28 February, 2012

Smartly dumb or dumbly smart

Launched from Canada by Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammed, the world's first Legomonaut has appeared on the galactic stage.

With the use of helium ballons, this robopilot experienced the stratosphere for a highschool project to test the skills of low-budget technology. And it was an achievement in terms of logical application of basic physics by two teenagers.

Such newsworthy material highlights that small things done in a big way can be illuminating, provocative and liberating to the imagination. Note however, that this experiment was based upon exhaustive trials and the application of intellectual rigor. One cannot overemphasise the importance of intelligence, nor the need for schooling to develop that training. Albeit we are eager to lambast the education system that develops scholars who are more adept at passing exams than the ability to be critical thinkers, there is still an urgent need for having a deep understanding of science, literature and philosophy before undertaking any important experiments in science or art.

Many people quote, as an example, how Einstein successfully develop his theory of relativity without any formal education. Well, unfortunately, this was proven to be a hoax. Alfred Einstein in fact had a PhD from the University of Munich in 1905. Adept at marketing, he was quick to tell everyone how uneducated and lacking in dress and social skills he was, raising people's sympathies for his eccentric ideas and lifestyle. Arguably he was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, second only to Nikola Tesla, who was more an inventor than theoretician. As a result of his clever marketing, Einstein quickly became known as the smartest dumb person on the planet. How this marketing fits in with social theory is that it leads the 'common man' to think that 'were I not so overworked and over committed, I too could be like him.'

What most do not realise is that few are born with talent, and of the few that are, even fewer desire to make a change for the better, to implement their skills in the service of others. Artists are perhaps the most guilty of using their skills base for less than selfless reasons. As George Orwell once lamented: 'All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.'

The artist, who is the right-sided mirror of the left-sided scientist, channels their energies into works that are merely a reflection of an inner universe which they perceive as an altered reality. not dissimilar to what scientists do when they study the universe and attempt to verify the outer universe as a reflection of an inner theory they have constructed or construed to be true. We have to be very careful at worshipping both art and science despite them being the only valid truths we have currently to work with. Extreme scientific scepticism and fanatical religious dogmatism are two sides of the same coin. As Neal Maxwell remarked, 'It is so easy to be confrontive without being informative; indignant without being intelligent, impulsive without being insightful.'

Let us being open to the young, whose art and science have begun to 'occupy' the paradigm of what we consider facts in both science and art. Though they may be revolutionary, pugilistic and confronting, it does not negate from their contribution to society.