THE SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE

by Gregory Stiles

Much has been written on the subject of the scientific method, and the wondrous virtues it holds for human progress. While the scientific method enables a noble advance of knowledge, the current scientific attitude of detachment, alienation and snobbishness promotes regression.

There are many in the scientific tradition who express concern over the enthusiastic, fascinated and reverent tone that sometimes shows in scientific writings, such as those of Bucky, Tesla, and Schauberger, and this concern evokes memories of so many people in the scientific tradition whose approaches to the day one should not only question, but openly disavow. Should the tone of science more properly be one of boredom and detachment? One might go so far as to ask, what is the ideal scientific attitude?

On the subject of passion versus detachment, one is reminded of a case from the history of medicine, recounted by Sherwin Nuland in his book, Doctors: The Biography of Medicine. The case concerned Semmelweis, working to prevent infant deaths from puerperal fever, and those who fought against him. Semmelweis showed that his methods saved lives, and, as is usual in such cases, was attacked for his pains. However enjoyable the spectacle of an innovator fighting the establishment may be to the public, in the background rested the fates of at least hundreds of children dying needlessly. Finally, in frustration, Semmelweis became passionate and stated openly that those who did not follow his methods were committing murder when their charges died by violating his procedures.

Nuland jumped in to the story at this point, and, ever the gentleman, suggested that Semmelweis might have done better to remain calm, detached, and mathematical--that it would have been better for him to be content to sit back and await the judgement of time. So I ask you, my scientific colleagues--is that your ideal, as well? What if Nuland had been present in the hospitals in that era, I wonder, and his own son was about to be killed by the popularly accepted ignorance? Would Nuland have been laudably detached and reserved while his son died? Is this really the model all strive to follow? Why?

It is curious to note that many like to stress the importance of supporting evidence over passion in the acceptance of any new theory, but after having made this observation the critics seem to promptly forget their own words and go off for hours on emotional matters. I have been asked repeatedly about my confidence and passion--yet there rarely seems a soul anywhere to be found who can find time to discuss the mathematics or its connection to the evidence. So is this, then, to be the daily conduct of science, to dwell not on evidence or equations but to spend hours agonizing over whether or not a given man's confidence is at a tolerably low level so that everyone may feel insufficiently threatened?

If passion helps to focus attention on a critical matter, then I boldly assert that I am in favor of it.

At this point in human history, it seems apparent to most that science and its relative technology hold the power to save lives, via diagnostic tools, medicine, and even engineering. The roots of these fields do actually rely heavily on mathematics at times, and thus I feel it is absolutely no exaggeration to state that mathematics can indeed be a matter of life and death. Is it not understandable for a man to be passionate in such cases?

For my part, I certainly should like to know from my colleagues who best exemplifies their apparently fictitious paragon of the scientific attitude. In a book that once made an attempt to rank the greatest scientific minds of all time, there seemed a consensus that Newton and Einstein were considered the greatest contributors. But are those two men closer to the popular ideal, or my own?

Newton was part of a tradition of those who reverently thought themselves to be revealing the majesty of God's work, and thus Newton could hardly be considered the apex of detachment, especially given all the side matters in which he dabbled. Should we have thrown Newton away for these shortcomings? As for Einstein, he once wrote "imagination is more important than knowledge," as well as "God does not play dice," and he was in that lineage of men who valued beauty even amongst his mathematics. Nor was he alone in this respect. Bucky, the founder of synergetics, repeatedly spoke of the beauty that mathematics inspired in him, and interjected his presentations with animated passions. I have known many mathematicians who stressed the importance of beauty in their theories. Actually, all the men I admire were passionate, poetic, and esthetic scientists, and not the dry, barren and objective stones so many seek to become.

