Tag Archives: Knowledge

Does Knowledge Diminish Beauty And Awe?

15 Jul

I’m often told that I shouldn’t think so deeply. That understanding something removes its beauty. That thinking about how something works somehow removes the transcendent nature or the magic of an experience.

Someone even told me, when I was talking about the theory of music and understanding more of its attraction and how it affects the brain, that I was cold and soulless! That initially made me upset, though I then realised their loss.

So here’s my favourite way of answering this odd criticism:

The sun is about 93,000,000 miles away from the earth. It is the size of 1,000,000 earths. Its surface temperature is 6,000 degrees, and it is 15,000,000 degrees at its centre. Through spectroscopy, we know that it’s made of 75% hydrogen and 24% helium, and some heavier elements constitute the final 1%. It smashes those hydrogen nuclei together at high-speed to make helium. Each of those collisions results in energy release. E=mc^2 shows that the energy release means that 4,400,000 tons of mass is lost every second to give out 380 thousand trillion terawatts of energy. It takes the light from the sun nearly 9 minutes to reach the earth.

All that information doesn’t stop me enjoying the sun. In fact those awe inspiring numbers increase the beauty of a sun rise. The knowledge of how it works only adds to the feeling; knowing that it’s a massive nuclear fusion reactor that is gently warming me increases the significance of the experience.

Anyone who says that science reduces the awe and beauty of the world has a paucity of imagination that is beyond me.

Besides, as Socrates said: The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.

Here are Richard Feynman’s thoughts:

Here’s another view of science being awe inspiring:
I’d like to widen people’s awareness of the tremendous time span lying ahead: for our planet, and for life itself. Most educated people are aware that we’re the outcome of nearly 4bn years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise, 6bn years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.”
– Martin Rees

Finally Tim Minchin puts it perfectly in his nine minute beat poem.


Sneering at Wikipedia

6 Jul

Of late I’ve been seeing the attitude that if something has been read on Wikipedia then it’s reliability is questionable, that if someone researched something on the site then it’s not quite as valid as another source.

I have the feeling that part of this attitude is because it’s easier to find information here than from other sources; I’ll call it the ivory tower fallacy, or ‘argumentum ad turris eburnea’. However ease of access is not an argument against the veracity of the information.

Another reason may be that people think it’s unreliable because it’s on the interwebs. The ‘net is full of spotty teenage boys putting up nonsense, therefore anything you read there is nonsense. Again, a non sequiteur.

This attitude ends up as almost an ad hominem fallacy, by attacking the source of the fact rather than the fact itself.

Granted there can be silly page edits sometimes, like when Lukas Rosol beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last week, and five minutes after the match his wikipedia¬†entry¬†said “Rosol injured both of his arms before the game, and had to play on his head using his right foot to grip the racket. He went onto win the game, causing one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history”. But by the time I refreshed the page, it had been reported and removed.

The number of contributors and editors of Wikipedia (100,000) far outweighs the number at Encyclopedia Britannica (4,400), or at Encyclopedia Americana (6,600) for example, therefore the breadth of expertise and knowledge is greater.

The founders’ aim is “to create a summary of all human knowledge in the form of an online encyclopedia, with each topic of knowledge covered encyclopedically in one article.”. Is it just me or is that properly brilliant?

They are well aware of biases that may affect the authenticity of their work and are open to addressing criticism.

The great thing about Wikipedia is, if you find something you think is inaccurate, then you can prove it and get the article changed.

Knowledge and Existence

24 May

I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and [there are] many things I don’t know anything about, but I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is as far as I can tell possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
– Richard Feynman

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