What’s so funny ’bout … #37

Feynman already was inspirational when he was alive, but “The Fantastic Mr Feynman” was an excellent science documentary for a science editor to conclude, as Feynman himself did, that love is more important than science.

Ironic that they included that science-101 lecture clip where he emphasises the basic falsification rule of science, that if the experiment doesn’t agree, your theory is wrong. Hmmm. Pretty sure he’d have highlighted more likely conclusions if he’d created that lecture later in life.

That is, the more removed the theory from an experiment representing an individual’s empirical experience under control of that individual (like the clip of the clamped Challenger O-ring in the iced-water), the more the “experiment” is a complex logical network of people, experiments, equipment, interpretations, reports, organisations, culture, memes, politics, myths, media, motives, funding, rewards and reputations. Then, the less-significant-whilst-still-relevant the core scientific rule is when compared to all the other possible relationships involved – love (true, misguided, or the lack of it) conquers all.

It would have been fascinating to hear him elaborate on the value of “authority” and “respect” in the context of who can we trust, what can we value, and how that value gets realised and “recognised”. The Swedish Nobel Academy may be imperfect, but the value of a body of work is surely not a scientific question.

Great documentary on many other levels too. Art & Science, Science & Fun, Science & Technology Applications, Education & Learning, Information & Computation, Visuals & Stories …. and so much more. (Hat tip to Smiffy on Facebook for the link.)

[Ha – topical – today, as if to make my point; George Monbiot in the Guardian (Comment is Free) The Treason of the Scholars. I said “lack of love” – George says, quoting Julien Benda, “the chorus of hatreds”. Science is indeed full of moral judgements, prejudices and a wishful “redeeming hypocrisy”. The sooner science takes its head out of its arse, reverses the denial and recognizes it actually needs (humanist / cosmic) ethical underpinnings, the better. Thanks to Nick Maxwell for the link. Real world empiricism really is, and should be recognised as, “aim oriented”. Continuing to pretend it is neutral wrt to values is the denial, the hypocrisy, the neurosis of science. Behaving neutrally wrt to values is to leave ethical decisions to random opportunism. Here with Nick Maxwell’s response to George Monbiot:

I applaud George Monbiot’s call for “a disinterested class of intellectuals which acts as a counterweight to prevailing mores” (‘If scholars sell out, where’s the moral check on power?’, 14 May).  But, as I have argued for decades, we need to go much further.  We urgently need to bring about a revolution in universities so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom and not just acquire knowledge – wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others.

We have inherited from the past the view that the proper way for academia to help promote human welfare is, in the first instance, to acquire knowledge.  First, knowledge is to be acquired; then, secondarily, it can be applied to help solve social problems.  This view not only encourages the kind of amorality Monbiot depicts.  It is also damagingly irrational.  If we take seriously that the fundamental task of universities is to help promote human welfare by intellectual and educational means, then the problems that universities should be centrally concerned to help solve are problems of living, not problems of knowledge.  It is in general what we do, or refrain from doing, that enables us to achieve what is of value, not what we know.

Knowledge is of course important but secondary.  What we lack is a world-wide system of universities rationally devoted to helping us learn how to solve our problems of living, above all our global problems, in increasingly cooperative, wise ways.  In order to create a wiser world we need to learn how to do it, and for that, in turn, we need institutions of learning devoted to the task.


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