Tricycles in the Pentagon, Jiggling Atoms, and Tiny Neutrinos

I like it when I am reminded that the siloed boundaries between disciplines, between the sciences and the humanities, for example, are something to be questioned at every turn.   When two of my scientist colleagues said that they were sometimes overwhelmed by the ever-increasing data and that the real work was asking the best questions, I thought, well, yes, that’s it.  Asking the best questions is the hard work for all of us.

Sometimes I worry that we are losing the joy that comes with discovering good questions.  Many of our students seemed to have had their intellectual curiosity severely diminished by the time they reach us.  The emphasis on rote memorization, on rote everything in the faux learning of public schooling, often means students are worn out and no longer excitedly curious.  Colleagues, too.  The emphasis on work done quickly and sometimes without as much depth as we’d like in order to build long lists of pubs and other ‘list-able’ accomplishments (lest we perish) often means we are worn out and no longer excitedly curious.

Maybe rekindling our curiosity, valuing leisure (as Jill Sible and Norbert Weiner remind us), reading outside the disciplinary box in order to think outside the paradigm, in order to color outside the danged lines, is something to make time for.  Let’s reclaim the meaning of ‘school’ / schole,–taking time for learning important insights.  Perhaps that will help us (continue to) turn the machine to our advantage, to teach the machine and have the machine teach us in such a way that it is about truly symbiotic and interdependent learning.

I can be a humanist who focuses too much in any given moment on our failings with technology, on the moments when culturally we tend to worship, rather than understand, teach and learn from, and become wisely interdependent ‘with’ our technology.  Watching Edward R. Murrow’s window onto the world become the electronic babysitter made the mad as hell Peter Finch quite reasonable for someone of my generation.

There is also a joy about science and technology that I wanted to focus on today. Reading Norbert and learning that J.C.R. and his son found the method of transportation in the Pentagon in the early ’60s amusing, (which it is…adult-sized tricycles? Really? Cool!).  They somehow headed me in this direction.

So, if you haven’t done so recently, watch Feynman light up talking about science.  He tells us that science takes a lot of imagination.  “It’s very hard to imagine all the crazy things that things really are like.” Feynman’s joy about jiggling atoms is rather contagious and worth the seven minutes:

It does take imagination, and curiosity, and excitement.  What if tiny neutrinos may have broken the cosmic speed limit?  How cool is that?

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