When I was still at home in Norwich, a teenager I guess, I read loads of science fiction. Everything I could get my hands on came through the local library run by the Council. I was allowed 2 books’ then 4 as I passed some age, possibly 11, and was allowed into the adult section. The comprehensive school ran a book club, from which I bought one paperback every month. I can’t say my choices ran to classic literature or the moderns of that time, but the occasional sci-fi still featured. I feel sure the library and the club have gone now…
A few of my favourite Isaac Asimov novels (perhaps the Foundation series written in the early 1950s) survived post university clear-outs, sitting yellowed on the bedroom bookshelf until Mum moved to Edinburgh and we sold the house.
He was a professor of biochemistry at Boston but became an educator too and was a great populariser of science during the 1960s… he must have influenced me more than I realise.
I recently came across this quote from him writing in Newsweek (1980, January 21) in the cusp of America’s shift into the Reagan era of conservatism, he declared the U.S. “a cult of ignorance,”
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
The thread has developed in the decades since then. As I listen to the disrespect dished out in public by some of our politicians in the name of free-speech, I am more than ever convinced of the need for evidence, wisdom and transparency .
And then, with particular current observation of the denialists debating climate science, as if it were built on a hypothesis developed in a pub. It all began centuries ago with patient experimentation and theory. As Asimov also reflected, and relating to a questioning mentality that has been with me all my life:
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…”
I always felt an answer generated another question… even if the discovery had generated a high degree of certainty proving a hypothesis.
Finally, again written a while back, but still true, what we do with the science is up to our collective wisdom. How do we make decisions about opportunity and threat?
“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
Which perhaps leads us to values and ethics to guide our that wisdom.