“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells, 1920
My professional activities are guided by a deep personal sense of mission, driven by my belief that our civilization is at a critical juncture in history. The crisis is manifested by symptoms like environmental degradation, explosive population growth, and losses of individual freedom. I maintain that the cause of these symptoms, however, can be traced to the fact that human understanding – and therefore human behavior – has not advanced in step with human knowledge. This discordance between knowledge and understanding is particularly acute in science and technology, and it has grown rapidly over the past century. The problem is familiar in a such areas as nuclear technology, where many of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb were unprepared for the political fallout that followed, and in the field of medicine where scientific advances routinely raise ethical questions. Nevertheless, I believe the problem goes far deeper than generally recognized, especially when we consider the gulf between the knowledge held by specialists and the broad understanding of the public. Indeed, I argue that most people are unaware of basic relationships between humanity and the natural world spawned by our advances in science and technology. The result, I believe, is that most people – including most policy makers – are presently unprepared to confront the significant challenges facing our survival.
I am further driven by a sense of urgency, as I believe that continuation of current trends in such areas as population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and weapons proliferation would lead to a global disaster within my lifetime. If we are to avert this end we must change our course, and our course can be changed only through education. My personal mission, which I intend to carry-out in my career, is to contribute toward the goal of global education with emphasis on promoting understanding of the relationship between humanity and the natural world.
The challenge of educating the masses of humanity is daunting, but I have great faith in the human spirit. I imagine the process of education becoming one of a chain reaction, with each small effort multiplied as individuals share their newly gained understanding with others. As we learn to understand our world, I believe that we also will develop the tools that can enable us to secure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for centuries to come. It is from this framework that I will develop approaches and programs to be implemented in my career.
My mission necessarily calls for efforts in science education, but I believe these must be undertaken within a broad framework. In particular, the approach to education must include all of the following:
- Understanding of the relationship between humanity and the cosmos. The sense of “perspective” involved in this relationship is, I believe, necessary for any individual in order to provide a context (e.g., a “world view”) against which to place all other knowledge.
- Quantitative literacy. To understand the scientific and technological issues that will affect our survival requires a certain level of literacy with basic quantitative concepts.
- Environmental education. Most of the near-term threats to our civilization are likely to come from problems with the environment. Environmental education includes concepts in physics and chemistry necessary to understand issues like ozone depletion and climate change.
- Space education. I believe that the health of the human spirit is intimately linked to opportunities for exploration. While the Earth still offers much to be explored, particularly beneath the oceans, only space exploration offers a truly unbounded future.
- Human rights, especially rights of women and of currently impoverished people. Without a sense of human dignity and personal opportunity, education will not carry meaning. Success of global education efforts can occur only within a context that offers the hope of better lives for those who have historically been denied opportunity.
- Partnerships between the public and private sectors. Private business drives the global economy, and hence is the power that must be tapped in order to provide better lives to all humankind. Indeed, private business represents the most powerful force for change in the world. Yet modern education is primarily provided by governments. A stronger relationship between the public and private sectors is critical to the success of a global education effort.