Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mad Scientists

Watched a programme about Albert Einstein on DSTV the other day. The presenter was Brian May and, with the help of some rather overcooked cartoons, he gave a pretty sympathetic presentation. He did his best to explain e=mc², too, but it was a bit late into the evening and a good glass of red for that.
But May ever-so-nearly spoiled it all when near the end of his bit he dipped into quantum physics and, with barely-concealed glee, announced that Einstein was WRONG!
Now, May admitted that he himself didn’t understand a damn thing about quantum physics (nor do I, by the way), so he wasn’t really able to give us dummies a convincing reason why hairy Albert was in error, but that’s not the point, it’s his glee that concerns me.
Why does society at large take such pleasure out of trashing scientists (and hence by extension, science)? 
The answer might be that it’s because science whittles away at our most bullshitty perceptions, like the earth is flat or bad smells carry disease or all frogs are poisonous or Zuma is a great man or there are fairies at the bottom of your garden. We all like to live in a comfortable space where we don’t have to think about such things; in some instances we have made intellectual idleness, lassitude and pure sloth into such a collective virtue that we even call it Faith.
This is taken to such a level that even one of our favourite talk show radio presenters (I’ll just call him John) regularly takes great pride in the fact that he knows nothing about nor understands anything of science and scientific endeavours. He’s just one contributor to the mass dumbing down of our population, whose children have already shown in international surveys that we are almost the worst country in the world in our understanding of science.
At another level a majority of the population of what is reputed to be the richest and most advanced country in the world are apparently religious fundamentalists who regard science as something fairly close to Satanism. Oy vey, wither humankind?
What this enormous mass of clods don’t understand is that good scientists – I mean really good scientists, the kind who become Fellows of Royal Societies or Members of Advanced Academies – are the first to take delight in being proved wrong, because that is what science is really all about: it’s a quest for knowledge, a quest that will never end, only become (hopefully) better and better refined. New discoveries mean new knowledge, new ways of thinking, of putting bits together.
It’s always interesting to me that John the Presenter, the huddled masses of American evangelism, even the hirsute, turbaned cavemen in distant desert countries who plot the destruction of the Evil West, use cell phones, drive modern cars, fly in aeroplanes, wear artificial fabrics, imbibe medication, swipe tablets, hit keyboards, tarum tarum tarum, without a murmur, even though all these things are the direct products of science ... things invented by, and using principles worked out by, and using materials developed by, the descendants of the very same outjies who punted the unflat earth, the Earth rotating around the sun, evolution, e=mc² and, dare I say it, quantum physics ...

Kaartman, 9/11, 2013

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