“Things that are totally constructed by human beings, I have a hard time taking seriously.”

From theoretical physicist Janna Levin during an episode of On Being:

“I will often look at what people think is very important and not identify with what they think is very important… I have a hard time becoming obsessed with internal social norms – how you’re supposed to dress or wear your tie.  For me it’s so absurd, because it’s so small, and it’s this funny thing that this one species is acting out on this tiny planet in this huge vast cosmos. So I think it’s hard for me to participate in certain values that other people have… If I try to look at that closely, the split is – Things that are totally constructed by human beings, I have a hard time taking seriously.  And things that seem to be natural phenomena that happen universally, I take more seriously…. It doesn’t mean that I’m dismissing things as unimportant either.  I take very seriously what’s going on in the world right now, and I’m really pained by what’s going on in the world.  But my perspective is to look at it as animals acting out ruthless instincts and unable to control themselves, and other people think they’re being heady and intellectual.”

This is nonsense parading itself as scientific wisdom.  Questions:

1.  Isn’t science – exactly like fashion – just “this funny thing that this one species is acting out on this tiny planet in this huge vast cosmos”?  If fashion is small, then isn’t science small too?

2.  Isn’t it obviously true that people derive more joy from fashion than from theoretical physics?  Is it wrong that a person would care more about how they present themselves to the world than about whether the universe is finite or infinite?

3. Isn’t Janna Levin herself just an animal “acting out ruthless instincts”?  If that’s what she thinks that humans are, then how is she exempt from this description?  If she isn’t exempt, then how can she claim that science puts her in a privileged position to make judgments about truth and meaning?

4.  Isn’t science itself something “totally constructed by human beings”?

 

It’s no surprise that Janna Levin believes that Janna Levin’s interests are more important than other people’s interests. What’s wrong with this is that she’s using Science to belittle other people’s values.  Science doesn’t value.  From a scientific POV, Janna Levin’s worries about the finite/infinite universe are ridiculously small.

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