William 0. Baker

Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, N. J.

 Talk given by Dr. William O. Baker at the dedication of the Materials Building at Pennsylvania State University on November 13, 1969.


Scientific research has meant an exacting search for facts, almost always serious, sometimes even grim. This is certainly not what the humanities are all about. In the study of Latin verbs, Milton’s poetry, Thucydides Peloponessian War, or even the classic education of language and mathematics, artifacts, properly correlated with logic (and often called truth), have provided human learning, and the essence of universities. Of course, quite recently in this century, scientific research has provided a base for technology, engineering, and invention, which have in turn revolutionized the human condition in the developed world. But many now question its effects on the human spirit and on the human mind. Such effects are greatly the concern of the university, deeply concerned with the mind and the spirit as well as, increasingly, with the condition of man. Thus, I want to report some things which would seem to alter drastically this historic difference between scientific research and humanistic learning.

Is the intellectual thrust of the Age of Science mainly that a new mystique, with an obscure special language (quarks, pulsars, excitons, ligands, DNA, …), has come from a self-perpetuating priest-hood? No—we suggest that rather it portends a new adaptability of the mind to drastic change, self-criticism, to intangibility. Above all, modern scientific research rejects over-certainty, and that there is one right or best way of doing or thinking. This ability and intent to abandon what seems satisfactory, or comfortable, is a major value of modern science in humanistic affairs. Scientific research has created new ways of stirring us from rigid, stagnant beliefs—for it has survived the critical test of success. Rather than being spoiled, and holding to what it finds will “work,” science has, often painfully sought the next step ahead. It is as impatient as any of our angry youth; it is a swinging way of life; it. is the strongest disestablishmentarianism we have in action.

It is said that the scientific search for facts in the first part of our century has liberated the mind and spirit from some physical constraints, but has not as well uplifted them in the sense of the confidence of the future meaning and glory of existence. You all know the mind-opening and body-helping part of the story. Science and technology have joined often in the universities and also in government and industry, to make a new physical world. The Curies, Roentgen, Thompson, Rutherford, Einstein, Fermi, revealed the nature and use of the atom and the nucleus, from x-ray therapy to the reactor and the bomb. All have helped in freedom, freedom from malignancy in the body, toil, and even subjugation by fascism and collectivism. So it has been also in the other great currents of discovery—by Maxwell, Thompson, Davisson, deForest and Arnold for the electron which has given us electronics and communications and some hold on overcoming time and space. Pasteur, Flemming, and their cohorts have eased disease in the hands of the medical engineers, and so on. These matters and their derivatives have, of course, been enormously pursued in the universities and have a part in answering the cries about relevance, humanitarianism coupling with society and advance of social justice. The agricultural sciences alone, in which this university has had so distinguished a role, have relieved human misery more than any other exercise of learning. Yet, as I used to watch Professor Shull in his broad-brimmed straw hat plodding down to his test beds where hybrid corn was developed, it seemed that he was propelled by something beyond the relief of hunger, by something which said with Aristotle “the search for truth is in one way hard and in another easy for it is evident that no one can master it fully or miss it wholly, but each adds a little to our knowledge of nature and from all the facts assembled, there arises a certain grandeur.” Now Professor Shull, the most humble and unassuming of scholars, wouldn’t have put it that way, any more than would Harold Black in discovering feedback, the great technological base of our age of electric systems, or Karl Jansky in finding the sibilant sayings of the universe when he first heard .the signals of radio astronomy. But some of these other meanings are what we seek now.

So our point today is that we have been at scientific research long enough and on a large enough scale to look for its broader imports. The scale has become large, of course, only very recently, as emphasized by the fact that most of the scientists who have ever lived are alive now (whereas humanists can hardly expect even recognition until decades after their death). Thus, we can begin to see these deeper meanings for the progress of mankind, and not just for the progress of the people who enjoy its material benefits. Since some of the present discomfort of the universities may be an over preoccupation with people as they now clamor, and an under concern with mankind as it evolves, some further explication of this emerging role of scientific research in humanistic learning is compelling. We shall pursue, especially by example, two striking aspects of this matter. One is the vision of the power of the mind that the concepts and insights of modern science have given us. The other is a product of the tools as well as ideas of scientific research; it is the new capacity for focus on simplicity in the face of ominous crowding and complexity. This latter deals with the essence of humanism, in preserving the personality and the freedom of choice of the individual. Thus, increasingly, by way of information automata, based on computers and communications, each single person will have increasing access to and even control of the information which assures his freedom of choice, and ultimately his freedom as a self-determining being.

