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the Post-Scientific Age?
Posted: 01 May 2008 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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While I don’t remember what the program was, nor even the topic of discussion, I distinctly remember a person recently claim that we are living in a post-scientific world. As I was driving, I grew very concerned that this meant that science had stopped working, and since this would mean a repeal of Newton’s laws of motion, I feared that my brakes would cease to operate with catastrophic results!

Of course, I realized that this person (Damn! I wish I knew who it was!) was implying that in our post postmodern world, that science is looked upon by many as just another philosophy, no better or worse than any other system of belief.

Sadly, this seems about right.

As documented here on this forum, it seems as if the forces of unreason are amassing in ever larger numbers. Their voices are thundering that their points of view must be heard. Worse, the people in positions of power, ever willing to grease a squeaky wheel, seem ever more determined to acknowledge and know tow to them.

What do we think here? Have we entered the post-scientific age? And what would be the remedy for it?

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Posted: 01 May 2008 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Clearly, people are losing faith in the sciences, for they have not delivered on their promises of a better world. Sure, we have all sort of technologies which are touted to make our lives better, but the truth of it is that they simply complicate our lives, and add stress. Further, all this so-called technological progress has ultimately resulted in the near destruction of both ourselves (human beings), and the planet upon which we rely for our existence, and the existence of future generations.

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Posted: 01 May 2008 08:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Jehu”]Clearly, people are losing faith in the sciences, for they have not delivered on their promises of a better world.

I would take issue with that statement. Nearly every nation in the world enjoys a better standard of living thanks to scientific advances.

[quote author=“Jehu”] Sure, we have all sort of technologies which are touted to make our lives better, but the truth of it is that they simply complicate our lives, and add stress. Further, all this so-called technological progress has ultimately resulted in the near destruction of both ourselves (human beings), and the planet upon which we rely for our existence, and the existence of future generations.

These things complicate our lives because we allow them to. No one make us buy and use all the technological toys we have, they are conviences we desire to have and use. They don’t give them to us for free, we have to buy them. They use marketing to convince us that we can’t live without them. Personally, I would gladly give up my cell phone, FAX machine, computer, microwave, TV and car if I felt they were negatively affecting my life, and I weren’t working for a living. When I don’t feel like talking to anyone, I turn my cell phone off, or leave it at home when I leave.

The fact is, were it not for scientific discoveries, you probably wouldn’t be alive. Medical science has probably saved the life of either you, one of your parents or grandparents. A lot of diseases that were fatal 100 years ago, are either completely or nearly unheard of today. Many physical conditions like diabetes can be managed that were fatal not so long ago.

If you think things are so bad, chuck everything and go live in a cave and go back to being a hunter-gatherer. See how easy that would be. Otherwise, stop whining.

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Posted: 02 May 2008 12:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Jehu - 01 May 2008 10:31 PM

Sure, we have all sort of technologies which are touted to make our lives better, but the truth of it is that they simply complicate our lives, and add stress.

I would have thought a computer user would sense the irony here as he/she posted… hmmm

Jehu - 01 May 2008 10:31 PM

Further, all this so-called technological progress has ultimately resulted in the near destruction of both ourselves (human beings), and the planet upon which we rely for our existence, and the existence of future generations.

Oh yes, and when a dirty bomb goes off in the shadow of the Temple Mount it will be the fault of scientists (and not, say, the irrational beliefs of the guy who strapped it to his chest…)

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Posted: 02 May 2008 12:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Celsus - 01 May 2008 10:20 PM

While I don’t remember what the program was, nor even the topic of discussion, I distinctly remember a person recently claim that we are living in a post-scientific world.

Celsus, was this the guy?

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Posted: 02 May 2008 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“dlsmith”]I would take issue with that statement. Nearly every nation in the world enjoys a better standard of living thanks to scientific advances.

I supposed that would depend upon what one uses as a standard. While it is true that many of us have adequate food, shelter and clothing (thanks to science), the vast majority of people do not. Further, those of us that do have enough, live in an environment that is adulterated with tens of thousands of man-made chemicals (thanks to science), many of which are carcinogenic, or simply toxic to living organisms as they accumulate. Our drinking water is increasingly polluted with drugs and hormones which cannot be removed in the normal process of water treatment, and which are already having a detrimental impact on the development of our children. Not to mention global climate change, ozone depletion, the destruction of the oceans, etc. Anyway, I suppose, if one were to overlook all of these issues, one could claim that things are getting better.

[quote author=“dlsmith”]The fact is, were it not for scientific discoveries, you probably wouldn’t be alive. Medical science has probably saved the life of either you, one of your parents or grandparents. A lot of diseases that were fatal 100 years ago, are either completely or nearly unheard of today. Many physical conditions like diabetes can be managed that were fatal not so long ago.

