Study Guide

Anthem Science

By Ayn Rand


But we loved the Science of Things. We wished to know. We wished to know about all the things which make the earth around us. We asked so many questions that the Teachers forbade it. (1.21)

Equality 7-2521's real passion is science. He just wants to understand the world. Sadly, in Equality 7-2521's society, he's forbidden from asking questions. Society doesn't seem all that eager to nurture the budding scientist in him.

We think that there are mysteries in the sky and under the water and in the plants which grow. But the Council of Scholars has said that there are no mysteries, and the Council of Scholars knows all things. (1.22)

To Equality 7-2521, the world is an exciting and wonderful mystery which calls out for exploration. But according to the Council of Scholars, which is responsible for science in his society, there is no mystery because everything is already known. Apparently they feel no need to find out anything else about the world. Clearly, this is not a good practice for science. It also makes the world appear a far less beautiful and miraculous place.

We learned that the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around it, which causes the day and the night. We learned the names of all the winds which blow over the seas and push the sails of our great ships. We learned how to bleed men to cure them of all ailments. (1.22)

The earth is flat? Bleeding people works? Come again? Equality 7-2521 learned science in his school that, from our perspective, is incorrect and outdated. From a scientific perspective, his society has literally reverted to the Dark Ages.

It whispers to us that there are great things on this earth of ours, and that we can know them if we try, and that we must know them. We ask, why must we know, but it has no answer to give us. We must know that we may know. (1.25)

For Equality 7-2521, knowledge is an end in itself. It's just good to understand the world – there needn't be any other reason to do it. Here he says that knowledge itself enough. It's also interesting to think about whether this idea fits with the idea suggested later in Anthem that Equality 7-2521 is pursuing knowledge because it makes him happy to do so. Are pursuing knowledge for its own sake ("We must know that we may know") and pursuing knowledge because it makes you happy the same thing?

We have stolen glass vials and powders and acids from the Home of the Scholars. Now we sit in the tunnel for three hours each night and we study. We melt strange metals, and we mix acids, and we cut open the bodies of the animals which we find in the City Cesspool. (1.66)

Equality 7-2521 has now taken up science on his own, without any approval from society. He chooses to spend his time alone doing science experiments. And apparently he does all kinds of stuff – Physics, Chemistry, Biology.

We, Equality 7-2521, have discovered a new power of nature. And we have discovered it alone, and we are alone to know it. (3.1)

Equality 7-2521's scientific explorations have yielded a result: he's found a "new power of nature." He was able to do this because he was willing to admit what he didn't know, and willing to submit nature to experiment. This stands he in direct contrast to the Scholars in his society. And he's done this alone, as an individual, with no help from anyone else. Single-handedly, he's outsmarted the combined scientific forces of his society.

We can give our brothers a new light, cleaner and brighter than any they have ever known. The power of the sky can be made to do men's bidding. There are no limits to its secrets and its might, and it can be made to grant us anything if we but choose to ask. (5.6)

Equality 7-2521's just created a working electric light. Now he's starting to talk about all the technological possibilities that science can unlock. Science can enable human beings to control the great powers of nature and do what they please with them. Has he just realized this, or was the desire for such power guiding his experiments all along? Is it in tension with his earlier statement that "We must know that we may know"?

"What is not thought by all men cannot be true," said Collective 0-0009. (7.35)

Collective 0-0009 sums up his society's attitude towards science here. Only what society says is true, and society can only say what everybody thinks. Doesn't allow much room for individual experimentation, does it? In fact, it's hard to imagine how it even allows for any discoveries. How can a society that believes this ever learn anything? It's a miracle they got as far as the candle…

Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past," said Solidarity 8-1164, "but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must." (7.39)

Whenever individual scientists had innovative or creative ideas in the past, says another member of the Council of Scholars, they were forced to abandon them (presumably because not everybody else shared them). Doesn't sound like science at all.

I have learned that my power of the sky was known to men long ago; they called it Electricity. It was the power that moved their greatest inventions. It lit this house with light which came from those globes of glass on the walls. I have found the engine which produced this light. I shall learn how to repair it and how to make it work again. I shall learn how to use the wires which carry this power. Then I shall build a barrier of wires around my home, and across the paths which lead to my home; a barrier light as a cobweb, more impassable than a wall of granite; a barrier my brothers will never be able to cross. For they have nothing to fight me with, save the brute force of their numbers. I have my mind. (12.12)

Equality 7-2521 is now free to do all of the scientific study he wants, and he has a lot of old technology to learn from in the house from the Unmentionable Times he's found. Science will give him a great deal of power, more power than the entire combined forces of his old society, in fact. The mind, as Equality 7-2521 says, is far stronger than brute physical force. We have to wonder here: has the attraction of science's ability to harness the power of nature replaced the desire to know as Equality 7-2521's main motivation?