Symposium Abstract

Science is nowadays largely accepted as the highest form of objective , neutral and trustable knowledge. This is not only a popular belief, but also a conviction of the vast majority of  scientists, who consider Science as an essence existing independently of their work. Indeed, the same properties of the Nature itself, namely a pre-existing reality, are attributed to the study of Nature, regardless of the scientific praxis.

Yet our knowledge about Nature is in fact strongly conditioned by the choices that have been taken, over time, by the men and women who developed it. Such choices are deeply intertwined with fundamental philosophical problems, like the different methodological positions, as well as with the circumstantial human conditions . These human conditions are all the historical, social, political, economical and even personal factors that are interposed, as a filter, between Nature and the accepted Science that we can find in the books. „It is of some interest that what is usually called ’scientific objectivity‘ is based, to some extent, on social institutions“, according to Popper [1]. Further, one can infer that science is merely the human knowledge of Nature.

Obviously, to shed light on these different aspects of Science, genuine inspection of its contents, its interpretations and its methodology is required. Nevertheless, as B. D’Espagnat put it, „most contemporary physicists are much too busy to really think, and consequently they tend to consider  genuine thinking as quite an obsolete activity.“ [2]

Therefore, it is necessary to develop a critical analysis of current Science to gain an awareness of it as the product of an enormously complex set of choices, which led to a present scientific paradigm that is just one of the many possible alternatives. Moreover, most of university degree programs in scientific disciplines do not offer any courses concerning either philosophical foundations or social-historical contextualisation of science. Such kind of interests are, in the scientific community, generally discouraged and considered futile, almost a hobby. The words of A.J.Woodall appear still modern, when he states that „many imaginative and intelligent pupils must in the past have been repelled from science, and especially from physics, because the material presented to them seemed to be cut and dried and devoid of human interest.“ [3]

Hence, a group of students in physics proposes the symposium Shut up and Contemplate! , the title of which is an explicit provocation, referring to the expression “Shut up and Calculate”, [4] which became the framework of the Cold War scientific research. The aim of the initiative is thus to provide a small contribution towards a reconciliation between the modern scientific praxis and the role of fundamental, philosophical and historical questions within Science, hoping that this could help to pave the way to a deeper and interdisciplinary comprehension, employing a more critical approach to the study of Nature.

[1] Popper, K. R. (1957). Poverty of historicism . Edition Beacon Press, USA

[2] D’Espagnat, B. (2002). In Quantum [Un]speakables , Bertlmann R. and Zeilinger A. (eds.) p. 23

[3] Woodall, A.J. (1967). “Science history – the place of the history of science in science teaching”. Physics Education , 2, 297-305., p.297

[4] See Mermin N. D. (2004). “Could Feynman have said this?”. Physics Today 57(May): 10, 11.