SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
Dr. John Clayton, Sr.
The topic is Science and Society. The occasion is the 75th anniversary of the founding of Northwest Missouri State University.
I intend to do a rather personal review of the period of this university's genesis - with some suggestions as to the nature of the relationship between science and society - at least here in Missouri, but probably elsewhere as well.
It will be my thesis that there is one cosmic law, drive, motivation, or purpose - and that is: to create.
A primitive expression of that law is, "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth".
This is the law of amino acids, tobacco mosaic, bacteria, horseshoe crabs, and man. Into that cosmic law man introduces choice, because he introduces intelligence. Man, therefore, may create by design. He may choose his future.
The primary function of society is to provide maximum opportunity for man to create his future.
The key element in our capacity to choose our future is intelligence. Intelligence functions effectively when it combines inherent ability with relevant and reliable information in an appropriate methodology.
The function of science is to enhance intelligence, improve methodology, and develop relevant and reliable information.
The function of a university is to facilitate this endeavor. This has many ramifications, some of them quite subtle.
I should also, If I may, borrow a preface to my remarks from Nels Ferré who told a group of us as we sat down to listen to the great theologian, "Those of you who believe more than I do will find me something of an agnostic; those of you who believe less than I do will find me superstitious; but those of you who believe as I do will find me remarkably perceptive."
And so, we begin:
My father, like this university was born here in Missouri. So were my mother and sister. Dad's parents were settlers. Not pioneers. Settlers. His grandparents had migrated from Tennessee in 1830, the year Mountain Man Bill Sublette first took wagons up the Platte Valley and seven years before this region became part of the state of Missouri. My Grandfather bought 240 acres of land in Stoddard County - "mostly stumps and trees" - and started farming.
Dad was born in l890. In 1898 his father, who had been born the same year as Max Planck died (at the age of forty) probably of appendicitis. Two years later his mother died of pneumonia. She was thirty-five. There were five children. The oldest, my Uncle Jim, was twelve. My father was ten. It was 1900.
In 1900 Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, in the words of biographer Isaac Asimov, "managed to work out a relatively simple equation that described the distribution of radiation accurately over the entire stretch of frequency." This equation did not change the world, of course. What it did was to change our perception of the world and, with that perception, we began to change the world. Planck's invention - I prefer that to discovery although either will do - was so revolutionary that the quantum theory is a watershed: all physics before 1900 now being called classical physics; after 1900, modern physics.
The world that was being changed by Professor Planck's theory was described by Philip Collins, G.W. Patterson, and Joel W. Dowdy on March 16th, 1900. They had been assigned by the State of Missouri to make an appraisal of the estate of Jennie Clayton deceased, late of Stoddard county, and the mother of five orphans.
There are two columns, the first labeled "Description of Property" and the second, "Appraised Value."
1 Gray Mule$30.00
1 Bay Mule$40.00
2 Sows and Shoats18.00
1 cow and calf20.00
2 dry cows30.00
75 bushels (more or less) corn at 30 cents22.50
18 bales crab grass hay6.30
1 lot of old harness2.00
1 lot of farming tools6.00
1 old Binder25.00
1 old Wagon10.00
1 Bed room suite10.00
3 Bedstead 3.75
1-1/2 Bedstead 1.25
9 chairs 1.75
1 Baby Cradle .50
1 Sewing Machine 4.00
2 clocks .25
3 lamps .50
1 Bureau and 1 Stand table 1.00
1D.E. table 2 safes 4.00
1 lot of dishes2.50
1 cook stove and vessel3.50
2 heating stoves 1.00
1 sausage mill 1.00
1 clothes ringer [sic] .25
1 wash kettle .50
2 old tubs 1 old Wboard .15
1 water keg .25
2 old trunks .50
3 feather beds 3 bolsters 10 pillows15.00
10 quilts 2 blankets 2 sheets 7.00
1 lot of meat 400#32.00
1 can of lard 2.50
1 farm bell 1.00
About 50 acres wheat 2.50 per acre125.00
Cash on hand 50.00
TOTAL NET WORTH490.95
This was the world Professor Planck was to change. No electricity, no telephones, no radio, no television, no automobiles, no airplanes, no sulfanilamide, no penicillin, no corner drugstore, no supermarket, no gynecologist. Science was a German professor. Society was five orphan kids on a Midwestern farm, their parents dead of ignorance. There was more than geography between them. Yet somehow, they touched one another.
