Personal Experience Of Science
Born as I was into the immediate post-war generation, my thinking on science parallels in many ways the generation as a whole. We came along in the aftermath of the first scientific war – fought between countries with, in many ways, highly-developed technologies, which served to both fuel and end the conflict (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein, 1999, cited in Schneider, Grunman & Coutts, 2005). But then came the first inklings that there was both more and less to science than shiny new machines, even killing machines. The social experiments of Milgram (1965) and the cold behaviorism of Skinner (Operant Conditioning, 2007) surfaced into the popular consciousness, and arguably fueled the lingering revulsion over the part science played in the recent conflict. The increasing reach of television, and the growing immediacy of the vision of the world that this gave, may have contributed to a growing sense of a complexity beyond the immediate post-war world, of a sense that there was something more to be had than the rational present. Such complexity bred a wish for simpler solutions, smaller havens and understandable solutions (Brehm et al., ibid). And there began the long flight from rationalism, from theory into pragmatics (Omer & Dar, 1992, cited in Dar, Serlin, & Omer, 1994) where personal experience and feelings took center stage and evidence took the rear.
My personal attitudes towards science echoed in many ways that process above, beginning by wishing to be a hard-scientist but drifting slowly towards the humanities, while retaining some of my respect for the perceived qualities of hard science. I had first wanted to be a nuclear physicist, enthralled as I was by the dual influence of “How It Works” and “Astounding Stories.” But by early teens much had happened around me. I was subject to my own unresolved stresses and conflicts at home and school, and in the larger world outside, upheavals and social revolutions were taking flight. At 15 I was hearing about “arts laboratories” that united the arts under one multi-disciplinary roof, and I dreamed of starting one of my own. At 16 the Vietnam war was at its height, even drawing popular protest across the other side of the world in the UK, even amongst youngsters such as myself. As I walked to school for my SAT equivalent at 16, the “Events” of Paris 1968 were uniting workers and students in an alliance against a stale, unfeeling modern state (Lebel, 1969).
Caught up in those currents, suddenly my ideas of designing small nuclear power plants seemed irrelevant, my own local injustices somehow smaller, and the bruises less painful. When finally all those pressures became too much to bear, and I ran away from home towards little more than a vision, leaving science behind and abandoning it as a future seemed a small price to pay. There was no social kudos for geeks and nerds in those days, and anyway I wanted to write, become famous, and have fun. It was many years before my...