The fact is, that in the twentieth century alone, more people were killed or maimed as a result of scientific discoveries, e.g., high explosives, poison gases, more efficient military weaponry, nuclear bombs, and the like, than have ever been saved through medical research or procedures.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not against the sciences, but if one is going to create something, then one must take some responsibility for its subsequent use. To give people the power that scientific knowledge entails, without first ensuring that they have the wisdom to use that power properly, is completely irresponsible. What science has ultimately accomplished, is to enable us to not only destroy ourselves, but to destroy our world as well, and every living thing that depends upon it.

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Posted: 02 May 2008 11:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Jehu - 02 May 2008 02:56 PM

[quote author=“dlsmith”]I would take issue with that statement. Nearly every nation in the world enjoys a better standard of living thanks to scientific advances.

I supposed that would depend upon what one uses as a standard. While it is true that many of us have adequate food, shelter and clothing (thanks to science), the vast majority of people do not. Further, those of us that do have enough, live in an environment that is adulterated with tens of thousands of man-made chemicals (thanks to science), many of which are carcinogenic, or simply toxic to living organisms as they accumulate. Our drinking water is increasingly polluted with drugs and hormones which cannot be removed in the normal process of water treatment, and which are already having a detrimental impact on the development of our children. Not to mention global climate change, ozone depletion, the destruction of the oceans, etc. Anyway, I suppose, if one were to overlook all of these issues, one could claim that things are getting better.

[quote author=“dlsmith”]The fact is, were it not for scientific discoveries, you probably wouldn’t be alive. Medical science has probably saved the life of either you, one of your parents or grandparents. A lot of diseases that were fatal 100 years ago, are either completely or nearly unheard of today. Many physical conditions like diabetes can be managed that were fatal not so long ago.

The fact is, that in the twentieth century alone, more people were killed or maimed as a result of scientific discoveries, e.g., high explosives, poison gases, more efficient military weaponry, nuclear bombs, and the like, than have ever been saved through medical research or procedures.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not against the sciences, but if one is going to create something, then one must take some responsibility for its subsequent use. To give people the power that scientific knowledge entails, without first ensuring that they have the wisdom to use that power properly, is completely irresponsible. What science has ultimately accomplished, is to enable us to not only destroy ourselves, but to destroy our world as well, and every living thing that depends upon it.

So how would you arrange things?  Who would you have to oversee what science is done and what is not?  Scientists are not generally that good at public policy but who else could do the job?  Politicians are always going to skew things toward the prejudices of their own constituencies.  Do you think that you are qualified to say what science is to be done, and what not?  Or perhaps there ought to be a ban on new science for the next 50 years?  But what about the freedom of information that is essential for science to operate?

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Posted: 03 May 2008 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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burt - 03 May 2008 03:12 AM

So how would you arrange things?  Who would you have to oversee what science is done and what is not?  Scientists are not generally that good at public policy but who else could do the job?  Politicians are always going to skew things toward the prejudices of their own constituencies.  Do you think that you are qualified to say what science is to be done, and what not?  Or perhaps there ought to be a ban on new science for the next 50 years?  But what about the freedom of information that is essential for science to operate?

It is not so simple as to merely exert more control over the scientists, for such a scheme would be totally ineffective. Rather, we need to find some way to redirect philosophy back to the pursuit of wisdom, and away from the frantic accumulation of knowledge. In other words, we must ensure that those who go into the sciences, have the intelligence to direct themselves in the interest of the whole, and not merely in the interest of their own aggrandizement. But even this would not be enough, for there would still be those outside of the scientific community who would turn such knowledge to their own selfish aims. Therefore, we must do something to change the worldview of the widest possible rage of people, in such a way as to curb their self-serving behaviour. And just as it has been the philosophers of the past that have shaped the present worldview of the people, which brought us to the present state of affairs, it is up to the philosophers of today to correct that erroneous worldview.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Jehu - 02 May 2008 02:56 PM

The fact is, that in the twentieth century alone, more people were killed or maimed as a result of scientific discoveries, e.g., high explosives, poison gases, more efficient military weaponry, nuclear bombs, and the like, than have ever been saved through medical research or procedures.

I’ve underlined a section above needing clarification, perhaps you meant “as a result of the (mis)application of scientific discoveries”? Scientific discovery itself rarely kills anyone except by accident (a la Curie).

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Jehu - 03 May 2008 05:43 PM

It is not so simple as to merely exert more control over the scientists, for such a scheme would be totally ineffective. Rather, we need to find some way to redirect philosophy back to the pursuit of wisdom, and away from the frantic accumulation of knowledge. In other words, we must ensure that those who go into the sciences, have the intelligence to direct themselves in the interest of the whole, and not merely in the interest of their own aggrandizement. But even this would not be enough, for there would still be those outside of the scientific community who would turn such knowledge to their own selfish aims. Therefore, we must do something to change the worldview of the widest possible rage of people, in such a way as to curb their self-serving behaviour. And just as it has been the philosophers of the past that have shaped the present worldview of the people, which brought us to the present state of affairs, it is up to the philosophers of today to correct that erroneous worldview.

Interesting Freudian typo in the next to last sentence. Change the “rage”, eh?

