“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true. ”
– Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
From the title of this piece, one might think it odd that I would open my argument with a quote from a man who is commonly referred to as the father of the atomic bomb, but I can think of nothing more apt to defend the expansion of scientific boundaries. Oppenheimer did important work in the predictions of molecular wave functions, the theory of electrons and positrons, quantum field theory, and cosmic ray interaction, but few if any of these amazing accomplishments are known to the public at large. He made the bomb, plain and simple. Today, Oppenheimer lives on as the most modern Prometheus, the 20th century’s Frankenstein, simply because our society’s ignorant and sensationalist tendencies gravitate only towards advancements in science that are punctuated with a big, scary bang.
This public misunderstanding of science needs to change if we are to move forward as a civilization. My work on the Hadron Collider underneath the city of Pittsburgh has garnered unwarranted negative press due to a gross misunderstanding of my intentions. I’ve been criticized by the conspiracy theorists on the possibility of the creation of a mini-black hole that would swallow the confluence of the three rivers; by the politicians whose short-sighted vision only look towards the next election; by the theologians who accuse me of tampering in what used to be called “God’s domain.”
I am, in short, the mad scientist, eager and willing to destroy the world in all my callous hubris. That’s what the papers would have you think at least. In my defense, I am Oppenheimer’s optimist. Totally enamored with our world, my life’s work has been dedicated to the unraveling of the universe’s secrets, to develop a deeper understanding of nature and our place in it. I cannot fathom a more wonderful world to be a part of, and am in constant awe of the grandeur of the universe around me as I work to understand its mysterious ways. Such is the way of the scientist. We push the boundaries of knowledge and the beneficiaries are the whole of humanity. Science has brought us out of the dark and into the light, but the pessimists out there have been blinded by ignorance. Their limited world-view admonishes us with claims that we’ll create monsters, that we’re wasting resources, that we’re playing God. In contrast, I’ve no intention of playing God, creating monsters, or destroying worlds. In the simplest of terms, I smash particles together in a gigantic machine in an attempt to understand how the universe works; why the world we know is as it is, a cosmos unified. “What you’re doing is wrong” seems to be the underlying criticism, but what they fail to understand is that the only wrong in science is failing to ask the question. Science is looked on with suspicion by the public, perhaps from exposure to too many cheesy science fiction programs, instead of as a beacon of hope in our developing world.
The zeitgeist needs to change. Progress must be made. Under the crush of public opinion, precious budgetary funds once allotted to scientific advances have been slashed in favor of tax breaks for companies that actually are destroying our world with that same callous hubris once reserved only for mad scientists. If we are to survive as a society, or even a species, financial resources must be poured into scientific research and experimentation instead of being taken away. Now, more than ever, we need to come together for a push into a far brighter future. Public dollars and private donations are both required to continue research, and we all must be willing to set baseless fears aside and give a little bit so that we can all live in the best possible world of the brightest future.
In conclusion, I’ll end with another quote from Oppenheimer:
“In the material sciences, these are and have been, and are most surely likely to continue to be heroic days.”
Dr. Henry Malvoy is a Pittsburgh-based theoretical physicist whose primary work in unified field theory with particle accelerators has earned him worldwide recognition and acclaim.
To make donations to Malvoy’s work and to find out more, follow this link.