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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 18. September 20, 1939

The Attitude of the Scientist to the Problems Confronting Civilisation

The Attitude of the Scientist to the Problems Confronting Civilisation

Dr. Millikan

Dr. Millikan

Dr. Millikan, of The Californian Institute of Technology, Pasadena, is today the leading authority and research worker in the cosmic ray field of investigation. He started his research work some fifty years ago, at a period when physicists were beginning to realise that there were more than just the visible rays of the spectrum, and during his life he has seen opened up and explored, and has helped to open up and explore, practically the whole range of electromagnetic frequencies. In addition to this work in physics research, Dr. Millikan has studied and has written books on the social values of science. In a world ridden with hate and fear, we of the younger generation are looking to the men of Dr. Millikan's type to help us build a new civilisation from the chaos into which ours is so rapidly falling.

Application of Scientific Method.

Dr. Millikan speaks quietly and surely, with utter reason. He gives the impression that he has established for himself a set of values reasonably proportioned, and—rather disquletingly—the suspicion arises that these proportions differ from our own and those of the university students around us. He pointed out clearly one major reason why the world and society has gone astray—its neglect to consult the specialist to solve a specific problem. In his lecture to the general public, Dr. Millikan made the statement—"In physics, as in other sciences, there is established a zone or core of fundamental knowledge around which new knowledge is continually being accumulated," This "core of fundamentals" constitutes the laws of gravity, force, friction, etc., on which are based the theory of our gravitational machines and Indeed all the machines which have helped to build up our modern civilisation. He stated that these laws were complete non-controversial facts and were the result of getting and adding to the accumulated knowledge of science.

In the past this has not been done in social, economic, and political problems. Our politicians and statesmen are not going back into the past history of the race to learn the cause and results of certain actions. Today we have men and women in the leading positions of our community who have not had the required education and experience for the positions which they hold. They have not the ability and foresight to change their outlook at the correct time—they are content to move along in the same short-sighted and pigheaded fashion and refuse to consider any change of affairs or government which might be contrary to their views; thus the vast majority of the people are not reaping the benefits of the advanced scientific and political thought of today. The views of competent authorities are nearly always correct Let us take an example in science. We have a certain number of leading scientists agreeing about some law, hence ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is correct and accepted as correct, because they have used all the results of their research into the background of the data governing the problem as a basis for its statement. Hence we must have our leaders educated in their own particular field and have them look back into past history so that they can, by statistical and historical processes, proceed to analyse and find the solution of the problem. At the present moment the social, economic and political problems are not being solved at all. All that is being done in these fields is being done in a haphazard fashion. A certain problem in economics arises, a law is passed which temporarily solves the problem, but out of which new problems and difficulties arise, the whole procedure is again repeated and so on ad infinitum. This is not the manner In which true progress is made. True progress does not come from the radicals or the reactionaries, but from those individuals who have the ability and foresight to see that the problem will arise and so bring about some ruling to prevent it from arising.

Science and the Citizen

"Salient" suggested, to Dr. Millikan that at present science was losing favour in the eyes of the average man because of the fact that the war in which we were at present involved was being made more ghastly through the use of war materials which were essentially the result of scientific research and scientific advance.

Dr. Millikan assured us that, as long as man teas prepared to believe in authoritarianism, superstition and every unscientific and irrational brand of emotionalism, so long as he was prepared to believe in quacks, and faith-healers, tears could not be prevented. With the advancement of science in the fields of power machines and chemistry, if was only natural that scientific methods of making warfare would be used—it was not within the power of scientists to prevent their use—so wars must go on until the individual and the people as a whole are prepared to live a reasonable life—the ideal of Socrates—a life free of superstition, free of unscientific and irrational emotionalism; he must be able to reject the influences of vague -ologies and -isms which are propounded by people who have no knowledge at all, and he must be, able to distinguish between the right and, wrong answers. This is all [unclear: ba] on the education of man. He must not form opinions and try to find solutions which are based on hunch or emotion, but he must be educated to go to these sources of knowledge where he can obtain a true scientific answer to his particular problem. Not until such a state of education is achieved can we hope to eradicate the terror of war and organise a scientifically organised civilisation.

Science and Religion

When "Salient" suggested to Dr. Millikan that religion was opposed to the advancement of science, he replied that it was not religion, but the excrescences of religion which opposed science. The only method of reaching a valid definition of religion was by finding the elements common to all sects. Dr. Millikan confined himself to the sects of the Christian religion. The one element common to all sects, the essential core of Christian religion, was the figure of Jesus, advocating a spirit of altruism. Creeds were man-made and had nothing to do with this essence of religion. True religion, therefore, advocating the adoption of all Impulses towards the common good, of social responsibility, is not opposed to science.

It is however, lamentably true that certain sects oppose science, thereby to further their secular ends, Within religion, scientific methods are applied, and have been applied, to theological studies. Historical analyses and criticisms of the Scriptures are done scientifically by professors of theology, And today there exists from the viewpoint of an increasingly large number of people, a scientific approach, to personal religion. The superstitions which have accumulated about religion during the past centurion, and which priestly authority strives to maintain, are being seen in their true light and discarded. An evolutional view of the development of religion from primitive ideas of magic, nature worship, and a sense of the sacred, through the advent of Christianity to the growth of creeds and sects, is incorporated with modern religious outlook. Thus scientific method within, and scientific advance outside religion, can exist without detriment either to religion or to science.

From Dr. Millikan's philosophy we draw the conclusion that vntil man becomes educated on truly scientific lines, he cannot attain the Utopia for which he is ceaselessly seeking. That Utopia will not be perfect by any means, for as long as man continues to be the same self-centred being, the same jealous, lustful and grasping individual, the goal of perfection cannot be attained and never will be attained. Science has its chief social value in broadening man's outlook. In teaching him to think for himself, to disbelieve in superstition and to guard against hysteria. Today we have a world drifting back in to a state of barbarism; free speech, free thinking and the entire freedom of mankind is being curtailed, and why are we sliding backwards instead of progressing it is because we are prepared to listen to unscientific principles advocated by those who have fine oratorical powers but no reason able sense of values, we are prepared to be be ruled by dictators, we are not prepared to think for ourselves, we would rather others did it for us and, tee are always ready to take the easiest way out. The easiest way out! This is illustrated in our music our poetry, our art and our politics. Our poetry is merely a string of vague phrases written without rhyme or any of the poetical merits of the poems of the past centuries, our music is disjointed and harsh, and our politics are of such a nature that we are not attaining anything which is definite or constructive. We are slowly but surely drifting away from the ideal of Bocrates, But what are we to do, We must establish for ourselves a new set of values—in culture, politics, economics and social problems, toe must establish a definite "cors of fundamentals" and commence to rebuild our chaotic world.

Science is far in advance of any other section of our modem civilisation because of the fact that scientists have been prepared to accept revolutionary lines of thought, they desire definite proof before they accept new theories, they are not afraid to put their theories to the test and they are continually seeking, not the easiest method to solve their problems, but the best. They will not accept untruths and have no fear of superstitions, thus we must follow their example and fearlessly apply scientific methods to solve our problems, for it is only by this means that true progress, scientific or social, can be made and so our ultimate desire achieved—a new and finer civilisation, a civilisation from which mankind as a whole can benefit.