One of the things brought up in this article is we don’t have rock-star scientists like Einstein anymore. Not a good thing because the general public likes to put a face on knowledge. That might not be a great situation, but people like personalities and science as such seems like something distant, disconnected from their lives. With the possible exception of medicine, science is something some eggheads do somewhere. Terrible introduction since the substance of the interview/article is more about communicating science to the public and the limits of knowledge. Experimental Physics and The Limits Of Human Knowledge. “We Are Crossing the Boundary Between Knowledge and Belief”( the interview is with Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and also oversees the vast CERN laboratories in Switzerland.)
The European: What fascinates you about these very theoretical questions?
Heuer: It’s a quest for knowledge. The questions we are examining have been asked since the beginning of mankind. We are humans, we want to understand the world around us. How did things begin? How did the universe develop? That distinguishes us from other creatures. If you go outside at night and look up into the sky, you cannot help but dream. Your fantasy develops, you are naturally drawn to these questions about being and existence. And at the same time, our work has very practical consequences. When antimatter was introduced into the theoretical framework 83 years ago, nobody thought that this had any practical relevance. Yet today, the concept is used in hospitals around the world on a daily basis. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is based on the positron, which is the anti-particle to the electron. Or take the internet. The idea of a worldwide network started in 1989 here at CERN, because we needed that kind of digital network for our scientific work. That’s the beauty of our research: We gain knowledge but we also gain the potential for technological innovation.
In the U.S. there is a constant pressure, especially under economic circumstances to have any government investment in science have a quick payoff. That’s nice when it happens and it does happen fairly often, but sometimes asking a theoretical question and pursuing it – basic research – does not pay off for years.
The European: Can something as vast and as complex as the universe ever be reduced to the scope of human mental capacities, or are there natural limits to what we can know?
Heuer: That is a difficult question. Every time we discover something, we open the door to new knowledge but find new sets of questions that are more complex and dig deeper into the subject. So there is no real limit, the process of discovery never stops. Maybe the time to answer these questions, i.e. to open these new doors, will increase, but eventually we will be able to open them.
having acknowledged that knowledge seems to have no limits, just unanswered and unasked questions Heuer has to ruin it with the end of the answer to this question,
The European: Let us talk about the idea of the divine. For much of human history, religion and science were deeply intertwined. Galileo was expelled from the church for questioning those links. How would you separate the two realms?
Heuer: We separate knowledge from belief. Particle physics is asking the question of how did things develop? Religion or philosophy ask about why things develop. But the boundary between the two is very interesting. I call it the interface of knowledge. People start asking questions like “if there was a Big Bang, why was it there?” For us physicists, time begins with the Big Bang. But the question remains whether anything existed before that moment. And was there something even before the thing that was before the Big Bang? Those are questions where knowledge becomes exhausted and belief starts to become important.
To inject “beliefs” into the answer has the potential to cause confusion. There are justified beliefs which have some evidence and then there are the type of beliefs which are a form of mysticism as in all organized religions. I think it in the context in which he addresses the issues of knowledge Heuer is leaning toward justified beliefs or at least beliefs which do not defy gravity. The very next two follow-up questions he seems to confirm the context,
The European: What is the difference between justified opinion and belief?
Heuer: Justified opinion or knowledge is something that you can at least partially prove. Belief or philosophical thought cannot be examined through experiments.
The European: For Aristotle, physics was the primary science that could tell us almost anything about the cosmos. But he also thought that all things had an innate capacity – the telos – to develop to their full potential.
And so it fell to philosophy to investigate the nature of things.
Heuer: At the edge of physics, it becomes linked to philosophy. But in the case of particle physics, it is really not a question of “believing” but of deducing something from a larger theoretical framework or from experimental data. Once you can prove something, it is no longer a question of philosophy.
To tie this back into the intro,Rolf-Dieter Heuer is a modern Einstein yet few people would know his name.Sarah Palin writes some garbage on her FaceBook page and the media echoes everything she says. One of the world’s great minds has an interview in a magazine and few people take notice.
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain makes a stinging observation on the overtly religious. “Faith is when you believe something you know ain’t true.” This is a perfect description of the religious asylum that is now the Republican Party and the tortured gospel they are spreading all over the country. Virtually the entire barnyard of their presidential candidates are preaching a mix of born again religious revivalism and brutal 19th century industrial capitalism, that they “know ain’t even remotely true.”
[ ]…Almost as irritating is the chorus sung over and over by Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and 99% of Republican Congressmen proudly declaring their Huckleberry Finn type faith that an unfettered free market is the only way to create to millions of new jobs. “Stop choking businesses with excessive regulations!” they chant. All businesses, all regulations. Really, Mitch? Never mind that it was precisely the elimination of, inadequacy of, or lack of enforcement of federal regulation that allowed Wall St. to drag the economy to the edge of the apocalypse and the very reason why there are no jobs. Never mind that it was poor regulation and free market cost cutting that brought us the Deep Water Horizon, Kalamazoo River, and now Yellowstone River oil spills. 1,800 oil spills have occurred in this country in the last five years totaling 16 million gallons of oil contaminating our land and water. And Mitt, you want regulators to get off the backs of the oil companies? Really?
The entire reality based community is looking at the last two and half years and wondering, frequently out loud, did these people learn nothing from the Bush years and the recession he left. Hard boiled communist frequently claim (actually less so in the last decade as China became an authoritarian capitalist state – they were the last hope as it were) the reason communism did not succeed was it was never practiced in its pure form. The conservative movement has turned increasingly further to the Right, in increments which coincide with each failed presidency since Nixon. Each time claiming they need to get back to their roots – that elusive pure conservatism that apparently every Con from Nixon to Reagan to Bush 43 did not practice, thus each leaving a mess to clean up by their Democratic successor. Like hard-core communists, conservatives refuse to learn the lessons of history. They not only repeat the same failed policies, they add some steroids every few years, thinking the next monster will be better than the last.
world war II tattoos. if the guy on your right did all those tattoos with what looks like an improvised tattoo gun, he had some skills.
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