sequential and cover a wide range of scientific domains, usually obvious from the title, and all are indexed. There are many beautifully produced additional illustrations, and these are also listed at the back. There is an associated DVD with some documentary film.

This has been widely reviewed in the press, by Mary Mulvihill and others, so its author I hope will forgive me if I just give it a positive mention here. I could perhaps add the comment however that it would be interesting to restructure it as several sequences of snapshots within topics conforming to the classification suggested in my aborted Tycooley publication; the comparison over the 3-decade interval would be interesting. There is, perhaps, a paper here for a publication by the Bernal Institute hinted at above.

The Irish Scientist: 2005 Year Book, ed Geraldine van Esbeck, Oldbury Publishing ltd, 2005, 120pp, npg, ISBN 0-9546166-5-0.

Finally we have to acknowledge the Yearbook, initiated by Charles Mollan in 1995; it is less bulky than in recent years; I wonder does this imply that it has run its course, and is being upstaged by competing platforms? It fulfils a useful shop-window function for researchers who want their work to be publicly known. It suffers badly from the lack of an index; in earlier editions from 1999 to 2004 there were website versions published subsequently, which rectified this lack by providing a table of contents classified by topic and sub-topic, and an index by author's name. These earlier website versions can be seen at and we hope the 2005 will eventually come out in this mode. The primary organisation of the contents by institutional source is of little use for someone seeking to identify a specific area of expertise in a context.

It would take a relatively modest effort to integrate the website version of this yearbook as a promotional annexe to the extensive knowledge-base embodied in and to enable the whole to be accessed with a modern n-dimensional parametric indexing system, so that one could feed in a structured requirement profile, find the right guy, and view his shop window if there is one. I have explored this, but the barriers seem to be institutional. So we have another task on the agenda of the projected Bernal Institute, if and when it manages to struggle into existence.

Science and Religion

Science in Faith and Hope: an Introduction; George Ellis; Quaker Books 2004; 44p, ISBN 0-85245-371-X; £4.00 pb.

Friendly Word, circa April 05

The author is Professor of Complex Systems in Capetown University, and also visiting Professor of Astronomy in Queen Mary College, London. His research background is in general relativity and cosmology. He has been in Capetown since 1973 and has been a Quaker since 1974; he became interested in problems of housing policy and homelessness in a context where he was critical of the apartheid regime.

He begins by considering the perceived conflicts between science and religion in areas such as creation and evolution, in the context of current 'hot big bang' creation models. He notes the fine-tuning of the values of the various physical constants in such a way as to enable biological complexity to evolve; this is regarded by some theologians as an argument for a Designer, constituting an '...amazing way of getting creation going..'. He goes on to consider the 'Anthropic Principle' which argues that there could be an infinity of universes, with various sets of differing physical constants, from which only those enabling biology to evolve would support consciousness such as to enable them to be observed and considered. He supports the former approach, that God designed the universe, and the laws of nature operational in it, in such a way as it was inevitable that life would come into being.

He goes on to deal with the nature of humanity, and the emergence of ethics, in the context of a social agreement. The area of ethics is outside science, in that it is not easy to think of measurement of good and bad on a scale, of, say, so many milli-Hitlers. He is critical of the attempts of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology to do this, particularly of the claims of 'social Darwinism'. What does science say about Israel and Palestine? he asks. He regards aesthetics as being outside the scope of science. Yet within science on finds evidence of faith and hope, in that scientists can get together in the belief that they may be able to gain useful insights into how things work.

Ethics is not invented, but discovered; he dismisses the output of sociobiology as being 'shallow ethics', counter-posing 'deep ethics', or 'kenosis', capable of leading to self-sacrifice, a concept which is embedded in all world religions, and at the core of Christianity. He relates this to the Quaker peace testimony, and to the South African experience as expressed by Mandela, Tutu and Biko.

He then comes round to the question of 'fundamentalism' which he defines as 'the proclamation of a partial truth as the whole truth'. There are 'science fundamentalists' as well as religious. Ellis links the former with 'reductionism', and devotes the last section of the pamphlet to an analysis of 'Scientism', as exemplified in Galileo's Finger, by Peter Atkins: 'science is the sole route to true, complete and perfect knowledge'. He does however leave a window open for the the holistic scientist, who is aware of the limitations of reductionism, and is prepared to accept the theology of a transcendent vision, and in this context the present writer can recommend this to a scientific as well as a lay readership.

The Irish Ordnance Survey: History, Culture and Memory; Gillian M Doherty; Four Courts Press 2004; ISBN 1-85182-861-3; HB £40 / euro 45.

Many of us have been aware of the importance of the Ordnance Survey (initiated 1824) as a pioneering scientific enterprise, and training ground for many who subsequently became famous in the sciences (Tyndall being perhaps typical in this context). Few however are aware of the role of the Survey in social and historical scholarship, though hints of this emerge in works such as Brian Friel's Translations.

The Survey engineers were accompanied by a group of roving scholars: historians, topographers, linguists, genealogists, who recorded what came to be known as the Memoirs, but only one of these sets of local Memoirs was ever published, those related to the parish of Templemore in Derry. This was widely welcomed, and created something of a political stir, to the extent that while the collection of the memoirs continued, their subsequent publication was suppressed. They remain however in the National Archive, and this book is an overview of the material, the tip of the iceberg.

