A Symposium on the Nature of Science


Chris Quigg
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Science is one source and symbol for an imaginative, disciplined mind. In addition to giving us basic information we need to make sense of the natural world, the sciences teach us to identify and scrutinize our assumptions, to hone our powers of analysis, and to expand our capacity for synthesis. They impart great lessons for any vocation: to link cause with effect, to search for relevant evidence, and to seek the truth without self-deception.

As a method for exploring—for finding things out—science lives by its disdain for Authority and its reliance on experimentation and observation. The seventeenth-century gentlemen who founded the Royal Society of London took as their motto Nullius in verba—Don't take anyone's word for it! Scientists are human. They have limited powers, they make mistakes, they have incomplete knowledge, they may be too bold or too cautious in interpreting their findings. Science is a system by which imperfect beings can test and refine their understanding of the world.

Like the practice of science, the study of science must be more than acquiring a collection of facts. An awareness of how scientists think and how science is done helps us realize its limitations. Scientists are accustomed to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. Good scientific advice may be frustratingly conditional: sometimes scientists don't know enough to give a straight answer; sometimes Nature just can't be pinned down. And there are some issues—like moral choices—that science by itself can only inform, not resolve.

Scientific exploration is open-ended: today's facts are merely precise statements of what scientists understand at this particular time, not eternal truths. Science is organic, tentative; like life itself, science is a becoming, a great adventure of the human mind and spirit.

Chris Quigg
Theoretical Physics Department
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

Chris Quigg is internationally known for his studies of heavy quarks and his insights into particle interactions at ultrahigh energies. He has been Visiting Professor at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Cornell University, and Princeton University; Erwin Schrödinger Professor at the University of Vienna; and Scholar-in-Residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Study and Conference Center in Italy.

Professor Quigg has lectured and written frequently for the general public on the aspirations and achievements of particle physics. He was a consultant to WQED and the National Academy of Sciences for the Infinite Voyage television series and a featured speaker in the companion Discovery Lectures on college campuses. Recently he gave the first Carl Sagan Memorial Lecture in the series Cosmos Revisited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

A member of the Fermilab staff since 1974, Chris Quigg was for ten years Head of the Laboratory's Theoretical Physics Department. He served as Deputy Director of the Superconducting Super Collider Central Design Group in Berkeley from 1987 to 1989. Currently, he is Chair-Elect of the American Physical Society's Division of Particles and Fields.

Professor Quigg received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1966 from Yale University and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1970, under J. D. Jackson. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Physical Society, and was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. The author of a celebrated textbook on particle physics, he is Editor of the Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science.

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Last Update: August 11, 2000