The Human Side of Science: Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and Other Personal Stories behind Science's Big Ideas

The Human Side of Science: Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and Other Personal Stories behind Science's Big Ideas


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633881563
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Arthur W. Wiggins is the author of the Joy of Physics (with cartoons by Sidney Harris) and the coauthor, with Charles M. Wynn Sr., of the The Five Biggest Ideas in Science, Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction, The Five Biggest Unsolved Problems in Science, and the textbook Natural Science: Bridging the Gaps. Wynn and Wiggins have also edited And God said, “Let There Be Evolution!”: Reconciling the Book of Genesis, the Qur’an and the Theory of Evolution. Wiggins is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics, Oakland Community College in Michigan.

Charles M. Wynn Sr. is Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University. Besides the above-named titles coauthored with Arthur W. Wiggins, Wynn is also the author of Quantitative and Qualitative Experiments for General Chemistry.
Sidney Harris was called “America’s premier science cartoonist” by Isaac Asimov. He has contributed to American Scientist for many years and provided illustrations for The Five Biggest Ideas in Science, Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction, and The Five Biggest Unsolved Problems in Science.

Read an Excerpt

The Human Side of Science

Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and Other Personal Stories behind Science's Big Ideas

By Arthur W. Wiggins, Charles M. Wynn Sr.

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2016 Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-156-3



It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover.

— William Shakespeare, As You Like It, act 3, scene 2 (1599)

The idea that matter consists of atoms is pervasive in modern culture, even though no one has ever seen them directly. One of the best and most interesting pictures we've got was produced in 1989. It was obtained by a scanning tunneling microscope at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. A beam of xenon atoms was shot at a chilled nickel crystal, and the atoms that stuck to the crystal were manipulated by the microscope's probe into the pattern shown below:


The reality of atoms answers a fundamental question that is simple enough to frame: If any material object is cut into smaller and smaller pieces, would there be some limit, after which no further cuts could be made, or would the material be infinitely cuttable?

To get to the heart of this question, we need to go back, back, way back. How far? As many wags have suggested, "The ancient Greeks thought of everything first." Atoms are a case in point.


Democritus (460 BCE — 370 BCE) was born in the far north of Greece, in Abdera. He was taught by Leucippus, and many of his and Leucippus's ideas are so interwoven they are difficult to separate. As a young man, Democritus traveled extensively, spending a great deal of his inheritance from a wealthy father. He visited Asia, Ethiopia, India, and spent a long time in Egypt. Democritus's writings have not survived intact, so only secondary sources exist to help convey his ideas.

I am the most travelled of all my contemporaries; I have extended my field of enquiry wider than anyone else; I have seen more countries and climes and have heard more speeches of learned men.

Although he was virtually unknown in Athens (he went there once to visit Anaxagoras and was ignored), his students and neighbors in Abdera regarded him highly because he was invariably cheerful and ready to see the humorous side of life. He was referred to as the "Laughing Philosopher." He and Leucippus were materialists in that they looked for mechanistic explanations of phenomena, rather than deeper causes. They thought perception through the senses was so subjective that it was unreliable, so they discounted observations as relevant evidence.

Democritus (and, by extension, Leucippus) answered the fundamental question about divisibility of matter by postulating the existence of an uncuttable unit called an atom (Greek a = "not," tomos = "to cut") as the fundamental unit of matter.

The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space; everything else is merely thought to exist.


Aristotle (384-322 BCE) was born in the small city of Stagira in north-eastern Greece, and he studied at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he started at about age seventeen. Plato (427-347 BCE), in turn, was a student of Socrates (469-399 BCE). After Plato's death, Aristotle left Athens for about twelve years. During that time, he tutored young people who went on to become kings, including Alexander (the Great). Upon his return to Athens in about 335 BCE, Aristotle established a school called the Lyceum.

Athens was the cultural hub of Greece and featured a tradition of discussion of all issues great and small. Aristotle and his students walked as they talked, earning them the title the "Peripatetic Philosophers." Although Aristotle agreed with Plato about many things, he and Plato also had significant differences of opinion. For example, Plato's reasoning was deductive in that it proceeded from general principles to specific instances. For example, all chairs have four legs, therefore this chair has four legs. On the other hand, Aristotle's reasoning was inductive in that it broadened from the specific to the general. For example, I have seen five tables, all of which have four legs. Therefore, all tables have four legs. Aristotle's emphasis on specifics led him to make systematic observations about living things, especially marine life, which set biology on a sound footing that lasted for centuries.

Aristotle invented and systematized logic as a tool for scientific inquiry. The overall scientific process used by Aristotle was one of careful observation, followed by logical reasoning about causes. Despite his extraordinarily wide-ranging scholarship that laid the groundwork for many intellectual pursuits during his own time and long thereafter, even a man as perceptive as Aristotle surprisingly made a few errors. His analyses of motion in general and planetary motion in particular were both flawed, leading to later difficulties, as we'll see in subsequent chapters. One particular error seems quite blatant, namely:

Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine.

With his emphasis on careful observation, many have wondered why Aristotle didn't simply count the teeth of both sexes and make a proper comparison.


Excerpted from The Human Side of Science by Arthur W. Wiggins, Charles M. Wynn Sr.. Copyright © 2016 Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface, 7,
Introduction: Science's Evaluation System, 9,
Chapter 1: Democritus and Aristotle Ponder the Existence of Atoms, 21,
Chapter 2: Aristotle, Aristarchus, Copernicus, and Galileo Seek to Determine Earth's Place in the Cosmos, 31,
Chapter 3: Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, and Gottfried Leibniz Argue about Motion and Calculus, 49,
Chapter 4: The Battling Bernoullis and Bernoulli's Principle, 61,
Chapter 5: Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) Have Rival Theories of Heat, 73,
Chapter 6: Mendeleev, Meyer, Moseley and the Birth of the Periodic Table, 83,
Chapter 7: Westinghouse and Tesla versus Edison — AC/DC Titans Clash, 103,
Chapter 8: Alfred Wegener Stands His Ground about Continental Drift, 119,
Chapter 9: Part 1: Albert Einstein, Marcel Grossmann, Mileva Maric, and Michele Besso Struggle with Relativity, 131,
Chapter 10: Part 2: Albert Einstein's Struggles Continue, 153,
Chapter 11: Edwin Hubble and Harlow Shapley Clash/Cooperate over the Universe's Size, 183,
Chapter 12: Disastrous Consequences of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn's Discovery of Nuclear Fission, 211,
Chapter 13: Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, and Francis Crick Determine the Structure of DNA, 235,
Chapter 14: J. Craig Venter, James Watson, and Michael Hunkapiller Race for the Human Genome, 255,
Chapter 15: Ten Honorable Mention Mini-Chapters, 271,
Afterword, 311,
Notes, 313,
To Dig Deeper, 327,
Index, 345,

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