Colonel Thomas Colby, the overall Director of the British Ordnance Survey, appointed Captain Thomas Larcom the Director of the Survey in Ireland, with a view to providing '..a foundation for statistical, antiquarian and geological surveys..'., Larcom produced enlightened and comprehensive guidelines, his Heads of Inquiry, basically a manual for field workers. Among the latter were people with knowledge of Irish who were able to contribute to the understanding of the place names, one being John O'Donovan. George Petrie later became associated, producing papers for the Royal Irish Academy based on the memoirs which were emerging. The topographical and genealogical work had to be defended against allegations of 'Popery and Monkery' from the Orange lobby, and Irish MPs were lobbied, with the aid of 'improving landlords' such as Adare and the TCD librarian Henthorn Todd, both of whom were associated with the movement to educate the landed gentry in the Irish language, the better to understand their tenants.

Thus the Survey project was seen by the emergent liberal intelligentsia as part of the Enlightenment movement, a step in the direction of the future good government of Ireland, based on an objective assessment of the nation's physical, human and cultural resources. It was however seen by the many of the Ascendancy as a threat, whence he suppression of the publication of the Memoirs, many of which tended to focus on the local perceptions of the dispossessions of the 1640s and 1690s. Most of the book expands on this aspect.

The topographical work was centred in George Petrie's house in Dublin ('Teepetrie'), where he used to meet with John O'Donovan and an extended group which included James Clarence Mangan the poet as well as Eugene O'Curry, Patrick O'Keefe, Thomas O'Conor and others. They grappled as best they could with variations in place-name pronunciations from native and settler sources. They perceived themselves as gatherers of the raw material for 'scientific history' in the Enlightenment tradition, as pioneered by Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), and taken on board by Larcom and Petrie.

In this context many manuscript records were discovered, in the possession of descendants of dispossessed aristocracy; these have usually ended up in the Academy, forming the core of its collection: '...O'Donovan told Larcom how ancient manuscripts that once belonged to Ireland's literate elite were now damaged by damp and dust and rotted in the sooty cabins of their wretched descendants..'.

Folklore was collected and recorded; archaeological relics were discovered, laying the foundation for modern archaeology; myths were demolished (like for example Vallencey and his association of round towers with fire-worship and oriental influences). The boundaries of ancient tuatha were established, from local lore. The high civilised status of early mediaeval Ireland, prior to the Viking invasions, was firmly established. Echoes of this were taken up in the Nation by Thomas Davis.

Much evidence emerges about the dynamics of language shift and its motivations in pre-famine times, as expressed in family and place names, in various socio-economic contexts. I quote: '..Memoir research on Irish language, literature and folklore was part of a large scholarly effort to recreate Irish-language culture in English, to make it available to English speakers, Anglo-Irish gentry in particular, and to promote it as the basis of a unified, non-sectarian, non-political Irish identity..'. Petrie, supported by other prominent Protestant intellectuals, '..sought to foster a national identity that was Irish, Protestant and Unionist...'.

Lurking in the background however are the 'underground gentry' as documented by Kevin Whelan in his study of the dispossessed Catholic aristocracy, whose leading role remains embedded in local popular memory. The final chapter explores this in some depth, giving some insights into the bitterness of the current Northern situation, where focused on land ownership.

Altogether this is an important pioneering work, which will be a trigger for much more research into the complex historical roots of Irish nationality.

Roy Johnston February 2005.

Neglected Episodes

Books Ireland December 2003

Recoveries: Neglected Episodes in Irish Cultural History, John Wilson Foster, UCD Press 2002, ISBN 1 900621 82 7, hb, NPG.

Foster spent some time in 2001, on sabbatical leave from the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, in NUI Maynooth, where he gave 3 seminars on topics which had 'science, technology and religion' aspects: Evolution, the Titanic, and field work in natural history. I had the good luck to attend, and participate in, the Evolution one: I was suitably impressed at the ambiance, and the nature of the philosophical bridges being built. Foster has worked these seminars up into a creditable book, which I hope will stimulate others on the theme of science and technology in the Irish cultural context.

John Tyndall (whose Carlow origin has become known and celebrated thanks to the work of Norman McMillan), in his capacity as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, delivered the 1874 keynote address to that body assembled in Belfast, in the form of a broadside attack on the religious establishment, in defence of the scientific treatment of domains such as evolution and cosmology, in contrast to the biblical version of creation.

This was basically an episode in the development of science in the British culture, echoing the public controversies involving Charles Darwin, TH Huxley, Bishop Wilberforce and others, which are well-known in the history of science. The impact on Ireland however has been neglected, and Foster illuminates this, treating the reactions from the clergy and scientists of Belfast, from the Irish colonial scientific establishment in the Royal Irish Academy, and from the Irish Catholic establishment in Maynooth, as well as Newman and the Catholic University lobby.

The Belfast Protestant scientific establishment had been comfortable with the two culture approach to science and religion, but Tyndall's 1974 Address introduced tensions, and the situation became complex. Kelvin's estimate of the age of the earth at 500M years was far too short for evolution to have taken place; it lurked uneasily between the two camps.

