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Lawrence Krauss

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So, having spent the last two days talking about consequentialism and deontology and virtue, ethics, eudaimonia and human flourishing and well-being, you probably noticed that we're already running late. And therefore I'm worried about your well-being. So, if you feel moved, if you feel like we are intruding upon your flourishing at this point just raise your hands and let me know and I'll move people along a bit faster. This is Lawrence Krauss. Lawrence is the Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, department of Physics. But more importantly - for me, at least - he is the director of ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University. He's also chaired the board of sponsors of the bulletin of atomic scientists which is a very important place to be in this... dodgy nuclear times. So Lawrence is actually kind of a public intellectual as well as being the only physicist received the highest award of all three major US professional Physics societies. And today, the prolific author is clutching the advanced copy of his new book "Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science". This is Lawrence Krauss. Thank you. Thank you Roger for pointing out we're running over time just before i began to talk. I really appreciate that. I'm gonna depart from my tradition in a way. I'm not gonna have any pictures. I'm gonna have quotes. Partly because I'm on a stage with phillosophers and I wanted to appear scholarly. So... The quote I want to start with is from Jean Jacques Rosseau. Which really encompasses a lot of what we've been talking about in the context of the meeting that we've been having. It's a famous quote: "Man is born free, but he lives forever in chains". And normally that's interpreted to me that humans are born in some sense with free will but we have this social contract we grow up in a society in which we're constrained. I don't happen to think we have free will, by the way but what I wanna discuss is that the chains that we live in are indeed societal and in fact this is, in some sense, the heart of the debate that we've been having. Are we born free or, in some sense, is our morality determined by our biology and our evolution? Is our morality determined externally by the society in which we live? Those are key questions but I wanna try and take a different tack which is to argue that we're also constrained by the reality and that reality is only determinable by science. So I would argue, in fact, that not only can science help us tell right from wrong it's impossible to tell right from wrong without science. Because science informs us of what the real world is. And untill we know that, we can't make valuable consistent statements abou the world. Now, I'm gonna make some quotes from a book that was very influential for me, by Jacob Bronowski, called "Science and Human Values", 1956. It's a book that's so important that I actually plan to try to rewrite it after this next book I'm writing now. Bronoswki said that - this is one the quotes I particularly like - "Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides." And then he went on to say: "And this make-believe game might cost us what we value most: the human content of our lives. The world today is made, it is powered by science, and for any man to abdicate an interest in science is to walk with open eyes toward slavery." And the content I wanna say is not so much that science necessarily by determinig [that] neurophysiology can determine what is right or wrong, but the process of science is what has changed our values what will govern our values and what should govern our values. I wanna summarize basicly my points. Our moral decisions are constrained by our biology and the social contract. Both aspects of what... ... of what I put in the first slide. But we are rational beings. No consistent moral decision can be made without understanding the consequences of our actions. And science is the way we determine the consequences of our actions. It is the way to determine what is real and what is not. And therefore it is a necessary prerequisite to having a consistent moral philosophy. And rationality should be the basis of a consistent morality and there are many times when it isn't. One of the things that we've learned in actually meetings we've had associated with the Origins Project here, on human uniqueness and most recently on cultural evolutionary biology, is that there is maladaptive behavior. Humans behave irrationaly as groups. But what we've learned is that it's usually based on incomplete information about what is happening in the world around them. That with more complete information the maladaptive behavior would go away. I would also argue that concepts such as virtue - and, in fact, every perceived innate belief that we have - is meaningless except in the context of our experience and empirical reality. The two aspects that science reveals to us. And finally by science I don't mean, again, the science deriving and determining how humans behave but the scientific method of secular empiricism. I relate the two. Basically, secular empiricism, it seems to me, arose out of the scientific method. It is ludicrous to pretend that it hasn't affected our values. It has already colored our values. The values we have today are deffined because of 400 years of science. We would be low to deffine anyone as civilized whose ideas of justice and humanity have not evolved over the past 400 years, since science has changed the plain field of the human intelect. It's science - I would argue, and I think Simon may disagree - [that] underlies the Enlightment. And it has done so not because... well, because it works! That's the reason that we're here today. Science works. It has changed the world in an effective way. It's largely met, most people live better than they did 400 years ago. And because of that, our ideas of what is right or wrong are vastly different than they were 400 years ago. I'm sure maybe Steven Pinker will be talking about that to some extent. When we look out at societies that deny... that we think are backwards - and I'll pick one as fundamentalist Islam. We look at people who haved denied the reality of the world around them. They've