Professor Daniel Hudon (Core Natural Sciences) writes…
What’s the best kind of conversation to have, with those who share your views or those who don’t? If you want to have anything beyond a mutually agreeing chat, then you’re going to want to seek out interlocutors who don’t share your views because they’re the ones who are going to challenge you to articulate what you really think and push you in new directions intellectually. In fact, you know you’re in a good conversation when you start finding out what it is that you think about something.
The Santa Fe Institute, a sort of think-tank for scientists’ seems to take this idea to heart. Not only are scientists in on the conversation, so are playwrights, philosophers and novelists. These days, the novelist at Santa Fe is Cormac McCarthy and before him was Rebecca Goldstein, who spent most of her time “falling into conversations about physics, evolution, the existence of free will.” Sound familiar? Now, rather than touting the novel, Cormac McCarthy simply tries to be curious and ask good questions.
This article in The Daily Beast about the Institute makes that point that “science is fundamentally human in that it involves not understanding things. We spend a lot of time in pursuit of the questions.” It’s THIS pursuit which really must be our goal. To get beyond the questions about the mechanics of the subject and get to the fundamental questions of nature, like Paul Gauguin’s Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Where are the borders between the sciences and the humanities? Where are the edges of our subjects? Do we understand the question?
NB: Did you know that the Gauguin painting Prof. Hudon references (and which is pictured at the top of this post) is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston? Avail yourself of your free admission with a BU student ID, and go take a look!