Foster takes issue with Richard Kearney, whose 1993 Carlow conference paper Tyndall and Irish Science he criticises for ignoring the Northern dimension, the Presbyterian evangelical response (with many echoes in Britain and in the US) being substantially more vehement than the Catholic.

There is more work to be done in elucidating how this impacted on the attitude of the Catholic Hierarchy to university education, and the process that led eventually to the NUI, and to the general acceptance of Evolution in Irish science. Foster has however made a creditable start.

The Titanic was indeed the triumphal culmination of 19th century engineering, symbolic however of the forces which led inevitably to the first world war. Foster goes into the European background, bringing out some of the contradictions, as expressed in the German-British technological rivalry. Size and speed of ship was a competitive inter-imperial race.

In the analysis of the Titanic disaster from the liberal humanist angle, Foster leans on Kipling, Conrad, Wells and EM Forster. The workers engineers who built and manned the ship come out of the story well; the villains are associated with profit-oriented management and capitalist greed. Incidentally, it is not widely known that Lord Pirrie, who ran Harland and Wolff, was a Home Ruler, and sought to recruit Catholic workers, believing in the industrial resources of Ireland as a whole; Foster mentions this in passing.

In the final section we get the history of the Belfast Naturalists Field Club, from which emerged Robert Lloyd Praeger, whose classic Way that I Went has introduced several generations to the Irish natural environment. This was a result of the spread of the railways and the invention of the bicycle; the Field Club movement peaked before World War 1. The movement spread over all Ireland, and fuelled the Lambay Island and later the Clare Island survey. Praeger was the moving spirit behind the first all-Ireland meeting of the Irish Field Club Union, in Dublin in 1895, moving then to Galway. Subsequent triennial meetings took place in Kenmare 1898, Dublin 1901, Sligo 1904, Cork 1907 and Rosapenna (Donegal) 1910. The Union however dissolved in 1913, though activity persisted for a while, and the Belfast club remains active to this day.

Ironically the gunboat Helga, which bombarded O'Connell St in 1916, was a fisheries protection vessel, and it had serviced the Clare Island survey earlier, and in 1915 had been used in a scientific survey of crustaceans.

To conclude: while Foster's book is another contribution to the establishment of the scientific component of Irish culture on a secure all-Ireland basis, it is far from definitive; it suggests many trails to follow. One which Foster seems to have missed is, perhaps, the role of the Field Clubs in making the acceptance of Evolution in scientific biology the unquestioned norm. The discursive nature of Foster's book indicates a need for a more integrated approach. It should be bought by cultural historians, and if the many trails are followed systematically, maybe a credible 'colonial to post-colonial transition' paradigm for 'science and Irish culture' will emerge.

Schroedinger: Life and Thought; By Walter Moore. Cambridge UP 1989; 482 pp; UK£25 H/B; US$39.50.

Review by RJ published in the Irish Times, circa August 1989.

Eamonn de Valera made a creditable attempt to enhance Ireland's image abroad as a world-centre for scientific culture, with his foundation of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies in the 40s, for which he subsequently gained international recognition with the award of an FRS.

Schroedinger was his most famous 'catch'; others who came later (Heitler, Janossy, Lanczos, Synge together made the DIAS in the late 40s and early 50s into a centre for theoretical physics of top international rating.

This was little appreciated in Ireland at the time; the culture-gap between the Irish general public and the cream of European physics was well expressed by Myles na Gopaleen, whose scathing remarks (2 St Patricks and no God etc) drew down threats of law-suits. Schroedinger and Myles however subsequently became friends, and the latter consulted the former on literary matters relating to central Europe.

Walter Moore, who himself is a retired physical chemist of international reputation, has produced a biographical tour de force, covering the scientific and human career of the man and his times, throwing in with rare insight the political background, to which Schroedinger reacted with extraordinary naivety.

He has written a book which not only treats in depth the evolution of his scientific thought, which led to his 1926 discovery of the equation bearing his name, but also weaves in 40 years of European politics and 2 world wars, with a series of vibrant love-affairs into the bargain. It is to be regretted that the identity of the 'dark lady', in whose company in an alpine hotel in 1926 he made his Nobel Prize-winning creative leap, remains undiscovered; most of the others are named, including the Dublin series; the present writer was acquainted with at least one of them, but at the time never suspected.

Walter Moore does not flinch from giving the full theoretical treatment of Schroedinger's key contributions, and this will undoubtedly he useful to future historians and philosophers of science, and researchers interested in the process of creative thinking. Readers interested in the human, political and social aspects however can skip with impunity.

Scientific readers interested in strengthening their understanding of the historical development of scientific ideas will find the book extraordinarily useful, in that where there is an influence of any kind, individual or institutional, Moore follows it up and gives the background, enough to enable its significance in the Schroedinger context to he assessed. We have a mine of scientific historical information, well indexed.

Those who are interested in European intellectual history, in the political environment of Europe in the decades between the wars, will also find it a good read. After progressing from Zurich to Berlin, at the pinnacle of European intellectual life before the Nazis came to power, Shroedinger managed to escape to Oxford, with discreet help from Lindemann, resigning his Berlin Chair, receiving a letter of thanks from Hitler. After looking at Edinburgh and Princeton, he then decided to go to Graz shortly before the Anchsluss.

