Theoretical pragmatism...

Discussion in 'General Science' started by cmartinez, Mar 29, 2015.

  1. cmartinez

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    A good friend of mine in this forum (and I'm not saying names... only that he comes after eleven, and arrives just before thirteen :p) takes pride in his pragmatic approach to life... Well, there's nothing wrong with that, of course. In fact I think is something to be admired.

    But this is the other side of the coin:
    As the mission controllers erupted around me, one of my tweets attracted a sternly-worded demand to know how anyone would benefit from this venture to a distant and icy rock.
    "What good," I was asked, "might any knowledge that it might obtain do for mankind?"


    I also recently had a small discussion with @WBahn about how big leaps in science and technology are normally achieved into many smaller steps through history, I'm pretty sure he'll enjoy reading it too. Also, maybe @jpanhalt and @GopherT will also think it's worth the time reading it.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-32087787

    It's not a long article, and the punchline is in the last paragraph.
     
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  2. jpanhalt

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    I agree.

    In my much younger years, I was accused by my department chairman of being too far out and impractical. Time has shown differently. Contrary to the head of the USPTO office many years ago who suggested that it close, because "everything that could be invented had been invented," knowledge is perpetual. No one knows where it will lead.

    John
     
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  3. WBahn

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    I have no problem with basic research at all. But dismissing questions about the value and cost of basic research on the basis that it always has the potential to yield benefits in unforeseeable ways is irresponsible. By that reasoning, we should have built the LHC even if it had cost 4 trillion pounds instead of 4 billion. After all, it MIGHT produce something that would eventually justify that cost.

    Basic research deserves a place at the table and a share of the pie. But so do lots of other needs/concerns/causes/priorities and each needs to be weighed, both in the short-term and the long-term, against the others.

    The last paragraph suffers from a common fallacy -- that if all the money that was spent on CERN hadn't been spent, that the WWW, or a suitable substitute, simply would not have, and never would have, been developed. The motivation to effectively share data did not exist only within the scientific community involved with CERN. There's a common saying that when it's time to locomotive, you'll locomotive. Throughout history we have seen numerous examples of sophisticated inventions and advances, both theoretical and practical, being developed simultaneously and independently.
     
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  4. cmartinez

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    You just reminded me of a column in Scientific American that I miss very much. It was called Connections.
     
  5. studiot

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    Thank you c martinez, your threads often introduce excellent and worthwhile points for discussion and this is no exception, especially when you consider what is at stake.

    Some thoughts.

    When I was young I was full of the space race - sputniks, the moonshots and so on.
    We were discussing the "Is it worth it?" question
    I said to my brother "Look at all the spin-off" (some as mentioned on the Beeb).
    He replied
    "But if the same amount of money was devoted to say, improving agriculture, we would still have spin-off - different spin-off but still technologically progressive spin-off - and we we be better able to feed the growing world population."

    WBahn is right in his summary sentence, which amounts to the old adage.

    There is a time and a place for everything.

    A further thought.

    In the UK we have spent billions of £ and many decades developing all sorts of research establishments, some basic some not.
    But we are now busy throwing it all away for the sake of conformity to the latest political ideologies.

    Which is a worse sin

    To spend the money on frivolity or fun (with the potential for something serious)

    or

    To throw away all the results of what you have achieved when you have spent that money?
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
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  6. BR-549

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    I agree with your post title.

    Pragmatism is only a theory now.

    A sure-fire way to confound a smart man?

    Be simple.
     
  7. #12

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    One thing I would like to correct. It is not my pride to be pragmatic, it is my nature.
     
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  8. cmartinez

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    I guess that makes you proudly practical by nature... ;)
     
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  9. #12

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    and I guess you are merely bored today.

    I try not to indulge in the seven deadly sins. I was never taught to be prideful.
    Sometimes I fail at that, but nature is just a fact, nothing to get emotional about.
     
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  10. cmartinez

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    I'm not bored... I'm procrastinating... it's a very bad, nasty habit of mine that I still need to learn how to control... But that's a subject for a different thread...
     
  11. cmartinez

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    Here's a fine example of pure theoretical research reaching a practical purpose, it's how polio has been re-engineered to battle cancer.
    In the field of molecular biology, of course, it's very easy to foresee practical applications.
     
  12. cmartinez

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    The Large Hadron Collider has been restarted... I wonder what practical knowledge will (eventually) be learned from it.
    Still, it's a fascinating machine all the same.
     
  13. cmartinez

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    And this is a very interesting note on how they fixed a short circuit caused by a small piece of debris.

    "Maybe the safest mechanism would have been to warm up the machine and go in there and clean it out - but that would have been a very long process," Dr Collier said.
    So instead they tried something new: passing nearly 400 amps of current directly through the short circuit, for just a few milliseconds - "in the same way you would blow a fuse".
     
  14. nsaspook

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    That's not new, that's trick has been used for ages.
    It's something we do when a small flake shorts an electrode in a large chamber that would take days to re-qualify for process operation. We have a old variac and big step-down filament transformer with a current meter connected to the vacuum feed-thru and the grounding strap. We can usually burn the direct short and then use the normal HV supply to hi-pot it back to normal voltage operation a few times before it welds solid. It's usually not something that goes into the managers maintenance report for that equipment.;)
     
  15. cmartinez

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    And it's also something normally NOT reported when it's applied to a multi-billion dollar machine...
     
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