It is often claimed that knowledge multiplies so rapidly that nobody can follow it. I believe this is incorrect. At least in science it is not true. The main purpose of science is simplicity and as we understand more things, everything is becoming simpler. This, of course, goes contrary to what everyone accepts.
Today, nothing is unusual about a scientific discovery's being followed soon after by a technical application: The discovery of electrons led to electronics; fission led to nuclear energy. But before the 1880's, science played almost no role in the advances of technology. For example, James Watt developed the first efficient steam engine long before science established the equivalence between mechanical heat and energy.
Knowing he [Bob Serber] was going to the [first atom bomb] test, I asked him how he planned to deal with the danger of rattlesnakes. He said, 'I'll take along a bottle of whiskey.' … I ended by asking, 'What would you do about those possibilities [of what unknown phenomena might cause a nuclear explosion to propagate in the atmosphere]?' Bob replied, 'Take a second bottle of whiskey.
On May 7, a few weeks after the accident at Three-Mile Island, I was in Washington. I was there to refute some of that propaganda that Ralph Nader, Jane Fonda and their kind are spewing to the news media in their attempt to frighten people away from nuclear power. I am 71 years old, and I was working 20 hours a day. The strain was too much. The next day, I suffered a heart attack. You might say that I was the only one whose health was affected by that reactor near Harrisburg. No, that would be wrong. It was... Read more »
In the history of physics, there have been three great revolutions in thought that first seemed absurd yet proved to be true. The first proposed that the earth, instead of being stationary, was moving around at a great and variable speed in a universe that is much bigger than it appears to our immediate perception. That proposal, I believe, was first made by Aristarchos two millenia ago ... Remarkably enough, the name Aristarchos in Greek means best beginning.
By having simplified what is known, physicists have been led into realms which as yet are anything but simple. That at some time, they, too, will appear as simple consequences of a theory of which no one has yet dreamed is not a statement of fact.It is a statement of faith.
The scientist is not responsible for the laws of nature. It is his job to find out how these laws operate. It is the scientist's job to find the ways in which these laws can serve the human will. However, it is not the scientist's job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used. This responsibility rests with the American people and with their chosen representatives.