In science, one rarely sees all the data point toward one precise conclusion. Real data is noisy—even if the theory is perfect, the strength of the signal will vary. And under Bayes’s theorem, no theory is perfect. Rather, it is a work in progress, always subject to further refinement and testing. This is what scientific skepticism is all about.
In politics, one is expected to give no quarter to his opponents. It is seen as a gaffe when one says something inconvenient—and true.113 Partisans are expected to show equal conviction about a set of beliefs on a range of economic, social, and foreign policy issues that have little intrinsic relation to one another. As far as approximations of the world go, the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties are about as crude as it gets.
It is precisely because the debate may continue for decades that climate scientists might do better to withdraw from the street fight and avoid crossing the Rubicon from science into politics. In science, dubious forecasts are more likely to be exposed—and the truth is more likely to prevail. In politics, a domain in which the truth enjoys no privileged status, it’s anybody’s guess.
The dysfunctional state of the American political system is the best reason to be pessimistic about our country’s future. Our scientific and technological prowess is the best reason to be optimistic. We are an inventive people. The United States produces ridiculous numbers of patents,114 has many of the world’s best universities and research institutions, and our companies lead the market in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to information technology. If I had a choice between a tournament of ideas and a political cage match, I know which fight I’d rather be engaging in—especially if I thought I had the right forecast.
Harry thought, considered, chose his weapon. "Draco, you want to explain the whole blood purity thing to me? I'm sort of new."
A wide smile crossed Draco's face. "You really should meet Father and ask him, you know, he's our leader."
"Give me the thirty-second version."
"Okay," Draco said. He drew in a deep breath, and his voice grew slightly lower, and took on a cadence. "Our powers have grown weaker, generation by generation, as the mudblood taint increases. Where Salazar and Godric and Rowena and Helga once raised Hogwarts by their power, creating the Locket and the Sword and the Diadem and the Cup, no wizard of these faded days has risen to rival them. We are fading, all fading into Muggles as we interbreed with their spawn and allow our Squibs to live. If the taint is not checked, soon our wands will break and all our arts cease, the line of Merlin will end and the blood of Atlantis fail. Our children will be left scratching at the dirt to survive like the mere Muggles, and darkness will cover all the world for ever." Draco took another swig from his drinks can, looking satisfied; that seemed to be the whole argument as far as he was concerned.
"Persuasive," Harry said, meaning it descriptively rather than normatively. It was a standard pattern: The Fall from Grace, the need to guard what purity remained against contamination, the past sloping upwards and the future sloping only down. And that pattern also had itscounter... "I have to correct you on one point of fact, though. Your information about the Muggles is a bit out of date. We aren't exactly scratching at the dirt anymore."
Draco's head snapped around. "What? What do you mean, we? "
"We. The scientists. The line of Francis Bacon and the blood of the Enlightenment. Muggles didn't just sit around crying about not having wands, we have our own powers now, with or without magic. If all your powers fail then we will all have lost something very precious, because your magic is the only hint we have as to how the universe must really work - but you won't be left scratching at the ground. Your houses will still be cool in summer and warm in winter, there will still be doctors and medicine. Science can keep you alive if magic fails. It'd be a tragedy, but not literally the end of all the light in the world. Just saying."
It is surprising that people do not believe that there is imagination in science. It is a very interesting kind of imagination, unlike that of the artist. The great difficulty is in trying to imagine something that you have never seen, that is consistent in every detail with what has already been seen, and that is different from what has been thought of; furthermore, it must be definite and not a vague proposition. That is indeed difficult.
Music Theory. You will forgive me for turning, as I always do in moments of intellectual want, to my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, which defines the word "theory" as, and we quote, "The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another." My friends, few words offer as much rational solace as does the word "theory." Examining the plausibility of a theory demands that we analyze facts, reason logically, think objectively, and examine comprehensively. Having done so, we will assumably arrive at a conclusion that is the end product of a process of scientific method, which is itself defined as, "Principle and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses." Ergo, if something is a theory, it is knowable. It's something we can study. It's something we can learn. It's something that is explicable. It's something that is rational. The theory of relativity. The theory of evolution. Game theory. Complex, yes, but concepts that can be understood, compartmentalized, absorbed, and digested.
Music Theory, implied in that compact and oh so innocent-sounding phrase is the idea that there is a knowable, graspable, all-encompassing set of truisms that, once understood, compartmentalized, absorbed, and digested, the very essence of music will stand revealed, it's various elements and expressive content united int oa singularity the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Wrong. Speaking for myself, I dislike the phrase "Music Theory" almost as much as I dislike the phrase "Music Appreciation." What we call "theory," what we call "Music Theory" is in reality a huge and varied syntax, a syntax that deals with the various ways sounds can be arrayed across time to create a musical experience. We don't grasp musical syntax the way we grasp facts and the analysis of the facts. Rather we first learn to distinguish different sonic and temporal phenomenon. Then we come to understand how those phenomenon are interrelated; after which, we can begin to understand how and why we perceive structural integrity and expressive meaning in a given section of music.
Learning musical syntax is very much like learning a language. We start with the rudiments and every so slowly accumulate understanding and insight as we comprehend that language in evermore sophisticated ways. The phrase "Music Theory" implied that there is a science of music, a set of rules and regulations of absolute rights and wrongs that govern what composers can and cannot do as they create a piece of music. Wrong again.
In reality, Music Theory, like music itself, is an art and not a science. Something much more akin to language, with all its idiosyncrasies, quirks, eccentricities, and inexplicable idioms than it is a "body of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method," which is how my web.col defines "science."
[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?
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 much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.^^ much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.^^
Museums are, in a way, the cathedrals of the modern world, places where sacred issues are expressed and where people come to reflect on them. A museum is also a kind of bridge between the academy and the public.
A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. ... He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals.
To this day, we see all around us the Promethean drive to omnipotence through technology and to omniscience through science. The effecting of all things possible and the knowledge of all causes are the respective primary imperatives of technology and of science. But the motivating imperative of society continues to be the very different one of its physical and spiritual survival. It is now far less obvious than it was in Francis Bacon's world how to bring the three imperatives into harmony, and how to bring all three together to bear on problems where they superpose.
As for what I have done as a poet, I take no pride in whatever. Excellent poets have lived at the same time with me, poets more excellent lived before me, and others will come after me. But that in my country I am the only person who knows the truth in the difficult science of colors-of that, I say, I am not a little proud, and here have a consciousness of superiority to many.