…Smart Enough to Know that I’m Dumb

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This quote expresses perfectly my occasional impatience in dealing with those types who criticize the scientific enterprise as somehow dehumanizing, of sucking out all the beauty and wonder of the world with that great vampiric evil, reductionist materialism.

It’s at times frustrating to me that the ones who most chide science for this are the ones in the least position to understand what they are talking about: those whose only academic expertise is not anywhere near the sciences, but only in the humanities, people who have no real knowledge of how science works, or its thinking.

There’s a complete disconnect between how they think scientists think, and how research workers really do think.

From what I’ve read of Sagan, Feynman, Einstein, Hawking and others, and especially those others who’ve ventured into writing science fiction, the sense of majesty and awe of nature that these, and other men and women of science evoke just completely outstrips the paltry imaginings of classical theology, postmodernist philosophy, and — I hate to say it — most of the world’s religions.

I have yet to hear of a concept of the Infinite, to use a suitably universal term, in the text any holy book, that even comes close to accounting for the grandeur of the Cosmos and the connection between all things within it, a connectivity that even modern mystics don’t seem to grasp, a grandeur that exceeds their feeble musings easily, even those who misuse ideas like quantum mechanics to support their claims, a misuse that only those who understand the field the least, but spuriously imagine themselves to understand it best, are most prone to.

By the way, this post’s title comes from a quote attributed to Feynman by which he, in his characteristic modesty, allowed for the fact that as a scientist who really understood his limits, unlike pseudoscientists, he knew that he could be fooled, and this allowed him to keep his guard up.

A good scientist…and a good skeptic.

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. […] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

–Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

5 thoughts on “…Smart Enough to Know that I’m Dumb

  1. I’m just gonna go with Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth. Why? Because I want my facts to be beautiful, and I want what’s beautiful to be fact.

    Willful Ignorance is the ugliest abstract concept I can think of.



  2. Well when I mommy magnet and a daddy magnet really love each other…Benjamin Franklin brings them a baby magnet at the stroke of midnight. 😛

    (I do hope you realize that is a bit of wit, perhaps not funny, but still poking fun nonetheless)



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