Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Dark Matter in Cultural Collaboration

I have been very disappointed in myself for not posting on this blog since October, particularly since I feel like I have an enormous backlog of topics I want to cover. I have posts half-written in my head about Big Data and its impact on creativity, reviews of documentaries on the creative process starring some of my favorite auteurs, lessons learned from my recent job transition, and even more comic think-pieces. However, even with a lot of milestones and changes going on in my personal life, I've had the time to write all of them, but not the motivation to sit down and sketch out an organized piece.

Unfortunately, the one topic that's spurred me to write immediately is one that might force me to shut down the email account associated with this blog. While browsing my usual news networks last night, I came across the news that Dr. Stephen Hawking pulled out of the Israeli Presidential Conference, joining the "cultural and academic boycott" against Israel. I was so infuriated and disgusted after reading that article that I felt the public thought inhibitors in my brain break and I rushed to my computer.

The Israel/Palestine conflict is (almost literally) the hottest-button topic in world politics and blanketed in a thousand shades of grey. As someone whose formative years took place during the growth of the Internet and is sharply aware of the damage online brain leakings can cause, I'd like to make clear this is not an opinion piece on that issue, and this post is not supporting one nation over another. I would feel exactly the same way if it was an academic and cultural boycott against Palestine, India, Pakistan, North Korea, or I don't know, Micronesia.

Dr. Hawking, beyond his reputation as the most brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist in the post-World War II era, is also the world's public face for advanced science in popular culture. I grew up watching Dr. Hawking's likeness on The Simpsons, Futurama and most recently, America's most popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Along with Carl Sagan, Hawking's books (both children's and adult) and documentary specials paved the way for other "celebrity scientists" like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku, helping make daunting subjects like physics more accessible to the public than ever. Hawking's role as the figurehead for all of popular science is, to the world at large, a far greater part of his legacy than his resolution of the black hole information paradox.

Despite Dr. Hawking's obvious brilliance, by joining this boycott he has failed to recognize what was obvious to high school graduate Stan Lee, that "with great power comes great responsibility." Science, and in my opinion especially physics and cosmology, should remind us that there are exponentially greater forces in the universe than what we experience on Earth and as a unified species, we have so much more to strive toward understanding. Science is supposed to appeal toward collaboration among all of humanity in order to build a more livable and enlightened world. Hawking has now utilized his position as the world public's scientific ambassador to endorse shutting off a nation from knowledge sharing, the most basic and essential tenet of the scientific process.

The exclusionary attitude of this boycott is not only the basest and honestly, most obscene form of hypocrisy from a man in Hawking's position, it runs counter to the nature of modern scientific advancement. One of NASA's central figures in the mid-20th century was Wernher von Braun, the "Father of Rocket Science" and developer of the Saturn V launch vehicle used in the Apollo missions. He was also a highly decorated military officer during World War II, and it's fairly easy to guess he didn't work for the Allies. The International Space Station (key word International) is a joint project among the American, Russian, Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies, not exactly a set of groups with complementary agendas. It has been noted in multiple media outlets that the technology that allows Dr. Hawking to communicate is based on work by Intel's technical team in Israel. BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, a biotech firm that's developed an encouraging treatment for ALS, which Hawking has suffered from the majority of his adult life, is also based in Israel.

The basic idea of intercultural relations building knowledge in the global community is hardly new, and dates back to the dawn of civilization. Our modern understanding of mathematics and algebra was cultivated by Arabic cultures in the pre-Rennaissance era. A quick Google search revealed this timeline site which reveals major advances in multiple disciplines originating all over the world dating back to 2400 BCE. You can crack open any history textbook for countless other examples, which makes the concept of "cultural and academic boycott" all the more blasphemous, and Hawking's tacit approval of it all the more disappointing.

The timing of Dr. Hawking's announcement could not be worse, as there is an ongoing struggle in the United States to prevent the marginalization, and in some cases outright exclusion of the scientifically accepted theory of evolution from classrooms. The controversy over the Louisiana Science Education Act has become the most prominent battleground among leading minds for ensuring that all children and young adults are given complete access to knowledge that forms the basis of chemistry, physics and biology. Does Dr. Hawking realize the damage that could potentially be done to that effort, now that one of the world's most recognized scientists has now essentially said that knowledge exclusion is acceptable?

Science, as well as all academic thinking and creative thought, is wholly dependent on open collaboration. No political agenda should ever impede humanity's search for greater knowledge, as a healthy and sustainable cultural dialogue is imperative for humanity as a whole to thrive. I would think that's something that would be universally understood, and it's a terrible shame Dr. Hawking and other figures involved in this boycott do not.

No comments:

Post a Comment