Because I keep misplacing the quotation, I thought this blog would be a good place to drop a bit of graffiti. It is one of the most profound things I have ever read.
"Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly."
- Stewart Brand, Cofounder of GBN and the Long Now Foundation. Founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Whole Earth Review; founder of The WELL computer teleconferencing system; author of The Clock of the Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab.
That's quite a resume.
Somewhat more obscure, but perhaps just as profound, is a bit of graffiti from an overpass in Portland, OR, once accompanied by a doodle of Kilroy peeking over a wall, but now long painted over: "God licked my brain, Ho-Ha!" Something to ponder.
As long as I am at it, I will throw down another bit of brilliant, profound graffiti, this one from the blackboard in Richard Feynman's office; "What I cannot create I do not understand." He probably meant this in terms of theory and calculation. Feyman made it a point to be able to reproduce calculations from first principles. But for me it holds a somewhat different significance, quite well captured in Oliver Morton's recent Wired article on Synthetic Biology as;
"In a nutshell...the scientific case for synthetic biology. To many scientists, the field's real appeal is that it provides a new way to unlock the mysteries of biology. Trying to do the things that nature does - say, orchestrating the interactions of genes and proteins triggered by some external event - is a way to discover fundamental principles that govern living systems."
There is a certain tension for me between "science is the only news" and "understanding through creation". I suppose it is primarily a cultural thing, having been "brought up" professionally in academic physics departments, where engineering is a dirty word. But there is some truth in the observation that many engineers aren't so concerned with fundamental principles; they prefer to build cool stuff. And don't get me wrong -- without that cool stuff we would still be living in caves. In the end, I suppose, the test of understanding as the ability to create something that behaves the way you expect is a difficult one, and much more stringent than simply telling a story consistent with the data. Creation the only way to go if you want to change the world.