The field finch is a small sparrow-sized bird with a delicate pointed tail. The bird does not twitter or chirp but instead gives out a continuous drawn-out song. When hundreds sing in unison, the sound is an unbroken chorus, with the effect on the hearing like that of a waterfall on the sight, a multitude of tiny droplets combining to make one sweeping flow.
Pure science deals in truth, and there is no greater gift we can pass to our descendants….
Hundreds of years from now, when automobiles bore us, we will still treasure the discoveries of Kepler and Einstein, along with the plays of Shakespeare and the symphonies of Beethoven.
Why should our nation, or any nation, support pure science? Why should a nation pay for an activity that brings it no clear economic or military advantage? Why should a nation support an activity that seems useless?
It seems to me that pure science has several different values. In order of increasing range into the future, pure science entertains us, it provides the soil from which technology grows, it changes our worldview, and it grants us cultural immortality.
Even in science, our minds can flutter to heights where bodies cannot follow.
It seems to me that in both science and art we are trying desperately to connect with something–this is how we achieve universality. In art, that something is people, their experiences and sensitivities. In science, that something is nature, the physical world and physical laws.
After doing science for a number of years, one has the overwhelming feeling that there exists some objective reality outside ourselves, that various discoveries are waiting fully formed, like plums to be picked. If one scientist doesn’t pick a certain plum, the next one will. It is an eerie sensation.
But we cannot have advances in technology without an accompanying consideration of human values and quality of life.
…Perhaps we each must think about what is truly important in our lives and decide which technologies to accept and which to resist. This is a personal responsibility. In the long run, we need to change our thinking, to realize that we are not only a society of production and technology but also a society of human beings.
E-mail has undeniable benefits. It is faster than regular mail and cheaper and less obtrusive than the telephone. It can promote conversations among far-flung communities of people, and it can encourage otherwise reticent talkers to speak up, via computer terminals. But E-mail, in my view, also contributes to the haste, the thoughtlessness, and the artificial urgency that increasingly characterize our world.
When we finally do the experiment, we relish the knowledge. At one time or another, we have all learned something for ourselves, from the ground floor up, taking no one’s word for it. There is a special satisfaction and joy in being able to tell somebody something you have pieced together from scratch, something you really know. I think that exhilaration is a big reason why people do science.
…Eventually, a large fraction of the trillion neurons in the man’s brain become involved with computing the visual and auditory data just acquired. Sodium and potassium gates open and close. Electrical currents speed along neuron fibers. Molecules flow from one nerve ending to the next.
All of this is known. What is not known is why, after about a minute, the man walks over to the woman and smiles.