Now before someone gets worried about my suggestion that the world of 1900 was devoid of the contributions of Maxwell, Hertz, Bell, Edison, et.al., let me introduce a moment between my son and my father. We had gone fishing on Lake Norris and before leaving the dock, my son had visited his first outdoor privy. He returned rather wide-eyed from the experience and my father said to him, smiling, "Son, I was a lot older than you are now before I ever saw indoor plumbing."
John looked at him as though he was from Mars, which, in a sense of course, he was.
The world my father was born into here in Missouri was little different, in many ways, from what it had been for centuries. Science was the 18th century Lord Cavendish, less concerned with people than with the satisfaction of private curiosity, an eccentric recluse avoiding the public, making voyages into unknown worlds that would remain undiscovered by the rest of us for generations.
In 1900 the most valuable possession in my father's family was a mule. That was the same year Lenoir died. You may remember him. He was the first to design and build an internal combustion engine that worked. He had driven a horseless carriage with it in 1860. Edison had demonstrated his light. Bell his telephone, the ice age of ignorance was beginning to crack, grumble, and roar with the thaw of intelligence and curiosity. But men were still trapped in the past.
In 1905 the year this university was founded, several events of some interest to our theme took place. At the orphanage - the Masonic Home in St. Louis where the children had been sent five years earlier - the following conversation took place between my Uncle Jim and his younger brother, my father who was then fifteen.
(Jim was seventeen in 1905, having been sent out into the world from the orphanage when he reached the mature age of sixteen). Here's the conversation as my father remembered and recorded it many years later. (If it sounds a little like Horatio Alger, just remember those were Horatio Alger days.)
"Didickee," Jim said, I'll bet you think that I'm doing fine, and wouldn't believe it if I told you that I've decided to quit my job!"
"Quit your Job!"
That was a bombshell.
"I tell you, Didickee, a young man today must have a college education to meet competition on equal terms. It was different with the generation before us. But today that's the ticket. And if we're going to get a college education, we've got to get it now."
"But you haven't even been to high school!" my father said.
"No," Jim said quietly, "and so that comes first."
Horatio Alger is easier read than done. Dad worked as a cutter in a shoe factory, ten hours a day, six days a week. He was twenty-five when he graduated from the University of Missouri.
The year of their decision was 1905. And the decision was education. The year this university began. There are some other footnotes to that year. Emil Fischer in Germany, having already won the Nobel Prize three years earlier, was well on his way toward the construction of a protein molecule; Albert Einstein, then twenty-six, had five papers published in the German Yearbook of Physics. He also was granted his Ph.D.
Simply stated, while two kids discussed their future in Missouri, Einstein changed the future of the world, and Emil Fisher the future of man.
In France, in 1905, Alfred Binet and his associates published the first battery of tests designed to measure intelligence, while Lee De Forest was busy developing the triode, thus helping to introduce the world of radio and television and causing the inventor to admit wryly some years later that "this was de Forest's prime evil."
In 1905 Scientific American magazine suggested that the Wright Brothers flight two years earlier was a hoax. Thereupon the Wright Brothers flew 24 miles in half an hour.(Scientific scepticism dies hard, however. In 1910 the Physics Department of the University of Wisconsin was still offering conclusive proof of the physical impossibility of powered flight, seven years after the Wright brothers had flown.)
In Germany, Zoologist Fritz Schaudinn having already demonstrated that dysentery was caused by an amoeba, identified the organism that caused syphilis, enabling Wasserman to devise a diagnostic technique within a year and Ehrlich a therapy within three. 1905 saw the last epidemic of yellow fever in the United States, in New Orleans, five years after Walter Reed had identified the carrier.
Rutherford, the first to perceive the nature of an atom, was 48 years old in 1905. Niels Bohr was twenty. Enrico Fermi, and Werner Heisenberg were both four. James Oppenheimer was one.
It was springtime n the twentieth century.
Teddy Roosevelt offered to mediate a peace treaty between Russia and Japan as the Russian revolution heated up. The Panama Canal was underway, construction would begin the next year. My family still tells the story of my Uncle Roust who was attending St. Charles Military Academy in St. Charles, Missouri, along with his brothers. The custom was to hold an assembly, a cadet's name would be called out, he was to march down the center aisle, select a piece of paper from a bowl, read the topic written on it, and then give an impromptu address on the subject. My Uncle's name was called and his topic was the Panama Canal. He'd never heard of it. But he saluted the commandant, turned and faced his fellow cadets, cleared his throat and announced, "Gentlemen my topic is the Panama Canal."
