Wednesday, April 8, 2020
So science has, it seems, been so successful that it has inevitably earned a great and strange reputation. If it has never yet been defeated, presumably it is all-powerful. And since science is, after all, the work of scientists—for one seldom encounters disembodied science—then presumable these scientists are both so clever and so wise that they can do anything. Perhaps we should turn the world over to this superbreed. Perhaps they could, if properly supported, really liberated, and put in charge—perhaps they could solve all problems of human relations, of economic stability, of international peace, and of the good life. Perhaps they should design not only the churches, but the creeds also. Perhaps the best music and the loveliest poetry will, in a short time, come out of a machine.
The sad fact is that some scientists themselves appear to believe precisely this. And this arrogant attitude quite naturally irritates, or even angers, the social scientists, the humanists, the moralists, and the creative artists. The classic protest is surely that of Keats:
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in Heaven:
We know her woof, her textures; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip and Angel's wings.
-Warren Weaver, Science and Imagination, 1967
Initial responses are inevitably confused. But trial-and-error learning happens and we do get better. The U.S. was horribly unprepared going into WWI and WWII but, once on track, American productivity stunned enemies as well as friends.
-Peter Gordon, from this list of ten things we are re-learning
Monday, April 6, 2020
"Refusal to forgive leads to a self-imposed imprisonment. It's time we freed ourselves by letting old pain dissipate into the darkness, so that new opportunities can take us to greater heights of joy."
-Marc & Angel Chernoff, 1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently
Today, thousands of years of coveting, fighting over, hoarding, taxing, and searching for salt appear picturesque and slightly foolish. The seventeenth-century British leaders who spoke with urgency about the dangerous national dependence on French sea salt seem somehow more comic than contemporary leaders concerned with a dependence of foreign oil. In every age, people are certain that only the things they have deemed valuable have true value.
The search for love and the search for wealth are always the two best stories. But while a love story is timeless, the story of a quest for wealth, given enough time, will always seem like the vain pursuit of a mirage.
-Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History
Sunday, April 5, 2020
I wrote two books on education and spent a lot of time thinking about it but, as anyone might have expected, I was better at talking about it than at doing. I am not a believer in complete freedom during childhood. I think children need a fixed routine, though there should be days when it is not carried out. I think also that, if a person when adult is to be able to fit into a society, he must learn while still young that he is not the center of the universe and that his wishes are often not the most important factor in a situation.
-Bertrand Russell, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays
There are many things you should care about
Like sick animals, dying trees, and saving the bees.
What other people think of you
is not one of these things.
-Courtney Peppernell, Pillow Thoughts III: Mending the Mind
As we all know, predictions are difficult, especially about the future. Our fearless authors are undaunted by the task. Essentially, they explore the intersection of the exponential growth of a wide swath of technologies and the convergence of those various technologies in unpredictable ways. The future they envision sounds amazing—and cheap, as technological advances solve one problem after another. The one thing they seemed to ignore is human nature and our love of mischief (and control). Well, they did devote three whole paragraphs to the subject before dismissing it. The authors note:
. . . we're going to experience a hundred years of technological progress over the next ten years. In fact, many of the most powerful technologies we'll have at our disposal—artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology—are only starting to come online. So yes, the threats we seem to face might seem dire, but the solutions we already possess will only continue to increase in power.
We will see.