Sunshine Recorder

Link: The Mind of Robert Oppenheimer by Bertrand Russell (1955)

This collection of eight lectures is interesting from two different points of view. On the one hand, Dr. Oppenheimer is one of the few men who know all about nuclear weapons both from the scientific and from the governmental point of view. This gives weight to everything that he has to say on world affairs. But there is another point of view which has become important owing to the action of the authorities. Since Dr. Oppenheimer was refused security clearance his personality, his character and his outlook have become matters of public interest. I am quite unable to see how any candid person who has read this book and the evidence upon which the adverse verdict was based can fail to be convinced that that verdict was mistaken and resulted (to take the most favorable hypothesis) from a lack of comprehension of a very sensitive character accustomed, as all men of science should be, to the balancing of conflicting hypotheses. A policeman may say: “We do not want men who balance hypotheses. We want men of firm and unshakable convictions on the side of the Right. The open mind, forsooth! Can it be a virtue to have an open mind between right and wrong?” This outlook is common, and in a police force perhaps inevitable, but it is not that of men who are successful in scientific investigation. If the authorities insist upon employing only those whose orthodoxy is more impeccable than that of simpler men in the scientific preparation of nuclear weapons, they will do infinite damage to their country by excluding all men of first-rate scientific ability.

…There is an interesting lecture called “Scientists in Society.” Dr. Oppenheimer is struck by the incredible scientific ignorance of historians, statesmen and men of affairs. He poses, without solving, a curious problem of the modern world. The men whose activities have been transforming human life are the men of science, but it is not they who have power in the sense of being able to give orders. Statesmen, captains of industry, generals, bureaucrats, and clerics can determine what shall be done, but the means of doing it are supplied by science, of which these eminent men understand nothing. The scientist is in the position of a Greek slave in Imperial Rome. He knows that he understands a host of important things which are completely unknown to his masters. This gives him a very painful feeling of isolation in the community. Perhaps in time it will become possible to make some of the fundamental ideas of science intelligible in the course of a cultural education and, conversely, to give more cultural background to the thoughts of scientists. The present system under which some men have the power and others have the knowledge is very dangerous. If it could be amended by a lesser degree of specialization in education, the risk of disaster to civilized ways of life might be much lessened.

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