In our modern society, each one must have a belief that he can simplify and pick meaning from confusion and complexity. Thus, the new era of logic machines and communications gives great promise of help, especially in the lives of students and teachers in universities. For here the sheer size of knowledge has already caused rebellion in the traditional methods of learning, involving lecture halls with examinations, books and libraries as they now function, and the content as well as mode of study.

So let us think first about the hope for thinking that comes from some of the things that science has probed, or more significantly that scientists have imagined and observed and then used to account for and often to influence our world. By the way, you note that these actions could have been ascribed to poets and philosophers and religious leaders also over the sweep of history, when they have imagined and observed and spoken to influence humanity. We think of all the noted cases: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God,” and then the great tribute to learning itself, when Francis Bacon said, “The greatest trust between man and man is the trust of giving counsel; for in other confidences men commit the parts of life, their lands, their goods, their children, their credit, some particular affair; but to such as they make their counselors they commit the whole; by how much the more they are obliged to all faith and integrity.” Then there grew the tributes to wisdom itself as in the ancient Proverbs:

“With wisdom did the Eternal found the earth,

“With knowledge did He raise the heavens;

“twas with intelligence he broke up the abyss and made the clouds drop dew...”

But even at this time there was a doubt about how far the mind could go in understanding, as it was said in the Ecclesiastes, “I thought to become wise, but wisdom remained out of reach. Reality is beyond my grasp; deep it lies, very deep, and no one can lay hands upon the heart of things...” Now we shall say, mindful of the rest of that noble passage, that modern science has peered into the heart of things beyond the dreams of the ancients or of many in our world today. And also we could speak of the imagination and insight of the poets and artists, of Michaelangelo in his Vision of Deity, or of John Donne’s Song of Life:

“Go and catch a falling star

“Teach me where all past years are,

“Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

“Or to keep off Envy’s stinging,

“And find

“What wind

“Serves to advance an honest mind.”

Or Shelley’s cry for immortality:

“The splendors of the firmament of time

“May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not;

“Like stars to their appointed height they climb, …

“The soul of Adonais, like a star,

“Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.”

Now you see it is just in this context that I submit that new strengths of human thought and expression are emerging from the work of science in our times. But please don't confuse this with sheer sentiment, in which I am fondly thinking of the beauties of a spectrum, or a nuclear reaction, or the x-ray pattern from a crystal, as lovely as those are. Rather, we assert that science has led the mind to seize more boldly, if also humbly, on the matters of our universe that has been done before. Therefore, we can expect that the mind will rise and grow through all learning as time goes on. This proposition was by no means so clear a hundred or even fifty years ago, and was by many thought to be lost in the Dark Ages a mere few centuries ago.

But now the vigor of new science is part. of world culture, ranging from knowing the nucleus of the atom to the function of the living cell. But what may be even more lasting in human history is the new reach of the mind that this science and its application in engineering and technology have engendered. And we should say again that such a growth has come from education in the university, where the continuous statement and restatement of learning cast it in the shape that can indeed extend thought itself.

