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Science and the common understanding by J. Robert Oppenheimer - Cultural Heritage Books

Science and the Common Understanding by J. Robert Oppenheimer


New York : Simon and Schuster, 1954. Stated "Second printing" on the copyright page. Hardcover. 120 pages ; 22 cm. $2.75 dust jacket. Owner name on front free endpaper. Pages are age toned. No markings within the book. Binding is firm.

THE 1953 Reith Lectures, delivered over the B.B.C. from London, were directed by Professor Oppenheimer to an examination of "what there is new in atomic physics that is relevant, helpful, and inspiriting for men to know." This led him, he says, into a relatively quiet room, that we know as quantum theory or atomic theory, in the house called "science".

"It is a vast house indeed. It does not appear to have been built upon any plan but to have grown as a great city grows. There is no central chamber, no one corridor from which all the others debouch. All about the periphery men are at work studying the vast reaches of space and the state of affairs billions of years ago; studying the intricate and subtle but wonderfully meet mechanisms by which life proliferates, alters and endures; studying the reach of the mind and its ways of learning; digging deep into the atoms and their unfathomed order. It is a house so vast that none of us know it, and even the most fortunate have seen most rooms only from the outside or by a fleeting passage, as in a king's palace open to visitors. It is a house so vast that there is not and need not be complete concurrence on where its chambers stop and those of the neighboring mansions begin.

It is not arranged in a line or a square nor a circle nor a pyramid, but with a wonderful randomness suggestive of unending growth and improvisation. Not many people live in the house, relatively speaking—perhaps if we count all its chambers and take residence requirements quite lightly, one tenth of one per cent of all the people in this world—probably, by any reasonable definition, far fewer. And even those who live here live elsewhere also, live in houses where the rooms are not labeled atomic theory or genetics or the internal constitution of the stars, but quite different names like power and production and evil and beauty and history and children and the word of God.

"We go in and out; even the most assiduous of us is not bound to this vast structure. One thing we find throughout the house: there are no locks; there are no shut doors; wherever we go there are the signs and usually the words of welcome. It is an open house, open to all comers."

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