Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin; Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago
Starting circa 1920, commentators on the modern condition — philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead and Edmund Husserl, sociologists like Max Weber and Georg Simmel, and historians like E.A. Burtt and Herbert Butterfield — link modernity with science, more specifically with the Scientific Revolution. It was not any specific discovery of theory or even science-based technology that had wrought this transformation; it was the creation of the “modern mind”. Triumphal versions of this narrative celebrated it as the prime mover of the Enlightenment and progress; tragic versions mourned the loss of the cozy medieval cosmos and an enchanted world. But it was the same narrative, however tinged. Its influence on conceptions of modernity in the humanities, social sciences, and among scientists themselves has been immense and enduring, and no amount of countervailing evidence seems able to bury it. Why is this narrative about science and the modern mind so indispensable?
Lorraine Daston is a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She has published on a wide range of topics in the history of science, including probability and statistics, evidence, wonder and curiosity, the moral authority of nature, anthropomorphism, and scientific images. Recent books include: Objectivity (with Peter Galison, 2007); Histories of Scientific Observation (co-edited with Elizabeth Lunbeck, 2011); and How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (with Paul Erikson et al., 2014).