The War in Science in the War

A billboard at Oak Ridge Facility in Tennessee warns people to keep silent about anything they see or hear there. Oak Ridge was a town built in 1942 to house workers and the laboratory that developed the Manhattan Project – the secret second world war program that built the atomic bomb. 

Whether we like it or not, science has been a key player in our political affairs. The acronym STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) arose partly out of national security concerns such as World War II, the War on Cancer, and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. But how has science really played out through the wars?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here…

When we remember Eisenhower’s 1961 use of the phrase “military-industrial complex,” some historians argue the phrase was originally meant to be “military-industrial-scientific complex.” According to Ben Schott of the New York Times[2], this claim has been debunked, and there was “scientific” term in the phrase. But, though we never meant to describe the militarization of our nation with the word “scientific,” the role science has played in our militarized economy has lingered.

Over the past century, the US has witnessed ups and downs in our hopes as a nation. These sentiments have permeated through the scientific world. In Sarah Bridger’s book “Scientists at War,” she says scientists successfully flourished in the years after World War II. But, during the Vietnam War, several individuals of the science community became suspicious. [1]

The ethics of science in politics has been debated throughout the 20th century. Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Professor of History at Oregon State University, says scientists assisted in atomic energy regulation as well as Soviet Union diplomacy. During the 50s and early 60s, military research research blossomed as the US competed against the Soviet Union.


A Theory of Everything, for Everyone

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Hilbert’s tomb

Since a theory of everything would unite all the forces of matter, it would be elegant in how much information could be explained so simply. The math and physics behind theory would all have a function with everything else, and there would be nothing below it. As MIT Physics Professor Frank Wilczek put it, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” [3] But, during the 19th century, while physiologist Emil du-Bois Raymond proclaimed “ignoramus et ignorabimus” (or “we do not know and we will not know”), mathematician David Hilbert would write “For the mathematician there is no Ignorabimus, and, in my opinion, not at all for natural science either. … The true reason why [no one] has succeeded in finding an unsolvable problem is, in my opinion, that there is no unsolvable problem. In contrast to the foolish Ignorabimus, our credo avers: We must know, We shall know.'”

Beyond what physics can tell us about how matter and forces work, there are issues with the way mathematical statements can actually explain the world. Is mathematics the language through which we describe nature or is it something that nature itself is made of? Is a theory of everything the end of knowledge the same way all biological organisms evolved from a single one? And what if there is no theory of everything? As 20th century American physicist Richard Feynman speculated, it is possible there is no theory that applies everywhere all the time.[1] Everything we observe will have something below it, and we’ll never get to any most fundamental theory.

Doing Gödel’s work, son

We might be inclined to search for an answer in logic, a field that we think would prove the answers to all forms of reasoning, and, therefore, all knowledge. The most striking example of how we can prove/disprove these sorts of answers lie in Kurt Gödel’s theorems that explain how there exist mathematical statements that can’t be proven. And, one might think that, similarly, there are is physics information that can’t be proven, either. The trouble with this is that, while Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems only say for some fixed, recursively defined, axiom system there are statements you can’t prove or disprove, that shouldn’t matter for physics because you can just add new axioms when you want. Physics doesn’t require a fixed-axiom system.

Save work on the Standard Model (on the fundamental forces and their interactions), theoretical physics hasn’t had much success over the past few decades. There are things like string theory, loop quantum gravity, and similar theories, but, while they are ideas that could be true, we don’t know.

The are epistemic problems with a theory of everything, as well. Why is it true that we can understand anything? Does finding out how the laws of nature work explain why they are the way they are? And, if we don’t know everything, how can we know anything?


Mental Illness as a Language


Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here….

Mental health is an increasingly important issue. The World Health Organization estimates mental disorders will have become the world’s largest cause of death and disability by 2020. [3] Alongside this, we’ve put forth tremendous effort to understand our mental health from a scientific point-of-view. Our post-Enlightenment positivist view of scientific happiness has exponentially grown in accuracy. Though we’ve been doing this since the eighteenth century, in recent years, we’ve become more and more observant and critical of how our minds truly function in the scary world. All of our actions, behaviors, and moods can be measured down to a very fundamental level. But these efforts ignore the socio-political and cultural tendencies that have driven mental health over the centuries. In spite of this, it’s no wonder mental illness is on the rise.

