Young heretics and pioneering spirits

As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen. I will be telling stories that challenge the prevailing dogmas of today. The prevailing dogmas may be right, but they still need to be challenged. I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies. Since I am heretic, I am accustomed to being in the minority. If I could persuade everyone to agree with me, I would not be a heretic.

We are lucky that we can be heretics today without any danger of being burned at the stake. But unfortunately I am an old heretic. Old heretics do not cut much ice. When you hear an old heretic talking, you can always say, “Too bad he has lost his marbles”, and pass on. What the world needs is young heretics. I am hoping that one or two of the people who read this piece may fill that role.

The paragraphs above are taken from Freeman Dyson’s latest book, A Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe.

I haven’t read through it yet, in fact I’ve only just ordered the book. What you see above is courtesy of, a place I visit frequently.

Not everyone agrees with “heretics”, particularly the kind of heretic referred to by Freeman. I had the privilege of meeting him at the inaugural Flight School some years ago, where he spoke prior to dinner. Hearing him speak about how scientists like him perceived atomic energy and its use in space travel in the 1940s was very instructive. What he brought alive was the pioneering spirit that keeps any scientist going, a spirit that is sadly lacking in much that we do today. Neither heretics nor pioneering spirits do well in risk-averse cultures.

By now people must be publishing doctoral theses on the meaning and ambience and culture of Web 2.0; so much has been said and written about it that I hesitate to add anything at all. What I will say is that Web 2.0 is about young heretics, and about a pioneering spirit. Which is why an old fogey like me finds it all so very interesting.

I look forward to reading the book.

Let me know what you think

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