Other than my post on conflict, I realize that my personal thoughts are largely scattered throughout my posts and that it takes a lot of reading to find them, so I’ve decided to condense them in a series of no-events, personal-thoughts-only posts. This is the first of several such posts (I haven’t decided how many I’ll write yet).
My philosophy on science has largely come together since I started taking classes at UT. I find it extremely interesting that I have found more specialties in physics that I am not interested in practicing than that I am interested in. This is because I feel very strongly that any work I do must have a strong potential to cause a tangible benefit for other people in the near future.
It is important to note that this works only because I firmly believe that we already have all the theoretical understanding we need to solve nearly all of the major technology-related problems we currently face; we're just not using that knowledge to its full potential due to bureaucracy, regulation, lack of funding, lack of interest, or other non-scientific reasons.
I have heard many times since my arrival at UT the argument of the theorists and the experimentalists working on areas that won’t yield any tangible results for a long time: we can’t know now how those things will be beneficial in the future. Entirely true. I’m not arguing that we should have no theorists and particle physicists and such. This is, first and foremost, the rationale for my own career plans. I’ve had people tell me that wanting to work on applying the physics I will learn to making new technologies that make life better makes me an engineer, not a physicist. Fine. I think it’s kind of pointless to worry much about the distinction. I do, however, believe that we have a responsibility, as scientists, engineers, and people of technical ability in general, to apply our knowledge and skills toward solving problems that exist here and now before worrying about ideas that might or might not someday be useful. Working on current issues first is desirable for a lot of reasons. Obviously, making life better has to be the ultimate purpose of all science and technology. This has the secondary effect that, when quality of life increases, the productivity of the population in question increases. There are currently billions of people living in terrible conditions, who can’t do much to further science or help others because they have enough to worry about just to survive. Finding ways to bring resources, infrastructure, medicine, and education to these people will have the long term result that they will be more productive and will contribute to developing faster as a species later on. Helping people isn’t good just for abstract, feel-good reasons, it yields real benefits for all of us in the long run. In short, we need to put people before ideas.
Similarly to the way that I can’t simply be called a ‘physicist’ or ‘engineer’, I can’t simply be called a ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. I defy labels in a lot of ways, really. My politics, specifically, don’t tend to line up with the opinions of either party. One of my most basic political thoughts is that the two party system is highly inefficient. It’s basically a ‘moderation through conflict’ method; we send a roughly even number of Democrats and Republicans to Congress and to most other national and state offices (really, it comes fairly close on average), and they fight it out to find moderate solutions to our nation’s and states’ problems. Fighting to reach moderation is inefficient, and the details of the ‘solutions’ reached are often seriously flawed. I have to admit that I don’t really know how to fix this in general. One would hope that our politicians are at least expressing their real, thought-out beliefs, and not just their party’s policies. We can (and I do) keep encouraging logical, moderate policies and solutions on an individual level; such an effort, if maintained, must have an impact at some point. There are, however, some specific things we can do to reach moderation more quickly in politics right now:
First, we need to change the rules of Congress. Currently, the Constitution says that each “House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings” (Art. I, Sec. V, Clause II). Members of the House of Representatives may, then, introduce bills that say basically whatever that representative wants. They often include provisions for the government to spend money in the districts of other representatives whose support the bill’s author(s) need to pass the bill. This is reason for what people call “pork barrel spending”, which all politicians claim to oppose, but they all go on using this technique to pass their legislation, anyway. I find this to be a fascinating example of a political ‘check’ that was somehow left out of the Constitution. We need new rules in Congress that require that it only votes on individual provisions, not the packages of unrelated stuff that most bills become. This would very likely lead to an immediate end of nearly all of the “pork barrel spending” I mentioned earlier, since these spending provisions, by themselves, would not be supported by anyone other than the representative whose district would benefit.
Second, we need to eliminate the Electoral College and have standardized, nationalized presidential elections. The Electoral College made sense at the time the constitution was written, but we are a more united nation with more knowledge and awareness of the candidates and political process now than we were 200 years ago. Each individual vote will be more meaningful, and irregularities like the winner in the Electoral College not really winning the most votes (which has happened 4 times, in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000) would just not happen because the Electoral College would simply not exist. The candidate that received the most votes would win, plain and simple. There would also not be complications like candidates from smaller parties not being able to get their name on the ballot in some states (this happens fairly regularly; you just don’t hear about it because no one cares about the minor candidates for whom this is a problem).