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The Value of Science, by Richard Feynman

From Richard Feynman's book "What do you care what others think?" , published by Zamora-Beitan

From time to time I hear from people that scientists need to consider social problems more - in particular, that they need to be more responsible when it comes to the impact of science on society. Pointless preoccupation with less essential scientific problems, the result will be very successful.

It seems to me that we actually think about these problems from time to time, but we don't invest a completely concentrated effort in them - and the reason is that we know that we don't have any magic tricks for solving social problems, that social problems are much more difficult to solve than scientific problems, and that we usually don't achieve any speak when we think of them.

I think that the scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as layman as anyone else - and when he talks about a non-scientific matter, he sounds as naive as anyone else who has not received professional training in this field.

Since the question of the value of science is not a scientific topic, this lecture will be devoted to proving this point - to presenting a purpose.

The first way in which science brings benefit known to everyone, is the scientific knowledge that allows us to do all kinds of things and produce all kinds of things. Of course, if we produce good things, it is not just a point due to science; It is also a point thanks to the moral choice that motivated us to do good work. Scientific knowledge is a force that allows us to do good or bad. - but it does not include the instructions for its use, such a lacquer has a clear value - although the power may be hidden, depending on what is done with it.

I learned a way to express this common human problem on a trip to Honolulu. There was a Buddhist temple there, and the person in charge explained a little about the Buddhist religion to the tourists, and at the end of the conversation he told them that he had something to tell them that they would never forget - and I really didn't forget it, it was a proverb from the Buddhist religion: each person is given the key to the gates Paradise; The same key opens the gates of hell
If so, what is the value of the key to heaven? The truth is that if we don't have clear instructions that will allow us to determine which gate is heaven's and which is hell's, the key is a dangerous object to use. But it is quite clear that this key has value: how can we enter heaven without it?

The instructions for use will be of no use without the key. Therefore, it is obvious that despite the fact that we are capable of creating terrible atrocities in the world, science has value, because it can create something.

Another value of science is the fun called intellectual pleasure, which some people get from reading and studying and thinking about it, and others get from working on it. This is an important point, and it is not taken into account by those who tell us that we have a social responsibility to reflect on the impact of science on society.

Does this completely private pleasure have value in terms of the wider society? No! But there is also a responsibility to think about the goals of the company itself. Is it designed to arrange things so that people can enjoy all kinds of things? If so, the enjoyment of science is as important as anything else.

But I would prefer not to underestimate the value of the worldview that results from the scientific effort, we have come to the point that we can imagine all kinds of things that are far more wonderful than what the poets and dreamers imagined in the past. Science teaches that the imagination of nature is much, much greater than the imagination of man. For example, it is much more wonderful to think that we are all stuck - some of us upright, and some upside down - by a mysterious gravitational force to a rotating ball, which has been running through space for billions of years, than to think that we are standing on the back of an elephant standing on a turtle swimming in a bottomless sea.

I have thought about these things on my own so many times, and I hope you will forgive me if I remind you of ideas that no doubt occurred to many of you, and no one could have thought of them before, because then people did not have the information that we have about the world today.

For example, I stand on the seashore, alone, and start thinking.

Here are the crashing waves, echoes of molecules,

Each is foolishly engaged in her own affairs,

Trillions apart - but they all form white foam


Ages upon ages, before there were seeing eyes, year after year,

banging furiously on the shore, then as now,

For whom, for what?

on a dead planet,

no life for fun,

no rest at all,

in energy whipping

that the sun wastes with a wide hand,

disconnected from space.

A grain causes the sea to roar.

in the depths of the sea,

All molecules repeat

on each other's features,

until new, complex,

They create others like themselves,

And a new dance begins.

increases in volume and complexity,

living creatures,

atomic masses,

DNA, proteins,

dancing in an increasingly complex format.

the cradle method,

to the dry land,

Here he arose and was

This thing:

Atoms with consciousness:

material with curiosity,

standing on the seashore,

Marveling at wonders:

I, a universe of atoms

atom in the universe.

The same thrill, the same feeling of awe and mystery, comes again and again when we look at each question in depth, as knowledge increases the mystery becomes deeper, more wonderful, and tempts us to penetrate even deeper, without fearing for a moment that the answer will be disappointing, with pleasure and self-confidence, we Each new stone is turned over, and we find strangeness that we did not imagine, which leads to even more wonderful questions and mysteries - there is no doubt that this is a spectacular adventure!

True, some non-scientific people come to this particular kind of religious experience. Our poets do not write about her; Our artists do not try to express this wonderful thing. I don't know why, how come no one is inspired by the current picture of the universe we have? This value of science does not receive songs of glory: you are forced to hear not a poem or a poem, but a lecture after dinner, the scientific age has not yet begun.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read the music. For example, it can be written in a scientific article, "The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebral cortex of a rat decreases to lignite over two weeks." So what does that mean?

This means that the phosphorus found in the rat's brain - as well as mine, and yours - is not the same phosphorus that was there two weeks ago. This means that the atoms in the brain are changing: the ones that were there before are gone.

So what is this soul of ours: what are the atoms with consciousness? Snow last year! Now they can remember what went through my brain a year ago - but the brain itself has long since changed. To understand that what I call my personality is only a pattern of a dance, this is the true meaning of discovering how long it takes for the atoms in the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come to my brain, dance their dance and leave - there will always be new atoms, but they will dance the same dance, and remember what the dance was yesterday. When we read about it in the newspaper, it says "The scientists say that this discovery may play an important role in the search for the cure for cancer. "

The newspaper is only interested in the exploitation of the idea, not the idea itself. Almost no one can understand the importance of an idea, how wonderful it is. Although it may be that some children catch the and. And when a child grasps such an idea, we have a scientist. It is too late {1} to instill this spirit in them when they reach university, so we should try to explain these ideas to children.

