Recent additions to the “Appendix”

Two recent additions to the “Appendix of Mis/Understanding”. The first comes from C. P. Snow:

C._P._Snow
(photo: J. Manning)

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question—such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read?—not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had. – C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures

And another from the popular lecture series by Richard Feynman:

To summarize, I would use the words of Jeans, who said that “the Great Architect seems to be a mathematician.” To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature. C.P. Snow talked about two cultures. I really think that those two cultures separate people who have and people who have not had this experience of understanding mathematics well enough to appreciate nature once.

It is too bad that it has to be mathematics, and that mathematics is hard for some people. It is reputed—I do not know if it is true—that when one of the kings was trying to learn geometry from Euclid he complained that it was difficult. And Euclid said, “There is no royal road to geometry.” And there is no royal road. Physicists cannot make a conversion to any other language. If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in. She offers her information only in one form; we are not so unhumble as to demand that she change before we pay any attention.

All the intellectual arguments that you can make will not communicate to deaf ears what the experience of music really is. In the same way all the intellectual arguments in the world will not convey and understanding of nature to those of “the other culture.” Philosophers may try to teach you by telling you qualitatively about nature. I am trying to describe her. But it is not getting across because it is impossible. Perhaps it is because their horizons are limited in the way that some people are able to imagine that the center of the universe is man. – The Character of Physical Law, p. 28

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