ian_mcewan's picture
Novelist; Recipient, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction; Author, Sweet Tooth; Solar; On Chesil Beach; Nutshell; Machines Like Me; The Cockroach
[Questioning the Question:] Beware of arrogance! Retire nothing!

Beware of arrogance! Retire nothing! A great and rich scientific tradition should hang onto everything it has. Truth is not the only measure. There are ways of being wrong that help others to be right. Some are wrong, but brilliantly so. Some are wrong but contribute to method. Some are wrong but help found a discipline. Aristotle ranged over the whole of human knowledge and was wrong about much. But his invention of zoology alone was priceless. Would you cast him aside? You never know when you might need an old idea. It could rise again one day to enhance a perspective the present cannot imagine. It would not be available to us if it were fully retired. Even Darwin in the early 20th century experienced some neglect, until the Modern Synthesis. The Expression of Emotion...' took longer to be current. William James also languished, as did psychology, once consciousness as a subject was retired from it. Look at the revived fortunes of Thomas Beyes and Adam Smith (especially 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments') We may need to take another look at the long-maligned Descartes. Epigenetics might even restore the reputation of Lamarck. Freud may yet have something to tell us about the unconscious.

Every last serious and systematic speculation about the world deserves to be preserved. We need to remember how we got to where we are, and we'd like the future not to retire us. Science should look to literature and maintain a vibrant living history as a monument to ingenuity and persistence. We won't retire Shakespeare. Nor should we Bacon.