The Sciences

New Symphony of Science: Wave of Reason

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitNov 23, 2010 12:00 PM


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John Boswell, a musician from Washington State, is famous on the web for creating the Symphony of Science -- musically autotuned talks by scientists and skeptics discussing the nature of science, reality, and wonder. These are impossibly catchy videos, worth watching over and again. The first, featuring Carl Sagan, was called A Glorious Dawn, and was simply amazing. It quickly went viral, becoming huge on the web. John has just released his seventh in the SoS series, called A Wave of Reason, and like all of them is profound and lovely. And you may recognize one or two of the people in it... So yeah, that's me at about 1:26, saying "Teach a man to reason and he'll think for a lifetime." It's from my "Don't Be A Dick" speech that I gave at TAM 8, and I think it's worth putting it into context. Here's some more from that part of the speech (starting at about ten minutes in):

Let me ask you this... what is the goal of the skeptical critical thinking movement? Now, the answer may be different for everyone. For somebody it might be the abolishment of quack medicine, it might be the eventual removal of all religious influence on life. You might have some specific examples. Sometimes I wonder, are these reasonable goals? Can we really remove specific examples of pseudoscience? They usually disappear on their own time. But can it really be done? I'm not sure. Like I said earlier, our brains don't work that way. You remove one bit of this sort of thing and something else just comes in to fill the space. I'm also of the "teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime" sort of thought. My goal is not to get rid of antiscience per se. It's to help people walk away from it themselves. To teach them how to think, and to give them the ability to use reason when thinking something through. I think that the overarching goal of the movement we're a part of is to attain a rational, reasonable world. Not one without emotion, not one without passion -- that's a fallacy that we're like that. Clearly, clearly we experience love and joy like everyone else. It's just a world that likes reality the way it is. In other words: Teach a man to reason and he'll think for a lifetime.

So that line was paraphrasing the old saying. I'm glad John liked it enough to use it. And let me say how honored I am to be a part of this magnificent effort, and to be included with the likes of Sagan, Feynman, and my friends James Randi, Michael Shermer and Carolyn Porco. One of the things I love about these songs is their positive message; they don't berate the ideas we oppose, they glorify the ideas we support and the feelings we have. And it just goes to show you that everyone who feels this way about science and nature all have these thoughts, and while we may not agree on the details, I expect that the sense of awe and wonder, what Sagan referred to as "the numinous" in his book Contact, is something we all share.

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