Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Is Stephen Hawking more Taliban-like than Susan Greenfield?

BBC radio 4 has aired a discussion between philosopher AC Grayling and the brain pharma scientist Susan Greenfield:
Is Hawking right to attack philosophy? (click for audio)
in which they tried to dispute Stephen Hawking's self-evident statement that philosophy of the origins has been superseded by M-theory and that it is currently impossible to crack the most fundamental questions about the reality without a detailed understanding of high-energy physics and its maths as well as the modern insights of biology - and most contemporary philosophers and priests ignore this essence of the question, indeed.

Ms Greenfield has been particularly critical of Hawking. That has led The Telegraph to publish a whole story about her opinions:
Baroness Greenfield criticises 'Taliban-like' Stephen Hawking
Of course, I agree with Hawking that it is impossible to reliably answer essential questions about the origin of the Universe and the life without looking at the relevant technical issues - which are no details and which seems to be given by string/M-theory in the case of the Big Bang (whether extraterrestrial abductee Sarfatti, Swoit, and Smoit like it or not) and various portions of biology when it comes to our lives.

For Ms Greenfield who apparently likes to be called "baroness", Hawking's opinions are "dangerous". She has repeated the adjective many times so it is impossible not to recall the fear of the era of the Inquisition. She has identified "smugness" and "Taliban-like features" in Hawking's thinking. Moreover, she thinks that it is "dangerous" to attack whole disciplines of the Academia (e.g. philosophy).

Well, it is surely dangerous for some people who possibly shouldn't be there if someone mentions why they shouldn't be there. But if a statement is dangerous for someone, it doesn't mean that it is not true. Clearly, Stephen Hawking is driven by his passion for the truth so it is more important for him (and for me) whether something is true than whether something is dangerous for someone. Ms Greenfield has no clue what the passion for the truth means. People of a similar type have very different values, indeed.

After all, Greenfield's own career could be just another example. She was chosen the director of the Royal Institution (thanks, Piscator) in 1998. It was never hard to see that her sex was the main reason but this point has become obvious in January 2010 when she was fired. Instead of simply admitting that she has sucked in the position, the institution has completely abolished the chair.

However, you wouldn't believe what she did afterwards. She has sued the Royal Institution for "sexual discrimination" and wanted to be reinstated. Can there be a more obvious proof that the main thing that this rather average brain pharmacologist has done in the last two decades was to use the hypothetical existence of her vagina to maximize her personal benefits?

Now, I am almost absolutely convinced that Stephen Hawking agrees with me on these matters. It would be utterly absurd for a person who genuinely wants to be a good director of an institution to sue the very same institution. If you want to lead something in the right direction, you shouldn't hate it. The previous sentence stands as it is regardless of the question which side is right. Of course, this is not just my opinion. As The Telegraph mentions, e.g. Richard Dawkins has opposed the attempts to reinstate her, using the very same argument that I just mentioned.

When you think about Stephen Hawking, the positive discrimination that has favored women looks truly preposterous. A vagina and estrogen could be a disadvantage for someone who wants to do research - another barrier one has to overcome - but do you have any problems to believe that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a much bigger disadvantage or barrier?

Has Hawking ever (openly or otherwise) relied on political correctness to achieve certain goals?

People such as Ms Greenfield who maximally abuse the existing suffocating atmosphere of political correctness for their own benefit have become the main tumor that plagues a majority of the contemporary scientific institutions. They have so profoundly contaminated these institutions that even a long time after these institutions realize that these PC appendices have been dragging them to the bottom of the ocean, they still keep on causing problems and they still make it impossible to fairly review the history.

I am disgusted by people such as Mr Greenfield who never care about the arguments - whether something is true or not. They always primarily care about their personal interests - so they always try to find weaknesses of the system and allies who will help them to achieve their goals. And they even try to paint this moral deficiency as a virtue. Stephen Hawking belongs to a different league. He's a genuine scientist so if he reaches certain conclusions, he will tell you whether or not they are considered dangerous to someone. It's his duty.

At most, he may turn out to be wrong. But science isn't scared and can't be scared of its trying preliminary answers and being shown wrong - which is the approach that has allowed science to be more often right than any other approach. Silence caused by the fear of being wrong would make science impossible. Whoever misunderstands this proposition - whether she or he has ever been a director of a Royal Institution - has misunderstood what science means.

And one more point. Ms Greenfield is wrong when she claims that the duty of scientists is to be explaining the science to the laymen: that's the duty of the teachers and the communicators, not the duty of scientists whose goal is to find the truth. However, this criticism of the scientists is irrelevant in discussions about Stephen Hawking who is both a great scientist and a great communicator.

In the discussion, they didn't offer any technical argument against Hawking's statement that string/M-theory is a complete framework that may explain the origin of the Universe - so I can't interact with this non-existing statement...

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