APRIL 30, 1948
NEW YORK, Thursday—One advantage in a sea voyage is that, whether you want to or not, you rest a good part of the time. And you read all the things that you never get time to read when you are at home. On my voyage back from England, I caught up on all of Winston Churchill's articles that had appeared in a London paper.
These memoirs are readable and interesting, but they make me a little sad because the only real value to be derived from books of this kind is a recognition of the mistakes which brought bad results in the past, as well as a realization of the things which benefited mankind. My impression in reading these articles is that we may be repeating a number of past mistakes. How discouraging that would be!
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It is encouraging that one of the by-products of the work of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission is the assistance being given to cancer research. The latest report would seem to indicate that some steps forward are being made. This is certainly one way in which the development of atomic energy will be of value to the whole world.
Ever since the development of the atom bomb, many people—even some of the scientists—have wondered whether the old theory that scientists should be concerned only with the search for truth is going to be sufficient in the world of today. Should they also have a responsibility for social developments which would prevent the misuse of scientific findings?
The scientific approach to any problem is one which many of us might use with benefit. The scientist is concerned primarily with the correctness of his assumptions and of the steps leading up to his conclusions. He must be prepared to submit his findings to the careful scrutiny of his fellow scientists, and he knows that, if there is a mistake, he must accept the proof of his error. This leads to a humble and modest approach.
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I wonder if it would not help us if we approached some of our social and political problems in the same way. It is only human nature to try to hide one's errors, but by testing our policies and programs for errors, we might find safer and better solutions to problems more rapidly than we do at present. It is quite evident that this method has led to greater and more accurate scientific knowledge and that man lags in the other knowledges which are needed for a rounded existence.
In any case, the courage to experiment and the willingness to accept criticism should be one of the cornerstones on which we build our approach to social problems. And since the problems of government are challenging today because they are new and constantly changing, it may be well to bear this approach in mind in that field as well.
The few days which I spent in Belgium and Holland showed me not only the great contrasts which exist between two small neighboring nations, but also that, in the case of Holland, the changes brought by war are going to require great changes in the character of the people and the adaptation of their traditions to new conditions. Their problems also have to be reviewed in relation to the problems of the new world which is evolving around them, and one realizes that honesty, humility and courage are going to be required to meet the new situations.