Scientific American – my first 30 years.


[Original German Blog Post]

What is call ‘standard model’ of particle physics – model implying the provisional character – gives an impressive interpretation of many aspects of our world.Spektrum.de / Weltbild vor dem Umbruch

Today the great day has arrived at LHC – the large particle accelerator at European research institute CERN. Why is it important for us to get even smaller and smaller details of our world in sight? Because only by observing our image of the world, our model that we have constructed for her description will proof adequate.
Since May 1980, for exactly thirty years, I have been reading Scientific American (first it was more being enchanted by the mystical pictures – most of the text I would not have understood). Many of the scientific projects which find their way into the general interest press nowadays, have been present from that time on. At days like today I recognise how beautiful and dialectic the scientific process can be. Extended over years, models are speculated about and from these the existence of new bricks of our world is deduced – like the Higgs Boson, that, to get experimentally discovered, warrants all the enormous effort in Geneva. If you read these developments from the end – from the publication of the break through news, you cannot understand how science works.

The slowness to map this process month after month is for me the most outstanding quality of Scientific American – pros and cons of all different points of view – and indeed across all branches of science. – and last but not least philosophy. Here I first read about John Sears “Chinese Chamber” – and sensed his critique of Douglas Hofstadter’s idea of the human machine as liberating; here I first came across “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience” by David Chalmers radically questioning the possibility of getting empirical insight on our selves.

Many arguments on science blogs or Twitter avoid the point, which is often circumvented also by not a few scientists by taking only taking into focus what is achievable empirically just now: the implicit foundation of knowledge. When in discourse on ethics of science someone demands to discuss without preoccupation, it usually means to leave out any worries that would question the proceedings – how earnest these concerns might be. But disputes as given by Searle or Chalmers allow the necessary room for self reflection. This for me is one of strengths of Scientific American. And thus even articles like “Human Dignity is touchable” by religion-critic Edgar Dahl (in the German edition Spektrum der Wissenschaft become acceptable and even worth reading for me.

And with feeling still uncomfortable with Dahl’s assault on the human dignity, the same issue offers even wonderfully lightweight food for thought: The Long-Lost Siblings of the Sun – a poetical title – and we start a journey five billion years back, see a nearby explosion of a supernova and witness the sun and her siblings leaving their nursery and disperse across all of the milky way; pure utopia!

As early as the 1980s I remember articles on climate change. And Sustainable Development is know standard part of each issue’s content. And even here the Scientific American does not stay with the well-known but presents sometimes quite bold projects. Vertical Farm in high rises for example.

Comparing the original US edition with the German licenced version shows surprisingly now difference in quality, and thus really leveraging international scale – a fact not frequently seen with licensed media products.

Scientific American is also the only general interest scientific publication I know that gives space to mathematics in every issue in at least one often more articles.
And if I feel caught in everyday life’s confusion I might think about articles like Save the Earth to calm down: Yes, in geological dimensions the end of earth is already close; soon the dying sun will have swallowed all life.

Scientific American inspires. It is my most important slow medium.

Author: Joerg Blumtritt

Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is data scientist and blogger. He co-founded the companies Datarella and BAYDUINO, based in Munich, Germany, and Baltic Data Science in Gdansk, Poland. Datarella develops data-driven products for the Internet of Things, BDS delivers data-science-as-a-service, BAYDUINO builds open source hardware. Before that, Joerg had worked for media companies in Europe and the US. Having graduated in statistics and political sciences with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg started as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication. As political activist and researcher, Joerg works on projects regarding future democratic participation and open source IoT. He is co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto and blogs about media and art at slow-media.net, about data and the future of social research at beautifuldata.net, and about the IoT at datarella.com.

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