Thursday 29 May 2008

the neolithic present

If you clicked on the link in border crossings to the wiki entry on two cultures you'll have seen a quote from the mathematician G.H.Hardy.

(GHH got his first mention on this blog as a character in David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk.)

Hardy noticed that when people bandied around the term 'intellectual', it didn't seem to apply to him.

Once or twice, he said, he asked very bright people around him to 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?'
He went on:

'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.'

This must be one explanation why the views on climate change of those who have 'trained' as journalists is allowed to compete for attention with the views of those who trained as climatologists.

pic: sculpture of Neolithic man, San Diego Museum of Man

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