Now I would like to turn to a third value that science has. He is a little less direct, but not by much. A scientist has a lot of experience with not knowing and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is very important, I think. When a scientist does not know the answer to a problem, he is in a state of ignorance. When he has a guess as to the outcome, he is in a state of uncertainty. And when he is quite sure what the result will be he is still in some doubt. We discovered that it is extremely important if we want to move forward, to acknowledge our ignorance, and to leave room for doubt. The scientific information is a collection of statements with varying degrees of certainty - some are very uncertain, others are almost certain, but none are certain for the world.

Well, we scientists are used to it, and it is quite clear to us that it is entirely consistent, to be uncertain; You can live and not know. Our freedom of doubt was born out of a struggle against authority, in the early days of science. This struggle was very deep and difficult: we were allowed to doubt - to doubt - to be uncertain. I think it is important not to forget this struggle, because that way we might lose what we have achieved. And this is our responsibility towards society.

We are all saddened when we think of the marvelous abilities that human beings must have, compared to their paltry achievements. Again and again people think that we could have achieved much more, those who lived in the past saw the nightmare of their time as a dream for the future. We, their future, see that their dreams, which in some ways came true and even more than that, remain dreams in many ways, the hopes for the future today are, to a large extent, the hopes of yesterday.

It used to be thought that the possibilities that people have did not develop because most people were burnt out. With universal education, can anyone be a Voltaire? The bad can be taught as effectively as the good. Education is a powerful force, but for better or for worse. Communication between nations must promote understanding - it was another dream, but the mechanisms of communication can be manipulated. What passes in the media can be true or false. The media is a powerful force, but again, for better or for worse.

Applied science should free man from material problems, at the very least. Medicine fights diseases, and it seems that the achievements were all for the better. And yet there are some who are patiently working today to produce great plagues and poisons for use in tomorrow's war. Almost everyone hates war, our dream today is peace. In peace, man can develop to the best of his tremendous possibilities. But maybe in the future it will become clear that peace can also be for good or for bad. Maybe people living in peace will start getting drunk out of boredom. Then, maybe the drinking will be the big problem that prevents the person from getting everything he thinks he should have gotten from his ability.

Of course, peace is a tremendous force - like sobriety, material power, communication, education, honesty and the ideals of many dreamers. We have many more such forces to control than the ancients had, and we may be getting on with them a little better than most, but what we are supposed to be able to do seems enormous,

Compared to our confused achievements.

why is it? Why can't we control ourselves?

Because we find that even great powers and miraculous ability are not provided with clear instructions for use, for example, the great accumulation of understanding of the behavior of the physical world only convinces us that this behavior is more or less meaningless. The scientists do not directly teach what is good and what is bad.

Throughout the past generations, people have tried to delve into the meaning of life. They realized that if they could provide some direction or meaning to our actions, tremendous human forces would be unleashed. Therefore, many answers were given to the question of what all this means. But the answers were of all kinds, and the advocates of one answer looked with horror at the actions of those who believed in another answer - horror, because from an opposite point of view, all the tremendous abilities of the race were channeled into a dead end, false and limiting. In fact, it was precisely from this history, of terrible monsters created by the power of false belief, that philosophers learned about the wonderful and almost infinite capacity of man. The dream is to find the open channel.

If so, what is the meaning of all this? What can we say that will solve the mystery of existence? If we take everything into account - not only what the ancients knew, but also what we know today and they didn't know - I think we have to admit with openness, A ḥan Ḥ Ḥ Ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ ḥ Ḥ

But in this admission, we probably find the open channel. This is not a new idea; This is the idea of ​​the Age of Enlightenment. This is the philosophy that guided the people who established the democracy we live in. The idea that no one really knows how to run a government led to the idea that we need to build a method in which it will be possible to develop innovative ideas, try them, throw them in the trash if necessary, and make room for more new ideas - a method of trial and error. This method resulted from the fact that science had already proven itself to be a successful enterprise, at the end of the eighteenth century. It was already clear to those with a social conscience that the openness of possibilities is an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion are essential to progress into the unknown, if we want to solve a problem that we have never solved, we must leave the door to the unknown somewhat open.

We are at the very beginning of the human race. It is expected and likely that we will face problems. But there are still thousands of years in the future, our priority is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions and pass them on. Our responsibility is to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the youthful fervor of humanity, we can make grave mistakes that will stifle development for a long time. And this is what we do if we say that the answers are already in our hands, because we are so young and clueless. If we stifle every argument, every criticism, and declare "this is the answer, my friend; Humanity is saved!" We will excuse the fate of humanity to be shackled for a long time in the chains of authority, to remain confined to the limits of our current imagination, this has happened many, many times in the past.

Our responsibility as scientists, recognizing the great progress that has resulted from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress that is the fruit of freedom of thought, is to proclaim the value of that freedom; to teach that doubt is not a reason for fear, but for joy and discussion; and claim this freedom, as our duty to all future generations.


{1} Today I would say, "It's already late - but not too late - to put the spirit in them..."


From: Bulletin for Biology Teachers No. 150, Booklet 1997, Iyer XNUMX, XNUMX, published under the initiative and supervision of the Israeli Center for Scientific-Technological Indoctrination named after Amos de Shalit

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