Morgan Freeman, Science Education, and Science Fiction

This morning, I watched several episodes of Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. I believe that it was during the “Are We Alone?” episode about alien life in the universe that Mr. Freeman says that he read science fiction when he was younger. According to this brief TV Guide interview, Mr. Freeman says in response to the question, “Where you always a science geek?” that, “No, I was playing sports. But in my twenties, I got into science fiction.” I wonder what kinds of science fiction did he used to read. Who were the authors of those stories? Does he still read science fiction, and if so, what are his favorite recent stories or novels?

Mr. Freeman’s foray into science programming is a welcome one. Considering the cultural cache and prestige that movie celebrities receive, it is refreshing to see such an important film actor as Mr. Freeman host and executive produce a program about science. By doing this, he demonstrates that it is perfectly acceptable to entertain an interest in the wonder of the universe. His curiosity comes across as ernest and respectful. Additionally, he lends his own stature to the subjects that he explores with the help of leading scientists. Perhaps this will be a hallmark program for a generation of young people today who I suspect desire more science education than they may be receiving in increasingly anti-science local and state school systems in many parts of the country.

I applaud Mr. Freeman’s efforts, and I look forward to seeing more of his Through the Wormhole program.

Second day of Spring Break, Watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking

Today is the second day of our Spring Break at Kent State University. So far, this has been a good rest bit.

Last night, Y and I had a long conversation with our friend Masaya in Japan thanks to AT&T’s offer of free U.S. to Japan telephone calls.

I also stayed up late building Star Wars Lego set 8038 The Battle of Endor.

Today, I had another fun run around Kent since the weather has significantly improved. Again thanks to AT&T, I was able to listen to NHK World on my iPhone, because I have an unlimited 3G data plan as long as I keep my current contract.

And now, I am watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Science Channel. The topic of tonight’s episode is aliens. I have never seen this program before but I am impressed with the cgi visualizations and explanations provided by Prof. Hawking. I will have to add this show to a reminder so that I can see what the other episodes examine.

Judith Warner’s “Fact-Free Science” in the New York Times Magazine – Must Read!

If you missed it, as I had, you should make a point to read Judith Warner’s “Fact-Free Science” in the New York Times Magazine. I saw it linked today from a discussion on Slashdot.org, which you can find here. It bears noting however that I am not entirely sure whether the original Slashdot poster G3ckoG33k meant to employ hyperbole or not when he linked to Warner’s article as “describing the latest chilling acts of the socially relativistic, postmodern loons.”  Nevertheless, Warner’s article charts, in broad strokes, how the attack on scientific truth shifted with the political winds from the radical left to the radical right. It is useful to thinking about how we find ourselves in the current anti-scientific malaise.

Understanding the Human Brain Does Not Preclude Philosophical Considerations of Its Work

In the past, I was invited to consider the possibility that there are some domains of knowledge in the humanities that the sciences cannot scrutinize, because I admittedly sounded at the time like I had switched back from English and cultural studies to the sciences. It was in part my thinking about this that I wanted to post the link to the Feynman video yesterday about the pleasure of finding things out [here].

I believe that it can go both ways. The humanities, today perhaps more than ever, needs and relies on science and technology as the driving force behind the social and culture. Science, likewise, needs the social and culture to provide some of its research questions, its inspirations, and its debate regarding research and technological applications. I do also believe that science can peer into the workings of the humanities, the social, and the human animal just as the humanities can investigate the sciences, its methods, its meanings, and its implementations of power.

The humanities however is not specifically tasked with testing and modeling all domains of knowledge, but the sciences include everything, including the humanities, as worthy of inquiry. Science is supposed to figure things out, break things down, and provide reproducible findings. Nevertheless, I do not think that the sciences can erase the importance of the humanities and the work that we do. I found this quote today in Michael O’Shea’s The Brain: A Very Short Introduction that I think is extremely appropriate. He writes, “Some future scientist may proclaim that he or she has attained a complete understanding of the brain. But it seems improbably that the rest of the world then would simply stop regarding thinking, dreaming, poetry, and the beauty of a sunset as somewhat puzzling manifestations of the brain in action and the cause of some modest philosophical reflection” (O’Shea 123-124). It is important to know how the brain works for a variety of reasons including its importance to the work in the humanities, but simply knowing every facet of its operation and development will not take away from the questions and speculations that humanities professors, students, and everyone contemplates with their brains. Knowing the brain does not discount the things that we all use our brains for including humanities work. If anything, I believe that knowing the brain and using the humanities to better understand the brain will only expand our understanding and wonder about ourselves.