There was a long pause.
"Gentlemen," my uncle said, "I think it's a good thing."
That was the end of his speech. We've always rather treasured it.
In 1905 not everything was a good thing. In England, the British warship Dreadnought was nearing completion, the first all big-gun warship which was to revolutionize the construction of capital ships. In Germany, a General named Schlieffen had just led his staff to the completion of a plan which provided for the concentration of the main German forces on the French front, the passage through Belgium, and a huge wheeling movement to encircle Paris.
Ten years later a million men died on the Somme. Maxim had invented the machine gun in 1883, and the British had knighted him for the contribution. That was before it percolated through to them that both sides could use it. Or, what was more fundamental, that when you introduce technology you have to change behavior. The French concept of élan does not function well against six hundred rounds per minute.
Behavior. A few minutes prior to this meeting of man and lethal technology, the first immigrants arrived from Siberia across a land bridge connecting North America with Asia. The evidence suggests that the continent was swarming with animal life - food. A virtually inexhaustible supply. So the immigrants made fire rings or drove the herds over cliffs or simply clubbed them to death by the hundreds. And they were quite correct. The supply was endless. For generation after generation. For ages. At least, in geological terms, for a few seconds. By the time the first immigrants arrived from Europe, most of the fauna had been destroyed. It still looked pretty rich to the new arrivals, of course. Top soil over a foot deep. Inexhaustible.
We have telephones now, but the brains are the same
You may have noticed I referred to minutes rather than ages. I borrow that time frame from Physicist J.H. Rush who over twenty years ago wrote one of my favorite books, The Dawn of Life. I recommend it to you. My subject is brains and time - his, time. I quote:
"Think how long, and how much, you have lived since your earliest memories. How many events, how many hours and days seemed endless, how many others slipped away while you tried to hold them a little longer? How many years? It does not matter.. For most of us, our span of memories is not great even against the vista of a century. The American Revolution ended 175 years ago; already it has the remote feel of a legend. Only a special mental effort can bring any sense of reality to our knowledge of Joan of Arc or Socrates or the builders of the Great Pyramid. Yet the earliest known beginnings of Western civilization, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, take us back a mere six thousand years, or halfway to the last ice age.
Five seconds. Scarcely a tick of that cosmic clock has gone by since this university was founded, since those appraisers placed such a value upon a mule, since two boys decided to get an education, since Planck, Einstein, Rutherford, Benet, Walter Reed, since early man slaughtered the animals, developed the plow that broke the plains, dropped the bomb. Tick!
Are you any smarter than Socrates?
Of course, as philosopher Horace Williams once observed, he didn't have a telephone.
Professor Williams thought he had made a point. That we aren't any smarter than Socrates.
But we are.
'Cause he didn't have a computer!
Where are we? Where are we going? Who are we? What have we learned?
In that tick of time, my father, the Missouri farm boy studied under Thorstein Veblen at Missouri, went on to Graduate School at Minnesota to study Agricultural Economics under John D. Black, was one of the young Turks in Washington during the Roosevelt administration, traveled all over the world, published esoteric articles, taught, directed, consulted,. advised, was an omnivorous reader, a life long student, an intellectual, an activist, but did not, I regret to say, live long enough to see men walk on the moon. He would have liked that.
His time was the time of this university. He breathed the same air, was rooted in the same soil, was exposed to the same ferment of social and scientific thought of that time. What kind of mind did that world produce? In the tick of time given to him, who did he think we were and where did he think we were going? Here are a few excerpts from his thoughts on those subjects, written when he was nearing 70:
"In what environment, organic and inorganic, will the bio-physical process which we call "thinking" function most effectively? If we understand the process, that is, the physical basis of the phenomenon, questions of that type will be open to experimental investigation. The secret of intelligence will lie in our grasp, with the limits of its extension fixed only by the availability of its constituent elements and the degree to which the structure and functioning of these elements are subject to man's control. In that direction lies man's god-like destiny, for only in intelligence do we find the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.
The topic is Science and Society. It is not my purpose to persuade you of the merits of my father's thinking. My purpose is first of all to raise the question, what produced that thinking? He was born here in Missouri in an environment more likely to have produced a fundamentalist Baptist, although admittedly it also produced Sam Clemens who was not noted for conventional beliefs. I've always loved Twain's brutal summation of an entire society in one simple line in Huckleberry Finn:
"Boiler blew up!"
