RE: Popular(izing) Science

From: Barbara Lamar (
Date: Fri Feb 09 2001 - 23:02:20 MST

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of Damien Broderick

> At 10:35 PM 7/02/01 -0500, Josh Martin wrote:
> >I very much want to be a
> >popularizer...
> >How can I get there from here?

> Josh, I think it's primarily a matter of speaking/writing as clearly and
> entertainingly as possible...
>But the fundamental cultural problem is deeper and more wounding
> than the need for simplified Asimovian storytelling.

Culture = the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior
that depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to
succeeding generations (Webster's 9th Collegiate Dictionary)

I wonder if the communications-gap is a result of "knowledge, belief, and
behavior"--which we, as "natural" humans have the capacity to change--or if
it betrays a limitation of "man's capacity for learning and transmitting
knowledge." Perhaps the typical human mind is only capable of operating
according to one view of reality. The only way to overcome such a limitation
would be to change the way the mind functions.

In Damien's excerpt from THE ARCHITECTURE OF BABEL, he says:

>Still, surely the lay reader of literature (and even of
> much criticism)
> has a grasp of its meaning which vanishes when faced with B-splines and
> cyclic coordinate descent-based algorithms.

The lay reader of literature would likely understand most of the words,
true. But I'm not sure the average reader of literature comes away with any
clearer grasp of the writer's meaning than the average reader of a
scientific treatise.

Could the average writer of literature do a better job of explaining what
she's written than Feynman could do with his theories? Probably so with
respect to an audience of lay people.

I wonder whether this is because of a certain way the brain must function to
understand scientific concepts--and most people's brains don't function this
way regardless of training; or if it's because of the sort of training
scientists undergo.

Greg Burch recently commented that most scientists are not good at
communicating. I wonder if this is because of the sort of training they've
had, or if it's because the ability of a brain to function "scientifically"
precludes the ability to communicate well in the usual manner.

It's interesting to observe the composition of Internet communities. I think
this one is one of the few in which people from opposite poles of the
science - poet spectrum are attempting to communicate seriously about ideas.
Other groups, such as The Well and Brainstorms, have members from opposite
poles, but they seem to mostly form sub-groups where they talk among their
own kind. I'd like to take a look at any other groups where people are
attempting to bridge the communications gap. Does anyone know of others?



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