University’s mission – present aspect
Lucjan Piela, Franciszek Rakowski, Rafal Sicinski, Janusz Stepinski, Leszek Stolarczyk, Krzysztof Wozniak, Michal Cyranski, Zbigniew Czarnocki, Edward Darzynkiewicz, Wojciech Grochala, Jan S. Jaworski, Marek K.Kalinowski, Tadeusz M.Krygowski, Piotr Leszczynski, Krzysztof A.Meissner, Marek Pekala
Professor Solomon Asch, born in Warsaw, conducted crucial and now classical psychological experiments in the USA in 1951. In these experiments (out of necessity we will described them only very briefly) the gathered students received a drawing. Then Prof. Asch asked each of them to say which of three lines (A. B, C) was the same length as the left line (X). The students who actually participated in the experiment (and were not aware of that) were only those who gave their opinions as the last ones. Their predecessors agreed with Asch to give wrong answers on purpose, acting against the reason, that X was of the same length as A or C. The result of Ash’s research was horrifying. The tested students (answering as the last ones) gave wrong answers commonly, i.e. very often like the other students had answered. Thus the desire to ‘be accepted in the group’ wins over even the elementary common sense. One can say that as a matter of fact participants of experiments often state (influenced by ‘the opinion of their environment) voluntarily, publicly and with conviction that ‘2x2=7’... This is the power of suggestion; this is an area for manipulation within the so-called social engineering, the main help of totalitarianisms.
Defending the truth
However, the University is a unique community. The doctoral oath we took, common for the whole University, basically says only about the Truth, ‘not to vain glory but to the light of the Truth, on which the good of mankind depends, so that it can shine more brightly.’ Therefore, all university doctors expressed their convictions that the Truth existed and their aim was to seek it. We can have troubles to find it but we have something to strive for and we should do it, and the university is a special place in this respect. If the university ever gave up seeking the Truth we would become only a gathering of masqueraders in togas. The temptation to repeat Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’ – though allegedly attractive – is extremely dangerous, leading straight to nihilism and doubting not only in the sense of research but in all human activities. The first law of logic is that only Truth can result from the Truth but anything can result from falsity in a proper way. But sometimes we can recognise through imprudence something that is false as the Truth, and we make this mistake by simply abandoning unassisted thinking and hastily basing on other people’s opinion, without checking the validity of this opinion. Then commencing with a wrong premise we can provide logically correct proofs of literary all things, even that ‘2x2=7’… The situation is even worse because this ‘opinion’ can be presented as ‘the opinion of the majority’ or ‘the opinion of the authorities’, i.e. as the result of ‘serious research’ also when it is not true. The clever owners of the media can promote the virtues of some overnight and can finish others, causing the impression that what they write in their media is the opinion of the majority… and here they count on Ash’s effect resulting from the lack of independent thinking. In our opinion we are dealing with something like that on a universal scale and to a great extent in Poland now. The University and each of us should find inner strength to protest against this violation of the Truth.
Eliminating from public discussion
Let us begin with the statement that in principle one cannot see any place in Poland where a calm, serious discussion on any essential social topic could be held, discussion that would be properly long to present arguments fully, discussion based on the Truth and respect for every of its participants. Instead one can see either barracking invectives during ‘discussions’ on television or the radio or articles, in newspapers or weeklies; articles at the beginning of which the authors usually, in a delicate or not delicate way, incline the readers to like or dislike the one whom they dislike (and this is a pure manipulation described by Asch). Some are practically eliminated from substantial public discussions only because of the labels the media have given them. A mechanism of exclusion is the phenomenon of mobbing, which scientists have described well, i.e. mistreating a chosen victim in a group (e.g. in class). We show the victim as the cause of all our failures and nobody intends to listen to the victim’s arguments or harms. Not only strong strapping fellows but also other classmates, including the worst milksops, mock the victim. It happens because the desire to be accepted is, as Asch showed, a great power (in this case greater than morality and reason taken together) and besides, all people are interested in keeping aggression directed towards someone else and not to them. Nobody wants to listen to the victims’ arguments, moreover, the arguments need not be even presented (!), even the silence of these people is a sign of ‘aggression.’ They are not heard allegedly because it is not worth listening to them since the victims’ arguments ‘naturally’ result from their well known ‘to all and for long’ (again Asch’s term) mental defect. And additionally, there is the subcortical message as the object of manipulation, ‘Whereas we are enjoying perfect psychological health.’ But factually, it is better not to allow the victims to speak because they often have arguments that when confronted with ours show our intellectual poverty. But the fear of the Truth is huge since perhaps someone realises that ‘2x2=4’ and Asch’s avalanche starts falling but this time it will lead to the Truth. The ultimate way of defence against the Truth is the method of public derision, biting remarks about appearances, names, slips of the tongue, mimes, etc., which draw attention away from the crux of the matter and substantial arguments towards boorish farce and fun and these can be heated up endlessly (according to the manipulators). This method was used against the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski. The caricatures, «funny photos», sarcastic remarks, as a rule on an embarrassing level.
What do the Polish elites say?
