Training and Indoctrination

In the first chapter of Genesis and Genes, I described the decades-long conditioning that scientists are subject to as part of their training. Contrary to popular perception, scientists do not conduct research within a vacuum. They approach any particular question with a certain worldview that was nourished and cultivated throughout their lengthy period of training. I quoted the physicist and theologian Sir John Polkinghorne:

Scientists do not look at the world with a blank gaze; they view it from a chosen perspective and bring principles of interpretation and prior expectations… to bear upon what they observe. Scientists wear (theoretical) “spectacles behind the eyes”. [Science and Theology, John Polkinghorne, Fortress Press, 1998, page 10.]

In that context, I made the following comment:

Philosophers of science have long pointed out that great breakthroughs in science tend to be made by young men. Albert Einstein was all of twenty-five years old in 1905, his annus mirabilis, when he published three seminal papers that would revolutionise physics. Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac were in their mid-twenties when they made their fundamental contributions to the fledgling field of quantum mechanics. Kurt Gödel was in his mid-twenties when he produced his greatest work on the logical foundations of mathematics. One factor in the disproportionate success of young scientists in demolishing the accepted wisdom is that they have had less time to be conditioned by their older colleagues. They can see things differently.

I am currently reading Physics, the Human Adventure by Gerald Holton and Stephen Brush (Rutgers University Press, 2005). Holton is Professor of Physics and History of Science at Harvard; Brush is a Professor of the History of Science at the University of Maryland. Both authors are Fellows of the American Physical Society, and each has served as President of the History of Science Society. Due in part to their authorship of this book, Holton and Brush were awarded the Joseph Hazen Education Prize of the History of Science Society.

On page 447 of the book, I came across the following related insight:

It is a curious fact that radical conceptual changes in a science are often initiated by people who did not receive their initial professional training in that science. A person who first approaches the problems of a discipline with the mature perspective of an outsider, rather than having been indoctrinated previously with the established methods and attitudes of the discipline, can sometimes point to unorthodox, although (when seen in retrospect) remarkably simple solutions to those problems… for example, the generalized law of conservation of energy was introduced into physics from engineering, physiology, and philosophy, although its value was accepted eventually by physicists.

 The authors then go on to describe the remarkable work done by Louis de Broglie (1892-1987), whose first degree was in history, but who later became a physicist and earned a Nobel Prize in physics in 1929 for his fundamental contributions regarding the wave nature of electrons.



3 Responses to “Training and Indoctrination”

  1. Josh Says:


  2. Maurice Skikne Says:

    Reb Yoram
    It is also true that Religionists are also subject to conditioning, training and indoctrination, by their teachers. It is also a fact that not all researchers have to be “young” to make their ground-breaking discoveries!
    As a trained biologist and a late convertee to religionism, I cannot understand why religionists keep thumping Darwin. He afterall propounded his “Origin of Species” nearly 200 years ago! Many of his so-called discoveries have been shown not to hold anymore. Besides which, what you are pounding in some aspects of Science has been proven over and over again to hold. To me Bereishis and the Physical realm of the Universe require a lot of debate. I opine that the Torah comments are very valid and need to be more deeply studied and interpreted in the the light of modern Physics, Chemistry and Biological interpretation. But then the Sages of today require- in my very humble opinion- a deeper understanidng of what has been recorded in Bereishis, as well as what we know about the Universe and Life today. To condemn out of hand on either side is not entirely Fair.
    At this time I do not have the time, nor am I freshly read up enough to make comments, but you as a Teacher ought to take a stance of open-mindedness on the issues of both sides of the history and existence of the Universe as it is today and how we must needs, to understand it.
    I once heard heard one of my ex-proteges, Rav, Akiva Tatz saying Man has descended from monkies{he was quoting some or other biologist. Well neither scientists nor Rabonim make so rasg statements-AND prove it!!

    Leave it there! Keep up your fabulous work and research! Would love to debate this one time over a cup or three of Coffee! As they say in Yiddish: Zaai Gezunt!!

    Maurice[Mo] Skikne
    011-887-7764 Evenings

    PS.My especial Parshe is obviously Bereishis- I’ve spent over 20 years trying to hold onto it’s meaning and message!!!
    PPS Even Schroeder’s “Genesis and the Big Bang” requires drastic revision by him!!!!


  3. Maureen Gavin Says:

    Dear Rabbi,
    Would you be so kind as to read the study called Genome Evolution of the Jewish Population A study carried out at Johns Hopkins University Eran Eelhaik Would be very interested in your comments. I so enjoy your talks on the radio. I find them and your interseting take on things totally fascinating

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