Saturday, February 16, 2008
I first encountered Lewis Wolpert in 1992 when my book Understanding the Present was published. There was a debate at London University. I had never done any public speaking before and Lewis, a suave performer, tore me apart. Since then we have become friends, though he still regards everything I say with unalloyed contempt. It's an odd friendship. Never having had much faith in my own insights, I find his derision bracing. But I am sure that he's missing the point in his contempt for philosophy and his repeated insistence that, in effect, there is only science. I seem to recall I only once got this through to him on Radio 4's Today programme by pointing out that we should beware of our certainties since we were only passing through. Anyway, yesterday I heard him on the radio saying, as he always does, that science offends common sense. Look at the cell, he said, surely it is against common sense to believe that our bodies are made of cells, yet that is what science has taught us. But if we do look at our bodies through the eyes of common sense, it is clear that they must be made of something and, whatever it is, it must be fairly strange stuff. There is nothing about cells, therefore, that offends common sense. Lewis, I realised, underestimates the oddity of knowing anything at all, of being human. But, in doing so, he is, as I say, bracing.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:55 am