turned the backs on science and we view them as uncivilized. And they've turned the backs on science... And part of the reason that there are problems are... is because by turning the backs on science they've departed from the modern world and don't have the benefits of modern technology which has put these societies with poverty and disorder. Now, what is real? I've just learned the other day one of my favourite quotes - which is now one of my favourite quotes - by one of my favourite authors, Phillip K. Dick, a science fiction author. He said: "Reallity is that which, when you stop believe in it, it's still there." I think that is really what science tell us. That whether we believe things or not, there's and external reality. And we have to learn to live with that. Bronowski put it in a different way: "What is truth?" "The sanction of experienced fact as a face of truth is a profound subject and the mainspring which has moved our civilization since the Renaissance. "The commom view remains the classical view that the concepts of value, justice, honor, dignity, and tolerance have an inwardness which is inacessible to experience. "The root of this error - as he put it in 1956 - goes down to the closed logic of the Middle Ages and had been formed into a system by Aquinas. "But it did not share the test of truth of modern Physics for there is a gap between the intuitive and the corrected concept." "For there that gap is gaping", as he put it. Science has thaught us that the world we think exists is not necessarily the way the world is. And we cannot have a consistent sense of reality without willing to force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality rather than the other way around. In fact, I wore this t-shirt not just 'cos I think it's dashing but because it was given to me by my best friend and it says: "2 plus 2 is 5 para valores extremamente grandes de 2." This is the point, you look at to 2 plus 2 is 5... we know 2 plus 2 isn't 5. But science has taught us: in fact, for the large numbers the world behaves very differently than we think it does. If we gonna have a consistent understanding of how it's suppose to behave, we have to understand that the world is different than our intuition necessarily projects. And science has been the only way to learn about that. The habit of truth, which science is all about, is... the best description I know of it is from Richard Feynman - who I'm very fond of because, of course, is the subject of my new book... "The only way to have real success in science is to describe the evidence very carefully, without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what's good about it and what's bad about it equally! In science, you learn a sort of standard, integrity and honesty. In fact, the ethos of science involves honesty, openmindness, creativity, anti-authoritarism, full disclosure. The basis of what I would've suggest is a moral society." Now... we had a session on science friday with much of this group and I'm afraid to ask but how can you convince people when they have strongly held beliefs? I don't know if I used this quote but it's one of my favorite quotes: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." I'm an educator but I happened to believe from a great deal of political experience that when you actually provide better information people make better decisions. And education is the basis of a more consistent and just moral society. Let me give you in the last two slides some examples. Stem cells are a big issue, certo? And there're big debate. But there're certain facts that if you don't understand them you cannot make sensible moral decisions. Blastocysts, which are the things people work with, are not fully functionig embryos. Are not gonna turn into human beings. The embryos destroyed in stem cell research are not gonna be... are gonna be destroyed anyway. They're not gonna be used for reproduction. They are largely donated for research purpuses, they're in storage, and they're just gonna be thrown away. And finally, one of the big misconceptions that the Catholic Church suffers under is that there's a moment of conception. There is no moment of conception. I have been gone to in vitro fetilization clinics. I was amazed to see the incredible number of steps, starting from what we call the fertilization process to a fully functioning embryo, and every single one of them is as important as the one before. There's no moment where you can see... where you can suddenly define a living being there. It's a continuos process. It's not a moment. And you have to recognize that if you wanna ask and make sensible moral decisions about whether you believe stem cell research should be funded. Seemingly burqas. I thought Sam might talk about it but he said and I agree with him that, it seems to me, putting a woman in a bag it's not a good thing. But I also think you can actualy ask scientific questions that are answerble, that can allow you to realize that it may not be a good thing. You can ask the question: are women safer and less subject to sexual violence and intimidation if they're covered that way? I suspect the answer is no. But it's a question you can ask and study. You can ask: is her sense of self-worth improved by going into those societies? You can ask: are they freer to manifest their capabilities as human beings? Those are scientific questions one can ask and answer and they should inform our morality. In conclusion... I would say that the science's habit of self correction as a part of a continued effort to get a better handle on thruth promotes a set of values that is essential to the moral health of a modern democracy. No society, no group of humans can successfully adress the chalenges associated with promoting peace, happiness and harmony without learning from experience what these chalenges actually are and what the alternatives are for dealing with them. There is no inner, innate guidebook to deal with global warming terrorism, AIDS, or even love or murder. Because these chalenges arise from a constantly changing world that only empirical investigation using the methods of science can uncover. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 58 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 142
Posted by: junio on Dec 5, 2010


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