SCIENCE, Vol. 149, p. 584
6 August, 1965
I wish to explore two interrelated, disturbing attitudes which were exhibited by most of the authors quoted in the collective appeal, "Purposes of high energy physics" (26 Mar., p. 1548). These authors, all leading theoretieal physicists, reveal a narrow view of the relation of the intelleetual and practical contributions of modern physies to the foundations of other parts of science, to our society, and to our culture in general, and it could be intellectually (and ultimately technologieally and socially) debilitating were such attitudes inculcated in future generations of physicists or nonphysicists. And in their "remarkably unanimous plea for support for high energy physics and for the construction of much more powerful particle accelerators" they completely fail to give attention to the kinds of evaluation that policy makers should have available when they must weigh the physicists' values against the values of other segments of our society. They therefore innocently encourage the kinds of political decision-making that have led to disproportionate support of such "scientific" undertakings as the Apollo project.
"The world view of the physicist sets the style of the technology and the culture of the society and gives direction to future progress," says Schwinger. "But I believe that particle physics deserves the greatest support among all branches of our science beeause it gives the most fundamental insights.... [T]his is indeed the most basic field of knowledge in the physical world," says Bethe. "If we cut back on [high energy physics] for reasons of budgetary limitations or political squabbling, I think we will have seriously damaged the best single element we have contributed to human culture," says Feinberg. "A great society is ultimately known for the monuments it leaves for later generations. .... [S]uch a machine will without question be a souree of inspiration for new science and a monument to our days," says Pais. It seems fantastic that these physicists should ask the scientific community and the American people to underwrite a billion-dollar project with such flimsy metaphysical arguments as these.
Weisskopf properly argues the importance of "intensive" research (research associated with those fundamentals of ordering and classification that can lead to the discovery of fundnmental laws of nature) as the necessary base for "extensive" research ("the explanation of phenomena in terms of known fundamental laws"). In his judgment, "High-energy physics and a good part of nuclear physics are inlensive" biology is "perhaps" extensive. "It is granted that further progress, say in biology or in solid state physics, is possible without any further research into the subnuclear field. But let there be no doubt that thc style of the scientific community would change its character if the frontier of intensive research were hampered . . ." (italics mine). Such exuberance may be understood in terms of the impact of our recent feast of "elementary" particles and quasars. This has brought an end to that relative famine of observational stimuli to further "intensive" research in physics which followed the successes of quantum mechanics and electrodynamics (1926 - 1950). That the famine was not science-wide has, however, been apparent to at least one renowned theorelical physicist (1). It needs also to be said that, although in principle quantum mechanics and electrodynamics permit the solution of most microscopic and macroscopic problems of chemistry and biology, there are formidable computational barriers to a solution in even so simple a systcm as the three-body problem (2). This points up the fact that most fundamental progress in biology has been and must continue to be of the same "intensive" kind as at present enchants the high-energy specialists in this latest renaissance in the physics of the elementary particles. Darwinian evolutionary theory and evolutionary taxonomy, Mendelian inheritance, the rules of chromosomal inheritance, the Watson-Crick model of DNA, the genetic code, and non-chromosomal genetics (3) are all of the same genre as SU-3 symmetry, which Bethe so feelingly describes. And I choose these particular examples of biological concepts&emdash;which have set, are setting, and will set "the style of the scientific community" and of "the culture of the society" at least as strikingly as any contributions of high-energy physics&emdash; because they developed virtually independently of any contributions from the fundamental "intensive" researches into the physics of matter or cosmology. In fact, it could be argued that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot. For example, it appears that Darwin's "most wonderful mechanical theory" explaining natural processes (those of evolution) in statistical terms provided an important stimulus for Boltzmann's development of the statistical formulatipn of the second; law of thermodynamics, which led to the birth of statistical mechanics (4).
It seems to me highly undesirable, at this juncture in history, to foster attitudes in and of science which would give any significant primacy to the study of matter over the study of life (or conversely, perhaps, of life over matter). But in a dollar-conscious culture, the investment in a 1012-electronvolt alternating-gradient synchrotron, like the investment in the Apollo project, will necessarily encourage attitudes among our youth which must have exactly this effect.
Congressional largess is not unlimited, and without any doubt expenditures on high-energy physics and space will necessarily limit expenditures elsewhere in science&emdash;as well as outside science. The decision to spend or not to spend requires an evaluation of the "purposes of high-energy physics" relative to other possible expenditures. "By ignoring this question, we have been trying to escape to science as an endless frontier, and to turn our backs on the more difficult problems that it has produced" (5). Some standard or standards of value (and taste) must and will be used, and just which those will be should be of considerable concern to us all. Since "it seems that all sciences are considered by their professors, as equally significant" (5), cultural relativists often argue that all deserve equal dollar support. However, those who are persuaded by the kind of naturalism which measures ethical value by biological adaptive-value, as well as pragmatists and even Puritan utilitarianists (6)&emdash;and their combined numbers in our tax-supported democracy are legion&emdash;are not likely to accept this kind of position. "Accordingly, we need to consider not only the practical relation of scientific institutions to the economy and government, but also the theoreticai relation of science to political values, and to the principles that are the foundation of the constitutional system" (5). The financing of the as yet meagerly supported "extensive" and "intensive" scientific studies re1ated to the population explosion and increasing longevity; the future evolution of man (7); the potential impact of computers on technology, on employment, and on the resulting complex of problems involving leisure, nurture, and human nature (8); and the problems of our plundered planet vis-à-vis energy reserves, fresh water supplies, and natural resources in general might well be placed far ahead of a 10l2-electron-volt AGS and the Apollo project, if all these problems were adequately examined in the public arena.
It is about time that the scientific community and our society as a whole face up to this kind of policy problem and discuss it out in the open. I and others have different billion-dollar (8) as well as thousand-dollar programs that must necessarily compete with those of the high-energy physicists, and all of these must be judged not only on their so-called "individual merits" but in competition with all other demands on our national resources, both economic and intellectual.
Cell Research Laboratory, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York 10029
References and Notes
1. For example, as recentty as 1947 Herman Weyl said, "In our survey of the formation of concepts and theories by science . . . we saw how casual analysis proper is preceded by ordering and classification . . . [T]his preliminary stage that still plays a major role in biology . . . has become of subordinate importance in physics" [Phllosophy ot Mathematics and Nalural Science (Atheneum, New York, 1963), appendix].
2. Even the most sophisticated computers now under design seem to hold no promise for an "exact" solution to the three-body prohlem. See atso the discussions of "Does quantum mechanlcs exclude life?" by E.P Wigner and P. T. Landsberg. Nature 205. 1307 (1965), andP. T. Landsberg. ibid, 203, 928 (1964).
3. R. Sager and Z. Ramanis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 53, 1053 (1965).
4. L.Boltzmann, Almanach .Akad. Wsis. Wien 36, 225 (1886); Populare Schriften (Barth, Leipzig, 1925). p. 314.
5. D. K. Price, Science 148, 743 (1965).
6. D. G. Barry, ibid.. 147, 1524 (1965).
7. See T. Dobzhansky, Mankind Evolving (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1962), and G. Hardin, Science 144, 1531 (1964).
8 . L. Ornstein. J. Mt. Stnal Hosp. 32, 437 (1965).