The Scientific Mind

Robert Heinlein’s Future History Series

Book Two: The Man Who Sold the Moon

(con’t from the last post)

This is my last post about this book. I’m leaving you with a few quotes from it.

In one of the stories that make up this book, a scientist is defending himself against a lawsuit over his invention of a machine that will tell him the date of someone’s death. It has been shown to work but is not accepted as legitimate by society, and the life insurance industry is suing him for making their product less profitable. The scientist:

The Man Who Sold the Moon“Is it necessary for me to re-educate this entire body of self-appointed custodians of wisdom? Cure them of their ingrown superstitions in order to prove that my predictions are correct? There are but two ways of forming an opinion in science. One is the scientific method. The other, the scholastic. One can judge from experiment or one can blindly accept authority! To the scientific mind, experimental proof is all important. A theory is merely a convenience in description to be junked when it no longer fits. To the academic mind, authority is everything, and facts are junked when they do not fit theory laid down by authority. It is this point of view, academic minds clinging like oysters to disproved theories, that has blocked every advance of knowledge in history.

I like to think that authority is not everything to most scientists who exist today (otherwise global warming wouldn’t even be a phrase right?), but I definitely get his point.

(This reminds me of how the theory regarding the impossibility of traveling faster than light speed is thrown out by many sci-fi authors. I’m sure it helps a storyline, and perhaps someday we will learn that it is bogus after all… but I doubt it).

This next quote is in the same scene, spoken by a judge who is meting out justice:

“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped or turned back for their private benefit.”

Amen!

I want to say one more thing about Heinlein. Sometimes I feel like he packs a lot of opinion and preaching into his stories, with some of it unrelated, like he wanted to get another word in but it doesn’t always seem 100% relevant. This is not to say he doesn’t tell compelling stories. He does, and I have a lot to look forward to in his masterpieces Stranger in a Strange Land, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Time Enough for Love, one of the books in the Future History series.

When thinking of my experience with these two books (Methuselah’s Children and The Man Who Sold the Moon, the first two books in the Future History series) I enjoyed both immensely and look forward to reading more and seeing how Heinlein evolves as a writer. And as a person I guess too, since he authored tons of books over the course of over 50 years, and these are just two of his early works.

Here is one more quote:

“Rich men aren’t more free than other men. They are less free. A good deal less.”

I’ll let you figure that one out. Thanks for reading about Robert Heinlein on my blog. I will come back to him in the future but for now I’m going to take a slight detour…

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