Historical Content Note: The following material is reprinted from publications from throughout Fermilab's history. It should be read in its original historical context.

Guest Commentary by James E. Griffin

James E. Griffin

James E. Griffin has been an NAL staff member since July, 1969, coming here from a position as assistant professor of physics at Iowa State University and associate physicist at the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State. He has been intimately involved with many milestones in the development of NAL; his speciality is radio frequency systems. Jim and his wife, Marilyn, and their five children live in Wayne. He is a person of broad intellectual interests. He holds a commercial pilot certificate; his wife and daughters join him as leaders of the new NAL International Folk Dancing Club. Marilyn and Jim were both candidates for office in recent Wayne township elections.

I have recently noticed the quotation attributed to a professor at Harvard University: "Science as we know it has outlived its usefulness." While the quotation may be incomplete or out of context, still it clearly conveys a sentiment which one senses is beginning to prevail at many levels of society. In such a context, one might reasonably question the validity and meaning of a scientific facility such as the National Accelerator Laboratory, devoted exclusively to the study of forces which act only over infinitesimal distances and of particles which "live" only billionths of a second. Why is fundamental particle research important to anybody, or to everybody?

Such a question is certainly related to much broader questions regarding the nature of humanity and the human destiny. If there is anything about humans which distinguishes them from other living organisms of our acquaintance, it is their natural motivation and ability to look about themselves and into themselves, and make reasonable descriptions of what they see. All animals have territorial imperatives, forage for food, procreate and succumb eventually to injury or disease, but only one, humankind, measures the dimensions of his cosmos and pursues the mechanisms of its inner workings. This single attribute seems to define, for me, as much as I am capable of leaning about the human destiny. This definition of humanity includes such pursuits as mysticism, art, literature and, of course, science. I think of all these disciplines as ways men have developed of communicating with each other by creation of symbols representing the structure they observe.

So I will argue that NAL is important, simply because it is the frontier of a long sequence of uniquely human adventures. At NAL, mankind is going about his proper business of seeking to understand the rules of the universe. Of course, everyone can’t get directly into the act; somebody has to grow the crops, treat the ill, and generate the electricity. But I will argue that in a general way, the society of man does believe in and supports various quests to understand the unknown. While we may think of Faraday or Maxwell or Gauss as having led the way to early understanding of the electrical phenomena, we nevertheless think of mankind as having developed the use of electricity in a larger sense.

If science has truly outlived its usefulness, I am curious to know what discipline to substitute for it which will define as uniquely the human condition. When one considers the age of the universe, tens of billions of years, and compares this to the age of man, a few million years, or to the age of history, just a few thousand years, it is clear that we haven’t been out of the swamp very long. We are just beginning to learn where we may be headed, just beginning to assert our humanity.

Three hundred years ago, Isaac Newton was publishing works describing his clear conception of the rules of gravitational mechanics. This was a step forward in human insight. At the same time, reasonable men were burning witches. I, at least, do not look upon that as having been a very productive human activity. We don’t do that much any more. Perhaps three hundred years from now, people will look back to our lifetimes as a time when men unfolded Nature’s rules governing the nuclear structure of matter. They will also note that during this time, men had a habit of burning entire villages from the air. Let us hope that they consider the first activity a leap forward in human insight and the latter on inhuman activity which they no longer practice.