When the Nazis moved in, it turned out that he was on a black list, and it is at this point, in 1938, that de Valera picked him up. This was lucky for Schroedinger, as by then he had written a compromising letter to the press, which made him look as if he was welcoming the Anchluss; this put him in the bad books of Lindemann and those in Britain who were taking care of anti-Fascist intellectual refugees.

He kept up his intellectial output, though like Einstein never surpassing the creativity of his youth. However his seminal book 'What is life' introduced the concept of the 'genetic code'; he calculated quantitatively, from X-ray induced mutation data, the scale of the information-coding process involved, and estimated the size of the gene. The present writer was privileged to have attended one of the lectures on which it was based; he subsequently bought the book, and gained insights into the physics of the extremes of complexity, then the 'new frontier' of physics, the extremes of scale being well taken care of by the mainstream.

The seminality of 'What is Life' is expressed in the fact that it influenced Francis Crick to turn in the direction he did, subsequently, along with Watson, discovering the double helix structure of DNA.

The history of the publication of 'What is life' however does much to discredit Ireland as an environment for world-class scientific discovery; de Valera's implant never evolved comfortably into a graft. It was to have been published by Cahill, Basil Clancy being in charge; the latter had to preside over the break-up of the type when publication subsequently was blocked under Church influence. It was subsequently published by the Cambridge University Press.

The interesting task for the future, viewed from an Irish angle, is the the analysis of the origins, partial realisation and effective ultimate failure of de Valera's vision. Why was it, when we had the opportunity presented by scientific figures of Schroedinger's stature among us, that we allowed the anti-bodies to get to work and reject the implant?

The 1986 Science in Ireland 1800-1930 Conference Report

This, with the sub-title 'Tradition and Reform' was edited by JR Nudds et al, TCD and published by the TCD Physics Dept at £10. I was asked by John Banville to review it for the Irish Times later in the year. In what follows, the intrusive A, or perhaps  , relates to a character used in early word-processing systems to introduce extra spaces for the purpose of right-justification. It is somewhat hard to get rid of; I have however managed to kill most of them.

Scientists in Ireland have an ongoing identity crisis, unlike the literary Irish, whose international recognition is usually unquestioned, even when, like Shaw or Beckett, they make their careers abroad. Visitors from abroad however usually express surprise when they discover that (for example) Hamilton or Tyndall were Irish.

This question is addressed in a modest preface by the editorial group, which also includes Dr ND McMillan of Carlow RTC, Professor DL Weaire of TCD and Proc SMP McKenna Lawlor of Maynooth, from which I quote: "why did Ireland, in those days more distant in practical terms from Britain and Europe, produce so many notable figures in the history of science? The question is at least as significant as its much discussed literary equivalent with which there is, no doubt, some subtle connection..."

This  book is the proceedings of a symposium on the history of science in Ireland which took place in TCD in March 1986; it has been published with support from the TCD Physics, Applied Mathematics and Engineering Departments, from St Patricks College Maynooth, and from private sources.

It is therefore not to be regarded as a complete and integrated study of the subject in the period, as is perhaps suggested by the title. It is more a signal to scholars that here is an area worth developing, in the context of ongoing historical study of the emergence of modern Irish nationhood.

There are 17 papers, of which 11 are from Ireland and the remainder from abroad. Of the 17, 11 are by working scientists who have taken up, usually at the margin of other activities, an interest in the history of their discipline. The remaining 6 are by professional scientific historians with scientific backgrounds; all these are from abroad. Readers will find it of interest to compare the contributions from these two groups, bearing in mind that the history of science in an emerging nation has two distinct aspects: on the one hand, the contribution to understanding within the discipline, and on the other hand the contribution of scientific and technical competence to the development of a national economy, and the synthesis of a national identity.

The book falls into three sections: mathematics, astronomy and experimental science. Contributions from abroad tend to fall into the mathematics area; there is some concentration on the relationship between research and teaching, on the influence of the French mathematical revolution, and on practical 'hand and eye' instruction.

One can see national politics lurking in the French connection; this is a vein needing to be exploited within the the paradigms of Irish national historiography, as indeed is the role of people like McCullagh, who stood in the 1847 election, lost and then committed suicide. Names having primary attention in this section, apart from McCullagh (Prof TD Spearman) are Boole (Prof Des McHale) and Hamilton (Sean O'Donnell).

Biographical attitudes towards the nationality of GG Stokes and William Thomson (better known as Lord Kelvin) are analysed by Dr Frank James of the Royal Institution, somewhat inconclusively.

In the astronomy section Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor catalogues the observatories which were active in the period; apart from Dunsink, Armagh and Birr Castle there were some half-dozen lesser-known centres of significance, usually run by gentleman-amateurs. Professor PA Wayman of Dunsink writes on its foundation and the work of Brinkley. The scientific background, and the technology involved in the construction, of the great Birr Castle telescope are outlined by Dr JA Bennett of the Cambridge Dept of History and Philosophy of Science; this is usefully supplemented by a practical reconstruction of the instrumentation used by Lord Rosse in the measurement of lunar temperature (David Taylor and Mary McGuckian, TCD Dept of Mechanical Engineering).

