The Joys of Science
By Chris Wilson
In an increasing materialistic world it would seem that Science must have the answer. Gone should be the days of superstition, irrationality, and adherence to powers or things unseen, and in their place a society ruled and regulated by science should thrive. Certainly the potential for this to occur should be there, as do we not have a truly magnificent accumulation of scientific data to make this possible? If this were true, and surely only a fool, would argue otherwise, then why should we not create such a society, and if we were to do so, what glorious communities might evolve.
No more mysticism, no more paying homage to unproven, and unsubstantiated figures of authority, and no more mess and clutter to hinder a utilitarian dream. In its place a society based on the greatest good for as many individuals, and a regime of living based on proven knowledge, tangibility, logic and common sense. Why is it then that we still live as we do today, why is it that science has failed to rule the roost?
Might the answer be that in addition to having a mind that is too powerful for us to control, we also show a stubborn propensity for abusing or adulterating such powers as we can control? Even worse we are often seem to follow paths of stupidity even when better alternative paths may be readily available. We do have such a mind however, so how do we regulate our societies, and what role has science to play? The notion of what constitutes a civilised society is highly debatable, but when you evaluate how a modern advanced western society operates, it is fair to say that science has always played, and will always play, a significant role. Without scientific method and observation, and without the accumulation and interpretation of knowledge over the years past, and over the years to come, we simply would not be who we are today, and what would our future hold?
Some might say that a better future might unfold, and that we need to return to a more natural life style, but if we look at the larger contribution of science is that possible, or really true, and even if we wished to do so, would it really be practical? Think of what we take for granted as part of everyday automatic life, and then take science out of the equation; just try and see what is left. There would be little or no food, heat, lighting, medicine, entertainment, transport, sanitation, computerisation, and certainly fewer of the more complex benefits we often enjoy. We wouldn’t even be able to go back to oil lamps, steam engines or even to the wheel for where do you see these in the natural world?
Quite simply we could not operate our lives without science, for it has enriched and ennobled our lives over many centuries. Without its insight, our knowledge of the world, both personally and communally, would be dramatically different. It is true that if we were to remove the influence of science we might return to who we were thousands of years ago, and regain some of our more natural instinctive instincts that served so strongly in the past. It is true that this might benefit us as a whole, but think of what we would stand to lose, do we really wish to lose our homes, our comfort, and the convenience that so many of us enjoy? Somehow I think not, and addition to what we have discussed already we are forgetting as unknown benefits from current cutting edge science, or from as yet unknown and unimaginable scientific development to come. If all that has been said is true, and if science has will give us so much more as the rears roll by, then should we not revel in such powers and knowledge, and give both current scientific knowledge and experimental science full reign?
I maintain, with great sadness, that we cannot do so, as I believe that just as the mind may be too powerful for us to control, might not the knowledge potentially gained through science fall into the same category? I am not saying for a moment that the information discovered or released through scientific investigation necessarily has a mind of its own, or that is has a conscious desire to harm us or anything else for that matter, but how can even the finest of scientific minds give us a guarantee of safety when such guarantees only come with the full knowledge of any such product? Our problem seems to be that having discovered how to unlock such knowledge we do not always seem to have the capability to either regulate it’s use, or stop it’s flow at an appropriate time. If this sounds a little strange think of running a bath and see where that leads us.
We have the knowledge to build a bath, complete with a chain and bung, and we have acquired the technology to access a water supply, along with a regulator by which we can control the flow of water, and the final amount we wish to use. Thus we have used scientific knowledge to run ourselves a bath, and to enjoy such benefits as might accrue. What if we were not able to regulate the flow of water however, or to eventually turn of the supply? What if the water pressure were too high, what might happen then? If we could not get out of the bath we might drown, but a more likely result is that the bath would overflow, and that slight to severe, or even terminal structural damage might occur, resulting, of course, in possible damage or death to ourselves. Even if such a calamity were to be avoided, and the water flow could be stopped at an appropriate time, we still might face a problem if we had failed to design a system by which the dirty or waste water could be removed.
