The Zeitgeist of Science

Scientific ideas emerge from a social, cultural, intellectual and religious environment that conditions which are likely to be imagined and which are likely to seem relevant, natural or appealing. In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Georg Hegel claims that “no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time [der Geist seiner Zeit] is also his own spirit” and this intuition has been followed, much later, with empirical work on how social structure and culture lays the grounds for religious and scientific ideas. For example, Paul Foreman has suggested that the culture of Weimar Germany influenced the acceptance and early interpretation of quantum mechanics with its emphasis on acausality, individuality and visualizability. The Zeitgeist project uses large corpora of text and data from the milieux of a time and place as represented in news, art, social structure, religion, etc.–to see how this influences the shape and selection of scientific ideas. Moreover, this project seeks to develop metrics and models that will allow us measure the degree to which concepts, claims and theories are emblematic of their time, “behind the times”, or “ahead of their time.”