Here we would like to respond to the article published in ‘UW’ by the historian Prof. Marcin Kula, who wrote that it was ‘just the opposite.’ Such things can be checked. We have a polite friendly request to Prof. Kula to document by showing references to the sources what slanderous words the President of the Republic of Poland used referring to his critics who called him a ‘boor.’ Then one of the influential MPs threatened the presidential candidate that he would ‘kill, gut and sell his skin’ in public and in the most important media. In Poland there were no organs to call the MP to order. Our culture respects the majesty of death in an absolute way. Now it has come about that the majesty of death can be ridiculed in public and in many periodicals. We did not hear any strong condemnation of such words by the public opinion, including the ethical council that has been established to react in such cases, and the other organs. On the contrary, these statements won approval and even applause of many, including those working at university (!) whereas the first and fundamental obligation was to protest against this style of speech. The style of the language of politics in Poland has gone beyond all imaginable borders; barbarity may be the correct word to describe it and this term may be even too weak. Language does matter because the way from such a language to ‘the crystal night’ by those who use or listen to such a language, is shorter than some seem to think. What do the Polish elites say to that? They are full of indignation. We know that they are worrying about Poland. We know many wonderful people whom we would undoubtedly count among Poland’s elite. And where can they be seen? Well, they are basically not visible at all and the reason is that these elites are not practically in the media (we do not mean the noble exceptions). We are extremely sorry to say but those whom the media promoted as the elites do not constitute any elites. They cannot simply be the elites because the elites do not behave in such a way. The true elites would have protested, would have not agreed to such a style of public debate. We still hope that there will be a protest against the impermissible style of public life, that the one that values Poland will feel that it is time to express it.
One cannot remain silent
The employees of Warsaw University and other institutions of higher education cannot remain silent in this situation because they are obliged to defend the Truth. University professors cannot remain silent when the Chicago convention is applied in the situation that the convention on its very first page, using clear words, excludes from its activities, and when one cannot see a serious investigation into the causes of such an extraordinary plane crash. University professors cannot remain silent when people ignore research methodology using simple tools to cut the hydraulic and electrical wires of the plane wreck the perfect functioning of which must have been important, and perhaps crucial, to the course of the events. Only reliable research can state whether the cause of the tragedy was the pilots’ mistakes. The media noise, which we have seen so far, means almost nothing, which leads to the careful, detailed, systematic, laborious, professional multidisciplinary research, turning attention to the allegedly unimportant details, we conduct as a rule. The Smolensk tragedy was a shock for us but perhaps even a bigger shock was the constant embargo on information introduced with strict rigour in our media within several minutes after the crash (!). This enterprise, which seems nobody could manage, has been perfectly launched, which in itself is a lesson of great importance. Regarding the Smolensk crash there are topics concerning physics, chemistry, law, political sciences, history, sociology, psychology, etc. to be examined. Should these aspects and many others, which have not been mentioned because of shortness of this article, be the areas for interdisciplinary research at Polish universities, including Warsaw University? They should be for many reasons. We will take up all future challenges and if we lack the will to find out what has happened the future of Poland will not simply exist. It looks as if nobody can take our place and we do not doubt that future generations will make all of us as direct witnesses of history accountable for that.
Only reliable arguments matter
Let us return to the quoted article of Prof Kula in ‘UW’ in which the author very clearly distances from the feelings of numerous Poles paying tribute to the President of the Republic of Poland. Many things that astonish the author and make him sad are neither surprising nor sad to us. We also see President Lech Kaczynski differently than Prof. Kula because we think highly of him. Prof. Kula has the right to present his assumptions and reflections, including those showing us which line in Asch’s experiment is right according to Prof. Kula. However, we have the right to choose such a line that results logically from our own, independent evaluation of strict facts, without considering other people’s suggestions. In the latest issue of ‘UW’ (October 2010), among many themes included in the article ‘The future of historians’ by the same author there is a clear concern about the danger of historians’ marginalisation. As chemists and physicists and also lovers of history we would like to express our deep conviction that we do not suppose that marginalisation ever endangers any reliable science dealing with essential issues, and history is full of essential issues to examine. However, examining who says something, how many people say it, what friends or enemies those who say it have, should not be decisive but instead the simple thing should matter: how reliable arguments can be peacefully and substantially presented to support a given thesis. Only that. Only such an attitude can be called rational. Only such an approach can be a way to heal the situation. It is not only the essence and mission of the University in the future and at present, but it is also the attitude of the future of each state.
1 Details of the research in: S. Asch, ‘Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgement,’ in: ‘Groups leaders and men,’ ed. H. Guetzkow, Pittsburgh, Carnegie Press (1951).
2 Polish Radio Programme II and e.g., discussions on various topics conducted there between 6 and 7 p.m. belong to the praiseworthy exceptions.
3 The pioneer of research on mobbing Prof. Heinz Leymann found that ‘maltreatment in a group gains a quality different decisive impulse when the superior whose function is to stop any persecutions joins the persecutors’ [cf. H. Leymann, Violence and victims, 5 (1990)].
4 M. Kula, ‘Dzwiek dzwonow niesie się nie calkiem czysto,’ [The sound of bells cannot be heard rather clearly] UW, 4 (2010) 32.
5 The statement of Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski on 17 July 2008 and the statement of Janusz Palikot, MP, in the programme of TVN24 on 23 July 2008 and 1 December 2008. r. The Warsaw Prosecutor’s Office discontinued the proceeding stating that the deed does not contain any features of a criminal offence. The same happened on 5 January 2010. (this time Mr Palikot used the work ‘runt’). The scientist – expert in the Polish language wrote in his opinions concerning these two cases that ‘the statement of Mr Palikot cannot be regarded as an insult.’ It is an extraordinary contribution of scientists into the political culture of Poland.
6 The public statement of Janusz Palikot, MP, on 9 June 2010 in Lublin, repeated by the media.
7 When this text was ready the murder in Lodz took place.
8 In 1931 in Leipzig the book ‘Hundert Autoren gegen Einstei’ was published. 100 authors gave short shrift to the relativity theory of Einstein. He commented on that, ‘What for as many as 100? If I were wrong, one would be enough…’
The authors are scientists at Warsaw University.