An historic example appears in the modern science of light. Light, the guide of life itself, has of course stirred the great minds of all time to insight and explanation. Newton, Huygens, Helmholtz, Maxwell, Einstein--so is the roster, as slowly, heroically, man's mind comprehended the light of nature, and with Bethe and Heisenberg, the lightof the sun itself. Especially since quantum theory, this elegant structure of waves and particles seemed sufficient in principle, even though the vast matrix of detail always incessantly demanded study. Could we expect human talent to expand much the theories of Newton and Maxwell, or the experiments of Michelson and Millikan, about light? Was this too much like expecting an improvement or at least refined revision of Homer or Virgil or Milton or Shakespeare? Could the work of da Vinci be improved? Well, the situation is somewhat different, but this is where the pace of forward thought in modern science complements the humanistic appreciation of the university about what has been learned, and what is fine and great already. For our concept of light has been dramatically advanced and refined in ways which are revolutionizing both our understanding of waves and matter, and technology which depends on light. And it has happened in the remarkable freedom of inquiry and association across the field of knowledge, for which the university can do so much. Namely, over the centuries since Newton we have learned about other waves than light and other matter than photons. Especially, we have learned about longer waves, or radio waves, and how, as Maxwell foresaw, these are coherent and come all together or in phase from a particular source, such as a radiating antenna. Indeed, by using this the world has been linked together, and also freedom has been aided against tyranny by the development of radar and other radio detection. In the course of this, various people, including Dr. Charles Townes in our Laboratories, studied what kinds of matter, especially single rnolecules, interfered with or absorbed these waves. Then, just after World War II, Dr. Townes and his associates at Murray Hill pursued microwave spectroscopy, and found that single molecules, like ammonium, had an interesting range of motions which interacted specifically with some short radio waves. But these short radio waves, of course, were formed coherently, or all together, yet the interaction of them, as interaction of all light waves known then, was randomly with collections of molecules in the gas. Was there some way in which an agitated collection of gas molecules could be made to act in unison with respect to some radiation, such as wavelengths of light, that was interacting with them? The minds of Townes and his associates sought new dimensions of ideas about light and matter.

Around this time, and who knows what coincidences of thought stimulate such things, others like Professor Bloembergen at Harvard pondered other features of the beautiful consistency of modern science. Especially, they thought of the energy statistics of all matter as reflected in something like the Boltzmann principle and statistical mechanics. Generally, again, science already had a triumphant concept relating the probability of matter existing with certain energy to the levels of that energy. This seemed to explain such things as the density of the atmosphere on earth, and the power of steam engines, and the rates of chemical reactions. Could there be conditions where these principles were altered, where the concept was so sophisticated that a whole new sequence of energy changes or transitions could be arranged, perhaps indeed outside of anything ever encountered in the infinite versatility of nature itself? Professor Bloembergen and also Dr. Feher and Dr. Scovil at Murray Hill thought this might be done, because they had studied crystals in which new arrangements of atoms and energies could be achieved, a factor derived from the era of solid state science and semiconductors and transistors and solar cells. Also, the excited attention of a vast community of engineers and technologists who have based much modern social and economic capability on the detection and amplification of electromagnetic waves, stimulated convergence of these extraordinary, bold and creative lines of thought. The operational results have so far been the microwave maser, which technically was the essence of communications by earth satellite, and the laser, whose invention by Schawlow and Townes in 1958 has launched a new Age of Light.

But the meanings we seek today include but extend far beyond the technical effects, as profoundly as they will influence our times. The mind of man has invaded new domains and related in new ways to the universe, and this lifts all learning a little. Kumar Patel's invention at Murray Hill of the carbon dioxide gas laser, only a couple of years ago, now has led to a power density of 10 million watts per square inch, with a temperature of 20, 000º C, more than three times that of the surface of our primal light, the sun. In still another version of the laser generation of coherent light, a beam turned toward the reflector left on the moon by the astronauts now measures, at the Lunar Laser Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, a branch of the Air Force Cambridge Research Center, the distance of the earth to the moon within an accuracy of 5 feet. Silfvast's discovery of a helium-cadmium ultraviolet laser, scarcely over a year ago has now yielded less than 1 micron diameter spot sizes which can irradiate and modify a specific zone of the living cell, and the argon ion laser from our Laboratories has been applied at the Pasadena Foundation for Medical Research by Dr. Donald Rounds and Dr. Michael Burns, to modify preselected portions of a single chromosome. These things were not in essence just the result of ordinary scholarly or industrial technical pursuit, although of course much of their detail arose in that orderly way. Rather, they represent in essence a new step in thought, a new scale of learning and of vision. As such, those universities that are wise enough to honor research and science and engineering have recognized the new levels of knowledge. Now we must seek ways to excite and attract the best minds of the new generations, so that they will realize not merely the detail of new science and technology (which may not appeal to most of them) but will see the symbol of what is possible for man, through thought and learning, in stark contrast to what seems accessible by violence, mindless protests and barbarism.