"Goodness! Anybody hurt?"
"Nope. Killed a nigger."
Volumes could be written on the meaning and implications of that one line.
Even so, rural Missouri did not seem a likely spot to produce the kind of thinking that led to the passages I read to you earlier. And of course rural Missouri didn't. They were produced by generation after generation of the best minds the world could muster: Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, German, English, Italian - the only test was time and the evidence.
Of course for generations, for hundreds, even thousands of years, men were limited in their thinking by four or five elements: Intelligence, (it was, as it still is, rare), leisure, method, tools, and access to relevant and reliable information. The answer to a lot of questions has been facilitated by having the tools: telescopes, microscopes, knives, forks, spoons and computers. They all make a difference.
Knives, forks, and spoons? Yes, they introduce the use of tools at an early age, develop dexterity, and most importantly, condition us to their use as a norm.
And thinking is difficult if you have to spend all your time fighting or finding food. Although those activities tend to sharpen the wits of the survivors, or, more accurately, weed out the less intelligent. In a natural world, that is. Not in man's world. He has reversed evolution.
Method, of course, involves invention, the development of a process. Without it we are reduced to random guess work.
So intelligence, leisure, method, and the tools all make a difference.
So does access to the information.
Over the years the methods and the tools improved. And the accumulation of evidence accelerated. But the gate keepers were many, and they chose what you could know with care.
My father, however, was given the benefit of the past by the educational resources of Missouri. And with those resources he (and others) created my present.
But the past given to my father was more literary than scientific, mostly guesswork, because his predecessors had lacked many of the tools and methodologies we have since developed. The more intelligent the guesser, the more imaginative the guesswork. The world was supported by a turtle; the world was created in seven days; if you sealed basil leaves inside a brick and left it in the sun, it would change into scorpions; if you ate the heart of your enemy it would make you strong; if you selected a young man and treated him well for a year and fed him to God, things would be better; if you took a young man and called him God and sacrificed him, things would be better; if you ate him, things would be far better; if you couldn't find a volunteer, get some fermented grape juice, some unleavened bread - get a witch doctor to change it into the actual body and blood of God and eat it. If they do it, they're superstitious cannibals; if you do it, you're devout.
The popularity of religions throughout man's brief history seems, at first glance, unrelated to his survival. It played, in my opinion, a fairly critical role during man's infancy. The quest for survival led to intelligence, and intelligence led to self-awareness, which in turn led to our knowledge of the terrible condition of our individual existence. We are surrounded by peril and ultimately doomed. In addition, for most of man's existence, we have been virtually totally ignorant, limited to the perception of our senses and the immediate vicinity. Alone and needing help, men invented company. Everybody had a friendly spirit looking out for him, a big brother. And my god was bigger than your god, Charlie. So watch your step.
This was the message that Moses took forty days to whack out on the tablets, using a granite word processor and the hunt and peck system.
"Thou shall have no other Gods before me, for I, thy God, am a jealous God.'"
Notice there is no talk about being the only God in town. But, if you want the God of Isaac and Jacob to be on your team, you'd better keep him as numero uno.
Everybody understood that. I mean really, it was - well, so human!
When you are ignorant and scared you need faith and you need powerful friends. Big medicine!
And we were more than frightened, we were ashamed, we were unacceptable. The real us is a master of disguise, for if we do not disguise ourselves we will be unloved.
So be polite to Aunt Minnie whom you loathe; disguise your odor, you stink; hide your body, it's offensive; silence those disgusting noises your body makes, and PRETEND so that others may find you loveable, for if they knew who you really are they would find you unacceptable. But God knows who you really are and He loves you. No wonder we hate to give Him up. What a friend we have in Jesus is right. He's our only friend. He's the only one permitted to know who we really are.
Mixed in with the God will protect you, God will love you, and God will beat the death rap, each religion had the desirable social function of transmitting experience of a very pragmatic nature. The Torah is a marvelous collection of such experience: Remember Moses' father-in-law coming to him in exasperation? Telling him, in effect, "Irving, you' re gonna have to delegate some of the judgement business. Make it a franchise. We've been standing out here in the hot sun all day! You're a bottleneck already, and you're driving the tribes bananas!" Or the creation of the Jubilee year to protect property and end the vendetta system. Or Jesus pointing out that social systems are inventions created to serve man, not to be worshiped, and that one needs to understand objectives if one is to choose meaningful alternative courses of action.