The experimental science section has two contributions from Dr JG O'Hara (who is working in the Leibniz Archiv, Hannover), one on Humphrey Lloyd (who cultivated an extensive network abroad in relation to the measurement of the earth's magnetism) and the other on the correspondence between Hertz and Fitzgerald. This was in connection with the verification of the Maxwell theory of electromagnetic wave propagation, which is at the root of all modern radio communication, a key frontier area of physics at the time. The three world centres for the development of electrodynamics at the end of the 19th century were Berlin (Helmholz), Cambridge (Maxwell) and Dublin (Fitzgerald). The work of O'Hara in establishing the international standing of Irish-based science in the 19th century is helping to lay the foundation for the future approaches to Irish history which are needed to give Irish science the place it deserves.

Other contributions in this section are on Samuel Haughton and the age of the earth (Norman McMillan), John Joly on colour photography, radioactivity and (again) the age of the earth (John Nudds), the transatlantic cable (Dr D de Cogan, from the Nottingham Engineering School), and two biographical studies:  Mary Ward (microscopist 1827-1869, by Dr Owen Harry of QUB) and Robert Woods (biophysicist 1865-1938, by Professor C S Breathnach of UCD).

In conclusion it is appropriate to recall the booklet 'People and Places in Irish Science and Technology', edited by Charles Mollan and others for the Royal Irish Academy and published in 1985 in connection with the Academy bicentenary. This has one or two pages of a sketch for each of a much larger number of people, including technologists like Harry Ferguson and Howard Grubb. Extend the analysis of the lives and times of those featuring in the Academy booklet to the depth of the book under review, and you already have several weighty volumes. Full biographical treatments, at the level received by Hamilton, would fill a shelf.

Why is this important? I suggest that it is because in the history of science and technology in Ireland we have a unique laboratory within which can be analysed the tensions between the fundamental internationalism of science and the conflicting technological needs of the imperial State, in competition with those of the emerging embryonic nation.  Overlay this with the cultural tensions arising from religious pluralism within the emerging Irish nation, and we begin to see a web of fascinating but possibly frightening complexity. No wonder traditional political, economic and social historians have shied away from it.

Yet the problem will have to be addressed, if Irish experience is to be used effectively in helping to form policies for using scientific technology in the contemporary third-world development process.

The present writer's outline solution, for what it is worth, is to create an academic appointment, for the study of the history of science and technology in Ireland, within a history department which is strong in economic and social history, and is alive to the need to enhance creatively the study of the nation-building process in a post-colonial situation. Do I ask the impossible?


This review of John Tyndall: Essays on a Natural Philosopher (ed. Brock, McMillan and Mollan) by RJ was published in 'Books Ireland', May 1982.

This is the third of a series 'Historical Studies in Irish Science and Technology' published by the Royal Dublin Society on the initiative of the Science Officer Dr Charles Mollan. The first two were (a) Richard Griffith 1784-1878 (C H Mollan and G Herries Davies) (b) Reprinted papers on Bee Husbandry (ed C H Mollan).

These titles suggest that the RDS is providing a service responding to opportunities as they arise, the initiative being elsewhere; resources presently available do not permit the development of a comprehensive programme on the history of science and scientific technology in Ireland. This is regrettable, but it is better to light a candle than to sit cursing the dark.

Dr Norman McMillan is the prime mover in the Tyndall collection, from his somewhat fragile base in the Carlow Regional College, where the lecturers, as in other Colleges and in the VEC system generally, have to go cap in hand to the Department of Education to get 'permission' to engage in research, a disgraceful anachronism in the third-level system. I suspect that his Tyndall work was a labour of love, done in evenings and weekends.

Tyndall's name is unlikely to be known to most readers of 'Books Ireland'. Some may have a shadowy memory of being told at school that the reason for the sky being blue is the 'Tyndall effect' (ie the frequency-dependence of the angle of scattering of sunlight by the molecules of the atmosphere). Of those for whom the name had this faint connection, few are likely to know that he was a Carlow man, born in 1820 in Leighlinbridge into a family of small Protestant landowners.

Dr McMillan is to be complimented on the local rehabilitation of this Carlow man who went on to become one of the giants of 19th-century physics and a world-figure in the history of science.

Tyndall was taught by a teacher called Conwill, a Catholic, one of the last of the 'hedge-school' tradition, despite the availability of Protestant schools locally. This was his father's decision; he wanted him to learn mathematics and surveying, and Conwill was the best local source. The Protestant tradition of respect for practicality transcended the religious barriers.

He got a job with the Ordnance Survey; when the work in Ireland was done he was transferred to Preston, where for a period he engaged in radical politics with an Irish flavour via the Chartists; he formed a trade union of Ordnance Survey employees. After a period of (no doubt consequential) unemployment he got a job as a railway surveyor; eventually he drifted into school-teaching and joined a remarkable Quaker school which became associated with Harmony Hall, the last of the great Owenite utopian-socialist experiments. Here, along with Edward Frankland, who afterwards earned fame as a chemist, he developed the first-ever recognisable school science curriculum, complete with laboratory practicals.

