(For a digest of the question and answer sessions after this talk, click here.)
First of all, welcome to Houston and to Rice. I'm delighted to be able to spend the day with you all. I'm reminded of what JFK said when hosting a dinner of Nobel Prize winners: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
I know you are considered the best in the country. On the other hand, sometimes, like now, you are just average - it just depends on the context. When you were home, you were the best in your class. Now you're just the average student in this room, or the average entering Rice student. I had that comeuppance when I entered Wellesley - I suddenly went from superior to average. It's a humbling experience. Prepare for it.
In fact, Rice has the highest fraction of National Merit Finalists in its entering freshman class of any school in the nation, and is usually 2nd or 3rd highest in total numbers of Finalists. We even have the dubious pleasure of denying admision to more National Merit Finalists than any other school. We're small, you see.... in fact, we couldn't admit all of you sitting here - we typically admit only 650 or so each year. But I hope we can admit all of you who want to come, and I hope after your tour of campus yesterday, you will want to come. I won't guarantee that we'll always win our football games, though!
My task is to give you my two cents worth on whether science will be the salvation of society. And I have 5 to 10 minutes. James Rutherford of the AAAS talked to your advisors on that topic yesterday for an hour. I won't summarize his talk, but he made some great points, most importantly that that question has two answers: absolutely not and definitely yes!
Absolutely not because salvation is a personal thing - society cannot save itself; only people working together for the common good can save society.
Will Durant said: A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.
The failure of society is the failure of the individual human soul, the lack of a desire to consider someone else's needs because of one's own greed.
BUT the answer is also
Science can provide the tools we need to build the future. But tools can be used for good or for bad. This hammer I hold can build a "habitat for humanity" house or can crush the skull of a sleeping baby.
Tools of science are no less constructive, and no less deadly.
Oscar Wilde said :
The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
And indeed these mechanical slaves have revolutionized the way we live. My Dad, who was high tech for his time, used this very heavy mechanical calculator to add, subtract, multiply and divide. It makes a powerful noise when dividing, I will say, with gears spinning and carriage clunking as each digit is found. It has about 25 bytes of information as storage (25 numbers), and it works at about one digit per second.... about 8 bps. This hand calculator I carry in my pocket has 64Kbytes of storage, and works at about a megabit per second.
The first real computer I used in my graduate school days filled a room and had 2000 bytes of storage, each an individual transistor you could replace if bad. We used it to analyze 7-track data tapes from the Apollo surface experiments. We put our programs in on paper tape. My Powerbook has 16 megabytes of main memory and a gigabyte of storage. I can connect it to the internet and access images and data from all over the world in the blink of an eye.
But the material that gets onto the internet comes from somewhere, from someone's effort. It's like the politician who said we don't need NOAA anymore, we can just get the weather from the Weather Channel. TV and the internet are means of information exchange; for new information, we need science and the scientist. Edgar Odell Lovett in his inaugural speech as Rice's first president set a goal for Rice: "to teach science, to create science, to apply science, to make scientists."
This is about as much philosophy that a doer like me can stand all at once. So I'd like to take the rest of my time to show you some of the wonders science has brought us in the last few years...
For the past few years I have been the director of a project to bring real-time NASA data and images to the public by means of online computerized kiosks at museums and schools. These are some of the images we feature in our exhibit, and are available on our CD "Space Update"...(shows a few images of the birth and death of stars, and the wonders of the solar system)
Truly the Universe is not only more glorious than we imagine, it is more amazing than we can imagine. We have been surprised everywhere we went; everywhere we were able to take a good look we saw something that astonished us. The spirit of discovery still lives in the space navigator.
Finally, I challenge you to make a difference in society. Use that hammer to build a house. I dare you to spend 10% of your time (ok, even 10% of your waking time) in doing something to help others. It need not take money. You can volunteer at a library, school, or park; help teach reading to illiterate adults; sling a ladle at a soup kitchen; donate blood and register to be an organ donor. Often tragedy can be turned to triumph because people care. A few years ago a Dartmouth professor was dying of leukemia. Most of the students there donated a little blood to see if they were a marrow match. Sadly, none were. But a few years later my nephew got a call as the result of that donation. And amazingly, he was a perfect match for a dying three-year-old. There is now a healthy five year old because my nephew took the time to register and stood the pain of marrow donation. I challenge each of you to take the same step. And being active in the community pays off in the college admissions arena, as well - most schools take into account the way you use your time outside of class as well as your successes inside them.
