Albert Einstein with a word for our day

An EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with... no, I'm just quoting an essay he wrote.

Welcome to Integrated Science for Elementary Educators I! This joke because… I quoted and linked this essay in class today. To a world that wants to imagine science is all you need and science can tell you exactly how to make every decision, Einstein (a scientist of some repute, I’m told) would reply:

For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration towards that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.

I don’t know how well it “sticks”, but this summarizes a couple points about science I try to drive home to students.

  1. Science helps us understand what is, science does not tell us what should be. Virtually every single “follow the science” appeal made in our public discourse today contains within it (or immediately is) some claim about what should be. Science doesn’t tell you what should be.

  2. Humans cannot live without meaning and purpose, but science cannot create meaning and purpose for you. I love the comment that science is “so little capable of acting as a guide” that it cannot even prove that the practice of science itself is a valuable human activity.

Thank you Dr. Einstein.