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Science and the suburban spirit: The eighth Walter Murdoch lecture delivered at Murdoch University on 19 September 1981

Evans, L.T. (1981) Science and the suburban spirit: The eighth Walter Murdoch lecture delivered at Murdoch University on 19 September 1981. Walter Murdoch Lecture Series . pp. 1-17.

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Although Walter Murdoch's essays ranged widely, he rarely mentioned science. The word does not, for example, appear in the index of his Collected Essays. Yet his spirited campaign against the suburban spirit, "the everlasting enemy" as he called it, is as pertinent for science today as it was for other influences on our lives in Murdoch's time, and I am mindful of his injunction not to acquiesce, but to growl!

Walter Murdoch was, however, too wily to be trapped into defining just what he meant by "the suburban spirit." One of the older (1668) usages of suburban in the Oxford Dictionary refers to "inferior, debased and especially licentious habits of life", but that isn't what worried Murdoch. His everlasting enemy was, rather, all "crabb'd and confined" imagination, mediocrity of spirit, submission to authority and lack of adventurousness. It was adventures of the mind, not of the body, that concerned him, for as he said "I never yet harpooned a whale", although he bagged many other targets. Mine this evening is our management of science.

My particular concern is that as science grows and spreads its influence ever more widely in our lives, it too is being suburbanized to the point where it deters the original, protects the mediocre, tempts its practitioners to find false contexts for their research, and leads its managers to believe they have solved a problem when they have identified it. The front garden of science is being made increasingly orderly and productive, filled with Francis Bacon's "experiments of fruit". But what of his "experiments of light", do they still thrive in a chaotic back garden, out of sight?

Item Type: Others
Publisher: Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia
Copyright: Murdoch University
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