Perhaps there has never been so dramatic a presentation of this clash of approach than the case of Jean Henri Fabre, the French entomologist. Roundly criticized for his academic presentations that might wax poetic on the touching fidelity of the dung beetle, Fabre sent a backlash to his colleagues, and asked who among them understood insects better: those who killed them, dissected them and plastered them in their dusty books, or those who spent their entire lives with them as they explored, fought, and mated in their native lands? It is a question one might well repeat to most academics today. Do you think science is done credit by an attitude of Cartesian/Baconian indifference? To be sure, those who run the World Bank share your cold views, seeing in trees no more than resources for human consumption. Contrast such an attitude with that of Michael Schneider in his book A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe--which attitude seems more appropriate?

For my part, I have always sided with the Fabres of this world, and have no intention of leaving my camp. I strongly believe passion is a quality to be emulated, and not one to be forsaken. Certainly, after reading books such as The Nobel Duel one wonders how serious anyone can be about scientists being passionless in their work.

Another unaddressed aspect of the popular scientific attitude is its alienation of the public and even its own colleagues via worship of specialization and jargon, both of which I would submit are nowhere near as admirable as the majority seem to think. Specialists seem constantly to stress that their own redutionism is so essential, and in the next breath they are emphasizing its inadequacy in light of solving real problems. But if specialization is so potent, why do its adherents offer so many apologies? The most common response to this question I hear is that no matter where you look, everything is supposed to be complex. Oddly enough, it is often taken as a badge of honor when you can find a colleague and accuse them of being simplistic. At this juncture I must have seen a thousand scientists accuse peers of being simplistic, as if it were a crime that any topic be comprehensible. Why such behavior--because reality is so inherently complex? Acheron quotes the scientist Northrop from his history of biochemistry. Northrop wrote that there was a tendency for a simple hypothesis with no unnecessary assumptions to be dismissed in favor of a complex hypothesis with many unnecessary assumptions, and that there was usually a 20 year lag until the simpler hypothesis was later accepted as correct. Max Planck had added that the reason for the lag was that old scientists never changed their minds, but eventually, they died. I agree. So is this the apotheosis of complexity so many official scientists wish to champion?

Ptolemy believed in complicated epicycles, but Kepler showed the planetary orbits to be simple ellipses. Many believed lipid bilayers in cells formed by profound processes, but actually they formed simply from electrical forces. Some still believe cell death, or apoptosis, is a result of complex chemical processes, but Ingber replaced such models with simpler mechanics. So for all those who stamp everything in sight with a mark of complexity, count me out. The imagination reels at how many deaths have occurred from the parallel Semmelweis cases over the years, where too many believed in complexity such that men died as a result. In the end, I find nature consistently simple when compared to the twisted cobweb theories with which many scientists flatter themselves.

As for the insider language so often used in many technical fields, it would seem many disciplines end up being complex because so many insist on speaking about them with illogical, silly, and obscure language. Really, how necessary is all our jargon? Had I wished, I could have couched my technical paper in the most abstruse mathematics and specialized subatomic physics I pleased, baffling all but the tiny few, and I gather had I done so I may well have been showered with praise. But it took but little extra effort to explain an idea in simpler terms, and I was glad to do so. I, for one, like for the public and peers to understand my work so I might benefit from their informed input.

I have often seen the scientists lament that the public does not understand their work, or that not as many people are working in science as would be desired, but do so many of you honestly believe that a child will yearn to be a scientist mainly so they can speak in alienating jargon and have all the metallic warmth of a robot? In the fun book by Ed Regis Who Got Einstein's Office? Regis tells a tale of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, where at the cafeteria all specialists form their own reclusive cliques and speak in a language understood only by initiates. Thinking of technical discussions with such people as I have had, I am reminded of the Latin phrase which translates "explaining the obscure by means of the more obscure." There is little or no invitation to the public or even to peers with such argot. Instead, there seems to be the same old message: "we do not want others to understand us--the more they understand us, the more they might challenge us and correct and improve us--and that is not acceptable. Besides, if the public were ever to have an accurate understanding of what we do, we might lose our jobs. We have a vested interest in maintaining obscurity."

