The New Horizon

A new world explored with a rational view

Weinberg’s speech : Disney Science, More heroes and less Prophets

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 I tried to come up with a rough transcript of what Weinberg said. I hope you’ll enjoy. I am again working on translating some of his works. Steven Weinberg is the Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1979.

 All of these works related to data collection on Big Bang, are resultant of unmanned missions – be it Hubble Space Telescope or a Satellite for observation. An astronaut is not required here. They might bump into the things and the designer has to make the spacecraft especially hospitable for Human beings. You don’t want people working as a part of real scientific observation, except on the ground where it is hospitable for humans. Unfortunately there is a fascination of puting people in space by Russia, USA and some other countries. USA has a policy of going back to the Moon and then Mars at the cost of hundreds of billions of Dollars, if not trillions. This may have some justification in terms of excitement and drama, after all we support football, Olympics and all kinds of drama in theatre. But don’t confuse it with Science – it’s the Disney version of Science. Real science cares about the observation, made by manned or unmanned missions and painfully connecting them to the real world of theories. People are going the Moon and playing golf – looks magnificent but it has nothing to do with science. That’s actually a Walt Disney’s version of Science that is more involved in entertainment and less in actual reasoning.

The thing that really has an impact on us is the culture of Science. No one in this room will ever stand on the Moon. But we all can share the results of Scientific research. We can benefit to sense what kind of world we are living in. We have seen over the centuries the gradual demystification of the world and gradual recognition that we are not at the center of the things. The Universe is not a ‘Cosmic drama’, where we are given some ‘heroic’ roles. It all started with Tyco Brahe realizing that our Earth is nothing but just another planet rotating around the Sun.  He was burnt alive. In 1920s, it was discovered by Hubble that our Galaxy is one of many Galaxies floating in the Universe and each of them are having billions of stars in them. There is nothing particular in our Galaxy. And now, we have the idea, which is not yet established, that our Big Bang is nothing special. It’s just another bang in the Universe which Big Bangs go on sporadically due to instability and equations of motion of matter except that ours was the bang that by chance had the right kind of parameters to spawn life on at least some parts of Universe and we can wonder about it.

So, the world once appeared mysterious, and it seemed a nymph in every tree could enable you to explain the way the world works. Everything seemed beyond our understanding unless there were personalities out there doing things, making fire, making thunder. As Science progressed we learned that there is no need to assume the personalities out there to make things happen. We understand the nature works in a very impersonal way. And I think perhaps the greatest impact that this kind of Scientific research may have or I hope will have is not for the knowledge it produces but for the model it provides for seeking the truth. Our Science as a whole offers a way of knowing. We are always tentative and never say that we are sure of something. Some things become very well established with consensus – for example the Big Bang has now. But we admit it might be wrong, especially when we go back in time towards the stage of inflation and the quantum beginning. We admit that we are speculating. However, No one is burnt alive for his difference in opinion in Cosmology, though some people do have very peculiar opinions.

Our knowledge is thus based on observation and reason, implied to be self-correcting and also very much culture-free. The Cosmology that is studied in my country or that of yours (Canada) is the same as the Cosmology that is studied in Japan and India. We don’t have a cosmological truth for you and one for me and one for somebody living overseas. We are uncertain about it, but we all working towards a common truth. It’s not an outgrowth of our culture.

Above all, we have an attitude towards authority that the world could well emulate. We do have heroes in Science – in my own field of Physics and Cosmology we can name Einstein, Hubble, Satellite makers. But they are not Prophets. They are not people whose words we remember and go back to for guidance in Scientific research. No one today reads Einstein’s papers except for historical interests. Any graduate student, here in this University, understands general relativity better than Einstein did because our subject is a cumulative one. Although we honor Einstein, we never dream of settling a scientific dispute by asking what Einstein said about it. In other words, we have our heroes but we don’t have prophets. And looking at the world today, where people are willing to kill each other because of religious certainty, because of books that were written thousands of years ago supposedly by God – looking at the way the world benefitted by its prophets, I would say the example of Science as a good one that we need more heroes and fewer prophets.

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Written by Diganta

March 18, 2008 at 7:38 am

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