Bulletin 10 Jan. 5, 1998
Antinomy: The Journalist-pundit Has or Has Not It.
Speaking of 'It,' truth or at least illumination of the
truth for the populace, this subject has moved into popular focus. What is the
evidence for this latter proposition?
(a) Apparently short term but really very long term, starting as a frenzy in the U.S. stock market, titanic battles erupted among computer company and telephonic giants for market share and control of an information handling system. In one day, a flash of light shown on a futures market in the hundred billion dollars range. Since money inflates so quickly in any long term record, we translate this into minimal market basket terms, currently perhaps $10,000 per year per person, into the economic livelihood concerns of ten million persons or households per year.
(b) In the first week of Aug., 1997, a TV program presented a glimpse of a media sponsored conference for CEO's (chief executive officers) or would-be's, on the future of CEO's in America. The presenter was Peter Drucker, who is still said to be the American doyen of corporate advisors. As a statistician by training, he has been serving up such analyses since the late 1910's-early 1920s. As such, he preceeds our homeokinetic practise by a full generation, and appeals to a different conceptual base for judgement, but outside of those differences, we share interest and experience in the same range of human command-control concerns, ours more devoted to the problem of technical management.
He claims that the interest, implications, and concern with an information content has only reached industry and its CEO's now. Further, he states, he is not at all certain what sort of advice he has to offer his national and international range of clients. As a member of the next generation of technical advisors, we too have to take heed of those problems.
The following piece, an essay, was written in about 1966. We were asked in a contract study, for a major Government department, to provide "material appropriate for inclusion in a future research management manual." A year earlier, having written them an advanced technological planning document for interdisciplinary research, including a sampling of useful scientific literature that would serve as a professional introduction to broad areas of science, we were asked - as one of a series of four additional tasks - to do further study and furnish and annotate a carefully selected set of reference works, particularly science based, for a, the, or their working professional staff in research and development. The technical scope to be covered was physical science, more generally interdisciplinary science, and non-discipinary science, e.g., history, philosophy, logic, and metaphysical foundations of science. The essay was written, as an introduction, from a professional with 30 years of experience, looking back 30 years - after student days - to the ideas being projected then in the mid-1930s. Examined now, 30 years further on, these remarks are just as prescient today. As such, perhaps, it may serve as a model for how to write backward and forward in time, in an information sense, within science. Not having looked at the piece for at least 25 years, it comes as a surprise to us how much it has served us as a foundation for our subsequent homeokinetic study.
A basic problem in this task is to put together an introductory guide for beginners in interdisciplinary scientific work. This essay is an exposition of our views of what can and cannot be done by any introductory guides.
It is our observation that the amateur can seldom advance the course of science (Science is defined as the long chain logical argument that is required to relate structure and function in a limited portion of the real world, with verbal - symbolic description that is capable of predictive extrapolation beyond the limited observations from which it was drawn). When the subjects are still simple, at the beginnings of their formulation, or when only one step stands in the way of understanding, the amateur may sometimes help.
We are also becoming convinced that the professional can seldom advance the course of science. We have read much professional criticism - in the movies, theater, music, arts, history, sociology, politics, etc., and it is clear that the points of view, interpretations, and predictions, of most professionals are worth very little, as far as their contributions to basic understanding is concerned. (We mean no disrespect for the expert in his own field. He or she is the repository of knowledge in that field, and there are many tasks in that field that he or she can do. However, we find him or her weak as a class in ability to forge the long strong chain needed for scientific summary).
Let us take another tack. In a book reviewed for another task (on forecasting), C. Furnas, The Next Hundred Years (subtitled, The Unfinished Business of Science), Williams and Wilkes, 1936, discusses the technological problems of science around the headings: biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and social consequences. We would like to quote a little.
"I do not mean to imply that the ultimate solution of all our problems lies in chemistry ... far from it. Only a short time back chemistry was snubbed in intellectual circles. ... To explain ... we must go deeper than chemistry, we must go to physics. Physics gets down to fundamentals. ... It solves many problems, practical as well as academic ones, that no other science can . Yet it has its limitations too. No one has ever explained fully and completely (sic, any) ... problem is still unsolved. It may forever remain so but the physicist comes closer to explaining it than anyone else.
"By the 1890's nearly every problem of physics was solved. With a minimum of experimentation and armchair work, the physicists had spoken the last word in dynamics. ... In 1896 Professor Becquerel accidentally discovered that uranium salts affect photographic plates. ... No person interested in energy could escape the idea that some tremendous knowledge lay buried inside ... atoms. The physics fraternity began looking critically at the atom . ... They dug in ... and have been there ever since. Today the physicist seems to be reverting to metaphysics. ...
