Seminars on Ignorance

Engineers, physicists, economists, psychologists achieve more, and with more zing, the more they are aware of their degree of ignorance — and of their potentials. I would like to conduct seminars to this effect, including current history and examples.
When my friend Henri Coanda, professor of physics at Sorbonne (Paris), flew his first jet into a barn door and just survived, Vannevar Bush, called our greatest scientist, pronounced, “Jet power will never be appreciably used, neither in military nor civilian aviation.” Professor Everett D. Howe and I built three plants on the principle of thermal difference between ocean surface water and deeper layers at University of California. Only plants of considerable size are economical and only if a few large cold water pipelines are used rather than several small ones, which would involve prohibitive friction losses. Reputable engineers, failing to acknowledge their ignorance of this, pronounce the method not feasible, having built plants with no regard for the mentioned condition. Professor Edgar Schieldrop of the Norwegian Institute of Technology used to say “Our so-called natural laws are crutches, to make us believe we understand what we don’t.” Einstein might have taught us. His theories are more advanced crutches.
In the field of economics, inability to see our ignorance causes tragedies. How many economists cling to the credo that employment and inflation must be ‘traded off’ according to that famous “Philip’s Curve?” (To cure inflation we must have unemployment!) this is rejected as flimsy fabrication by economists who have delved into this matter, Yale’s John H.G.Pierson, Harvard’s John Philip Wernette, the Truman administration’s Leon Keyserling, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ Seymour Harris. And there is John Maynard Keynes’ foreword to his famous book: “I have called this the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money … to contrast the character of my arguments…. with those of the classical theory upon which I was brought up…and which are applicable to a special case only ….the characteristics of which happen not to be those of the society in which we actually live…”
In the field of psychology Carl Jung warns, “If you really want to help your patient, forget all your science…”
The University of California considered helping their engineers by adding sociology, philosophy, psychology to the curriculum. Remarked Dr. Joe McCutchean, “I’d say it is a matter of attitude rather than adding subjects. The sociologists and psychologists who’d talk to our engineers would add their own limited syndrome.” He listed a number of teachers he thought had it, and those, he added, had not been exposed to the considered courses.
Professionals of all lines can be trained to acknowledge their ignorance — and potentials. This may be a first step to make us all generalists.
Bryn Beorse


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