Lab NotesNotesReflections

Personal Lessons Learned from the November 29, 1963 Plane Crash

Very strong and vivid childhood memories.

This deadly crash took place on a Friday night, only a few miles from the factory where my dad worked. One of his colleagues was to be on that plane, but had suddenly changed his mind in the boarding queue.

Plane crash crater site

The next morning, Radio-Canada canceled the broadcast of Am-stram-gram children show as the topic of that week’s episode was aviation.

The following Friday, my father came home driving the prototype of a new model of airport fire truck of which he oversaw the design and construction. I was nine years old and had a brand new shiny red machine fireman at home only a week after a dramatic event where it could have served.

This truck was destroyed on test tracks in order to learn what were the ultimate capabilities and limits of the machine. The latest test was to run the truck through woodland similar to the one where the DC-8 crashed. When the truck gave up, its frame was crooked and the shiny red paint had been completely torn off from its flanks.

It is through many similar experiences that I learned very young that:

  • first, what is ultimately at stake with any technology is human life itself; and
  • secondly, the quest for knowledge almost always involves some form or another of destruction.
Lab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

Truthfulness of personal information as indicator of social morality?

ObservationsCan the level of accuracy of personal information items be indicative of the moral virtue of the social system in which the information is used?

This question came to me while I was doing some renovation at home while listening to Tapestry CBC One radio show. This week, Mary Hynes met Sam Harris in the wake of the publication of his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. A surprisingly short interview given that this show’s usual practice is to devote its whole hour to a single personality or subject. By listening to Harris, one understands. He certainly offers a convincing argument about the ability of science to shed light on a moral issue, or even to decide between what is right and wrong. However, the fierceness of his attacks against religions quickly annoys, thus weakening his argument.

Still, neuroscience, for example, can objectively observe through scanner and hormonal analysis that, in general, an altruistic action provides wellness to human beings who do it as those who receive it. It also observes as exactly the opposite effect with a selfish action, that it is even worse for a malevolent action. Many developments in biology, ethology and ethnology as well as psychology and sociology do offer increasingly revealing insights on various moral issues. As Harris points out, science offers here the advantage to transcend cultures, religions and moral systems because of the provable and universal nature of its conclusions.

What with the quality of personal information? The short answer is that, on one hand, science is dependent on the quality of its data and that this quality often depends on the willingness or ability of human beings to tell the truth. Still on the other hand, the level of accuracy of the provided information is measurable… scientifically.

The anecdotal answer comes from to two recent observations about the necessity…  to lie. (more…)

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