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The Motives of Scientists

  1. Apr 9, 2005 #1
    im reading the unibomber manifsto, and although he has some mental issues (and also killed some people) im not going to adress his idea by ad hominem flaw. i came to the part of "The Motives of Scientists" and he has strong convinctions about the motives of scientists and although he doesnt have (in my opinion) a sharp logical reason why he thinks scientist arent motivated by curiosity, but it does seem that if they were only curious about their work thay would put the amount of hours to their type of work.

    he also disregarded the notion of huminitarian reasons for their alleged motives and i must say that it's clear to me especially from the scientists who worked at (i think, im not sure) the manhattan project that humaniterian they arent.

    anyway im not sure about his conclusion that almost every scientist's motives is to pursue his goals, only.

    what do you think of this part of the manifesto?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 9, 2005 #2
    But isn't being 'only' curious about their work with every other kind of job? So, does that mean that nonscientific people are NOT interested in their own work.? If that is the case, then can we conclude whatever percentage of people who are NOT scientists are doing jobs they are not interested or curious in? If true, then we have a sad, sad world out there.

    And he says humanitarians have to help each other. Then why don't the other people with 'humanitarian' jobs help us with our jobs?

    The guy looks at things in terms of black and white, which is not realistic at all and is somewhat a symbol of his dogmatism.
  4. Apr 9, 2005 #3
    instead of interest, or curiosity he argues (in the section before this one) that every woman/man puts in front of him a goal which he wants to achieve and acts accordingly.
    for him curiosity (that i assume is childlike curiosity) is when you are given a puzzle which seems to be intriguing for you, it's not your predetermined goal to solve it because you didnt know about it before, but it intrigues and you truly want to know about it.
    perhaps when you are older it's become a goal.
    anyway he does say there are exceptions to his line of thought, and one example i can think of (although im not sure this is what he had in mind) is andrew wiles who proclaimed that fermat's last theorem was a puzzle for him which became his goal in his matured life.
  5. Apr 9, 2005 #4


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    Well, he is absolutely right that there are usually no driving humanitarian impulse behind a scientist's choice of work.
    In that respect, they are quite similar to the vast majority of the human race.
  6. Apr 9, 2005 #5
    I was about the write, "duh, the motivation for science is power." If it was something as ambiguous as "knowledge" or "understanding" then scientists would be content with philosophy or art. It is knowledge and understanding, specifically, about the specific areas of nature. Why else would a scientist be so specific, limiting his/her focus in other fields, if not to have power over that area (whether it's for good or bad)?

    See, I was about to write that... but then I started reading the Unabomber manifesto and it sounded like the same thing. Now I'm speechlessly wondering if I should go blow someone up or something. :/
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2005
  7. Apr 9, 2005 #6


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    Isn't that the motivation for all work, of any kind? What's his point?
  8. Apr 10, 2005 #7
    not everyone work at a work place which is their goal in the first place, some need to work even though it doesnt interest them, and not even the goal they have put in order to achieve.

    i havent read all of his manifesto, but i can assume that even if he has a focused point in the end it will be discredited because of his mental issues.
  9. Apr 11, 2005 #8


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    It's hard for me to speak to the motivations of others, but I can speak for myself. There are several key things, and curiosity is definitely one of them.

    Am I curious about the work I do? Absolutely. Am I curious about the classification of a certain beetle or the properties of isopropyltrimethylmethane? No, but that's only because I have no context for it. I don't even know what isopropyltrimethylmethane is. If I did, I would probably be interested, but I can only learn so much in one lifetime and if I really want to be involved in the process of developing our knowledge (as well as make a living), I have to specialize. By being closely in touch with the scientific world (and PF), it's easier for me to gain this knowledge. By the time I die, I want to have as deep an understanding of the universe as is humanly possible.

    Another driving factor is the thrill it gives me. I love the feeling I get when I solve a problem or come up with a creative way of approaching things. This is probably related to the power process he's going on about (I didn't read the whole manifesto), but I don't see anything particularly wrong with that. It's a lot better than getting a thrill from putting bombs in people's mailboxes.

    Yet another reason I do this is that I'm good at it. Of the things I could make a living doing, this is one of the ones I'd be best at and one of the ones that would stimulate my mind the most.

    Finally, I do think I'm doing something good for other people, if just in the expansion of our general knowledge. I have it a bit easier than physicists, however, as my work doesn't have any obvious political consequences (unless you happen to be really conservative).
  10. Apr 11, 2005 #9
    i dont think he argues against people who specialize in a particular field (he himself was specialized in a specific field in maths), but that the real reason for choosing what we choose as a profession doesnt necessarily comes from curiosity (i think curiosity cant be the main part of one's obssesion, it can be the trigger ofcourse but not the main one), but from a goal to pursue in order to keep living (a little bit mechanical way of life, but that's how it is... we are robots of nature).
  11. Apr 11, 2005 #10


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    He asserted that a lack of interest by one specialist in the work of another implied that they weren't driven by curiosity. The point I was trying to make is that this disinterest in others' work is a natural consequence of the extreme complexity of modern science; that is, I can't appreciate what the classification of a particular beetle means for the field at large. That is why I'm not interested, not because I'm not curious. In theory, I would love to learn about why it's so important, but I only have so much time.