Our instances of the new meanings of light, new coherent light, indicated the evolution of what was thought to be one of the most complete scientific systems, and even pedagogies. Similar drastic changes are involved in the new science of matter to which this great Laboratory is devoted. Of course you will have and will see illustrated the manifestations of such change, but I urge only that you think beyond that to the meanings for learning and for human harmony and happiness. Among other things, the priceless, precious freedom of the person, of thought, of questions, is engraved at every stage. This alone is a worthy element of humanism, where established things in science last only through their merit and reality, and never through stagnation and the status quo. Other current cases illustrate in the same way.

Knowledge of the crystal and the interaction of waves and particles in it promises also to become as vast and inspiriting a domain of the intellect for the strengthening of man's mind and his expectations of it as the fields discussed above. For instance, the basic principle of electrotechnology describes the resistance of metals to the passage of electric current in terms of Ohm's Law. it was first observed experimentally by the scientist Kamerlingh Onnes that some metals could be found in a state of very low temperature, in which they had no resistance whatever. Speaking technically, economically and socially, probably the greatest change that could come to world resources now would be a convenient system of superconductors or distributors of electric current with no loss. Thus the capital requirements for installation of electrical systems in developing areas like Africa, South America, and Asia would be so relieved as to revolutionize life there. However, only recently, despite years of striving, has it become clear from the experimental work of Matthias and his associates and the theoretical studies of Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer, that an exquisite insight into the causes of superconductivity may lead to the great innovations we imply. These stretches of the mind have occurred through the most ingenious concepts of the pairing of electrons and the application of quantum mechanics, along with the knowledge of solids such as is being pursued in this Laboratory.

Once more the example is strong, in showing not only the beauties of nature and the enormous social opportunities for the betterment of man, but also the capacity of the mind to reach beyond the abstraction of pure mathematics or the wonder of precise experiment to synthesize ideas which alter our view of reality and the nature of things. This is what research in the universities leads to, and most wonderful of all, it assures us that the poet was right in his aspiration of Ulysses:

“To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

“Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.”

But now we must end on the second of our themes, and that is the triumph over complexity and depersonalization, a goal which some had thought was threatened by science and, indeed, by higher education itself. The basis for progress here is in the digital logic machine or digital computer. This device is based on the heroic notion glimpsed by Babbage long ago, that it should be possible to encode all of human knowledge in simple signals that could be handled by a machine. It remained for Stibitz to show that binary coding, or binary logic, one-or-zero, yes-or-no, plus-or-minus, was the code. In a simple statement which will live for all time as one of the profound insights of the mind, George Stibitz said, “I had observed the similarity between the circuit paths through relays and the binary notation for numbers and had an idea I wanted to work out.” In 1937-39, he built in the Bell Laboratories the first electrical computer based on binary logic, and demonstrated it over a communications link from Hanover, New Hampshire, at a meeting of the Mathematical Society in September of 1940. The university scholars were similarly active, and Howard Aiken built the Harvard Mark I in 1944 using a decimal system, which was followed by binary electronic machines of Eckert and Mauchly, Mark II and Eniac, which became functional about 1946. The grand meaning of these achievements became clear, however, only in 1948 with Shannon's discovery of Information Theory, in which it was demonstrated that all knowledge in numbers, words, pictures, or other formulation could be completely represented by binary codes, fitting exactly the function of these machines. Wiener, Brillouin, and all the noble philosophers in this subject have now extended their thoughts.

The mind of man now has its help, its mechanical means, just as his body, over the ages, has been extended by the wheel, the lever, the engine, the rocket, the motor, and the wire.