These essential collections and codifications of experience were for many years guarded (as well as preserved) by the priesthood. Only they had access to the written word or the ancient language. Such access represented, of course, power, as indeed access to information always is.
How comforting to hear the priest chant the incantation! How comforting in a world of violent change to see the unchanging ritual and to be in touch with power, to know that somewhere someone is in charge!
But in the world of science the whole Universe is a Bible, and the rocks reveal messages that took not forty days, but forty aeons to engrave, while the new priesthood of geologists, and botanists, and chemists, and biologists, and physicists, and paleontologists, and archeologists, and their white coated acolytes lead us with a new mythology toward their truth with lies.
Do you really think the world is constructed of ping-pong balls connected like tinker toys?
No, they are simply trying to put you in touch with something important, something true, to give you understanding -- as Parson Weems was when he invented that story about George Washington -- in order to tell you the truth about George; or the Virgin Birth stories that get floated around in ancient times to make clear that this was a very special kind of person. It's the only way we can communicate the truth, sometimes. To lie.
So don't worry about the ping-pong balls too much. Or for that matter, the Virgin Birth. Not all experience is transmitted by equations. And much of what it means to be human has been preserved for us by legend. The great myths, the great stories, the great religions, the great prophets, poets, philosophers, and sages -- all provided us with a treasure of past experience: the Humanities, defined by Frank Porter Graham as "that body of work wherein is treasured and renewed the human spirit."
What education would be complete, what mathematical equation meaningful, without those voices from the past:
The Greek king, Creon, condemns Antigone to death for performing the funeral rites over her revolutionary brother. The king argues that the laws of the state must take precedence over private conscience, then sees his world crumble into disaster around him, finally moaning, "And all my civic wisdom!"
Or the wily Odysseus explaining patiently to the youthful Neoptolemous that he must set aside his moral scruples and betray his friend Philoctetes:
"How can you set your private and petty concern for personal honor and reputation against the interests of the state? The outcome of the war depends upon you!"
Then in the final classic expression of temptation that every civilized human who has ever walked the earth has experienced:
"Give to me this one day! And for the rest of your life you may be honorable."
Our ancestors were not stupid. And when you cut them, did they not bleed?
"Oh Absolom, my son, my son! Would God that I had died for thee, oh Absolom, my son."
"The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
How do you measure that, Max Planck?
There is a beauty in the eye of the beholder that no taxonomist will ever define. There is a spark that leaps between a man and a maid that does not fit the equations of James Clark Maxwell nor appear in the notebooks of Heirich Hertz.
"My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky!
And there are mysteries; Carl Sandburg observed them:
"Why did the children pour molasses on the cat?
"When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spake as a child. But when I became a
It is time to grow up.
When I was a kid I knew that somebody would take care of me and that somebody knew the answers.
When my father was a kid he knew that nobody would take care of him and that he had to find his own answers. That gave him an enormous advantage over me. He understood the nature of the real world.
The nature of the real world!
The universal game, the game of universe, the only game in town, is creation.
Your only choice is to participate or to drop out. Because unless we create -- you will die, I will die, the earth will die, the world will die.
Existentialist Karl Jaspers describes that future: "Universal shipwreck."
Unless we create a different future.
Now that's exciting!
To create! What does that mean?
The languages we use in the western world are believed to be descended from a prehistoric language, Proto-Indo-European, spoken in a region that has not yet been identified, possibly in the fifth millennium B.C. The roots (and therefore the concepts) of our modern create go back to the Proto-Indo-European ker, meaning to grow, associated almost certainly with agriculture as we see in an early derivation keres as it appears in the Latin Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, from which, in turn, we evolve cereal, a staple of life itself.
The association of the miracle of growth, agriculture, fertility, and religion is very, very deep in our heritage.
In its suffixed form, kre-sko, ker appears in the Latin crescere, to grow, increase.
In Greek, ker appeared as kor-wo or "growing", in such words as kouros (boy or son) and kore (girl or maiden).
Thus, from its beginning in our language the concept of creativity was associated with those things most important to our lives: the mystery of growth, the food we eat, our children, and religion.
In fact, the central concept of the nature of God in the Judeo-Christian religion is to be found in the first five words of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created...."
God is "the creator."
And man, we are told, is formed in the image of God.
When Jesus was accused of blasphemy -- "How can you, a man, claim to be God?" -- He responded, "Is it not written that all men are gods?" (Referring to the 82nd Psalm.)
