Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Ph.D.s ought to know... but seem not to know

It was many years ago that I earned a doctorate at the U of GA.  I graduated thinking I knew a lot about the very small area of exercise physiology, in fact, knowing a lot about a very small area of gender differences and body composition. As a prof, I get paid to study, so I have learned much more in the ensuing 31 years.  About 15 years or a few more, I learned a valuable lesson.

I was speaking in a Spanish language country about NASA and space physiology.  I gave my spiel and near the end I offered a small Christian/theistic apology.  Afterwards a bright young man came up, and in excellent English, said to me,

"Let me tell you about god."

Always eager to learn, I encouraged him to teach away.

"In the old days, we knew little, and so attributed lots of things to god.  We thought the weather came from god, the lightening, etc.  Now that we know the natural bases for all these things, there's not very much left for god to do."

"Interesting" I replied.  "I do science for a living.  I go into the laboratory with one research question, and in the course of answering that one question, I come up with two or three more questions.  There's a lot more for G^d to do than there was when I first started studying!"

And that is true, and good, for all of science.  Each discovery raises new questions, and that is good, because it ensures our future employ and that of thousands of others scientists around the world.  And that observation brings me to this point,

We who are highly educated ought to be the MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE of our ignorance!

Not only do I not know lots about my own specialty area, I am aware, somewhat, of what I don't know about:
  • Particle physics
  • Astrophysics
  • English lit
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Mathematics (beyond differential equations)
  • Any kind of engineering
  • Education
  • Qualitative Research methods.

The list goes on, but you get the point.

If I am so ignorant after a lifetime of study, then why would I think I am smart?

How smart are you?

  Three guys with doctorates...

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