The Discoveries of Science: Comment from Steven Pinker
David Tribe sent me a link to a piece by Steven Pinker titled ‘Less Faith, More Reason’. Here’s an extract:
“Missing from the report is a sensitivity to the ennobling nature of knowledge: to the inherent value, with consequences too far-reaching to enumerate, of understanding how the world works. For one thing, it is a remarkable fact that we have come to understand as much as we do about the natural world: the history of the universe and our planet, the forces that make it tick, the stuff we’re made of, the origin of living things, and the machinery of life, including our own mental life.
I believe we have a responsibility to nurture and perpetuate this knowledge for the same reason that we have a responsibility to perpetuate an appreciation of great accomplishments in the arts. A failure to do so would be a display of disrespect for our ancestors and heirs, and a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements that the human mind is capable of.
Also, the picture of humanity’s place in nature that has emerged from scientific inquiry has profound consequences for people’s understanding of the human condition. The discoveries of science have cascading effects, many unforeseeable, on how we view ourselves and the world in which we live: for example, that our planet is an undistinguished speck in an inconceivably vast cosmos; that all the hope and ingenuity in the world can’t create energy or use it without loss; that our species has existed for a tiny fraction of the history of the earth; that humans are primates; that the mind is the activity of an organ that runs by physiological processes; that there are methods for ascertaining the truth that can force us to conclusions which violate common sense, sometimes radically so at scales very large and very small; that precious and widely held beliefs, when subjected to empirical tests, are often cruelly falsified.
I believe that a person for whom this understanding is not second-nature cannot be said to be educated. And I think that some acknowledgment of the intrinsic value of scientific knowledge should be a goal of the general education requirement and a stated value of a university.”
You can read the complete article here: http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=515314 .