In 1848 Frankland and Tyndall were on the continent during the school holidays; they got caught up in the Paris revolution. Tyndall wrote it up for the 'Carlow Sentinel', to which he subsequently contributed articles popularising science. This contributed to the foundation of the Carlow Mechanics Institute in 1853 (the Mechanics Institutes were the first Colleges of Technology). The spell on the continent led to the opportunity for scientific work in Germany, with Bunsen and Knoblauch at Marburg. This brought him recognition in the 'invisible College' of international science, Germany then being the vanguard. He won the respect of Faraday, whom he succeeded at the Royal Institution in London, where he was finally to make his career. During the next 30 years at the RI Tyndall established a formidable international reputation as a researcher, lecturer and demonstrator of scientific phenomena to lay audiences.

He became involved with the 'X-club', a sort of caucus which ran the London scientific establishment in the 1860-70 period(*); it included T H Huxley and Herbert Spenser. Much of the action in the Royal Society and the British Association originated around the X-club dinner-table; clearly by this time Tyndall had buried his radical past and joined the elite of the English gentleman-scientist pioneers, to the extent that as regards Ireland he was hostile to the Gladstone/Parnell Home Rule proposals, although on the quasi-radical grounds that he feared the negative influence of the Roman Catholic Church on education. The 19th century 'science vs religion' controversy was at its height, Tyndall and Huxley being the leaders on the side of scientific humanism. Huxley's Oxford debate against Bishop Wilberforce on Darwinian evolution was matched by Tyndall's famous 'Belfast Address' to the British Association in 1874. This did not endear him to the Irish bishops; no doubt it contributed to the oblivion into which Tyndall's local standing in his native Carlow fell, until resurrected by Dr McMillan. (There was, I am told, some residual opposition, local memory being in some quarters being dominated by the shades of the 1874 furore!)

Tyndall's achievements as a scientist were quite remarkable; teachers of science at second and third level will find this book a mine of of useful insights into not only physics but also chemistry and biology in the 19th century. For example, 'pasteurisation' in France is known as 'tyndallisation', in recognition of the role Tyndall played in validating Pasteur's discoveries. The present destructive dichotomy between 'pure' and 'applied' science did not exist for him; he spent as much time on the design of firemen's respirators or lighthouses, as on infra-red absorption by complex molecules (where his pioneering work was quite outstanding, with insights prescient of the modern theory of the mechanism of smell; there is a generous tribute by Philip Callahan of the University of Florida on this theme).

It is perhaps appropriate to ask who is going to take responsibility for the systematic promotion in Ireland of the considerable legacy of scientific/technical culture that our heritage contains? There are other such questions that come to mind, the answers to which are crucial to the recognition of scientific technology as part of the accepted national culture: how does a national science/technology policy reverse the trend for bright people to go abroad and become world-figures, having only a sentimental connection with 'the old sod'? If Tyndall represents a glaring example symptomatic of the lack of Irish national independence in the 19th century, how can one explain Bernal, who followed a remarkably similar career in the 20th? Neither Tyndall nor Bernal could ever have achieved in their times world-status in science from an Irish base. This will remain the problem until we have an acceptable mix of world-centres of science within Ireland, stimulated by, and interacting with, appropriate science-based industry.

* Also known as the 'Albemarle St Conspiracy'.

WR Hamilton

The following review by RJ of Thomas L Hankin's Sir William Rowan Hamilton (Johns Hopkins, 1980) was published in 'Books Ireland', December 1981:

I recollect in or about 1955 watching the unveiling by Eamonn de Valera of a plaque erected to commemorate the discovery of quaternions by Sir William Rowan Hamilton. The plaque was located at Brougham Bridge over the Royal Canal, now known as Hamilton Bridge on the Broomebridge Road. It is at eye level on the north bank as seen from the tow-path, just about where Hamilton would have made the legendary incisions with his knife on October 16 1843 after his flash of creative insight.

The occasion must have been the 150th anniversary of his birth, a brave effort to whip up public interest in that bleak decade. I don't remember what Dev said, but I do remember at the time reflecting on the cultural gap between Hamilton, one of the giants of 19th-century scientific culture, world-renowned in his day, and to this day wherever mathematics is studied in any depth, and the depressed, obscurantist environment of the 50s over which Dev presided. It is to Dev's credit that he glimpsed the significance of Hamilton in the Irish pantheon, although he had little or no grasp of his practical significance.

(He similarly half-understood the importance of taking in the European anti-Fascist refugee scientists in the 40s, for whom he founded the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. Dev was subsequently awarded and FRS for this, in a period of political rapprochement with the British. If he had fully understood the process, he would have linked the Institute of Advanced Studies into the academic system, using it to bridge the TCD and UCD postgraduate schools of physics, then subdivided on the basis of religious apartheid. But I digress.)

Had the book under review been part of the Irish cultural equipment earlier in the nation-building process, and had it been produced by an Irish scientific historian as a step towards the understanding of the Irish contribution to the world scientific culture as it developed in the 19th century, perhaps Dev's remarks on Hamilton would have been made from a position of greater achievement. Better late than never; competent American scholarship again comes to the rescue to fill the gaps left by our own academics, who are in sore need of some leadership in the fruitful field provided by the history of science in Ireland, and its interactions with technology and society.

