Science “requires” decisions, but not without understanding

Science “requires” decisions, but not without understanding

In a beautiful sequence de my friend Einstein2008 TV movie, What would become “Sir” Arthur Eddington, the English astrophysicist who allegedly demonstrated the theoretical validity of Albert Einstein’s discoveries in general relativity, in a glorification clearing the table where they had just sat his sister Winnie and fellow friend Frank Dyson (GST signal): He asks the two to keep the tablecloth hanging from the edges, then throws a loaf on it and asks them what they see.

Eddington had just received a letter from Albert Einstein and realized that the curvature of space-time explains the force of gravity: if the tablecloth is space and the loaf is a celestial body, this distorts the space around it, and if an apple is now thrown over the edge of the tablecloth, with much less mass From the mass of the loaf, the apple will rotate in an oval shape for a while before falling on an object of greater gravity. Simple, isn’t it? If you replay the sequence, on Youtube, you’ll be more convinced.

Is this all Einstein’s genius? Was it that easy? The answer, of course, is “no” to both questions. Einstein’s ability to “see” thought experiments remains unique, and if a good movie can hardly give us an idea of ​​what it means to the convergence of gravity and time, to truly understand the principles of relativity, perhaps not a lifetime of studies enough.

Think of it as an obvious fact. If we have said for some time that the extreme specialization of every scientific discipline (but why, in economics? In law?) makes molecular biology largely incomprehensible to those involved in particle physics, we are not saying, however miserable, that the dissemination of complex knowledge is a necessity Constantly frustrated by its effective potential? However, you have to try.

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Moreover, in this same film it is said of Eddington’s conscientious objection – we are in the midst of World War I – a Quaker who will have to defy many English xenophobic opponents; As well as Albert Einstein’s fierce opposition to Germanic Manifesto for the civilized world German intellectuals who were pro-war, more than anything else, denounced him for the use of asphyxiating chlorine gases at the Battle of Ypres. Politics and science collide: the dispute between Einstein’s new theory and Newton’s traditional order, that “they both cannot be right” becomes a confrontation between English and German sciences: Einstein will be expelled from his university, and Eddington will oppose the ban on entry of German scientists to Cambridge because “the search for truth in Science transcends national borders.”

It’s designed to think, in terms of collaboration on the International Space Station, International Space Stationwhich was severely tested by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, on the other hand to the joint efforts against the Covid-19 epidemic, which for the first time allowed the international scientific community to sequence the genome of the virus, and then prepare for a vaccination campaign in time otherwise it would have been audacious even if you imagine.

It is made to return to the lesson of one of the greatest historians of science of the last century, the Italian Paolo Rossi: “I am convinced that history has a lot to do with the images of science (that is, the discourses about what science is and what ought to be) that exists in culture. It is based on a certain image of science. […] Above all, the problems to be solved are chosen within the infinite number of problems that present themselves before a possible investigation. What appears today to be strictly codified and transmitted through books of physics or biology, what appears today obvious and natural is the result of choices, choices, contrasts, alternatives.”

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The war that broke out in the disbelief of many of us at the end of February distracted us from the pandemic that has accompanied us since the beginning of 2020: today, once again, some data brings us back to the fears of the past. 30 months. And also for the conflicts and difficulty in disseminating the topics and concepts to understand which one is right to remember that a lifetime of studies is not enough.

But to decide, instead, as to what policies to adopt, as to the choice of “the problems to be solved within the infinite number of problems which arise from the opening of a possible investigation”, it is sufficient, and necessary, to train an active and scientifically informed person. Citizenship. It’s not easy, but we need to discuss the options, highlight the differences, and encourage an understanding of the alternatives. Politics must engage citizens in the unavoidable major effort to clarify what “science and what ought to be” is, and in what kind of society.

It is not impossible to guess the meaning of the “Higgs field”, but as close as possible to it in metaphors and analogies; Defining areas of knowledge and research to allocate public funds is a democratic emergency.

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