Science, technology, and medicine

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We live in a world where science, technology, and medicine are omnipresent - screaming from the headlines, embodied in mobile phones, and consolidated into therapies for a wide variety of ailments. At the same time, many modern intellectuals seem to have little curiosity about the knowledge behind the scientific enterprise; their computers are indispensable, but they would not be able to explain how they work, nor would they see this as a significant omission. Dostoevsky’s world resembled ours in the former respect, but not the latter. The middle of the nineteenth century in Europe seemed to the thin stratum of educated inhabitants to be at the very peak of science and technology, a cornucopia of inventions on the cusp of accelerating communication to lightning speed, curing all ailments, and revealing the very fabric of the Creator’s construction in all its glory - much as our world seems to many today - but they did not accept these miracles with a shrug. Science, technology, and medicine were not matters for cloistered specialists to ponder but were the province of all writers and thinkers confronted with their modernizing continent. They were intensely curious about how it was all happening and what it all meant. Dostoevsky was no exception. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a barrier began to emerge between “literary” intellectuals and “scientists” - a term coined in English only in 1833 to signify someone working in the natural sciences alone, a distinction not captured in the Russian uchenyi, applicable to both sides of the cultural divide - but that barrier did not go up at the same time everywhere across the continent. Britain and France experienced it first, then the German states (busy unifying themselves in the period between 1848 and 1871); it only appeared in the Habsburg lands and the Romanov Empire toward the end of the century. This means that Dostoevsky lived in a St. Petersburg where what it meant to be educated was to have some views about the sweep of scientific development. Both his life and his works reflect this context at every level. “Science” (in Russian, nauka, sometimes used with the broader meaning conveying any form of systematic knowledge) often refers to three related but analytically distinct domains: medicine; technology; and science proper, understood as more abstract domains such as biology, physics, geology, and chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDostoevsky in Context
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781139236867
ISBN (Print)9781107028760
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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