I came from the kind of Poor that people don't want to believe still exists in this country. Have you ever spent a frigid northern Illinois winter without heat or running water?
Staying on the subject of Dark Age myths: Historical consensus declares this a myth invented by New Atheists. The Church was a great patron of science, no one believed in a flat earth, Galileo had it coming, et cetera.
Roger Bacon was a thirteenth century friar who made discoveries in mathematics, optics, and astronomy, and who was the first Westerner to research gunpowder.
It seems though records are unclear that he was accused of heresy and died under house arrest. But this may have been because of his interest in weird prophecies, not because of his scientific researches. Michael Servetus was a sixteenth-century anatomist who made some early discoveries about the circulatory and nervous system.
But this was because of his heretical opinions on the Trinity, and not for any of his anatomical discoveries. City authorities arrested him for blasphemy, cut out his tongue, strangled him, and burned his body at the stake. He was arrested by the Inquisition and accused of consorting with the Devil.
He died before a verdict was reached, but the Inquisition finished the trial, found him guilty, and ordered his corpse burnt at the stake.
He was accused of consorting with the Devil because he was kind of consorting with the Devil — pretty much everyone including modern historians agree that he was super into occultism and wrote a bunch of grimoires and magical texts. He also believed in heliocentrism, and promoted originated?
He was arrested, tortured, and burned at the stake. Scientists got in trouble for controversial views on non-scientific subjects like prophecies or the Trinity, or for political missteps.
Scott Aaronson writes about the the Kolmogorov option suggested alternate title: Mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov lived in the Soviet Union at a time when true freedom of thought was impossible.
He reacted by saying whatever the Soviets wanted him to say about politics, while honorably pursuing truth in everything else. As a result, he not only made great discoveries, but gained enough status to protect other scientists, and to make occasional very careful forays into defending people who needed defending.
He used his power to build an academic bubble where science could be done right and where minorities persecuted by the communist authorities like Jews could do their work in peace.
They pursued their work in optics, astronomy, anatomy, or whatever other subject, but were smart enough never to go near questions of religion. Maybe they would give beautiful speeches on how they had seen the grandeur of the heavens, but the true grandeur belonged to God and His faithful servant the Pope who was incidentally right about everything and extremely handsome.
Maybe they would have ended up running great universities, funding other thinkers, and dying at a ripe old age.
Armed with this picture, one might tell Servetus and Bruno to lay off the challenges. But Kolmogorov represents an extreme: For the opposite extreme, consider Leonid Kantorovich.
Kantorovich was another Russian mathematician. He was studying linear optmization problems when he realized one of his results had important implications for running planned economies. He wrote the government a nice letter telling them that they were doing the economy all wrong and he could show them how to do it better.
Historians are completely flabbergasted that Kantorovich survived, and conjecture that maybe some mid-level bureaucrat felt sorry for him and erased all evidence the letter had ever existed. He was only in his 20s at the time, and it seems like later on he got more sophisticated and was able to weather Soviet politics about as well as anybody.
How could such a smart guy make such a stupid mistake? Kantorovich was a professor, he was writing about a very abstract level of economics close to his area of expertise, and he expressed his concerns privately to the government.
Surely there were some highly-placed professors of unquestionable loyalty who had discussed economics with government officials before. Even a savvier version of Kantorovich would have to consider complicated questions of social status, connections, privileges, et cetera.
The real version of Kantorovich showed no signs of knowing any of those issues even existed. Given enough time, such a person can become a savvy Kolmogorov who sees the censorship clearly, knows its limits, and understands how to skirt them.
All of this would be fine except that, as Graham says in the quote above, scientists go looking for trouble. The first virtue is curiosity. An intellectually curious person is a heat-seeking missile programmed to seek out failures in existing epistemic paradigms.
God help them if they find one before they get enough political sophistication to determine which targets are safe.Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee debut Menil Drawing Institute, dedicated to modern and contemporary drawing, on November 3.
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