Science in crisis

Tin oxide
Tin oxide, viewed through an electron microscope. Science needs to overcome the negativity caused by excessively managerialist justifications of its value.

Last week, acting in my role as a priest at St. Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill, I introduced Tom McLeish as a guest speaker at a fund raising event. Tom is a polymer Physicist and Pro-Vice Chancellor for research at Durham University. He is also a Lay Reader in the Church of England and has just published a book entitled Faith and Wisdom in Science. Demonstrating an impressive breadth of knowledge, he makes a strong case for both science and theology being disciplines that share, if not the same methods, then at least a fascination with questions concerning the physical world, its structures and processes. The result is a genuinely fresh and positive contribution to the mostly (by now) tedious and sterile science/religion debate.

Beyond this however, one of the things that fascinated me most about Tom’s book was its argument that science is facing a crisis of both meaning and purpose. As he puts it:

“There is a narrative vacuum where the story of science in human relationship with nature needs to be told.”

As an arts graduate, I’m well aware of how the humanities have long been afflicted by the loss of “metanarrative” so celebrated by “post-modern” theorists and which – in my view at least – leads to artistic output that is often as pointless as it is self-referential. That there is such a crisis in science had never occurred to me, which makes me realise how much I’d fallen (unconsciously) for the lazy assumption that science is somehow, of its essence, a “value-free” activity, as if any such activity is ever possible.

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Why coaching works

Coaching reaches parts of the brain other approaches don't
Coaching reaches parts of the brain other approaches don’t

During these past three months, I’ve resumed my Masters studies in coaching – which partly accounts for the lack of posts here.  Aside from earning a living and maintaining family life, most of my spare capacity has been absorbed by keeping across the reading.  So it’s high time to put the studies aside and renew my acquaintance with my blog.

One of the things that strikes me is how my attitude to coaching has subtly shifted since I was last here.  I’ve always paid a lot of attention in coaching to my clients’ conscious sense of self.  I often tend to explore people’s values and aspirations, and what it would take to achieve better alignment with one’s values.  What this often flushes out is that we tend to hold a range of values that may contradict each other – such as the perennial tension between work and personal life.

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The science of valuing chaos in organisations

A fractal

Book review: Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley

Between the mysterious, almost inconceivable science of quantum physics and the mundane experience of working in a large organisation it would be hard to think of realms that are further apart. So Leadership and the New Science, by Margaret Wheatley, which seeks to apply insights derived from contemporary science to organisational life, is a book I approached with some scepticism. What possible relevance to the world of work could be found in the fundamental science of how matter functions below the level of the atom or how everything in the universe is inter-connected? These seem such big and incomprehensible questions that daily life is able to get along just fine without reference to them.

Reading the book, though, I soon realised that it was precisely because my thinking was shaped by the insights of traditional science that I couldn’t see the relevance of looking at quantum mechanics. If the world is more complex and mysterious than traditional science described, why is management still drawing on analogies informed by eighteenth and nineteenth century concepts. Might not organisations be more complex and mysterious than traditional management theory describes? By the time I’d finished the book, I had the impression that it had come about half a century too late.

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