    Again, that's what I'm arguing against. Curiosity is precisely what has been keeping me going in science, particularly recently. I don't see myself as being obsessed or mechanical in any way, just interested. Also, I don't think of us as being robots by nature. I think it's sad that anyone would view themselves that way.
  12. Apr 12, 2005 #11


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    This is where his argument left the rails. He may not have been interested in other fields; his projection of that lack of abiliy to place his work into a more global context onto other scientiific, mathematical, engineering, and technical fields is symptomatic of his other personal problems. You wanta read some more "misunderstood geniuses," (translation: crackpots, loons, fruitcakes) try Jaynes, von Daniken, Hanquack, and the like --- shake 'em all up in a bag, pull one out at random, and try to assign a name based on content of whatever they speak or write, rather than appearance or fingerprints, and you've got a 1/n chance of being correct.

    Actually, that'd be an entertaining game show, "Name That Fruitcake;" mix up selected quotations from TK, Manson, Jaynes, EvD, Velikovsky, et al, and have the contestants competing to match the quote with the name.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  13. Apr 12, 2005 #12
    it's strange because im pretty much sure science has a mechanical/materialistic view on life, or at least all it's concerned about is the material and its effects on space.

    btw, i think it's obvious when someone is preoccupied with something, he would have a tough time to look at his work as a third party, i.e to analyze his way of life without the feelings he has for his work.

    im sure you think that you work out of curiosity, but ask yourself if you do work only out of curiosity then why not pursue other fields of thought that might interest any you are just specializing in just one field and also a narrow subject in this field?
    i believe curiosity cant be limited to only one narrow interest, and perhaps also in this issue the unibomber is slightly wrong because perhaps the work isnt filled with just curiosity but it doesnt mean the worker cant have other subjects which interest him but then we call them hobbies and perhaps this is his conncetion between curiosity and hobby (for example a hobby of riddles may ignite someone's curiosity but when he overexaggerates with it becomes a goal, a craving for power of knowledge).
  14. Apr 12, 2005 #13


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    What does that have to do with my approach to my job? You're talking about the way in which we describe the world, not the way we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives.

    In other words, you aren't going to listen to any objections to your "ideas". I guess you think the thrill I get every time I learn something new is all made up. And I suppose that you think I'm lying when I say that one of my goals is to understand as much about how the universe works as possible before I die.

    First of all, I do pursue other fields of thought (am I or am I not in the philosophy forum). Second of all, I already responded to the point about beetles and weird chemicals and you countered by saying there was no problem with specialization.
  15. Apr 12, 2005 #14
    Not necessarily. Not all scientists have to believe in a materialistic world that is riddled by shallowness. And also full belief in an ontological reductionist approach towards things doesn't necesarily imply that a scientist must believe in those values.

    Working from one specific field, oblivious to all others (i.e. tunnel vision), doesn't tend to work out too well. One of the reasons I in particular am going into science is because of my interest in philosophy, a different field in itself (though there are crossovers). Other driving factors also help fuel this curiosity, like the realm of acoustical physics (to describe the musician within), etc. Sure, you don't have to be a master in all subjects (it helps though) but pure specialization without regard to anything else doesn't seem to lead anywhere.

    As SpaceTiger and Telos said earlier, it shouldn't be that big of a deal if scientists do work out of curiosity alone. There isn't any ulterior motive in most cases (but scientists do vary from person to person) so the only people who should question their motives are those who have biases against them.
  16. Apr 12, 2005 #15


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    I think the guy who said I do it because I'm good at it had an important point. We all need to bolster our egos, and doing something which gives you a high probability of success and is regarded as hard by the population has got to give a good feeling.
  17. Apr 13, 2005 #16


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    There are also practical reasons for doing what your are best at aside from the ego-boost it might provide you. Even if you are doing mundane work that the general public does not consider difficult, it nonetheless behooves you to do what you're best at. I guess we ultimately have three options in choosing a line of work:

    1. Do what makes you happiest.

    2. Do what you're best at.

    3. Do what pays the best.

    If any of these intersect, you're lucky. If all of them intersect, you're very lucky.
  18. Apr 13, 2005 #17

    "In other words, you aren't going to listen to any objections to your "ideas". I guess you think the thrill I get every time I learn something new is all made up. And I suppose that you think I'm lying when I say that one of my goals is to understand as much about how the universe works as possible before I die."

    not at all, you may object as much as you like but at least try to look at your life's so called cravings for knowledge from the outside.
    i myself got interested into physics out of curiosity, and i believe most of us when first try to work on something we do it out of curiosity but after such and such time that we spend on something we might find our work routine as something that the driving force for it (curiosity) has died a little.
    perhaps you havent felt it yet, but it's in everyone no matter what job and therefore we no longer do what we do for the same curiosity we had in the first place.
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