Oppenheimer’s optimism and the call to dinner

Posted by on Jan 5, 2007 in Uncategorized | One Comment


Ok, first post after the New Year and it’s an optimistic one about what we can achieve, if only we find out more ways of working together.

I’ve been slaving away at a paper for the MRS for the last few working days (god, I started it weeks ago…) all about how we’re rather hamstrung in our attempts to change things if we carry on thinking with the same assumptions about human behaviour that we’ve worked with over the last 50 years. You know, ideas like ‘individualism’ (that individuals are largely self-determining), company centricity (that it’s largely what the company or brand does that is the primary influence on behaviour), mentalism (that it’s what goes on in our heads/hearts that drives behaviour), reductive materialism and so on. (Think I just bored my self there with all those -isms…)

So anyway, I was reading something that Faris sent me today and (as you do) I found myself scrolling down to the next article (not that the thing that F sent me wasn’t great – I’m still pondering it) – this second article kicked off with some quote from J Robert Oppenheimer – one of the fathers of the atomic bomb – about the potential for different scientific disciplines to converge – to produce what the great EO Wilson called ‘consilience’. A kind of general theory of everything that synthesises all the different views into one useful and (if not comprehensive then at least) broad-ranging theory that avoids the mistakes of the old models.

So anyway, Big Bad Bob he say: “It may be a question [whether there] is one way of bringing a wider unity in our time. That unity, I think, can only be based on a rather different kind of structure than the one most of us have in mind….The unity we can seek lies really in two things. One is that the knowledge that comes to us in such terrifyingly inhumanly rapid rate has some order in it….”

Can’t really disagree with this so far – new learning is coming in so fast, you going to have to really dig your heals in not to shift from your current position…but here is the bit which got me thinking.

“We can have each other to dinner. We ourselves, and with each other by our converse, can create, not an architecture of global scope, but an immense, intricate network of intimacy, illumination, and understanding.”

I like that “we can have each other to dinner”. Let’s do that some more this year. I don’t have all the answers by any means. Not even sure what the questions are half the time. But I suspect we could work both out and a whole heap more if we sat round a table often enough.

Remember Granty’s “enthusiasm marketing” brainwave from late last year? T’internet is one thing, but imagine what realworld might do?

Ok. So my resolution is to break bread more with interesting folk this year and see what we can make together…

Who’s in?

PS And don’t let Billy Bragg be proved right.

“In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded
That Dr Robert Oppenheimer’s optimism fell
At the first hurdle”

I’m still feeling all optimistic (and hungry)

1 Comment

  1. Mark McGuinness
    January 5, 2007

    I’m definitely up for optimism. So are lots of eminent people on the TED blog – there’s a great collection of reasons to be optimistic here: http://tedblog.typepad.com/tedblog/2007/01/what_are_you_op.html