Address to a Unitarian Universalist congregation on my Heritage
I was invited to speak on the theme of Heritage to my UU congregation. The prompt assumed a more conventional interpretation, but I’m going with a Progress focused approach. It’s for a audience who doesn’t self-select into reading a websites on economic history, so I’m keeping it pretty mainstream, but trying to capture the essence of what gets me excited about Progress Studies.
I deliver it in 14 hours, wish me luck!
Today, I wanted to highlight a type of heritage that’s intangible yet profoundly impactful— the practice and knowledge of Science. It’s a vast reservoir of knowledge amassed over centuries, ready for our tapping. We aren’t born with an understanding of the world; we acquire it, often from those who came before us. The fact that some still believe the earth is flat illustrates that a grasp of basic truths isn’t a given—it’s learned. And much of what we learn has been meticulously constructed over centuries of human exploration.
The saying goes, “we see further not because we’re taller, but because we stand on the shoulders of giants.” This encapsulates the essence of this intellectual lineage. Consider Isaac Newton, who unveiled the laws of motion, laying a cornerstone for modern physics. Fast forward to the mid-20th century, the heyday of statisticians whose work now underpins my own career in the complex realm of healthcare data. A personal turning point was applying a simple, but surprisingly recent mathematical discovery named Bayes’ Rule to a personal medical decision, an experience that underscored the enduring relevance of historical insights.
Even these remarks benefit from 19 revisions, each but the last written in dialog with an Artificial Intelligence named GPT-4. This synergy signifies our era—a time when we not only inherit a rich intellectual legacy but also have unprecedented tools to expand it. I’m just the latest baton holder in a centuries-long relay race, and my daughter will be one of the next.
What am I passing on to her? She already knows to sing “I’ve got a hypoth-thesis, I’ve got a hypoth-thesis” from the show Ada Twist, Scientist that makes up much of her screen time. She understands the number 0 which, to my point about standing on the shoulders of giants, even the smartest ancient Greek mathematicians did not even have a symbol for. Science is also granting her a world potentially free of Malaria, and whose vaccine was validated by a massive scientific study, whose analysis was shared mere weeks ago. In her short few years she has already seen science used to fight not one but TWO global pandemics, each killings thousands per day.
So to her, and to myself, and to our whole community, I wanted to re-affirm that our scientific heritage isn’t a static relic of the past; it’s a dynamic, evolving force, driving us towards a future brimming with promise and discovery.