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Leo Szilard and the Foundation Mark Gable

16 Sep

“Gloire et louange à toi, Satan, dans les hauteurs

Du Ciel, où tu régnas, et dans les profondeurs

De l’Enfer, où, vaincu, tu rêves en silence!

Fais que mon âme un jour, sous l’Arbre de Science,

Près de toi se repose, à l’heure où sur ton front

Comme un Temple nouveau ses rameaux s’épandront!

Charles Baudelaire, in Les Fleurs du Mal [1]

Science is in danger of survival. Technology and Burocracy took its place. How to create anew the conditions that give birth to the wonderful discoveries of the last century that endure until the 1950’s with the discovery of the laser? This is an actual and fundamental problem that strikes our civilization.

“Only daring have made the main contributions  to Science. Notwithstanding this, the contemporary heavy administration in the
system of modern scientific education and scientific research still suppresses  everyone who wishes to develop new and productive ideas. That is why the  freedom  of scientific work and the free initiative of original studies should  undeniably be defended, because only these factors were and will be the most  productive sources of great progress of Science”—Louis de Broglie, Necessity of  Freedom of Scientific Work, Annales de la Fondation Louis de Broglie, vol. 4, nº  1, p.62 (1979)

Fermi-Szilard neutronic Reactor. Image credit:Wikipedia

But here we are talking about a singular man of science. Leo Szilard, the great physicist of Hungarian ascent after Hiroshima left physics to dedicate his interests to biology and science-fiction…Szilard was born in Hungary in 1898 and come to Berlin in 1919 to study with Albert Einstein, Max von Laue and become a friend with Eugen Wigner. In 1938 he went to the United States, rapidly recognizing the evil nature of nazism. In Chicago, he worked with Enrico Fermi at the Metallurgical Laboratory in the framework of the Manhattan Project. At this laboratory, Leo Szilard developed the concept of nuclear chain reaction into a nuclear  reactor, and he patented the idea together with another great physicist Enrico Fermi (this kind of people are disappearing in our societies unfortunately, there is no place for them), see their patent [1a].

US postage stamp honoring Enrico Fermi. Im credit: web.mit.edu
Leo Szilard. Image credit: sciencephoto.com

At a certain moment, Szilard felt the need to eliminate the sinister side of his nuclear reactor and atomic bomb, not being pleased with the political turn of the Manhattan Project.

What was his idea about Big Science? «It was not the kind of physics I like, and I even wonder if it is physics at all». In a  series of tales, Szilard, describes with humor a meeting with a millionaire, Mark Gable, that enriched with a bank of sperm. We refer now to a part of the tale appearing in Leo Szilard book “The voice of the dolphins and other stories” [2].

“Would you intend to do anything for the advancement of science?” I asked.

“No”, Mark Gable said. “I believe scientific progress is too fast as it is.”

“I share your feeling about this point,” I said with fervor of conviction, “but then why not do something about the retardation of scientific progress?”

“That I would very much like to do,” Mark Gable said, “but how do I go about it?”

“Well,” I said, “I think that shouldn’t be very difficult. As a matter of fact, I think it would be quite easy. You could set up a foundation, with an annual endowment of thirty million dollars. Research workers in need of funds could apply for grants, if they could mail out a convincing case. Have ten committees, each committee, each composed of twelve scientists, appointed to pass on these applications. Take the most active scientists out of the laboratory and make them members of these committees. And the very best men in the field should be appointed as chairman at salaries of fifty thousand dollars each. Also have about twenty prizes of one hundred thousand dollars each for the best scientific papers of the year. This is just about all you would have to do. Your lawyers could easily prepare a charter for the foundation. As a matter of fact, any of the National Science Foundation bills which were introduced in the Seventy-ninth and Eightieth Congress could perfectly well serve as a model.”

This question is of huge importance nowadays and must be taken seriously by all of us. What kind of civilization are we leaving to our sons? [3]

REFERENCES:

[1] Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

[1a] Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, Nutronic Reactor, Patent US2708656

[2] Leo Szilard, The voice of Dolphins and Other Stories

[3] Tragic Science of Leo Szilard, by Roy Scott Sheffield

Pataphysics: the beginning of a new science…

13 Feb

All mankind have an instinctive desire of knowledge. This illustrated by our enjoyment of our sense-perceptions. – Aristotles, in his first book on Methaphysics.

“Blind and unwavering undisciplined at all times constitutes the real strength of all free men.” – Alfred Jarry (1873 to 1907)

“Duration is the transformation of a succession into a reversion. In other words: THE BECOMING OF A MEMORY.” – Alfred Jarry (1873 to 1907) from How to Construct a Time Machine

“God is the tangential point between zero and infinity.” – Alfred Jarry (1873 to 1907)

Aristotles wrote fourteen books on the ultimate conceptions of philosophy. In fact, he entitled the books with the word “the lectures that come after the lectures on Physics”  (the lectures on Physics are composed by eight books). He dedicated his thoughts about being, what is a being in regard to its existence, independently of any secondary quality that may qualify it. The name “Metaphysics” was given by the editor of his works on first philosophy, because they appear after the researches done on the physical world.

