Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Not words, but attention

Science Musings on the web is approaching its first anniversary. Let me take a moment to offer a concise statement of what the site stands for:

1. Science is a way of knowing -- invented in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE, cultured in the Arabic schools of medieval Baghdad and Grenada, and perfected in the European Renaissance and Enlightenment -- that provides reliable public knowledge of the world. At the heart of the scientific way of knowing is organized skepticism that transcends religion, politics, ethnicity, or nationality. Scientific knowledge is partial, tentative, and evolving, but it has become the irreversible basis for our health, wealth and secular freedoms, and therefore a proud achievement of humankind.

2. Reliable public knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition for our collective happiness. We are by nature esthetic and religious creatures, enchanted by mystery, drawn to celebration of the ineffable through art, music, poetry, dance. We are also by nature clannish and prone to intolerance or violence against "the other," and must work constantly to express a culturally mandated universal altruism, not only to other humans but to other creatures. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from modern science is that we are all related by common descent. No one of us or group of us has a lock on truth; no one of us or group of us is favored by God or the gods.

3. In the current issue of Poetry magazine there is a contribution by Mary Oliver titled "The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, But the Attention that Comes First." Science Musings celebrates attention as the highest form of prayer.

PS: I don't often respond to comments to these posts, but they are much appreciated. Many thanks especially to those folks whom I have never met -- Kara, Steve, Barry, Geoff, Tom, Dave and all the others who never fail to offer interesting and provocative observations.