Materials and the Development of Civilization and Science

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Science  14 May 1965:
Vol. 148, Issue 3672, pp. 908-917
DOI: 10.1126/science.148.3672.908


It will be apparent from this far-too-hasty view that, in the past, most knowledge of materials has been gained by the intelligent empiricist, and that the role of science has been to explain and to provide better control rather than to open up new areas. It may be that in complex fields this is inevitable, for science invokes subtle abstractions which are necessarily concerned sequentially with parts rather than simultaneously with a whole system. But how enormously better off we are now than we were in 1900, for we at least now understand the physical principles behind most of the properties of ceramics and metals, and more than one practical achievement stems directly from a scientist's suggestion. No practical man now understands metals better than the solid-state physicist; this was certainly not true even as little as 20 years ago. Yet the likelihood that pure science will lead directly to the discovery of really new materials will be only slightly greater in the future than it was in the past unless methods for handling wholes can be developed that are precise enough to be called scientific and communicable enough to be taught. This is a task that the scientist has in the past rightly and profitably refused to accept. We need a supergenius to develop some principles, not of simple particles and their interactions, but of extremely complex structures with parts interacting with other parts, on all levels, and with a hierarchy of interpenetrating substructures combining to form many levels of interpenetrating superstructure (21).