If we look at the outside world though, the scale of such problems dramatically increase and sadly, examples are all too easy to find. What if we were to choose nuclear power though, and more specifically the use of nuclear power to supply power to various national power grid systems throughout the world? When nuclear generated power was first presented then advocated the scientists promised us a cheap, clean, safe, and almost inexhaustible energy supply, which would rid us of our dependency on all manner of dirty fossilised fuels that we had hitherto been reliant on for years. No more pollutants, no more reliance on black gold, and no more miners scurrying around in the bowls of the earth digging out coal. All these would be history, and in their place white coated technicians would serenely cruise around spotlessly clean control rooms, giving us incredibly cheap unlimited power from within state of the art generation chambers, which would discreetly but powerfully purr back at the technicians in turn. This was the way forward, this was the future, and all we had to do was turn on a switch and such power might be ours to use. In some respects some of those claims were true, but very soon this power system we created began to slip out of our hands, and in doing so has it not, at times, fallen out of our control. Do we as yet have a truly effective waste management system for nuclear waste and by products?
We may store such items deep underground under stable conditions, or create special waste reprocessing centres, but even the greatest optimist would say that a permanent solution has to be found. What of the leaks and accidents that have occurred over the years, from plants that were designed to be utterly fail-safe and secure. Under such circumstances no one has deliberately caused the system to fail, but they have failed, much to the discomfort of those both inside and outside of the nuclear industry. Mercifully, in Britain, we have avoided major nuclear disasters like Chernobyl, but we still have the same problem that faces any nuclear power system. The need for power is still there, as is the infrastructure that we have so painstakingly built, and the fuel that drives such an operation is still very active indeed, so even if we wished to terminate our dependency of nuclear power, how do put such a genie back in it’s box. Mercifully we are a very resourceful, so we generally find ways, for the moment, by which such an operation can continue, but if we have this much trouble dealing with things or powers that are familiar to us, or of our world do we not potentially face an even bigger problem if we seek to explore regions that are beyond anything we know, or that we can potentially control?
How many of us have gazed up at the night sky and wondered about what might be out there. How often do we try to visualise distant stars, planets and galaxies, or wonder about what lies at the very centre of a black hole. For most of us the realisations of such objects are only played out in our dreams, as we do not have available knowledge, power, or resources to bring such dreams into reality. The scientist is in a different position though, just think of how he has realised our dreams and consider the evidence that now lies before us all. Visual imagery of stunning detailed clarity lies only as far away as the touch of a keyboard button. We have a wealth of information and scientific understanding that our fore fathers would have dreamt to be unimaginable yet, as previously stated might the drive learn yet more lead us into areas that we would, with hindsight, avoid. Science now talks of worm- holes, parallel universes, alternative life forms and all manner of weird and wonderful things, some of which we will again refer to later on in the book when we talk about time.
Scientists go further, and dream of accessing distant parts of the universe through such mechanisms and exploring what might be there, but if we do ever succeed in such aims what might follow in our wake, or even bypass us so as to reach us before we, as explorers, return. What if such visitors came in a form that was unknown to us or what if such a presence was in the form of a power source or chemical that we might not know how to control or that existed outside of our known scientific parameters? This might sound fanciful to some, and visions of bug eyed multi-limbed aliens come to mind, but consider how life on earth might have emerged all those millions of years ago. How many scientists now talk of meteoroid or comet impact, and of how alien bacteria might have hitched a ride? I am not saying for a second that some kind of alien invasion is imminent, or that extra terrestrial Armageddon is nigh, although we never know what might pop out of a worm hole these days, but we cannot ignore the possibility of interstellar or potential inter universe material, or power exchange, if science is allowed to advance at will. So it is that we might say that though scientific discipline or scientific methodology does not kill, the poor or inadvertently blind application of scientific knowledge can kill, so while it is true that great benefits have accrued over the years, think of the overall price we have all had to pay?
We have gained the power to communicate in seconds, and the means to race around the globe, but we have lost our privacy and often our security, and now the world, and the universe, seems smaller. We have gained enhanced security through advanced weaponry, but such weapons have to be muzzled as they have the power to destroy us all. We enjoy the marvels of modern medicine, but now have the super bug that kills. Worst of all though, we have gained momentous scientific knowledge, but in our uncontrolled scramble to gain such knowledge we have lost, as adults, our sense of wonderment and awe. Has such awareness gone forever, no, look into the eyes of a young child when it talks to an imaginary friend, and you will still see it there. As adults we look, laugh, and almost mock what he is doing, but what does he see, and in what world does he play? Shouldn’t we be pitied, and shouldn’t we be mocked for our stupidity?
