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Uncommon Sense pp 181-190 | Cite as

Physics and Man’s Understanding

For the Smithsonian Institution Bicentennial
  • N. Metropolis
  • Gian-Carlo Rota
  • David Sharp
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer

Abstract

we are celebrating a birthday, honoring the foresight of a man and the success of a great institution. This makes it fitting that we leave to one side the common plaints of our time: that physics is corrupted by money; microbiology and mathematics by pride, not unrelated to achievement; astrophysics and geophysics by access to novel and powerful instruments of exploration; the arts by alienation; and all by our lack of virtue. What truth there is, and there is some, to these anxieties is not for us today. We could begin with Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of this Institution, [... who said,] “Knowledge should not be viewed as existing in isolated parts but as a whole, each portion of which throws light on the other... the tendency of all is to improve the human mind... for they all contribute to sweeten, to adorn, and to embellish life.” When we think back on the prolonged and troubled debates with which the Congress moved toward accepting Smithson’s bequest, establishing this institution, we can only be moved to celebrate the extent to which it has managed to preserve and enlarge, not perhaps the unity, but the harmony between the sciences, between the arts and sciences, between nature and man, and between knowledge and practice, whose conflicts so troubled the Congress for almost two decades.

Keywords

Cooperative Exploitation Great Institution Gradual Acceptance Copenhagen School Language Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Metropolis
  • Gian-Carlo Rota
  • David Sharp
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer

There are no affiliations available

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