The following article was written by Dr. Harvey L. Slatin, and was originally published as a comment on Science Vs. Things Unseen.
March 29, 2011
I am compelled to add to your excellent blog. There are so many aspects that require clarification and should not be answered in one blog post. The most important one is illustrating what Science really is and to refute the notion that many have that Science is a destructive force that will doom us. Scientists don’t create or “invent” things. They discover (if they are lucky) what already exists, seen or unseen, like bacteria. Michael Farady did not create or invent magnetism or Benjamin Franklin electricity, they discovered it. No one has ever seen electricity or magnetism, we only are aware of its effect. No one has observed an electron, yet we are aware of what it can do. The entire universe, every bit of it, animate and inanimate, solid, liquid and gas, visible and invisible, galaxies, all of it is made up of three particles, namely, protons, electrons and neutrons. That’s it! Scientists did not create the universe or any particle of it, they discovered its parts by observation and experiment, confirmed many times by others.
An excellent example of how scientists think and operate concerns fire. Scientists did not “create” or “invent” fire. Fire existed as an example of combustion, the chemical reaction of fuel and oxygen, long before man appeared. But man saw the effect of fire and learned to use its benefits. It was a means for keeping him warm, making his food digestible, keeping carnivorous beasts from eating him up, and later, much later, learned how combustion could covert water to steam and steam to drive machines and added to the global warming. There is no question of the benefits derived from the Industrial Revolution, brought to mankind and of course, social and political problems galore. You have often remarked during out extended bull session discussions how we managed without computers, TV, the Internet, autos, microwaves and a host of other conveniences. Scientists merely take the discoveries of the past and puts the several parts together to make something that you consider “new,” when in fact the concept may have been conceived long ago. Da vinci conceptualized a flying machine and a war tank years before it was possible to build one. Johnn Von Neumann conceived of a computer (and he was not the first) but it took a lot of other concepts to be realized before your laptop came to exist. Finally, a fleet of main frame computers can not replicate (yet) your body computer, your brain.
My secrets? I really don’t have secrets. The part of my life that affects you and I think you need to know, I have revealed to you when it was pertinent and proper. (You are still bewildered by some of the revelations. You were born when I was in my sixty-fourth year. You were and are the delight of my life. I am so grateful to your mother. Unfortunately at that time I was doing a lot of traveling (lecturing) and was away from home. Whenever I returned home, I always brought you a present. Not the stuffed bears and toys others showered on you (there is a photograph of you buried in a mass of stuffed animals. Speaking of photographs, I took over 4000 pictures of you that first year), I always brought an electronic toy or device, a scientific project, like a box of forty mineral samples, always something to intrigue you. When home, you were given into my care, reading you to sleep, for example, and not fairy tales. Where ever we went, you went, restaurants, museums, art galleries, amusement parks, holidays, vacations, Europe, you were one with us.
I had a happy and successful career as a scientist and plotted to steer you in that direction. However the plethera of electronic early computer devices I fostered on you, physics and mathematics was not your cup of tea. But I realized I was not you and you were not me. I loved and played tennis (until I was 92) and you hated it. I favored the New York Giants; you don’t care for football. Desite the disparity in our ages, I still managed to do all the proper father-son activities, even doing the 5 mile boy scout hike with you when I was 75. We both enjoyed the ocean, swimming, dancing, bicyling, the outdoors, reading, and shared the same social and political views. That was fortuitous. There were indeed many things about life that I am grateful you taught me, mostly by example. Who could ask for anything more?