To whom is Hamilton important, and for what reasons? There is contemporary relevance in that in Irish politics there has surfaced the concept of the Republic as it might have been had it emerged successfully under the leadership of Thomas Davis(1). Hamilton was on socialising terms with Oscar Wilde's mother, who contributed to the 'Nation' under the pseudonym 'Speranza'; the common ground was poetry in the romantic tradition, which they both wrote, badly. He was also on close terms with Smith O'Brien(2); in their youth they had cavorted together on the Dunraven estate at Adare, later they had occasion to interact politically in the reforming of the Constitution of the Royal Irish Academy. Hamilton was consciously patriotic in his fostering of the Academy as a centre for Irish scientific publication, and always regarded himself as Irish when being lionised abroad. Yet he was high-Tory unionist in politics, and of the Established Church, within which he espoused the Puseyite cause, though when some of his friends of that persuasion followed Newman into the Roman Catholic Church he broke with them. There was Puseyite influence behind the founding of St Columba's College by Dunraven and others, for the purpose of teaching Irish to the sons of those landlord who after the Act on Union had elected to stay in Ireland to improve their estates. The threads of Davis's Republic had it emerged would have had a complex weave.

Hamilton was a friend of Coleridge; there were similarities in their philosophical and emotional characters: closeness to sisters, romantic unrequited loves. The complexity of this aspect of Hamilton's character makes his biography of interest to non-scientists, who may along the way pick up some insights into the working of the creative scientific mind. Scientists will get some insights into his philosophy and his romanticism.

In a short review, to convey to a lay reader some measure of Hamilton's stature in the world scientific pantheon is going to require shorthand; scientific historians therefore please forgive me for some oversimplification.

Hamilton created an elegant mathematical system which described the whole basis of geometrical optics and Newtonian dynamics with a unified theoretical structure. With this he was able to predict new optical phenomena in non-isotropic crystals, which the experimentalists of the day went on to discover. This was a sensational triumph for the science of the day; it won Hamilton world fame. (He was, by the way, the first foreign member of the US Academy of Sciences.) This Hamilton formalism was at the root of the development by Einstein of the relativity theory, and by Schroedinger of the quantum theory; it underlies the wave-particle duality of the latter, though Hamilton was only aware of this problem in its primitive form (Newton's corpuscles versus the Young-Fresnel wave theory of light).

Hamilton was Astronomer Royal for Ireland and lived at Dunsink Observatory. His theoretical work had impact on telescope design, although this aspect never excited him. The philosophy and theory were all, implementation nothing. So there is no record of his interacting with the Earl of Rosse, who set out at Parsonstown to take the witchcraft out of telescope design in the 1840s, and succeeded, using local craftsmen, and optical theory which by Hamilton's standards was kindergarten stuff. Yet they were on familiar terms and socialised together. Hamilton's scientific philosophy stopped short of technology, unlike the Earl, who had direct exposure to technology via the British military system, which his family went on to service with the technological spin-off from the great Parsonstown telescope(3).

Hamiltons best-known (at least by name) contribution to mathematics was the theory of 'quaternions'. Few now know what they are. Dev did (just about). Their significance is that they constituted the first invented algebraic system, other than formalised arithmetic. They describe elegantly a four-dimensional space, although Einstein chose not to use them, as better formalism was subsequently developed by Reimann. Vector analysis is a special case of quaternions; if you take two quaternions with their 'real parts' zero (these look like vectors) and multiply them by quaternion rules, you get both vector and scalar products in the quaternion product, the scalar being the real part. (Quaternions are hyper-complex numbers, with one real and three imaginary parts). Unfortunately however vector analysis took off on its own, with much less theoretical elegance, and became the work-horse of the engineers, while quaternions, in which vector analysis is embedded, remains a background curiosity.

Hamilton spent the last years of his life trying to write a 'user-manual' for quaternions, but never succeeded, mostly because he kept chasing philosophical hares instead of building a workshop. Despite some popularising work by others, notably Tait, quaternions remain in the backwater of mathematics, although their pioneering theoretical significance was enormous, as they opened up the whole field now occupied by linear associative algebras.

Hamilton believed that all discovery was by mental effort alone, without interaction with the physical world, as did the Greek idealists. If his constructs happened to fit the world, it was because God had made his mind and endowed it with insights, as well as making the world, an additional proof of the existence of God, if one were needed. This comfortable philosophy appeared to work for optics and dynamics, but (it could be argued) broke down for quaternions. Perhaps the fact that in his early years he was a working astronomer helped to bring together his creative concepts with physical reality. In later life he left the observatory to assistants and withdrew into his mathematical studies.

Philosophers of science, historians, scientists, mathematicians, teachers and lay readers will all find something in this book to interest them. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Notes to the Hamilton review:

1. The 'Nation', edited by Thomas Davis, was an attempt to draw together the components of the embryonic Irish nation for a second time in the 1840s; it was closely associated with the European wave of democratic revolutionary activity which culminated in 1848. The Irish component of this broad international movement (represented in England by the Chartists) was however decimated by the potato-blight of 1846-7, which gave rise to the Famine and subsequent massive emigrations, leading to the halving of the population in the following century. No other European nation has had to face a demographic crisis on this scale.

