Lewis Hyde: On Being Good Ancestors
Hyde's book The Gift has earned effusive praise. Margaret Atwood calls it, "a masterpiece." David Foster Wallace writes, "No one who is invested in any kind of art can read The Gift and remain unchanged."
Years ago, this book also opened vistas for me, and so I was thrilled to listen to the mp3. I hadn't realized that the 25th anniversary edition includes an afterword by Hyde, "On Being Good Ancestors," and so I headed over to Powell's to take a look.
How might we become good ancestors? Create institutions that support a greater good.
Hyde's immediate subject here is science and the scientific community:
The royal patronage that Sir Isaac Newton received may have fallen out of favor, but other innovations from his day have survived. The idea that colleges might have endowed professorships has not been lost.
Newton was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics; that position was created in 1663 by one Henry Lucas, and it endures to this day (the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is its current occupant).
The forums for scientific discourse that Newton knew have likewise endured. In 1672, Newton sent a long letter to Henry Oldenburg of the Royal Society of London, an outline of his theory of light and color. Oldenburg immediately printed the letter in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In was Newton's first scientific publication.
Philosophical Transactions is the oldest scientific journal in the English-speaking world, having now published for over 340 years. Oldenburg was its founding editor. When he started it, it wasn't part of a scientific community, it created a scientific community, and that community has endured.
Lucan and Oldenburg: these are good ancestors for the community of science; their institutions survive and their names are remembered.