in general

Came across this Feynman quote recently – which I can pretty much just ditto most of what he says, since it is usually on topics of interest to me and, of course he puts things much more eloquently than I – anyway, this one speaks, in a way, to my pet peeve about general education and the stereotype that technical people are not well-rounded.

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.” 

~ Richard P. Feynman

For the most part, it’s been my experience that technical people are interested in many topics, and want to know more about other fields besides their own. Sensitive to being seen as a nerd, I’ve heard expressions about wanting to know more about art, or literature, or general education topics. On the other hand, I’ve come across non-technical people who have minimal knowledge of math or science or all sorts of fascinating subjects, and are completely disinterested in learning anything of the sort. In fact there sometimes seems to be a sort of scorn for those topics. Or maybe it’s fear. I’m the first to admit there are things over my head, but one semester at the JC I was taking Calculus, Organic Chemistry, Physics and Political Science. The Poli Sci was for a general education requirement. One of the kids in that class was saying that was the hardest class he had that semester. Really? Oh nevermind.

True, most of the things on all of those lists you can get by in day-to-day life without knowing anything about, but why limit yourself? There is so much amazing stuff  (real stuff! don’t get me started about UFOs, zombies, conspiracy theories and the like) in the world to learn about, and like Dr. Feynman says, the more you know the more you appreciate how truly fantastic this place we call home is.

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