Science and I

The other day my son told me that in his school essays he is not allowed to use a phrase like “I will conclude that…” I agreed that such announcements are inelegant – just do it, and write clearly enough so that the reader knows what it is you’re doing. But that was not the problem. He is not allowed to use “I”, because “it is unscientific”. My heart sank. Why must 15-year olds be corrupted with this nonsense? It is bad enough that this dogma is stamped into our first-year students’ brains. Each year I need to reassure my bachelor thesis students that with me, they can use any personal pronoun they like. And then I have to reassure them again, because after all, they insist, using “I” is unscientific, everyone knows that. When it finally gets through to them that it’s really okay, they giggle. Continue reading “Science and I”

How to be irresistible

In the commercials for Axe deodorant, popular with adolescent boys, its qualities are always advertised in roughly the same way: by showing that a man – however unattractive – becomes irresistible to women when he smells of Axe. This modern variation on the love potion illustrates the kind of fantasy of control over other people that can be found, I suspect, in every culture throughout the ages. Whether by magic or by speech, with charisma or hypnosis, people have tried to make others do what they want in a way that is predictably effective. One could, of course, try to reason with the other, or, the other extreme, resort to violence, but naked reason is often too weak and physical force incites resentment and revolt. People have sought a more subtle, yet powerful force. Continue reading “How to be irresistible”