Respect for the Other is Too Often Missing
The July APS News
provided me with much food for thought on two very different issues. The Back Page
has a very impressive article: The “Violence of Our Knowledge: On Higher Education and Peace Making” by Parker J. Palmer. The following paragraph in this article gives the key to many problems:
“So what can we do about the violence of our knowledge? We don’t need to import a new culture to the academy. We need to reclaim the best of the culture in which we have always been rooted. For example, scholars at best always have respect for otherness, whether it comes to subatomic particles or people. If we could reclaim that simple epistemological principle that knowing requires respect, we could get a good start on reducing violence in the academy.”
But in earlier articles in the same APS News
we find the absence of respect for the other, creating unsolvable problems.
A small group of Palestinian and Israeli academics learned respect for the other in a public lecture in December 1982 by four Palestinian professors at a Weizmann Institute auditorium. Their simple message is the key to Mideast peace : “We don’t want to drive you into the sea; we don’t want you to drive us into the desert. We need a two-state solution with peace and mutual respect”. But “respect for the other” was not forthcoming from Israelis, who first dismissed them as naive young academics and ignored them as they rose to top positions as Ministers in their government and Presidents of top universities. Instead we find the flamboyant empty talk described in the article “Nobel Laureates Tackle Middle East Problems
The “respect for the other” that we have tried to introduce is simply missing. Without it there is not much hope for progress.
A completely different example in “This Month in Physics History
” states that “BCS theory was quickly accepted as correct”.
This reveals other aspects for the absence of respect for the other that has hurt the physics community.
BCS was not accepted so quickly. I spent a sabbatical year in 1958-59 at the University of Illinois at Urbana and saw BCS criticized as nonsense by people at the top of the establishment because it was not gauge invariant. That year Bardeen invited a young physicist, Phil Anderson, to give a colloquium in which he not only showed how to restore gauge invariance to BCS, he also introduced a new mechanism which is claimed to be the same as the Higgs mechanism later presented in particle physics. The absence of “respect for the other” in the way this physics was treated by the condensed matter and particle physics communities may have played an important role in the failure of the SSC accelerator to obtain congressional funding. Harry J. Lipkin Rehovot, Israel