by Katie Neith
Growing up in a bookstore that his parents owned in New York City, Gideon Manning was drawn to the books he thought were the most difficult: philosophy texts. And although he started college as a math major, he quickly found his way back to the writings that had caught his eye as a teenager. He went on to earn both a bachelor’s degree and PhD in philosophy.
Manning, who has been on the Caltech faculty since 2007, typically studies the history and philosophy of science and medicine in the 17th and 18th centuries. He not only delves into the lives of important figures of those times—learning the views and thought processes of French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist René Descartes, for instance—but also tries to understand the context in which certain problems were undertaken and ultimately solved.
“I work on the interaction among three major fields—science, medicine, and philosophy—and at their intersection. I consider myself a historian of all three, looking at the ways they influenced each other, the ways they pushed each other forward, and some- times the ways in which they hampered each other,” he explains. “In the early modern period we associate with the ‘scientific revolution,’ you had many physicians who were philosophers, philosophers who were scientists, and physicians who were scientists. Part of what I’m interested in understanding is how these interactions ultimately led to what we recognize today as three very distinct disciplines.”
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