Friday, June 18, 2010

Intellectual curiosity

I think a lot of people are frightened off trying to understand important aspects of the world by the unfortunate culture of science and especially mathematics which tends to be competitive and exclusive, valuing virtuosity above understanding. So those who had a bad experience of mathematics and science at school often tend to restrict their intellectual curiosity to areas within their comfort zones. The trouble is, one can't really have a good understanding of the natural world and our place within it without some mathematics and basic science - or at least a willingness to be introduced to some basic concepts.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that people with no knowledge of science and mathematics can't have a deep and subtle understanding of the social world - the immensely complex world of human drama and pathos and striving and failing and loving and hating. Of course they can and do, and this is arguably the most important reality. In fact, the mathematically inclined are often socially blind.

Nonetheless I think it's good to be open to all aspects of reality. I once studied - and found wanting - a mid-17th century poet who, despite his prodigious learning and cleverness, was entirely ignorant of the discoveries that Galileo had made 40 years earlier when he turned his telescope on the night sky and helped to confirm the Copernican (sun-centered) view of the solar system.