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Shades of Titanic — Probing the Wreck of the Unsinkable Enlightenment

Photo: RMS Titanic, by Francis Godolphin Osbourne Stuart, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The week that the submersible Titan was revealed to have been instantaneously flattened on its way down to the wreck of the Titanic, David Berlinski spoke with James Lileks and Peter Robinson on Ricochet about the wreck of the Enlightenment. Much like the Titanic, and a bit like the Titan, so much was expected at the glorious launch of the experiment in human reasoning — yet down it went to disaster, not least in the 20th century with its horrors.

Writing yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan suggested that the story of the Titanic haunts us in part because its demise came two years before the start of the century’s great catastrophe, World War I: “the reason the Titanic endures is that there was an immediate connection in the public mind with the Great War. The 20th century was to be the century of progress.” Interesting connection. Science and reason were supposed to transform the world for the good instead of soaking it in gore. In his books — Human Nature and his latest, Science After Babel — Berlinski probes the causes behind that failure. “A cold wind is blowing,” the mathematician and philosopher observes, revealing how “fragile” the Enlightenment dream really was. The conversation with Dr. Berlinski begins at 31:45.