It Is Not Desirable To Judge Others By A Consistent Standard

It is not easy- perhaps not even desirable- to judge other people by a consistent standard. Conduct obnoxious, even unbearable, in one person may be readily tolerated in another; apparently indispensable principles of behavior are in practice relaxed- not always with impunity- in the interests of those whose nature seems to demand an exceptional measure. That is one of the difficulties of committing human action to paper, a perplexity that really justifies the alterations of comedy with tragedy in Shakespearean drama: because some characters and some deeds (Uncle Giles’s, as I have mentioned) may be thought of only in terms …

The Alternative To Doubt Is Authority

What makes the planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler, some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inwards. A law is not a cause; yet it is more than merely a description. It is true because it is beautiful and simple; yet it is never quite true at all. “That is the …

Scientists Must Stick Their Necks Out

How is it possible that we can extend our laws into regions we are not sure about? Why are we so confident that, because we have checked the energy conservation here, when we get a new phenomenon we can say it has to satisfy the law of conservation of energy? Every once in a while you read in the paper that physicists have discovered that one of their favorite laws is wrong. Is it then a mistake to say that a law is true in a region where you have not yet looked? If you will never say that a …

Mathematics Is More Than Just A Language. It Is Language Plus Logic.

There is no model of the theory of gravitation today, other than the mathematical form. It this were the only law of this character it would be interesting and rather annoying. But what turns out to be true is that the more we investigate, the more laws we find, and the deeper we penetrate nature, the more this disease persists. Every one of our laws is a purely mathematical statement in rather complex and abstruse mathematics. Newton’s statement of the law of gravitation is relatively simple mathematics. It gets more and more abstruse and more and more difficult as we …

Which End is Closer to God?

We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies, or levels. Now I do not mean to be very precise, dividing the world into definite levels, but I will indicate, by describing a set of ideas, what I mean by hierarchies of ideas. For example, at one end we have the fundamental laws of physics. Then we invent other terms for concepts which are approximate, which have, we believe, their ultimate explanation in terms of the fundamental laws. For instance, “heat”. Heat is supposed to be jiggling, and the word for a hot …

You Use the Boogie Man As Follows

It starts out all right, with the good, and love, and Christ, and so on, and it builds itself up until it’s afraid of an enemy. And then it forgets its original idea. It turns itself inside out and becomes absolutely contrary to the beginning. I believe that the people who start some of these things, especially the volunteer ladies of Altadena, have a good heart and understand a little bit that it’s good, the Constitution, and so on, but they are lead astray in the system of the thing. How, I can’t exactly get at, and what to do …

A Nuclear Hammer

Regarding the design of a nuclear fission trigger that ignites a fusion bomb. Levitation gave the imploding shell time to acquire momentum before it hit the core. Nuclear-weapons designer Theodore B. Taylor explained the principle to the writer John McPhee once without naming it: “The way to get more energy into the middle was to hit the core harder. When you hammer a nail, what do you do? Do you put the hammer on the nail and push?” The solid Fat Man core had been pushed; levitation hammered. And because it increased efficiency, levitation also made it possible to design …

Do Not Debase Science: Don’t Call on It to Settle Your Ancient, Provincial, Medieval Disputes

While I was at the [Ethics of Equality in Education] conference, I stayed at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where young rabbis- I think they were Orthodox- were studying. Since I have a Jewish background, I knew some of the things they told me about the Talmud, but I had never seen the Talmud. It was very interesting. It’s got big pages, and in a little square in the corner of the page is the original Talmud, and in a sort of L-shaped margin, all around this square, are commentaries written by different people. The Talmud has evolved, and everything has …