EXHIBITS: The Sum of Human Knowledge

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Science  11 Mar 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5715, pp. 1539
DOI: 10.1126/science.307.5715.1539b

Twenty-six years in the making, the Encyclopédie (1751–1777) ranks as one of the intellectual landmarks of the Enlightenment. The work's main editor, the French philosopher and gadfly Denis Diderot (1713–1784), sought not only to summarize human learning but also to foster critical thinking. Thanks to volunteer translators, you can now read more than 100 of the Encyclopédie articles at this site from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Translated scientific articles touch on everything from alchemy to probability to the natural history of raccoons. Some entries attempt to reason through questions we're still pondering today, such as whether life exists elsewhere in the solar system. The moon lacks an atmosphere, Jupiter appears too turbulent, and comets undergo temperature extremes, the author concludes: “What living bodies would be able to withstand that extraordinary heat on one hand and extreme cold on the other?”


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