I had dinner last week with Greg Monge, the guy who turned me on to Jon Haidt, an event that was a turning point in my intellectual journey. We chatted about life and ideology, and we solved the world’s problems.
We observed during the conversation that some of the most influential existential thinkers were natural scientists.
Albert Einstein observed that the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant, and that we have created a society that worships the servant and has forgotten the gift. His work taught him of the near impossibility of deducing first principles from vast collections of data, and gave him the confidence to trust in the flashes of insight that come from our intuitions about things. This led to his theory of relativity. Carl Sagan recommended that the Voyager spacecraft face backward toward earth as it exited the solar system and take a picture. The Pale Blue Dot image became one of the most meaningful of the entire program because of the perspective it offered about the nature of our existence and our place in the universe.
I thought Greg’s answer was brilliant so I thought I’d pass it along. Greg is an aerospace engineer. I’m a mechanical engineer. I mention this not as self-congratulation (you’ll see in a moment why I say that) but rather because our common background allowed me to grasp and identify with what he said.
The study of the hard sciences is a long, repetitive, process of finding out that your intuitions about the way the world works are wrong, and in ways you could not have imagined. Having your intuitions busted, again and again, opens the imagination to possibilities in a way the humanities just can’t access. I may be exaggerating, but it seems like the study of the humanities and social sciences stays safely inside the bubble of innate moral intuitions. One’s world is never rocked by mind-blowing ideas that one never would have thought of on one’s own. Rather, study ends up narrowing the mind through an equally long, equally repetitive process of confirmation bias. What you end up with is the problems described in Political Diversity Will Improve Psychological Social Science.
Only it’s not really political diversity per se that’s the issue. It’s diversity of cognitive style. It’s now WHAT we think that divides us, it’s HOW we think.