In the Summer of 2020, the Mercantile Library co-hosted “A Pact with Reason,” presented by Dr. Piers Bursill-Hall and co-sponsored by Dr. Zvi Biener and Dr. Terry Grundy. Bursill-Hall is a philosopher of science at Cambridge. His interests include the history of the development of math and science in Western societies. Grundy describes him as a “natural showman” who attracted a large, global audience, many of whom were not scientists or philosophers. The Mercantile Library reported one of the largest audiences they have had for an event.
Conversations between Grundy and Bursill-Hall about a “weakening fidelity to truth and reason” in society inspired the series. Despite the broad topic, they wanted to tell the story of Western civilization’s “Pact with Reason” and how it developed over the centuries. As Bursill-Hall wrapped up the 10-part series, the audience demanded—and even sponsored—a two-part encore expanding on the briefly, previously mentioned Galileo Affair.
We are excited to welcome Dr. Ryan Feigenbaum as the Center for Public Engagement with Science’s new Program Director. Dr. Feigenbaum will also serve as the new Executive Director of the Philosophy of Science Association (see PSA announcement here). He combines experience in digital media, web development, and digital humanities with expertise in the history and philosophy of the life sciences. His writing encompasses everything from best practices for the visual aspects of online communication to digital exhibits that explore the intersections of history, science, and art.
Dr. Feigenbaum’s efforts in public engagement include a digital exhibit called “Poetic Botany,” created for the New York Botanical Garden. In this exhibit, Dr. Feigenbaum explores the biology of each of nine plant species, incorporating art and poetry from people who were inspired by these plants, as well as the stories of these artists and scientists. The end result has the potential to reach a broader audience than a physical exhibit would, and appeals to people with a variety of interests.
Dr. Feigenbaum has also written about seemingly less exciting organisms, such as algae. In “Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany,” he recounts how scientists discovered and improved our understanding of algae. He begins with the early classification of algae and perceptions of it as unremarkable, and then he walks his readers through the observations of its biology that led to it being more appreciated and sought out by more scientists, and even referenced in literature. He ends with a quote encouraging us to “look again” as something that once failed to capture our imaginations; perhaps this encouragement is useful elsewhere as well.
With his abiding interest in communicating science and philosophy to a broad audience, and helping others do so, Dr. Feigenbaum will be a tremendous asset for the Center for Public Engagement with Science.