Alan Alda on Rationality

Alan Alda on PBS – Actually on reflection Alan Alda’s contribution to the Edge World Question Centre 2003 (previous blog) is easily the most though provoking – spot on the main event – the dangers of rationality, I said. I didn’t know Alan Alda moved in these circles – I guess one price of living this side of the pond is not experiencing PBS TV. Wow – the power of humour and art in science – too sad the message will be entirely missed by the target of the letter – Dubya, go on prove me wrong !

One quote from Alan Alda is so evocative of the quotes blogged earlier from William Barrett – about man now having the power of global destruction in his hands being a reason to seriously re-think rationality – and the fact that this perception is as old as philosophy and science itself – that I thought I’d share it with you …

Alan Alda says in 2003 [Quote] We live in a time when massive means of destruction are right here in our hands. We’re probably the first species capable of doing this much damage to our planet. We can make the birds stop singing – we can still the fish and make the insects fall from the trees like black rain. And ironically we’ve been brought here by reason, by rationality. We cannot afford to live in a culture that doesn’t use the power in its hands with the kind of rationality that produced it in the first place. The problem is that, although we’re all entitled to our beliefs, our culture increasingly holds that science is just another belief. Maybe this is because it’s easier to believe something – anything – than not to know ….. Above, all, Mr. President, I think your science advisor needs to help you help our country learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, and – as hard as this might be to believe – to put reason ahead of belief. [Unquote]

Williams Barrett said in 1958 [Quote] To be rational is not the same as to be reasonable ….. Nowadays we accept in our public life the most humanly unreasonable behaviour, provided it wears a rational mask and speaks officalese, which is the rhetoric of rationality itself. Witness the recent announcement that science has been able to perfect a “96% clean” hydrogen bomb. Of course the quantification makes the matter sound so scientific and rational that people no longer bother to ask themsleves the human meaning of the thing itself. …. the fear of what may happen to mankind in our time is a recurrent thing …. Karl Jaspers citing 4000 year old Egyptian …. Ortega y Gasset citing Horace the Latin poet …. etc. [Unquote]

You know my motivations are neither political nor global, but basic organisational decision making in business, and how lousy it seems to be getting. It was ever thus.

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