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Reader Mail

An Entrepreneurial Culture

Kudos to Provost Robert Chernow and Trustee Paul Severino for their efforts in building an entrepreneurial culture at RPI (“Ideas in Action”). It takes a while to make it happen, but it will build like a snowball rolling downhill.

Having started as an entrepreneur in 1968 and part of the startup in Silicon Valley in the 1970s, I know it takes a number of factors to grow the culture. A strong university base, a free enterprise system, good ideas well presented, the willingness to work long hours, venture capital, good marketing, good people, a network of like-minded peers, and some luck are some of the ingredients necessary to be successful globally.

The greatest contributions the United States can make to the world economy are teams of highly educated entrepreneurs who dream up the high value ideas that make the world take notice tomorrow. Bono said it best: “The USA is not just a place, it is an idea.”

Don Seehusen ’61
Boise, Idaho


A Place for Hope
We read with much interest the article on Linda Layne’s pregnancy loss research [“Motherhood Lost”]. Like Linda, our own devastating experiences with miscarriage compelled us to search for information and support. We turned to the Internet for help, but searched for days only to find sites that left us feeling cold, empty, and drained. Additionally we found very few people knew how to offer comfort, and many were scared they might say the wrong thing. Frustrated, we made a choice to help make a change. Based on a 20-year friendship, sisterhood (we are sorority sisters), and a special bracelet of hope, we created www.OurHopePlace. com, a site dedicated to friends helping friends through the devastation of miscarriage. The site offers readers guidance about how to comfort a loved one who’s experienced a miscarriage, as well as information about our own experiences so that women who’ve suffered a loss know that they are not alone.

While we wish miscarriage did not exist, the fact of the matter is it does — and it is common. With Our Hope Place we aim to provide women with some peace of mind, some help, some sisterhood, and hope. We applaud Linda Layne’s work. Her tireless advocacy to bring better support and care options to women who have experienced a loss gives us hope — every day.

Sharon (Lichten) Stenger ’87 and Laura (Sveda) Racanelli ’88
Wilton and Darien, Conn.


Girl Scouts Count
I just received the Fall 2006 issue, and I love to read the stats of the incoming classes. However, I’ve noticed one key statistic missing over the years. You list 67 Eagle Scouts in the Class of 2010, but I have never seen any statistics on Girl Scout Gold Award winners. As an Eagle Scout and father of three Girl Scouts, I can say the Gold Award is in every way a representation of leadership skills as is the Eagle Scout award. When we as engineers are struggling to recruit more women into our ranks, we should recognize the accomplishments of those who are joining us, and hopefully we have a few in our incoming classes!

Lou Lilley ’93
Azores, Portugal


Reason, Not Faith
Many of the letters attacking Prof. Sloboda (“Science Can Explain Everything”) assert that science is based on faith. This assertion is arbitrary; there is no reason to believe science is based on faith. Quite the contrary, science is based on reason — using the evidence of the senses, directly or indirectly, to derive valid concepts and principles using logic. Science is based on the evidence and its results can be logically proven to be true by tying them back to directly perceived facts of reality. Faith is belief without or in spite of the evidence. Ideas taken on faith are not provable or connected to reality in any way. The method of faith directly contradicts the method of science and reason.

Since everything in reality has a specific nature, in principle science is capable of explaining everything.  Everything leaves a “footprint” in reality - something that can be studied, analyzed, and understood. And everything we’ve discovered so far has been understandable. Science has proven itself time and again, from the smallest particles to entire cosmos, across civilizations and across millennia. Why can’t science know everything? Rather than going through a linguistic rollercoaster to refute this idea, there’s a much simpler way; give us an example. Five letters attacking science and yet not one gives a single example of something science cannot understand.

Examples in that exist in reality, that is. Ghosts, goblins, and God don’t have any referents in reality, no footprint, nothing to study or point to as evidence. So science has nothing to analyze from them. But, science does have something to say about things for which there is no evidence — they don’t exist.

If RPI truly wanted to be a leader, rather than just swallowing whole the latest politically correct fad — such as worshiping the “beauty” of religious diversity — I would teach that reason is man’s sole means to knowledge, his primary means of survival, and the only basis for science.

Daniel Caless ’85
Gloucester, Mass.


Contemporary science will never explain everything because the majority of contemporary believers can always find some unexplained event or untestable concept to counter the argument that “Science can or will explain everything.”

I suspect if one asked the proponents of intelligent design to list the top 10 reasons why there must be an intelligent designer, that within 50 years, science, if properly funded and inappropriately distracted, could logically explain each reason. However, I’m equally sure that another comfortable concept, perhaps “pre-conceptual brainstorming,” would surface and provide the necessary basis for another 50 years of smoke.

Randy Brown ’76
Newton, Mass.


In the Fall 2006 Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Online Edition five letters were published in response to Prof. Roger Sloboda’s letter (“Science can explain everything” [Summer 2006]). All of the letters opposed his viewpoint. In summary, they said (with contempt): “Don’t be so sure of yourself — so much is still unexplained.”

People might disagree over whether science can explain everything — but the essential issue, here, is whether anything other than science can explain anything.

People of faith say “yes.”  Scientists say “no.” The rhetoric may continue, but evidence is on the side of the scientists — faith rejects evidence.

The idea that a scientific explanation is better than an appeal to faith was, and should continue to be, a cornerstone of Rensselaer’s culture. Some people may choose faith as a means of coping with the as-yet-unexplained, but it is arbitrary for them to claim, then, that science’s power to explain is inherently limited. All that has been explained has been explained by science.

We should celebrate science rather than condemning it for not giving us what faith promises: a magical means of knowledge.

John Paquette ’85
Framingham, Mass.


I was happy to see so many thoughtful letters in the Fall 2006 issue of Rensselaer challenging Professor Roger Sloboda’s statement that “Science can and will eventually explain everything.”

Some additional thoughts:

Throughout my education I learned many principles that would keep me from making such a bold and absurd statement. Here are just a few:

  1. Be careful when using absolutes. (Learned this from my parents before I went to Kindergarten.)

  2. Some truths are self-evident, and science plays no part in establishing them. (Learned this in grade school civics class when studying the Declaration of Independence.)

  3. The scientific method is limited to phenomena that can be observed and measured by experiments that can be replicated. (Learned this in high school physics.)

  4. There are some things science can not establish with certainty. (Learned this at RPI when studying the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in physics.)

  5. Scientific measurements can not be perfectly accurate because of the “observer effect.” (Learned this at RPI in laboratory courses.)

  6. There are some things in the past that are unknowable. (Learned at RPI that you can never know from an equilibrium state alone the path to that state.)

Professor Sloboda’s statement really expresses a narrow view of knowledge and how we know. Science has provided only a very small portion of what we know and not necessarily the most valuable portion. What about the historical method used to know and write history? Do we not learn about beauty and emotion from the work of poets, musicians, and artists? What part did science play in what we know about ethics and moral values?

Perhaps Professor Sloboda’s statement was meant to be taken only in the context of the origin and development of life.  But even then, he must realize that information needed to reconstruct the past is relentlessly degraded over time and can never be fully recovered.

Surprisingly missing in the letter’s section is a response from Professor Sloboda either retracting his statement or further explaining it. Was he given an opportunity to respond?

George Zinsmeister ‘61
Emeritus Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
University of Massachusetts
Sunderland, Mass


Editor’s Note: Thanks for all the spirited debate on this topic!


We’d love to hear from you! To provide space for as many letters as possible, we often must edit them for length. Please address correspondence to: Rensselaer Magazine, Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, e-mail to alum.mag@rpi.edu, or call (518) 276-6531.

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