Scientists will say that the use of the knowledge they have given us is not their concern, and in some respects this is true, but if they are clever enough to produce such information, they cannot distance themselves when things go wrong. So it is we almost have to a ask ourselves the question of whether we should continue with scientific study, and, if we do so, how we might regulate the usage of new knowledge once such understandings have been perceived and released. Its potential usage will be discussed later on in this chapter, but there are two facts we can state for certain. We have opened Pandora’s box, that all to mythical yet all too powerful box wherein all mankind’s evils were stored; and we can no longer live our lives without the knowledge stored within. Quite simply such knowledge is here, and it is here to stay we cannot send it, or pack it, away.
So it is that faith and science, both have their strong and weak points, so might our salvation lie elsewhere? There is one other group worth looking at, and it is the group that believes in the interests and needs of human beings with potential self-fulfilment by such rationales. There are many individual trends within this group, ranging from humanism and secularism, to the slightly darker anarchism, and ultimately to nihilism, but all hold the belief that any problems facing mankind can be dealt with by social or political reform, and that religion or belief in external assistance is absurd as, quite simply, nothing is there. Viewed logically this would seem to be quite a sensible approach as it demonstrates a degree of self responsibility, and by concentrating on practical problem solving, it would seem to offer the most practical solution. Even here though darker elements begin to emerge, as do we, as a society, really wish to promote an ideal or philosophy which promotes the destruction of our social and political systems by variable degree of violence, is this really a way for a society to progress? Under certain circumstances history seems to indicate this may be justified, but to promote it as a deeply held philosophy seems both negative and, potentially, very destructive.
So far it may seem that advocates of faith, science, and humanist or secularist, have nothing in common for how can you bind together systems which are diverse? To go from a belief in an all powerful external deity, to a belief that nothing might exists, nothing might be communicated and that nothing might be knowable, seems impossible, but are not all such systems bound by two common threads? What are these threads, why they are a very simple lack of proof, and secondly a natural belief arising from that lack of proof. Can any of the disciplines, including that of science steer clear of such allegations? The problem for faith is obvious, as has been demonstrated earlier, but science barely fairs any better, as it is tripped up by its own founding operative principles. If science states that that any proof is only as good as the evidence currently available, then how can it claim anything with certainty when it states, at the same time, that such evidence is continually emerging due to enhanced diagnostic methods, and ever improving scientific or investigative equipment.
If this statement is true, then even the finest proof becomes questionable, yet the scientist, humanist, or secularist believes in what they say thereby creating a belief system that, technically should never occur. In addition such groups have one other problem and that is it’s awareness of emotional power, and the inability of rational thought, to truly describe what such power might consist of. They may well talk of chemical interaction, and of body language, but can they really claim that they have the answer to everything, especially when faced with such a power? I can only assume that if they claim otherwise they have never led a full or partial emotional life, either that or their arrogance knows no bounds. Finally how can there be truly conclusive proof when our knowledge or appreciation of who we really are is in reality so limited? If we were trying to light a room with such knowledge, we would have barely lit a candle, let alone invented a more powerful source of illumination.
As no one group has absolute proof then how can any group claim credence over another, and if this is, so might not such a fact work to our advantage? When a group of people join together in order to get a job done a team often forms, and it is a general rule that such teams work best when each individual skill within the group is recognised, accredited, and used to the full. In this case might the proactive union of all three, while still recognising both their different points of origin and their different points of view, form a larger team? In such a situation might not the scientists produce the facts, the social reformers use the facts and the theologians aid us in matters beyond our understanding?
Does such a solution smack of childish simplicity, at first glance it certainly does, but if we view such a solution as a starting point or as foundation stone for greater things to come might things seem a little clearer then. Isn’t it time all parties talked to each other, rather than at each other, and lets be honest, our present system scarcely seems to be working very well now. Would such a union face difficulties, of course it would, we’re all human, and if we believe in something, obstinacy and selective blindness soon sets in! It is difficult to agree within a team of consenting individuals, let alone when conversing with others who disagree, but if all parties could listen with an open mind, think of the results that might be achieved, think of the harmony that might prevail?
Regrettably nothing is quite so simple in life, for if there is nothing else that can be guaranteed in life, it is the fact that if humans can mess things up they invariably will. Examples of this phenomena are readily available, but behind a lot of such occurrences lies a mind set we face nearly every day, for within us all a continual battle rages concerning what we want to and what we ought to do, and it is to this area we turn to next. So it is we turn to the world of morality, ethics, and principles, so it is we look at a world of internal and external contradiction that bedevils, befuddles, and confuses us all.