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Wu Guosheng——The origin of science spirit
Author:Shen Yuxi  Date:2018-09-17  Clicks:

One the morning of 15th September, the History Museum of WHU welcomes Wu Guosheng, professor and also the founder of the Department of the History of Science, Tsinghua University. Professor Wu is the lecturer of the 9th General Education Lecture, and his speech titled “The Origin of Science Spirit” inspired all the faculty and students present.

The lecture is co-organized by Undergraduate College and General Education Center of WHU. Peng Hua, vice-chancellor of General Education Center and deputy dean ofSchool of Civil Engineering of WHU, presides the lecture.

Professor Wu began his lecture by sharing his observations on current three misconceptions among the general Chinese public toward science: the blur of science and scientific technology, the pragmatism tendency in understanding science and the literal perception of science (“Kexue”, literally refers to “departmental studies” or “the knowledge of disciplines”). “The causes of the misunderstanding may come as several aspects. In ancient China, knowledge had been in a dependent position, so had the Chinese scholars in pursuit of knowledge. In other words, they are always interrupted by and intertwined with practical purpose. Knowledge itself is not the ultimate goal of pursuing knowledge. This tendency carried on into the modern times when the western civilization swarmed in. This historical period of learning from western countries is by no means of a process of willing exchange, but a passive and reluctant one under the fear of being enslaved. Therefore, priorities were given to such ‘useful’ knowledge as physics and chemistry and science was degraded to a technological stuff and pragmatical method”, Professor Wu indicates the origin of science spirit has gone astray in the Chinese context throughout the long history.

To explain what the origin of science spirit is, Professor Wu takes a comparative approach towards the ancient China and the ancient Greece. From his perspective, science is a method initially adopted by the ancient Greek to “discipline free human nature”. With science, they aimed to exploit a rational world away from the impacts imposed by such elements as time. In this world, the knowledge for its own being has dwarfed the experimental knowledge and technical knowledge. This is to say, science is such a kind of self-developing knowledge no longer featuring practical use, because, as what professor Wu states, “all the useful knowledge will eventually vanish in the so-call use”. However, the pursuit of science, the pure knowledge, has not flourished in the ancient China, a nation of kinship where absolute ration is hard to develop since interpersonal relations can always take the wind in the whole society. Take geometry, what professor Wu gives great stress to, for example. It came to birth and grew in the ancient Greece, and it has been playing a remarkably significant role in the west. Nevertheless, it has failed to gain much attention in China since the Chinese were unaware of its “use”. “That’s true. But please remember, geometry is exactly the epitome of the origin of science spirit”, professor Wu claims, “It represents the science spirit of ancient Greece, the spirit of reason, of freedom and of pure pursuit of knowledge.”

Professor Wu Guosheng is delivering the speech

Professor Wu illustrates this topic with numerous vivid examples and humorous comments, which deeply impressed all the attendees. The one-hour-and-a- half lecture is punctuated by applause and laughter for several times.

Professor Wu Guosheng is awarded the lecturer’s certificate by Sang Jianping, chief expert of Introduction to the Natural Science Classics

After his speech, in the following Q&A section, a question about the departmentalization tendency in understanding science is raised. In response, professor Wu explains that science before the 18th century was also general knowledge, but with the institutionalization of the modern society, science needs to be departmentalized to gear to the professionalization and technicalization trend. However, it can never be taken for granted as the essence of science. Nowadays, efforts have been made to set things right and the general education is exactly a necessary step.

Professor Wu’s insightful remarks coincide with the mission of General Education Lecture. General Education Lecture is a series of lectures starting in 2017. With the aim of promoting general education among WHU students and broadening their academic horizons, it has invited many scholars in and outside WHU to share their viewpoints, which provides a great platform for idea exchanges.


Edited by Zheng Yayun & Hu Sijia

Photo by Shen Yuxi and from GEC of Wuhan University


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