Sunday, May 23, 2021

A Non-Sokratic Monologue on D. Carleton Gajdusek and Some Conclusions on the Incommensurability of Moral Aggregation


Originally from a Twitter thread with Mike Bevel, most of which was captured by Threadreaderapp here:

Carleton Gajdusek bio here and on the Nobel Prize site. NYTimes Obit.

I met Gajdusek when the graduate student group at OSU invited him to give a keynote address. Because it was a big university, we had a good record of getting Nobel and pre-Nobel scientists to come and speak. 
@mentionsThe head of the group was a good friend of mine, and so I got pulled into doing shepherding duty for the 48 hours Gajdusek was in town. Which was absolutely great. 
@mentionsOliver Sacks, who was a friend of G's for many years said it was like meeting Goethe. Everything about him was heroic in the ancient Greek sense: his talents, personality, virtues, sins. Absolutely nothing small. 
@mentionsThere's a point beyond which IQ tests are meaningless, and extremely intelligent people can only compare others with themselves and say, "He or she is more of a genius than I am." Other than possibly Francis Crick, he was the most intelligent person I've ever met. @mentions
Spoke 14 languages and was well-read in most of them. Encyclopedic knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics. Saved a lot of lives, both as a physician and a researcher. 
@mentionsI learned more about being a great scientist from a few hours of conversation with him than in five years of grad school. Very funny. Very fat at that point. 
@mentionsAnd of course, it turns out that he was a pedophile who had been sexually assaulting dozens of foster and adopted kids from Micronesia, Melanesia, and elsewhere who had been sent in his care to get an education in America. Like I said, everything in epic scale, even wickedness. 
@mentionsAt first, the allegations were so shocking that I thought it had something to do with the Mad Cow Disease scare--one of the other scientists who was working on it in California was murdered in a break-in, another in Britain was run off the road. 
@mentionsWhich, together with sex crimes, seemed like ways that intelligence services got rid of inconvenient people. 
@mentionsBut of course, that doesn't rule out the fact that he was, in fact, sex criming. 
@mentionsThe second lesson you can pull from this example is that nothing is an absolute protection against doing great evil--not intelligence, learning, humor, bravery, artistry, any other talent--other than simply being kind to all human beings at all times. 
@mentionsOr, as Terry Pratchett put it:
Granny Weatherwax: "There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That's what sin is." 
@mentionsMightily Oats: "It's a lot more complicated than that--"

GW: "No. It ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts." 
@mentionsMO: "Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes--"

GW: "But they starts with thinking about people as things..." 

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