Still, some criticize the field of psychiatry for being scientifically backwards. But far more insidious is the cultural deafness. Many of us have forgotten the role culture plays in mental health because we have tried to only use science to explain mental health.[1] However, our knowledge of the brain is is still very far from explaining mental disorders. We should remember the symptoms of mental illnesses are, not only scientific issues, but also a language through which we express ourselves. And we need to understand our culture and history to figure out what our distressed unconscious tries to tell us.[1] Maybe mental illness is not a “harmful defect we shun” and more a way we understand who we are. Seen this way, the mental issues we face are less of “biological flaws” and more of ways we express ourselves in society.

Speaking of the 21st century, our anxieties and insecurities are probably more philosophically and existentially grounded than we like to think. Many of us struggle with the postmodern irony and individualism that simultaneously shuns tradition while embracing conformity. Some of us call ourselves “introverts” as a form of self-identification to internalize some of our behaviors as “natural” or “acceptable.” We look at all the other amazing introverts and find some sense of belonging. But labeling ourselves just covers up who we really are. Others among us chase ideas and culture in hopes that we can find something unique about ourselves, that separates us from other people, but we’re only sharing the same social assumptions about what defines us.

The same way culture fashions us to understand aesthetics, value, ethics, and other humanistic qualities, our struggles with the emotions of mental illness could be the way our bodies understand the world. Einstein himself found solace, not only in science and art, but in the philosophical work of Schopenhauer, as he wrote on Planck’s 60th birthday:[4]

To begin with, I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.

Maybe our searches for “objectivity” of understanding mental illness are caused by these similar desires that motivate scientist. In this sense, our mental health is the way we search for meaning and satisfaction in the world.

All the world’s a stage, And all the mentally ill merely players.


Imposter Syndrome: Noble Humility or Shameful Insecurity?

Read this article in the Indiana Daily Student here….

From the first day of an introductory course in philosophy, psychology, or any field, we are inundated by the daunting knowledge and opportunities of the world. You realize that there’s so much to explore and learn. The things you know about the world might be wrong, and the things that you’re proud of might seem trivial, irrelevant, or unimportant in the face of the amazing things that others have done. Others might tell you that you’re intelligent, hardworking, or diligent, but you feel as though you’re not what everyone thinks you are. To make matters worse, socioeconomic and biological factors of the world might cause us to lose sight of what we truly have control over. We might think that we are only doing well because we were born to the right family, the top school, or the best genes. Students of color might feel as though they are recipients of affirmative action. Women might feel as though society should not expect them to believe they are intelligent. It doesn’t matter if you’re the prince or the pauper, the smartest or the strongest, the highest or the lowest. You wonder, “How did I get here?”

Fake It Till You Make it

We may manifest our negative feelings in healthier ways. This might come about through modesty. But, too often, we have tendencies to deny any positive quality others say of ourselves. We may end up disliking moments in which we must show off or speak about our own accomplishments. This could be during communication such as presentations, interviews, meetings, or even personal ways such as completing coursework. During these times when we must actualize what we have done, you may pretend to be more skilled than you believe you are, or “fake it till you make it.” This will help you understand how to feel good about your accomplishments, since how you feel about yourself is only a feeling that should not reflect anything negative that you have done. And, while it is definitely noble to behave modest in our successes (be them intellectual or otherwise), it certainly doesn’t mean that we should ignore any positive trait we may have.

As for factors that are truly outside our control (such as how we were born, what environment we grew up in), it is possible to take pride in what you have achieved while remaining grateful in one way or another. But, more importantly, it’s irrelevant to worry about whether or not factors outside your control have shaped your success. For the African American worrying that he/she might have had extra support in the college admissions process on account of his/her skin color or for the endowed wealthy student realizing that his/her family had access to the best resources, those are things that should not affect how you view yourself. But the position you are on the path doesn’t determine how successful you are. What you give to the world does. Maybe it’s not about the cards that are given to you, but the way you play them. That’s who you are who you are. You can make something meaningful of your life while simultaneously appreciating what others have given to you. And, at the end of the day, we don’t really know how lucky we could have ever been. So we should always remain grateful. That’s the type of modesty and appreciation that should promote humanism and virtues in the sciences (and the rest of academia).