I believe that, alas, for many this IS the scientific attitude, and it disgusts me. I have seen it in many fields: I have seen Fabre criticized in entomology, Harris in anthropology, Van Loon in History, and even Carl Sagan was not immune to criticism for daring to share ideas with the public. Well, if we scientists keep rebuffing all interest in our work, should it surprise us if the public begins to sour on our ways or only small numbers of people join our ranks?

And what of this attitude of snobbishness, so endorsed by Archimedes when he shrugged off his actual help to his fellow men in favor of bragging about his purely abstract achievements? Is helping mankind something to be dismissed then? Are the imaginations of the Archimedes of this world so vastly superior to the imagination of nature? It would seem the platonic tradition, believing that the imagination is best when uncorrupted by messy reality, has quite the grip on the majority of scientists, but is it that reality is messy or rather our understanding of it? In the case of electron shells, we believe nature is operating with greater beauty than any in the Archimedean tradition have thus far proposed, but this does not stop those in that tradition from constantly extolling their own virtues in histories of math and physics.

I seem often to encounter those who are so fond of their own versions of science that they are very insulting towards those who imagine that there might be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the common scientific philosophy. For example, The Skeptical Inquirer magazine likes to mock the tv show The X Files as an example of the way science is being undermined, and I find that claim absurd. In episodes of the X-Files I have heard references to core sample analysis, virology, anatomy/physiology, and any number of topics that have rarely been addressed to such depth in similar science fiction on tv--and for this the show should be criticized? Why not be grateful for the science that is there, and attack weaker efforts elsewhere instead? Thousands who do not normally hear anything of science at least get tidbits they would likely otherwise never get on this show. Or perhaps some of you never want the public to see the examples of scientific reasoning the Scully character represents?

I know many scientists rely on their own numbers alone for security--they believe that one should be intimidated by the prestigious experts and hold no view that many disagree with. Yet how many of the scientists we admire were conformists? Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Darwin, Copernicus, Griffiths, and countless more broke against the current paradigms--their virtue lay in flouting their peers, not agreeing with them. Prestige should mean little compared to truth. Look at what happened after the rebel Pasteur finally got some acceptance--he took the wrong stand on enzymes and was supported for his prestige, not because anyone actually bothered to do the experiments. I see this snobbish attitude repeatedly, as also shown in the case of Chandresekhar and Eddington. Is this the kind of snobby scientific attitude most applaud? The number of followers of a given viewpoint should mean nothing. At one point, most believed the earth was flat; or the earth was the center of the solar system; or that men were made originally from clay. Scientists once believed in phlogiston, caloric, and ether until they were shown wrong (and in the case of ether, the conclusion remains dubious). Who cares about numbers other than the ones in your math and data? To renounce snobbishness, be mostly driven by logic and data, with a sense of passion, beauty and clarity thrown in to keep you on course.

To me, that is the essence of the ideal scientific attitude: beauty, invitation, and reverence that reinforce the scientific method, and in this spirit I shall continue to write clearly, simply and animatedly as best I can.

So to all of you who deplore the real men of science such as Newton, Tesla, Bucky, Fabre, and Harris, and so many more in the humanist tradition, by all means return to your worship of stones. In the background of every ego battle, however, lies truth, evidence and a public that honestly hopes that we can help improve, save and inspire their lives--and is the latter not more important than the former?

Science means knowledge, but the only worthy purpose of gaining knowledge is to grow spiritually. The higher energy field has been proven to exist scientifically, as the conformation theory at this website shows--no matter how many "scientists" seek to deny its existence. We are in a spiritual arena, and only by acting in harmony with nature do souls ascend in vibration. Inevitably, then, the right scientific attitude is indeed one of aesthetics, fascination and humility. We shall progress only by comprehending and imitating nature.

And in that spirit this website shall forever strive....

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