Log in

No account? Create an account
Pet Dragon


The Meaning of It All

or, There and Back Again

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Gold Electrons

More on TAM4: Nobel Prizewinners involved!

Okay, so the adventure continued.

The next couple of speakers at TAM4 were the author Michael Shermer, of "Why People Believe Weird Things", "In Darwin's Shadow" and "Science Friction", as well as the editor of Skeptic Magazine. ANyone who watches Penn & Teller's show "Bullshit!" may have seen him being interviewed.

And then, the great Murray Gell-Mann, who won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work in elementary particle physics. All I'm saying is, anyone who created both the "strangeness theory" and the "eightfold way theory" is definitely someone you want to listen to. *g*

So, here goes:

I'm a huge admirer of Michael Shermer's work. I've read most of his books, and the story of how he gave up a lot of pseudo-mystical beliefs is really fascinating. I hugely recommend his stuff.

I hadn't read the little pamphlet he read to us at the Meeting. (Side note: whatever happened to pamphlet publications? Did we just give up and leave them for religious tracts after Thomas Paine? We need more "Common Sense". *G*) Anyway, there were those who wished he'd have spoken more off-the-cuff, but I liked it. Thinking about thinking is a favorite hobby of mine, and that's basically what he was talking about. Having said that, I didn't really take notes. He's definitely a guy I would like to have over for dinner sometime; he'd be a great guest.

Then, after a short break, on came Murray Gell-Mann. There are relatively few times in one's life that you can reliably say to yourself, I'm probably in the presence of the smartest guy I'll ever meet. This was one of those times.

I'm a certifiable physics fangirl. I can't do it myself, but people who really *get* this stuff just blow me away. It's so fascinating. And how cool must it be to know that you've been one of the only people in the world who understands something new? Or the *only* person in the world, because you just discovered it?

Dr. Gell-Mann was funny, interesting, down-to-earth and he got off the best lines of the whole Meeting. His talk ranged over presidencies and poets, science and sociology, and despite his line about helping to stamp out the humanities, he obviously knows them too. Anyone who can quote Voltaire AND Browning as well as understanding the nature of quarks is obviously a guy I would listen to all day. One of the best things he said, amongst all the great one-liners, was his verdict on those who would decide scientific questions by politics: "It's not just science that's at stake, it's [i]reality.[/i] These people want to put their thumb on the scales."

That says it all, really. See, science is not what we do by popular vote, or because it's what we want to decide, or because it would be convenient. Science is what we do to figure out what it actually *is*.

Get that, IDers?

I have to give huge, huge props to the science teacher, who I would be happy to identify if he's reading this and will let me know his name, who stood up and asked what the role of the science teacher could ideally be in this whole science vs. politics debate. Not just because of COURSE we should applaud those who are in the trenches with the kids trying to provide a voice of reason, or because I have a huge admiration for teachers in general, because I've had such good ones. No, the major props go out because Dr. Gell-Mann answered with the line, "There's always martyrdom."

And then after the laughter and applause died down, this guy still had the presence of mind and the quickness of tongue to respond, "Is there a second choice?"

I love that. I usually only think of good comebacks three hours later when it's too late. :cool:

Okay, that's it for now! Coming next: Stanley Krippner, the great Randi himself, and Penn Jillette!

  • 1
(Deleted comment)
One got the feeling that they could have had a hundred random subjects written on cards, drawn one at random from a fishbowl, and Dr. Gell-Mann would still have been able to deliver an interesting and relevant lecture on that subject.

I bought the man's new book, called "The Quark and the Jaguar", but I haven't really had time to read it yet.

I'm sure you will be. *g* You'll certainly bring the creativity to the classroom.

I read the last line very quickly, and thought for a moment you'd written: Randi the stripper, which made me feel very envious of you. You go to a conference and get strippers? How cool is that!

Then I re-read, and still felt envious, because it sounds like you had a great time, and because it sounds so damn *interesting*.

Science is what we do to figure out what it actually *is*.

So, so true. How many decades/centuries/aeons would we have been set back, had people not been allowed to experiment?

I read the last line very quickly, and thought for a moment you'd written: Randi the stripper, which made me feel very envious of you. You go to a conference and get strippers? How cool is that!

*dies* Well, heck, it *was* in Las Vegas. Not that far-fetched, really.

I'm sure James Randi would find that extremely amusing too. Sadly, the week after the conference, he was hospitalized for a quadruple bypass! Very scary, and apparently he's doing quite well, but it gave all of us who had just been there quite a shock. He's an incredibly eneregetic and charming man and he was just *everywhere* during the Meeting. I've loved his work since I discovered him in my early teens, and it was really incredible seeing all these people who had come together because of him and his work.

Hopefully he'll make a full recovery and be back at full strength for next year's Meeting.

  • 1