Can it be that he was referring to this most godlike of characteristics, the power to create, to grow, to change? And is it not deep in the bone of our belief that to manifest this power to create is to most nearly approach the power and the awesome responsibility of God?
In speculating on the nature of man, Plato expressed the belief that a prime motivation was 'to be found in the fact that "all men desire immortality." To achieve this desire, he could perpetuate his seed -- hence the strong drive for children, (and equally the strong significance of the association of the Greek word for son with the root term for growth or creation as we have seen).
For Plato, there were alternatives. One could achieve immortality through the creation of ideas, concepts that would live on for eternity. He called such men "inventors", and it was his thought that to create an idea was to achieve immortality. The name of the unknown creator of the wheel is lost in the dim past of man's history but the creation, the idea, that part of him who produced the wheel remains and is immortal.
The implication of this concept is found in perhaps the oldest known fragment of Greek philosophy attributed to the almost legendary Thales: "All things are full of gods." For it is in the nature of that which is created to reflect the nature of its creator A painting will tell us much of the man and the society who produced it. A rock will reveal its ancestry. As will a sunset or a seashell. All things reveal their creator. All things are, indeed, full of gods.
It is for this reason, perhaps, that we are both envious and terrified of the creative power.
In 1941 the U.S. Post office stopped the distribution of a pamphlet entitled The Consumers-Union Analysis of Contraceptive Materials, citing an 1873 law intended to close the mails to obscene materials. Creation, of course, is the province of God, not of man, so the argument goes. To quote Consumer Report of October, 1979: "More than two hundred cities passed anti-condom laws. Many.... made it a criminal offense for one person to inform another that using a condom might prevent pregnancy.... Until some years ago, condom packages bore a label: ‘Sold only for the prevention of disease.'"
On April 11th, 1980, the Washington Post in a front page story headlined "Revolutionary Gene Transfer is Achieved", pointed out that the research was for the prevention of cancer and sickle cell anemia. Now we are going to sell genetic manipulation "only for the prevention of disease," in the faint hope that the natives won't get restless.
The mind of man is able to envision a better world. But when man assumes that what he would like the world to be is, in fact, the nature of the world, he is in trouble.
In 1905 Benet developed tests for intelligence. They have since been refined. The evidence is overwhelming that man's progress is a product of his intelligence, and that his future will be a product of his intelligence, and that intelligence is not evenly distributed -- neither among individuals, nor among races. The culture bias explanation of test results was a scientific effort to rationalize results that were not in conformity with prevailing social theory. Jensen has exploded that wishful thinking, but sometimes scientists for emotional reasons will go through contortions to maintain a type of obtuseness that reminds one of the Frenchman who had doubts as to his wife's fidelity. He admitted these doubts to a friend who volunteered to observe the behavior of the Frenchman's wife during his absence on a business trip.
When the Frenchman returned he eagerly questioned his friend. Was she or was she not faithful? He had to know.
"Well," said his friend, "as soon as you left, she made a telephone call, and shortly thereafter a man showed up at the door. She let him in and I watched through a window as they embraced."
"Yes," urged the Frenchman, "And then?"
"Then they went upstairs, so I climbed a tree and watched through the bedroom window."
"Yes, go on. And then?"
"Well, then they got undressed. By the way, your wife has a marvelous figure; I congratulate you."
"Yes, yes," the Frenchman said impatiently, "And then what happened?"
"Well, after that they turned out the lights, that's all I could see."
"You see how it is," groaned the Frenchman, "The doubts: Always the doubts!"
Progress is a product of intelligence.
Countless generations prayed to various gods over the disease ravaged bodies of their loved ones, but the multitudes were saved -- not by the gods -- but by Jenner, Pasteur, Reed, the German Domagk and the Frenchman Bovet who developed the sulpha wonder drugs, Fleming, Salk, Sabin.
If mankind is to survive it will be because intelligence will have created the conditions for his survival.
Let us examine those conditions. First of all there is a difference between having a respect for life and worshiping it, or being sentimental. Evolution produced intelligence and intelligence halted evolution. Intelligence has taken charge and the "natural process" is no longer operational. That's what those lovable dummies parading in the streets with their placards can't get through their heads. When we walked upright out of the sea and the swamp and began using our heads, we stopped the slow, mindless, evolution of natural selection, survival, and all that jazz. And, as Thomas Wolfe could explain to them, you can' t go home again.