"Physics is a subject for scholars. All others are barred because of incompetence. ... Physics today is primarily a study of atomic structure. Other things get but a minor hearing. ... This has made for great progress in their field but it probably has not worked for the best advancement of important branches of knowledge. ... Because of this rather sanctimonious attitude of the physicists ... there are a great many people doing physicists' work but passing under another name - electrical engineers ... fields ... have suffered because of the scholarly isolationist policies of the physicists. There are a good many branches of scientific research that are crying for help but the physicists' are too busy digging inside the atom to listen. ... The animal body is one great conglomeration of chemistry and physics. I know of several physiological chemists but no physical-physiologists. There is 'biophysics' but it is more 'bio' than 'physics.' ... physicists with the right training and attitude might help ... botanist, zoologist, geneticists ... meteorologists ... chemists ... photosynthesis ... catalysts ... plant growth, ... The pure physicist too often has noticeable attitude of contempt for anything that might ... be 'practical.' This snobbish attitude is expected of a classicist ... But it is a little hard to believe that it is becoming to a scientist.
We can illustrate with a recent case in point in our work. One of the subjects discussed by Furnas was biophysics.
Physics in the arterial pulse goes back to Thomas Young. Because of the 'classical' physical nature of the problem, one might have expected that the problem could have been solved by the time of Stokes, or at least by the time of Reynolds, certainly by G.I.Taylor's time. Yet in the 1950's Womersley could not get hydrodynamicists very enthusiastic about the problem, and it was suggested that it could be done as a student problem.
Yet the fact is the systems analysis of the arterial pulse in the vascular bed can not be accomplished without pulling together a large amount of anatomical and physiological data on the physical dynamics of the arterial bed. This requires serious efforts by expert hydrodynamicists willing to delve into the pertinent biological literature or by physiologists who are willing to learn hydrodynamics.
One finds, however, on reading the background literature of each of these fields, anatomy, physiology, mathematics, and physics (the serious literature which represents the experts overviews of aspects pertinent to this subject), that it is a dilettante literature that does not come to grips with the problems. The most essential ingredient that is lacking is the willingness to trace the story through, author by author, subject by subject, speciality by speciality, reference by reference (The partial background that we have contributed to this subject is contained in four NASA reports NASA CR-141, January 1965; NASA CR-219, MAY 1965; NASA CR-129, October 1964; and an Interim Report, December 1965. These may be found in any large library that has the NASA Contractors Reports).
If you wish to understand or discover scientific truth, the following steps are necessary: (There are practitioners who will not perform them all, and their practice will not guarantee performance, but they represent good practice).
1. Scientific truth is not settled by vote, but by
dialectics. The situation is the following: Where truth lies is not known.
However many seekers have formed their own views. If you only listen to a few ,
they will influence you to their 'center of gravity.' The dialectic need is to
find and listen to their opponents also. However, you may not take the
consensus. More pertinent is the apt term popularized during the Kennedy
administration, agonizing appraisal and reappraisal. One must be constantly
mulling over all points of view, and always in process of shifting the view of
the center of gravity of truth. It is painful. It means that one must always be
thinking, and seldom taking anything for granted.
2. One must constantly be exploring the literature back and forth and in many fields, always looking for new clues and new voices.
3. One must write and summarize so as too indicate one's views and where they fit in with what has gone on before. In too many fields, the connectivity in any subject with what went before is not clearly indicated. However, hundreds of review references do not substitute for evolution of the main chain of ideas.
4. The exposure to so many other ideas should not influence your own critical judgment of what is good and bad, and how things are to be weighed.
5. Science proceeds in time by an alternation of theory and experiment. Don't be afraid to use both.
6. If you want to be an interdisciplinary scientist, you must be willing to learn and master the other person's tools and language. Obviously, most scientists shy away from mathematics and other highly abstract subjects. On the other hand, the more abstract scientists tend to shy away from what they consider the imprecise 'jargonese' and quantity of detail in the more 'practical' sciences. A scientist concerned with truth can afford neither luxury. (As physicists, we believe we start with the advantage that abstract elements, and physical 'laws' of reality are our foundations. However it is other fields - the biological and social scientist - that deal with the problems of greater complexity.
In summary, in order to learn about a field:
1. Start with a technical background.
2. Become familiar with the overall summary books in the major disciplines that have general pertinence (generally a handful in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering sciences, environmental sciences, psychology, economics, history, law, government, sociology, anthropology, and esthetics).
3. If you cannot understand their methodology (mathematics, etc.) you are in trouble - you can try to 'fake' it, as in music, but just as in music, you cannot give virtuoso, and possibly not even professional, performances unless you have tremendous talent. (The case of Benny Goodman is worth reviewing). Learn the language! (not perfectly, but enough to get by on).
4. Quickly familiarize yourself with the standard line and repertoire of development;
5. Begin to raise questions in your own mind;
6. Begin to explore the literature in more detail - not just in the one field - to find new points of view;
7. Begin to create your own views;
8. Argue them with the experts;
9. Modify, and continue to learn.
The whole process is very painful and, thus, seldom done.
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