2. William Smith O'Brien, an improving landlord, led an abortive uprising in 1848.

3. The Parsons turbine and the Grubb-Parsons optical works were technological spin-offs of the Parsonstown telescope. Both were important suppliers of advanced technology to the Royal Navy.

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Creator and Rebel; by Banesh Hoffman, Hart-Davis and McGibbon, 1972,£2.95

Review by RJ published in the Irish Times, SATURDAY, APRIL 20-21, 1973

LAY READERS wishing to get a feel for the implications of the General Theory Of Relativity will be captivated by this book, 'which succeeds in conveying both the internal beauty and the historical context of the work. It also conveys a picture of the man as a human being, a scientist, an artist and a person who was politically aware in a positive manner.

In a brief review, one can only touch upon the work. Few remember that it was not for his Theory of Relativity that he was awarded the Nobel Prize (in 1921) but for his theoretical explanation of the photo-electric effect in terms of a 'quantum of radiation' of which the energy depended on the frequency (ie colour) of the light. In 1921, Relativity was still too controversial.

This particular prizewinning work was only one of a group of remarkable pieces of original thinking which emerged from the Patent Office in Bern round about the year 1905. (Einstein didn't make the grade as regards academic appointments.) The others included the equivalence of mass and energy and the Special Theory of Relativity, which got rid of the concepts of absolute space and time and provided a satisfactory explanation for the null result of the famous Michelson-Morley experiment which attempted to measure the rate of drift of the earth through the (then postulated) 'aether'.

An element of this 'Special Theory' was the 'Fitzgerald Contraction' proposed by Prof GF Fitzgerald of TCD in or about 1898; this however, had the status of an 'ad hoc hypothesis' to explain away an embarrassing result. Einstein developed a theory in which this fitted naturally, with few basic assumptions.

Not being at home in the Prussian military atmosphere, Einstein took out Swiss citizenship. This granted him a certain immunity from the effects of the 1914-18 war, which he sat out in Berlin, having by this time achieved academic eminence. Here he showed political principle. Max Planck and 92 others signed a jingoistic German manifesto of intellectuals. Einstein, in relative isolation with three others, signed a 'Manifesto to Europeans' calling for co-operation among the scholars of the warring nations for the sake of the future of Europe.

From the depths of darkest imperialist barbarism in 1916 Einstein emerges with the General Theory of Relativity, providing thereby an explanation of gravitational force in terms of the underlying geometrical structure of the universe, conceived in a four-dimensional space-time. The 'square law' of Newton comes out to be, in essence, the same as the squares of Pythagoras. It becomes evident why Newton's law is not a cube, or the power of 2.5, a fact which hitherto had been accepted on a pragmatic basis.

Across the boundaries of war-torn Europe the excitement of this discovery percolated: de Sitter in Holland by 1917 was already experimenting with relativistic cosmologies; Eddington in England was able to drum up support by 1919 for an astronomical expedition to observe an eclipse and to verify one of the crucial predictions of the theory: the bending of starlight by passage through the gravitational field of the sun.

The way in which post-war Europe reacted to these discoveries, almost with hysteria, resulted in massive popularisation and world acclaim for Einstein. This stood him in good stead in the black thirties and forties, when he was able to use his influence help get many other Jewish intellectuals out of Germany.

To the end of his days he sought to extend the General Theory of Relativity satisfactorily to include the electromagnetic forces. He found many promising leads, but the theory never jelled satisfactorily. As for the quantum-mechanical world, which he had had a hand in setting up with his 1905 photo-electric work, and subsequently consolidating in the 1920s, with Bose (the 'Bose-Einstein Statistics'), he distrusted it profoundly. He argued for classical causality against the 'complementary principle' of Bohr and the Copenhagen School. (This argument was replayed by our JL Synge at the Irish physicists conference in Galway on April 8th, where the GOM referred to correspondence with Max Born and train-conversations with Compton; he unrepentantly struck to a pure Einstein position. There are profound implications in this for the philosophy of science).

Einstein in 1940 was one of the handful who realised the significance of the Hahn-Strassman experiments on uranium fusion, in 1939. He was instrumental, though a pacifist, in drawing to Roosevelt's attention the danger that the Nazis might make an atom bomb, thereby making the allied nuclear effort inevitable. He was appalled by Hiroshima and with Bertrand Russell in 1955 issued his last political statement to mankind - renounce war or destroy the race. Previous to this, he had sheltered by his influence progressive intellectuals who were persecuted by the McCarthy investigations. Despite pressure, and despite a strong emotional link with the Jewish refugees from Nazism, he avoided involvement with the infant State of Israel, although he had been associated with Weizmann in the twenties in fund-raising for the Jewish National Fund.

Einstein will forever rank among the giants as regards human intellectual achievement. Banesh Hoffmann's book will, I hope, convey something of this to many lay readers, thus helping to reduce the probability that in a new Dark Age his books will be ritually burned, as they were in 1933 in Germany.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999