The founders of the United States of America were all well acquainted with the experimental nature of science, and they applied the same methods to their new political enterprise. “They always described the formation of the country itself as an experiment,” says Timothy Ferris, “And what isn’t widely understood is that the way that democracies work is by constant experiment.” Each election, each passage of a new law is, after all, a procedure designed to test a hypothesis about how to make constant improvements to a government.
The Christian Science Monitor called Ferris “the best
popular science writer in the English language today,” and his new book
is The Science of Liberty. In it, he tells the story of the
intimate connections between the scientific advances that expanded the
frontiers of human knowledge and the democratic experiments that
expanded the frontiers of human liberty. He recently joined Science
Progress editor-in-chief Jonathan Moreno for a podcast interview to
discuss how science rescued generations of humanity from subsistence
living and brought freedom to nations around the world.
In the opening pages, Ferris lays down his bold claim: “The
democratic revolution was sparked—caused is perhaps not too
strong a word—by the scientific revolution, and that science continues
to empower democratic freedom today.” Dissatisfied with existing
histories of the Enlightenment, he set out to ascertain more
specifically what exactly was new about the period bookended by the
English Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution of 1789. It wasn’t
simply the embrace of reason, Ferris said, because after all,
individuals can reason their way into all sorts of conclusions that
don’t have anything to do with the nature of reality.