Look inside yourself. Dig deep. Hitch your wagon to a star. Find your reserves, find your dream, follow it. Try to match your abilities to the things which excite you. When your work is your joy, you can put up with all the hassles of everyday life. I once did a "top ten reasons to be a space scientist". The number one reason was, "It's better than working for a living"! But most of all, be a person of character. Reputation is what they think of you; character is what you are.
As Mark Twain said, Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.
Use the tools. Create new tools. Share the tools.
God bless you.
Some of my favorite quotes on science (some used above, some not...) (assembled from Bartlett's CD)
John F. Kennedy:
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Address at a White House dinner and reception honoring Nobel Prize winners [April 1962]
Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Hitch your wagon to a star. Society and Solitude , Civilization
The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom - they are the pillars of society. Pillars of Society , act IV
Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest. Card sent to the Young People's Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn [February 16, 1901]
The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends. The Soul of Man Under Socialism 
Alfred North Whitehead:
Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. An Introduction to Mathematics , ch. 5
I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two thirds of the people of the earth might be killed, but enough men capable of thinking, and enough books, would be left to start again, and civilization could be restored. Einstein on the Atomic Bomb. From the Atlantic Monthly [November 1945]
A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars. Caesar and Christ , Epilogue
Civilizations, I believe, come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them which they fail to meet. Civilization on Trial , ch. 4
Astrology is a disease, not a science. Laws of Repentance [1170 - 1180]
Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul. Gargantua and Pantagruel, bk. II , ch. 8
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz 1821 - 1894 :
Whoever, in the pursuit of science, seeks after immediate practical utility, may generally rest assured that he will seek in vain. All that science can achieve is a perfect knowledge and a perfect understanding of the action of natural and moral forces. Academic discourse, Heidelberg 
Louis Pasteur 1822 - 1895:
No, a thousand times no; there does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit to the tree which bears it. Pourquoi la France n'a pas trouv des hommes suprieurs au moment du pril. From Revue Scientifique 
In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind. Inaugural lecture, University of Lille [December 7, 1854]
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin 1824 - 1907:
When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science. Popular Lectures and Addresses [1891-1894]
Thomas Henry Huxley:
The great tragedy of Science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. Biogenesis and Abiogenesis 
Sir Francis Darwin:
But in science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs. First Galton Lecture before the Eugenics Society 
Max Planck 1858 - 1947:
Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with. Where Is Science Going? 
Miguel de Unamuno 1864 - 1936:
True science teaches, above all, to doubt and be ignorant. The Tragic Sense of Life , ch. 5
Ernest Rutherford 1871 - 1937:
We cannot control atomic energy to an extent which would be of any value commercially, and I believe we are not likely ever to be able to do so. Speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science 
Albert Einstein 1879 - 1955:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. What I Believe 
Vannevar Bush 1890 - 1974:
It was through the Second World War that most of us suddenly appreciated for the first time the power of man's concentrated efforts to understand and control the forces of nature. We were appalled by what we saw. Science Is Not Enough 
James Bryant Conant 1893 - 1978
There is only one proved method of assisting the advancement of pure science - that of picking men of genius, backing them heavily, and leaving them to direct themselves. Letter to the New York Times [August 13, 1945]
Albert Szent-Gyrgyi von Nagyrapolt 1893 - 1986
The real scientist . . . is ready to bear privation and, if need be, starvation rather than let anyone dictate to him which direction his work must take. Science Needs Freedom. From World Digest 
Linus Carl Pauling 1901 - 1997
Science is the search for truth - it is not a game in which one tries to beat his opponent, to do harm to others. We need to have the spirit of science in international affairs, to make the conduct of international affairs the effort to find the right solution, the just solution of international problems, not the effort by each nation to get the better of other nations, to do harm to them when it is possible. No More War! 
Burrhus Frederic Skinner 1904 - 1990
Physics does not change the nature of the world it studies, and no science of behavior can change the essential nature of man, even though both sciences yield technologies with a vast power to manipulate their subject matters. Cumulative Record [third edition, 1972], ch. 5
Zhores Aleksandrovich Medvedev 1925 -
Science and technology, and the various forms of art, all unite humanity in a single and interconnected system. As science progresses, the worldwide cooperation of scientists and technologists becomes more and more of a special and distinct intellectual community of friendship, in which, in place of antagonism, there is growing up a mutually advantageous sharing of work, a coordination of efforts, a common language for the exchange of information, and a solidarity, which are in many cases independent of the social and political differences of individual states. The Medvedev Papers , preface
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