Aristotle school at Athens, in a fresco painted by Rafael, located at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican city. Image credit: wikipedia

Aristotles understood that just searching around the physical world would not give to him any clue about the universe and the being, about the essential attributes of the existence. Mathematics and Physics, only treat the laws of the universe based on ideal assumptions: line, points, plane, space, time. But the meaning of them are not enough to approach a functional understanding of life, its purpose, and the marvellous meaning of Being and Time. One wonderful example of thinking can be witnessed in this video with Martin Heidegger talking about his understanding of what is a being and our relationship with it.


The problem of being is not only philosophical, it should be also a concern to physicists (how matter is created locally, how the universe appeared apparently from nothing, from a Big Bang?…). This is well stated by William James: “How comes the world to be here at all instead of the nonentity which might be imagined in its place? … from nothing to being there is no logical bridge.”

But nobody could imagined that, later, Alfred Jarry will invent a new area of though called Pataphysics (a contraction of the pseudo-Greek term τὰ ἐπὶ τὰ μετὰφυσικά (ta epi ta metaphusika – “that which is above metaphysics“). Jarry intent with this denomination to suggest a humorous variation of Aristotle’s work “Metaphysics”, and so Pataphysics means “that which is above that which is after physics”.

Jarry loved cycling.Despite the disaster that represented the opening of the piece Ubo Roi [2], and the shocking first sentence uttered , “merdre” (watch the video, in French), together with the scene of boxing that followed in the audience, there is an interesting tentative of conceptualization of a phenomenon rarely spoken and even less studied. The Pataphysics is actually a critique of science and an attempt “to subvert the procrusteans constraints of science” [3]. It is a critique of the society as a all, turned to useless purposes, plain of vanity, and with grandiloquent speeches, but with its “scientific effort” bringing no results with interest to the humankind. It is a critique of “science” as is done nowadays, searching for “reports” that end on the managers archives, useless, a “science” that is not concerned with  understanding Nature, nor the meaning of being (and its enormous importance to our achievement as human beings), but a “science” that serves a nomenclature that uses it for self-promotion, as a living commerce (science sells).

In a dellusional work, criticising the scientific establishment, tempted by the big shows and impressing the public, fainting to be an astrophysicist or some specialist alike, he wrote “How to build a time machine”. Another work full of genial veine is “Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician” [5].

Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one; or, less ambitiously, will describe a universe which can be – and perhaps should be – envisaged in the place of the traditional one,  since the laws that are supposed to have been discovered in the traditional universe are also correlations of exceptions, albeit more frequent ones, but in any case accidental data which, rediced to the status of unexcpetional exceptions, possess no longer even the virtue of originality. – Alfred Jarry, in Ref.[5], p. 854.

It is not a surprise to see that, in this era of fake reality, where things appear to be serious due to marketing and the fragility of people minds, there is a growing “[…]body of art that adopts the language and trappings of officialdom. Examples include Los Angeles’s Center for Land Use Interpretation, the Center for Tactical Magic from Oakland, Calif., and, locally, the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, the National Bitter Melon Council, and the Institute for Applied Autonomy.”[Blog1].

These social/cultural phenomena are a reaction from the society to the bad use of science, or better, of the despise with which real science is treated by governments and “managers” looking for numbers, statistics, statistics of things they don’t fully grasp, statistics that only aim for the immediate use of technology and huge profits for corporations, instead to be concerned with the preparation of minds (particularly the young generation), and the quest of the fundamental laws of the universe, that might help humanity escape from war, poverty and delusion. That’s why the great French philosopher, Jean Braudillard, called Pataphysics as the imaginary science of excess of emptiness and insignificance [4]. Clearly this new kind of non-philosophy, is anti-establishment without being truly political.

Two asteroids crossed the space between earth and moon recently. It could be too late to avoid disaster...Im. credit:http://www.space.com

It is but due to the benevolence of gods that we are still here, writing on the Web, reading, thinking, and fighting for a better and a more dignified world, since otherwise we are not really protected from cosmic disasters, as it remains clear from the recent event of two asteroids that crossed the space between earth and the moon. It could be too late to avoid disaster. Because science is not being taken seriously, as it should be.

References:

[1] Aristotles on his predecessors, being his firts book on Methaphysics

[2] Ubo Roi, manuscript by Alfred Jarre

[3] Christian Bök, Pataphysics: the poetics of an imaginary science.

[4] Pathaphysica, by Cal Clements

[5] Exploits and Opinions od Dr. Faustroll, Pathaphysician, in Poems for the Millenium: the University of California of Romantic and Post-Romantic Poetry, Vol. III

Other Blogs:

[Blog1] Cabinet of Wonders

Museums:

[1] Musée Patamécanique

Institutes:

[1] Institutum Pathaphisicum Londiniense

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