That argument was lost in the Pleistocene.
The process produced us and we stopped the process. We have been just bright enough to kill off the predators and assure the survival of the genetically unfit -- how many of us here wear glasses and have suffered through a root canal? -- but we are not bright enough to protect us from us.
We have a chance.
Evolution is now our responsibility. We have very little time, before competition for dwindling resources will have us at each other's throats, but in that time we have a shot at creating our future.
We must shift our priorities. For verily, verily. I say unto thee, he who would save his life shall lose it. Our priority is not life, but intelligence.
The best minds currently available should be put to work on this objective: the creation of intelligence. A second priority, but a quite important one, will be producing the next generation or (if you will) species of humans. Human intelligence clearly needs to be upgraded significantly and the packaging needs some work too. We are rather fragile and not very durable, individual ego may set durability as a first priority. This would be a significant mistake. Immortal stupidity is a terrifying concept. Please, brains first, then brawn.
The rest of us who are not bright enough to contribute to this first essential of our survival, creating the new species, have a rather significant role to play nevertheless. We must create and maintain an environment favorable to the important work. This part worries me, because we need to be a bit more intelligent that it looks like we are right now.
You see, if we would disguise ourselves, conceal our faults, deny our frailties, protect ourselves from criticism, it is obvious that the one thing we must not do is create. Or encourage others to create. For creation is the ultimate act of revelation.
It is the ultimate statement of our claim to godliness. And it is also the most compelling motivation and need of the human heart. But it requires freedom.
And there is another powerful motivation among men, most often expressed in modern organizations: the desire for power, for control!
And that is why the choices are hard and also why there are few organizations that reflect a creative character.
The leadership of organizations is almost inevitably in the hands of those who have sought power and the exercise of control.
The poets; the painters, the prophets, the inventors, the innovative architect, the imaginative mathematician, the intuitive physicist, the creative man have a long and well established history of resistance to control, to power, to the restrictions of the creative spirit. They are risk takers and they live with failure. They are seldom, if ever, men of power.
Most organizations distrust such men, even universities --the ultimate social organization-- distrust the creative spirit. For to create is to introduce change, in the words of poet Carl Sandburg, into a world resisting change.
The mystique of power is infallibility; the truth of creativity is that we often fail, we are often wrong, we are often misunderstood, and that those who choose the creative path will come to learn the meaning of Saint Paul's admonition that one must be willing to "be a fool for Christ's sake."
For the organization that wishes to be creative, the first question is: do those who express that wish understand the price? Do they truly wish to relinquish power? Do they truly wish to substitute the risks of creativity for the security of control?
If their answer to these questions is affirmative, they way has long been known.
You begin with trust.
Now notice I have not suggested that in this environment we are to create and maintain for the grand purpose of creating a future, that all will be engaged in developing intelligence. In this I am somewhat in sympathy with the research scientist who responded to the government official who had asked if the research would contribute to national defense, "No, but it might contribute toward us having something worth defending."
I would hope man's creative capacities would not be dragooned solely to support the quest for survival. However, it seems to me -- as I have said -- that we have very little time left to get on with the job. H.G. Welles wrote, you will remember, that "History is more and more a race between education and catastrophe." I would modify that statement only to the extent of placing intelligence as the critical factor.
I think currently we are clearly too dumb to survive, and Welles is right, we are running out of time.
Since creativity requires freedom, we drones in the society have some tough work ahead of us. We are going to have to defend freedom. I don't mean the silly kind. I mean freedom for the intelligent. I certainly don't mean freedom for the stupid. Sorry about that. I know that's very naughty of me, anti-democratic and all that. I have no intention of allowing -- if I can help it -- a lot of pious idiots to march on the White House or the Congress or this university and persuade the powers that be that it's a sin against the Holy Ghost and a significant amount of the electorate to engage in producing a better world. We are, in short, going to play God, and we'd better get on with it and stop waiting for somebody else to answer the telephone.
Above all, we'd better stop apologizing for the work or trying to satisfy the Pope that we' re really doing all of this for the prevention of disease and it's certainly not our intention to interfere with anything significant -- like mass starvation.
Now we dumb ones -- you and I -- need to continue a talent hunt. Rich or poor, black or white, Greek or Barbarian, we need to find the brains. And let's stop playing games about that. We are looking for brains, intelligence --not to prove somebody's theory about social justice or solve somebody's problem with a mis-spent youth. I mean that's a very nice short term objective, as long as it doesn't side-track us from our need for BRAINS. We need to pay for their education; It's the best investment we'll ever make.
