Cargo Cults

In his book Surely, you are joking Mr. Feynman, the physicist Richard P. Feynman refers to his commancement speeches at Caltech in 1974. Here he coined the term "Cargo Cult Science", referring to cults which appreared in indigenous island societies in the Pacific after the second World War. Here, mostly around Samoa, where American Naval Bases were supplied by air, also the local tribes had direct or indirect access to the goods flown in. They knew they were coming by plane, but they never really understood the process. So when the US Military closed the base, no more planes were coming and all the nice things did not drop from sky anymore. The indigenous people though realised the connection between the supplies and the planes and started to build own planes made of bamboo, simulates landing strips light with fires and also built wooden control towers in which people were sitting with headsets made of coconut shells shaking their heads and chanting prayers to please the plane god to come back. The point Feynman wanted to make back then, was that scientific publishing which is not referring to true experiment and understanding, is like a Cargo Cult, missing actually the point. 

Once you start looking for such "Cargo Cults" around you, the list does not seem to end. Last time I was in Changchun for example, people were wearing suits and mobile phones, because they saw the people who have been bringing them cars and technologies for the last 20 years look like that. They never really thought about how these technologies have been developed and invented and they think all these just have been brought into their country by pale men with suits and beer bellies. As a result they try to look the same. Some of them go a bit further and understand that there must be "holy documents" behind this. So, they secretly copy all documents they find on their USB flash disk and store them in a department which keeps them as a holy grale. When they see that this does not help, they also copy the rituals and put them into PowerPoint slides and have meetings to worship them. But no cars are falling out of the sky and the "self development capabilities" are as far away as they have been a decade ago. It must have something to do with the education of the pale men. So, the members of the cult also go out to Universities and obtain academic degrees. But they don't really learn much there, because they think the academic title makes the difference. They would also wear coconuts and shake their heads, no doubt. 

But this is just one example. Just look around you how many people have coconuts on their ears and try to become "successful" or "creative" or "rich" or just go to heaven instead of hell. I always enjoy reading Feynman, for his view more than for his science. This is more owed to the fact that I do not understand his science, but really appreciate his view.