Again you know what this use of automata has meant in practical terms; no defense against totalitarianism, no exploration of space, and increasingly no conduct of government, or ordering of economic and political affairs, could have come as they have without these computers. But that, again, is not our special thesis today, Rather, it is that in research using computers, as a tool of the mind, we see already new potentials for human achievement and for the simplification of learning so that whole new stages of individual insight and comprehension are at hand. For instance, in algebra, introduced by the Arabs, a plateau of capability lasting some thousands of years has now been transcended by such things as Brown's Alpak system. It enables 1 man-hour by a sophisticated professional mathematician to be equaled by 1 second on even an older digital computer. But it goes far beyond this facilitation. In its treatment of all algebraic operations, including substitution, differentiation, computation of lowest common divisors, and simplification through auxiliary relations, it allows a term of a multivariable polynomial to be stored in two machine words. Thus, in even a small machine, more than 8, 000 polynomial terms can be held in the memory, but the real thrust is that operations of algebra, forbidden to man by the fatigue qualities of his brain, are quickly and perfectly provided by the machine. Descriptions of nature previously only barely imaginable become immediately available. But what about other exercises of the mind intrinsic to all learning, to education and research? Another is the concept of space, the visualizations of dimensions, the principles of geometry. This includes the representations of drawings, eventually painting and sculpture. Here the machine again knows not the limits of our human grasp. It can easily process many dimensions and is now projecting for us through its regulation of an electron beam directly coupled to the output of the computer, figures in the fourth dimension and beyond. Even our perception does not meet this yet, but experience is building. Particularly intriguing are moving projections in which the machine creates a cinema with the electron beam showing the results of multidimensional change and showing how things interact far beyond the confines of our usual graph-making or building of often expensive and inadequate three-dimensional models. Computer graphics permit the manipulation of ideas and the display of the result in art, as recently discussed by my colleagues Knowlton and Harmon, who have created a range of programs from animated cinema to new architectural designs. Automobile and aircraft designers are now able to analyze instantly the durability and mechanical behavior of a diversity of shapes and structures, only a few years ago achieved by the most elaborate and frustrating empirical guesswork. Engineering schools and design centers face a new world of linking the imagery of the mind with the reality of materials.

By the multidimensional scaling techniques of Shepard and co-workers, we are beginning to analyze the most complex social attitudes and behavior, such as in Wish's current study of views of national characteristics by various segments of our American society.

So these are the reasons why this University and its new Materials Research Laboratory can take a leading part in a new era of confident hope for the future of learning and the enrichment of life by taking thought. No longer do the fateful puzzles of existence have to be rationalized merely by what the biologists call reductionism to the organic and chemical qualities of the human being. Rather, we see that the mind and spirit of man are capable of a depth of understanding which, while now merely skimming the surface of many matters, can be expected in free inquiry, given suitable physical stability, of the university, to grasp the meaning of much of the universe. Far from arrogance, this idea is the consequence of our experience with scientific research in the past few decades. Considering the moment in time of history that these represent, it is perhaps not surprising that there has been far too little realization of what these fragmentary episodes portend for the future of scholarly life, and thus for the future of all mankind. This Materials Laboratory already has a distinguished role in transcending the conventional boundaries of academic disciplines, which have grown up in the past centuries. In its refined objectives to understand the complexity of solids and their relationships in the matter of which we are part, we ask that it also be received as a working model of a new scholarship, in which we do not suffocate the spirit of creation and vision by an overburden of “factualism,” as intriguing as that may appear. Let computing machines and films and books do their proper work, but let teaching and study here recognize the ascending reach and capacity of the human mind in affirmation of the hopes often expressed by the humanities themselves.

And perchance this will provide the grand design, for certainly scientific research and engineering will keep on making us more healthy, less tired, more free, even if more material, but all these may be by-products of seeking the greater goal of being more human by having more thought. For of course the mind does make us human, as the first languages divined. In the earliest Sanskrit, the word “man” meant “to think.” Through the endless corridors of the edifice of language, men and mentality were long spoken as the same, and memory too was said with the same sounds. So the whole sweep of humanism is symbolized in the mystery and wonder of the human mind, as in the lines by Davis in “Immortality of the Soul”:

“God first made angels, bodiless, pure minds;

“Then other things which mindless bodies be;

“Last He made man.”