Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

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Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Certainty vs Wisdom

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” - Bertrand Russell

Nothing strikes fear in my heart more than a well publicized pillar of certainty. My town newspaper has never been as informative as newspaper could be, but now they are publishing the brain draining writings of Dr. Laura with her loud assurance that there is only one point of view and if you don't share it then there is something wrong with you. Certainty must be wonderful. You never have to think.

Of course, not every doubting person is terribly thoughtful, but I'm quite sure that most thoughtful people are at least cognizant of other points of view and how they might be legitimately arrived at. Dr. Laura manages to show disdain for any opinion other than hers and then convince those that share hers that she has given the matter her serious deep thoughtful attention and there is no reason for them to even wonder how someone could come to any other conclusion. I like that approach. It is the same approach a good preacher uses to keep his congregation coming back and making their contributions. Sometimes, I wish I could do that, but I'm always aware that I could be wrong.

Asimov's book "The Demon Haunted World" agrees with me, (so of course I bought a copy) saying that scientific progress depends on being aware of fallibility. I am absolutely certain that certainty is "usually" the enemy of wisdom. Probably including this time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Scientist's Obligation & Opportunity

For the last couple of days I've been attending a class taught by one of the major icons in optical design, Lacy Cook. He said something today that I just had to write about.

Lacy was making the point that if an organization's seasoned engineers don't pass along the lessons they have learned in their career, then the organization is destined to go through the pain of training fresh engineers from scratch which takes an entire career. An engineers value to the organization can increase only if he can and does teach the next generation. It really is our responsibility as older engineers and scientists to pass along what we know. It is also one of the most valuable things we can do. We should be learning from those around us, doing the work that the company needs and teaching what we know about doing that work to the others we work with. It really is that teaching that increases our value to the company and to society. Beside that, engineers and scientists don't become legends and really cool geeks revered among the other geeks without seriously sharing our talent and knowledge with them. That's what creates such legends.