Saturday, 11 May 2013

The prophet motive in physics

As a not-famous science blogger one question no-one ever asks me is "who are my science heroes?"  The answer, which I don't have to give since no-one asks is "no-one".  It's not that I don't admire the scientific achievements of many people, though I try to be careful of the effect whereby all good things get attributed to a few people while many may have contributed.  It's more that the idea of raising people up to a sort of hero status seems anathema to me and my view of science.  Science is about ideas, not personalities.  Most humans, myself included, are somewhat flawed, and I'm uneasy about the apparent mixing up of people and ideas when it comes to hero-worship.

Richard Feynman might have had a birthday today if he'd been alive, and he might have been a good physicist, but should I worship him in a crypto-religious sort of way?  I don't think so.  I'm not sure he was a particularly nice guy.  Maybe he was, maybe not.  I've heard conflicting opinions on this from people that knew him, but I don't think it matters much, since I don't much like worshiping people. I won't judge his physics by his personality, and I won't judge his personality by his physics.  It seems straightforward to me. I worry that things get conflated, though.