Home > Dartmouth Digital Library Program > Collections > Lectures > J. Robert Oppenheimer >

Conn, Robert H. "Dr. Oppenheimer Stresses Science's Edge on Culture." The Dartmouth, 15 April 1959

oppenheimer letter, 1958Dr. Oppenheimer Stresses Science's Edge on Culture

By Robert H. Conn

           "A central, healthy culture has to have in it a good sampling of the highest knowledge available at that time," stated Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer last night before a standing-room-only audience at Webster Hall.

           The Director of the Institute for Advanced Research at Princeton University went on to point out that "We live near the edge of disaster because there is no quick and easy way for human institutions to change to keep up with the exponential growth of science.

           Scientist Needs to Apologize

           "In todays world, a scientist must apologize for speaking in technical terms because this growth of culture takes such a long time," Dr. Oppenheimer continued.

           But the physicist then showed that even knowledge is inherently incomplete. "We have a new notion of chance that shows that there are limitations of what one can do. The idea of knowing everything is foolish."

           Two Methods of Science

           Dr. Oppenheimer then showed that since science can never be known completely, there are two basic ways in which more knowledge can be discovered by science. "The first is the true scientist's desire to understand. He is stimulated by new discoveries, by new mechanisms, by new possibilities, or by the feeling of paradox."

           "The second is stimulated by the fact that someone wants something produced that has never been done before and orders the scientist to go out and do it," the physicist continued.

           Pointing out that the second method was used because of practical need, he stated that the existence of a new curiosity created from the first types explorations will also eventually prove to help someone.

           Formerly Two Separate Entities

           "In the past years, the two were separate entities. Today they are hopelessly mixed together," continued the scientist.

           Dr. Oppenheimer then pointed out that "In science, something necessarily follows from general principles in a logical manner, but all science can not be resolved because it is a never finishable to remove from the world elements of chance and randomness."

Previous Document - Oppenheimer Lecture Home