Man's radio ear 'hears the whisper of remote galaxies...'
Man's radio ear "hears the whisper of remote galaxies..."
Prologue to the
Philosophers' Domain
the unknown,
Man's radio ear 'hears the whisper of remote galaxies...Like the orb spider, man lies at the heart of it, listening.'
" the orb spider, man lies at the heart of it, listening..."

1600-1900: Philosophy revealed much.  Today, much of that study is called "physics."
Some of the discoveries are wonderful.  Some of them make us wonder if we can survive them.

A former semiconductor researcher, and later physics professor, ponders our human predicament...
recalling the depth of understanding of his former students who are now out in the world...
making decisions about things they were expected to understand about physics...
but didn't:
In the 60's and 70's the journal Science published several papers that examined the social consequences of science and technology, which has handed mankind tools of unprecedented power to alter our environment.   Two of these were "The Tragedy of the Commons," by Garrett Hardin and "What We Must Do," by John Platt.

Both papers were pleas to break out of egocentric and ethnocentric world views and attend to impending catastrophes that now face mankind, catastrophes that were never before a danger because human knowledge did not have the power that scientific understanding now gives it.

Many people heeded the alarms.  Many more did not.  Today, many decades later, the alarms appear to be silenced, the catastrophes no longer impending.

Decision makers should heed the fact that science is a way of looking at the world in ways that reveal things a bit beyond the edges of easy human comprehension.  They must understand that first glances usually give us misconceptions.  They must contend with the consequences of a human population that almost never takes those extra steps toward the deeper understanding, almost never discovers that, "You can find magic in places you never thought to look."   Everyone has rich potential for deeper understanding.

But everyone is also cajoled, even pushed, toward dumbing down.

And so...  Many people will add numbers they should multiply, subtract when they should divide.  They may be confused by exponential relationships, confusing, for example," thousands," "millions," "billions," and "trillions."  They may see but one cause for each effect and vice versa—making the argument that ,"The tire didn't cause the accident, the vehicle did," seem like sound logic, when, in fact, it suggests that the person saying it has a degree of "logic blindness" to certain elementary logical patterns.  Most see statistical reasoning as the kind of lies advertisers bombard us with, rather than as one of the fundamental insights of physics.  Most will see all measured quantities as having but one single component, rendering the truly meaningful multi-dimensional ordering by that measure as seeming without any meaning at all.  They might even not find useful meaning in negative numbers.

Hardin and Platt were simply looking at technology, vis-a-vis human cultures, with the simple insights which give science its power—like ratio and proportion, exponential variation, multicomponent measure, statistical inference, Boolean relationships, and implications of mutual reciprocity—and then they asked some crucial questions.

Their answers are crucial, too.  But their answers are seldom seen, almost never understood—like the 17th century laws of motion that Newton saw and today's physics teachers teach...but today's physics students rarely see.  Prescientific misconceptions persist...pervasively and perniciously.  Seemingly permanently.

Platt's three most crucial "things to do" were to avoid nuclear holocaust, sidestep environmental catastrophe, and prevent collapse of democracy.

We have so far succeeded at the first, have possibly failed at the second by setting into motion unstoppable ecological disruptions, and have so corrupted democracy—through powerful public opinion manipulation and concentration of decision-making—that we might not recognize collapse of democracy even if it's already happened.

Above all, we are in the midst of a population explosion (as seen in evolutionary and geological time scales) which is already putting severe pressures on our natural resources.  And decision makers repeatedly make statements revealing alarming ignorance of the simple science and "obvious" logic that should guide their decisions. 

Must guide them in the light of Platt's warnings.

Dumbing down is dangerous.  Dumbing down in a democracy is doubly dangerous.  Dumb can be fatal when our toys tap the tremendous powers of today's science.  Pseudoscience is a trap of nearsighted pinched vision; furthermore, getting caught in it might satisfy some felt need, but simply seeing the real science is far more satisfying.  And everyone can see farther if they work at it.

If Mother Nature has a humanly recognizable face, she must be grinning widely these days.  Nuclear holocaust and environmental catastrophe are among her antidotes to human population explosion.

Human evolution is evolution toward ever more powerful reasoning skills.  The human mind, not the human power to kill each other, is what has put us in dominion over dangerous lions, bears, sharks, poisonous snakes, and retroviruses.  (Well, perhaps we should think more about that last one.)  And evolution doesn't stop: it's incredibly anthropocentric to think we might be "the supreme being" at a final state of evolution.  It's also a fatal mistake.

"Nature is full of traps for the beast that cannot learn."
Perhaps look again at these problems, but using pictures, poetry, fine literature, and Web technology?
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