Sunday, July 11, 2010


Early this morning I was reading the play Troilus and Cressida by Shakespeare. The story is based on characters from Homer's Iliad although the love story of Troilus and Cressida is not in the Iliad. Rather, it is a medieval tale that is not part of Greek mythology; Shakespeare drew on a number of sources for this plot line, in particular Chaucer's version of the tale, Troilus and Criseyde. While I was reading this the idea of connections came to mind. In this case the connection is between Shakespeare and the medieval story and Homer; but this suggested to me a book I read some time ago about connections in the history of ideas. This book is Connections by James Burke in which he examined the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. With dazzling insight, he untangled the pattern of interconnecting events: the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to the major inventions of the world.

Burke stated, "My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some of the forces that have caused change in the past, looking in particular at eight innovations -- the computer, the production line, telecommunications, the airplane, the atomic bomb, plastics, the guided rocket, and television -- which may be most influential in structuring our own futures....Each one of these is part of a family of similar devices, and is the result of a sequence of closely connected events extending from the ancient world until the present day. Each has enormous potential for humankind's benefit -- or destruction."

These connections continue to occur , whether in science and industry or in the humanities as I found in reading Shakespeare. I find connections fascinating and the stuff that serves as catalyst of my own curiosity. I wonder.

Connections by James Burke. Simon & Schuster, New York. 1980.

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