As expected, Jonathan Miller’s talk reflecting on “the biology of design didn’t disappoint, and was a object lesson in science communication. As a non biologist (my background is mainly physics, materials, surface science, music and finance) I found it fascinating, informative and quite inspiring.
As Miller is a celebrated theatre director, scientist, author and a host of other things, the question of ‘Two Cultures‘ was raised from the audience. Miller’s reply was simply that it’s all simply curiosity about how things work, and argued that there isn’t really any philosophical distinction between examining and trying to understand how a cell works or doing the same with a piece of theatre, music or art. The problem, he argued lies with the education system, forcing pupils at an early age to make a choice between the gentlemanly pursuits of the Classics or “making a stink in test tubes” – a choice which determines the rest of our lives.
Miller’s solution to bridging the gap was unusual – simply start talking about philosophy with children from an early age, asking questions such as what is the difference between waving at someone and stretching – as in both cases your arm moves. Discussing things in this way will encourage all manner of scientific, medical, and philosophical enquiry and Hey Presto! your kids will become polymaths.
Well, sort of, as there is a natural predisposition to certain subjects, and Miller admissted that mathematics was never his strongest suit so the mathematical parts of the life sciences such as molecular biology were a little fuzzy to him.
I’ll try the Miller technique on my children, and see if we get them to go from bellowing “I’m Michael Winner and I want My Dinner!” to “I’m Jonathan Miller and I want to know why!”