And we need to protect them.
Yes, that's what the army and the navy and all that stuff in the Constitution is about. Protecting intelligence. Creating a future.
You see most people, especially stupid people, don't want freedom. It makes them uneasy. Also it's a lot of work: making up your mind what to do, deciding what's right and what's wrong. That's why Christianity has never been popular. People immediately went back to the old religions where somebody -- some priest or guru or Ayatollah -- told them what to do. It's so much easier. Most of my students didn't want to be free. They wanted me to tell them the answers. The American society is essentially a con game by a small group of intellectuals who got together and talked about "We the People" in order to protect their own freedom -- not somebody else's.
"The enfranchised people," wrote Walter Lippmann in The Public Philosophy, "did not establish the rule that all powers are under the law, that law must be made, amended, and administered by due process, that a legitimate government must have the consent of the governed.
"I dwell upon this point," Lippmann continued, "because it throws light upon the fact; so disconcerting an experience in this century, that the enfranchised masses have not, surprisingly enough, been those who have most staunchly defended the institutions of freedom."
Numerous polls and surveys have shown that most American, for that matter most university students, don't even believe in the Bill of Rights. They'd sell out their freedom for two tickets to Disneyland. Here's Lippmann again with some chilling words on that subject:
"It is often assumed but without warrant, that the opinions of the People as voters can be treated as the expression of the interests of The People as an historic community. The crucial problem of modern democracy arises from the fact that this assumption is false."
So our job, yours and mine, is to protect the bright ones. create a future for our children, for mankind.
Now don't kid yourselves. These bright ones are going to be hard to protect. They are going to be different. Many won't like them. I probably won't like them. Arrogant whippersnappers! But if they don't save us, nobody will!
That probably means, in order to preserve their freedom, that some of the lovable not-too-bright ones are going to have to die, fighting wars. Unfortunately we can't fight the wars using just the stupid and the vicious. They aren't motivated enough or smart enough to win. So we will have to see some of the lovable, bright, marvelous sons and daughters -- ours -- die, to preserve someone else's future. Which is, after all, one of the very few things, perhaps the only thing, worth dying for -- the future. Or, as many would observe, worth living for.
I would, nevertheless, follow to the extent possible the pragmatic approach of Barnhardt, a cabinet maker from Rochester, New York, who was my squad leader in the infantry in the Second World War. We had a fellow in our squad -- a Sicilian from the sewers of New York City -- who was an animal, raping and murdering his way across Europe. I once saw him crawl out under fire to cut the rings off the fingers of dead civilian women we had shot down.
Barnhardt, the squad leader would send him out on point as lead scout, a dangerous assignment.
"Why me all the time? he complained. "Why not Clayton? I don't see you sending him!"
Barnhardt looked him right in the eye.
"Clayton has a future. You don't. Move out."
The Sergeant's instincts were better than his syntax. What he sensed was that one of us would work to create a future, while the other would be a wolf, devouring the legacy of the past.
Barnhardt chose with unsentimental precision to protect, if he could, the future.
We must do the same. (Back to Letters and Articles in WW II)
We will have to speak out. We can no longer afford to be polite to the Neanderthals who will try to prevent the bright ones from creating a future. The closer we get to that future, the louder the shrieks of the superstitious, the devout, the defenders of the faith will become. Murderers! Frankensteins! Oh the marchers will assault our hopes for a future with every weapon at their disposal; and they have many, beginning with the fact that the men we elect to protect intelligence are not very bright. Senator Proxmire being one of the better examples of anti-intellectualism in our midst.
But we live in exciting times! Creative times! And there is work to be done. What you do is important! This university is important!
The Missouri farm boys are dead now. All five of them. But as long as this university exists, they are immortal, the dream they had goes on.
My father wrote:
"I am curious about man's past and about his future. Between these ultimate poles, curtained by the darkness of space and time, except for the little spark for man's intelligence, stretches the vast panorama of life, with its eternal challenge of meaning. Man's task is to brighten and extend that spark until, for him to reach is but to grasp, because heaven is in his hands. An individual's supreme task is to join in the discovery of man's past and in the creation of man's future. That future is always man's present creation; man's hereafter is always here."
Here in this room. Here in the university. Here in this marvelous country. Here in the time given to us. Now.
Happy Birthday, University!
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