In his famous tragedy, William Shakespeare has Julius Caesar say, “Let me have men about me that are fat: Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: Yond Cassias has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
With rare exceptions, those who seek or hold political power usually control men with their emotions rather than their minds. They prefer people who can be easily manipulated by oration, by imagery, and by fear, greed, and envy.
The media-produced emotional world of vicarious violence, trivialized sex, primitive primal “music,” and nonexistent morality and ethics of today is ideal for those who seek to manipulate unthinking Americans. The television-addicted public is saturated with whatever “thoughts” the controllers want them to “think,” and polls are continually taken to see whether their propaganda is having the desired effect. This is the “education” that is most desired.
Of course, our government does maintain about 4 million tax-financed employees to educate American youth in government schools. These schools are wonderful indeed. A newly announced federal program has set as its goal that, 10 years from now, the students in these institutions will all be able to – read.
Still, there is also a need for men of the mind. Somewhere in the basement of each power plant, there must be an engineer who knows how the plant works. Moreover, even for the political manipulators, it is especially important to have engineers and scientists who keep the country at the forefront of military technology. Weapons are essential in the international contest between governments. Therefore, men who can think are tolerated, so long as they keep in their place and do not seek political power.
Yet, the fact is that every human mind does think to some extent. Understanding the ways in which the mind works is important to educators, to students, and to every individual who prefers to be among those who use their minds effectively. While no one can claim to thoroughly understand the mind, some useful generalizations are possible. I will summarize some of these with respect to scientists, but, in fact, the processes are substantially the same for everyone and in all occupations.
First, the mind has a capacity to memorize facts. The speed with which facts can be memorized and the number of facts that can be learned and easily recalled varies greatly between individuals. While a great storehouse of facts can easily impress one’s audience and more importantly, can convince the memorizer that he is very well educated, facts alone are not especially useful.
First, there is the problem of verifying facts. Will Rogers famously commented that, “It ain’t what we don’t know, but what we know that ain’t so” that causes trouble for us. Second, facts, by themselves, usually provide little basis for action. Unless we have some organizing principle for facts, they provide poor guidance.
Science depends entirely upon experimental observations. These observations are facts, but they have little utility by themselves. Unless experimental observations can be fitted into a framework of hypothesis and theory that successfully predicts further observations, they are considered interesting but not yet understood.
Innumerable demonstrations have been made that were predicted by Isaac Newton’s laws of mechanics, so these laws are considered verified, within the framework of current experience. In contrast, no demonstration has ever been made of the process of “spontaneous origin of life.” Many facts have been observed that can be explained by this hypothesis, but these facts can also be explained by alternative hypotheses. Verification of this hypothesis is difficult unless one happens to have a spare planet and a few hundred million years to wait. So, contrary to media-generated opinion, spontaneous origin is an interesting but unproved “hypothesis,” not a verified “theory.”
Ah, some will say. We knew this guy is a nut. Everybody “knows” that spontaneous origin is a verified theory. They “know” this because they have repeatedly heard it. Yet, I know several outstanding contemporary scientists who do not accept this theory, even though they are professed atheists. They keep quiet because this position is unpopular and would cause trouble for them
What is going on here? There seems to be something at work other than the facts. That something is a “model.” Science requires that a self-consistent, verifiable, and testable model be constructed to explain experimental observations. This requirement is derived from the way in which the human mind works.
In addition to its capacity to memorize facts, the mind has the capacity to organize those facts into simplifying models that can be extrapolated to useful conclusions. These models are far more valuable than the facts themselves. They must, however, be verified by means of further observations.
A chemist builds in his mind a self-consistent model of the nature of molecules and the way they work. That model is the result of several centuries of experimentally observed facts and the theoretical organization of those facts by a great many very smart scientists. The model does not contain the facts. It is, however, consistent with most of the known facts and can predict the results of many further observations. There are facts that do not seem to fit the current chemical model, but these are regarded, for the most part, as involving refinements that will later be added to the model, rather than things that are not consistent with it.
A research chemist usually works to apply a new model to an old problem or an old model to a new problem For examples, he may have a new hypothesis about the cause of biological aging, an old problem for which is there is, as yet, no verified explanation, or he may seek to synthesize a new drug by means of the standard model of synthetic organic chemistry. Always, he is using the models in his mind and comparing his observations to them.
Many remarkable advances occur simply when a chemist – or physicist or other scientist – notices something that does not fit the currently accepted model. If he has sufficient curiosity to pursue this observation until he understands it, he may make a valuable addition to the model, or, perhaps, identify some error within it.