Friday, April 03, 2009

Stars in their pockets like grains of sand

There is a great concept in the Finnish language: "yleissivistys". It approximately means the standard of knowledge and understanding that a well educated, well rounded person should have. History, geography, foreign languages, high art and culture etc. etc. are thought to naturally belong to this category, but it is strange how little natural sciences and mathematics figure in it. This is surely quite a universal state of affairs anywhere in the industrial world - you can be thought as a knowledgeable and highly educated person without having the faintest idea of the structure and nature of our physical universe. (That can, btw, only be described as strange beyond anyone's imagination - or I suppose it could be said that our Newtonian common sense experience is the strangely behaving anomaly here.)

Modern physics especially has me standing in pure awe (though I rarely admit to it). One could think that much of this wild and highly abstract theorizing is meaningless unless it were for the fact that time and time again theories have been proven correct after a practical, empiricial experiment has - often long after - become possible. I do claim primacy for our human sciences, but they too operate in the physical world: we should understand the sheer magical strangeness of it. (I would even argue that the humanities would be best positioned to give depth and meaning to these amazing findings, but they seem to lack both interest and capability of even beginning to explore these treasures.)

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