Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels Science

By Jonathan Swift

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We see lots of different science in this book: both the Lilliputians and Gulliver are pretty good with mechanics and engineering, the Brobdingnagians emphasize practical scientific education, and the Laputians favor math and music over all other subjects. What really seems to matter to Gulliver is how that science is applied. He doesn't think much of knowledge for its own sake or excessively abstract speculation. After all, as his time in Laputa teaches us, what's the point of a mathematical equation for tailoring if the suit that comes out of it fits wrong and looks bad?

Questions About Science

  1. Gulliver talks about his own mechanical abilities, and then there's the math of Laputa and of the Projectors. What differences do you see between mechanics and math in this novel? What are some examples Gulliver gives of good and bad science?
  2. What kinds of ethical problems does Gulliver perceive in the work of the Projectors of the Royal Academy at Lagado? How does the work of the Projectors differ from that of the mathematicians of Laputa?
  3. Why does Gulliver specify that the men of Laputa do not keep their wives sexually satisfied? What assumptions is Gulliver making about the effects of mental overdevelopment on the body? What suggestions does the novel offer for balancing mind and body?

Chew on This

The Projectors' position on the continent of Balnibarbi, rather than on the floating island of Laputa, indicates that their goals are more practical than those of the Laputian mathematicians.

Avoiding the extremes of the Laputian mathematicians, the Houyhnhnms balance mental and physical development by strictly controlling the diet and exercise of their children until they reach adulthood.

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