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Letters to the Editor

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Isabelle de Courtivron, head of the Foreign Languages and Literatures Section.

I am writing in response to the article in last week's issue of The Tech ["Russian Lecturer Let Go as Part of Budget Cuts," Feb. 16] which stated that in order to meet budgetary constraints, the Foreign Languages and Literatures Section would not be asking Elena Semeka-Pankratova to return as a lecturer for the Russian Language and Literature section.

When I read that Professor Semeka would not be returning, my heart sank. I must protest, in the strongest possible manner, this death-blow to the vivacity and integrity of the Russian section of your department.

While I understand that shrinking budgets have required sacrifice of all the departments at MIT, and that no one wants his favorite section or professor to suffer the consequences, I truly believe that removing Professor Semeka is a grave mistake. If she is not asked to return as a lecturer, then you may as well save even more money by dissolving the Russian department completely. This is not to disparage the talents and teaching abilities of the other members of the section. However, Professor Semeka brings to the department both a singular first-hand experience of life under the Soviet regime and her own wonderful attitudes and style of teaching -- both of which make her, in my opinion, one of the best professors at this Institute.

I cannot offer suggestions for how to replace the money that would be saved by removing Professor Semeka, and for this I am sorry. Only you can determine the best course of action based upon the merits of each facet of your department, but there must be a way to reduce your department's budget without effectively destroying the high quality of one the Institute's finest sections. If Professor Semeka leaves MIT, I will mourn for the students of Russian language and literature who follow me at this Institute, for they will never know the joy that I have experienced as her student.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Brian E. Dunkel '93

Pursuit of Truth Is the Foundation of Science

I think it is extremely important to question the foundations of Loren King's argument in the article "Absolute Truth, Dogmatism Antithetical to Science" [Feb. 16] King states that "science works because no fact or belief is ever taken as being final." He uses this description and historical background to justify the absence of absolute truth. Unfortunately, his logic does not reinforce this conclusion. The appeal and drive of science is because of the scientific method of questioning all conclusions and retesting them according to emerging data. Underlying our scientific pursuits is the belief that our observations will lead us to uncover truths about the nature of the universe. King's statement that "scientific knowledge is never absolute" is correct in that we are presently unable to fully understand scientific truths. However, such truths do exist.

King characterizes believers in absolute truth as ignorant and reactionary, unwilling to reconsider their perceptions of absolute truth. However, it is scientists such as Galileo, motivated by a belief in knowable fundamental truths, who have challenged our perceptions of truth with new ideas. And all of our scientific research to date points to the same conclusion: universal laws governing the universe exist. Those who deny that such truths exist can have no motivation for the pursuit of scientific knowledge because their beliefs place the fundamental nature of the universe in an unknowable flux. King claims that "to call such arguments `Absolutes' is to deny the one fact about the world that is constantly impressed upon us: change." In his eyes, therefore, any knowledge we gain is nothing more than a snapshot of an ever-changing universe. What then would be our motivation for science? Logically, the relativistic view leads to apathy and the rejection of scientific pursuits.

Despite King's assertion that there are no universal laws or beliefs, he states an absolute belief when he writes "There are no timeless, ahistorical truths." Adherents of relativism must, by the nature of their belief system, abstain from making absolute statements such as "there is no absolute truth." Such a statement is self-contradictory because it is an absolute truth concerning the non-existence of absolute truth.

Finally, King finishes with his own moralization about religious intolerance. The prejudices that he ascribes to a large body of individuals that he doesn't agree with are non-relativistic in character. If King were consistent in his relativistic beliefs, he would realize that he cannot say anything with finality, as he has attempted to do. Just as it is circular and illogical to say that one plus two is three because three minus two is one, it is incorrect to use absolute, scientific arguments to prove that science is not absolute.

Alan C. Love '95