Friday, May 25, 2007

Ms. German's Parting Words To Her Seminar Class

Seminar on Scientific Thought was one of the best and most interesting classes I've ever taken, and it's given me a lot to think about, some of which will undoubtedly trickle down onto this website. For now, I want to share what she said to us on the last day of class; though all of you who were there remember it, it's something that everyone should hear.


What is it about humans that we do science, and make music, and create art, and practice religion, that we study fossils and galaxies, build telescopes and particle accelerators, that we ask about the origin of ourselves, of life, and even of the universe? We keep asking questions, learning more, asking more questions.

So where do we go from here? What new technologies will expand our observations? What is dark matter? Dark energy? Can quantum mechanics and general relativity be unified? How is the climate changing? What are the links between climate and plate tectonics? What will be the results of the loss of biodiversity? What will be learned from the Human Genome Project? From stem cell research? And where will the answers get us?

Do all the pieces fit together? And where do we fit? The knowledge we have gained - continue to gain - gives understanding - and power - and we must be very careful. The work has consequences, and the workers have obligations. We must be thoughtful, respectful, and ethical; we must have compassion and humility. For all that scientific knowledge gives us, as Eiseley says, it "is not the road back to the waiting Garden ... that road lies through the human heart."

A scientist says "while science attempts to describe nature and to distinguish between dream and reality, it should not be forgotten that human being probably call as much for dream as for reality. It is hope that gives life a meaning. And hope is based on the prospect of being able one day to turn the actual world into a possible one that looks better."

A poet says: "Man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history.../Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is/ organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man/ Apart from that..."

If you are going on to do science, put your work in a larger perspective. Be responsible. If you are going on to other work, remember you live in a world where science is done; understand what that means - what science can do, and what it can't. Be responsible.

Keep learning. And dream. Ask hard questions and don't accept easy answers. And remember "there are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of a leaning into the light."

first quote: (Eiseley): The Firmament of Time
second (scientist) Francois Jacob: The Possible and the Actual
third: (poet) Robinson Jeffers: "The Answer"
last: Barry Lopez: Arctic Dreams

so we'll scratch it all down into the clay

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