Jehu, you’re all over the place here. Science complicates our lives and destroys the world, but you’re not against it, after all it’s only the selfish scientists that are bad, or maybe it’s the politicians that are bad, but philosophers can maybe fix that given their long track record of making things all better…

The gist of your argument, if there is one, seems to be that science should wait until we’re all better people. That’s about as unrealistic as it gets. Care to clarify?

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Jehu also fails to understand that one cannot direct the path of science by just focusing on discoveries that will be useful. One would think I wouldn’t have to write the next sentence but apparently I do.
You cannot read the future, you have no way of knowing just what any given research will eventually lead to. Especially not since discovery is built on previous discovery which is built on previous discovery. The discovery of the theory of the atom is required for the discovery of the quantum theory which is required for the discovery and development of solar panels.

So the theory of the atom eventually leads to among other thing solar panels, it also leads to nuclear fission which can be used for nuclear bombs but also for nuclear power.
Either way, I can only make this analysis because I live after the discoveries were made, I know how it turned out. The people who one day decided to study what things were made up of in the smallest scales could never had predicted all of these developments, and even less taken a responsible decision to go for the research or to abandon it.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 05:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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mpbrockman - 03 May 2008 07:01 PM
Jehu - 02 May 2008 02:56 PM

The fact is, that in the twentieth century alone, more people were killed or maimed as a result of scientific discoveries, e.g., high explosives, poison gases, more efficient military weaponry, nuclear bombs, and the like, than have ever been saved through medical research or procedures.

I’ve underlined a section above needing clarification, perhaps you meant “as a result of the (mis)application of scientific discoveries”? Scientific discovery itself rarely kills anyone except by accident (a la Curie).

When I said that people died “as a result” of scientific discoveries, I meant that in the sense that if Alfred Noble had not discovered high explosives, for example, then they would not have be available to make more powerful bombs. Besides, I think that you are overlooking the fact that many scientists work directly for the arms industry, even those who’s discoveries have been a boon to mankind, such as when Sir Fredrick Banning (discoverer of insulin) oversaw the development poisonous gases in opening years of the Second World War.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 05:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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mpbrockman - 03 May 2008 07:19 PM

Jehu, you’re all over the place here. Science complicates our lives and destroys the world, but you’re not against it, after all it’s only the selfish scientists that are bad, or maybe it’s the politicians that are bad, but philosophers can maybe fix that given their long track record of making things all better…

The gist of your argument, if there is one, seems to be that science should wait until we’re all better people. That’s about as unrealistic as it gets. Care to clarify?

My argument is quite simple, philosophy has shape our present worldview, and that worldview is leading us inexorably toward the destruction of ourselves and our planet. Because of our view, we cannot see beyond our self-serving interests, neither as individuals nor as nations, and so we continue to exploit the weak, and appease the powerful. All the while, our limited resources continue to be squandered, our environment polluted, and our children poisoned by the very food they are given to sustain them. Now, one might say that this is not the fault of the scientists, but of those who misuse their discoveries, but this argument has little force; for if I leave a loaded gun in the hands of a child, or even an adult who is not mentally competent, then am I not responsible if they should kill someone with it? Now it is obvious that we cannot keep scientific discoveries out of the hands of those who are not worthy of such knowledge, and so I say that we must change peoples view, so that they will be less apt to misuse it.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Jehu - 01 May 2008 10:31 PM

Clearly, people are losing faith in the sciences, for they have not delivered on their promises of a better world.

Really?  Increased lifespans, the eradication of many diseases, the improvement in communications technology (like, to pick an example totally at random, the internet), and so on?

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Posted: 03 May 2008 06:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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My argument is quite simple, philosophy has shape our present worldview, and that worldview is leading us inexorably toward the destruction of ourselves and our planet. Because of our view, we cannot see beyond our self-serving interests, neither as individuals nor as nations, and so we continue to exploit the weak, and appease the powerful. All the while, our limited resources continue to be squandered, our environment polluted, and our children poisoned by the very food they are given to sustain them. Now, one might say that this is not the fault of the scientists, but of those who misuse their discoveries, but this argument has little force; for if I leave a loaded gun in the hands of a child, or even an adult who is not mentally competent, then am I not responsible if they should kill someone with it? Now it is obvious that we cannot keep scientific discoveries out of the hands of those who are not worthy of such knowledge, and so I say that we must change peoples view, so that they will be less apt to misuse it.

Science is neither good not bad.  Science is the accumulation and quest of knowledge about the physical world. Technology is the use or application of science to improve or reduce the quality of our lives.

Scientist (as a group) are not directly responsible for others using technology in harmful ways. To equate a scientist who makes a discovery, with giving a gun to a child, is not an accurate analogy. People who use technology to cause harm are not children.  They are fully responsible for implementing the technology to harm others. Unless the scientist has directly harmed someone with his own knowledge/use of technology he is not a culprit in the harm.

You can try to change all the views that you want.  I think what is needed are more discussions about science and ethics.
Because once you let the genie out of the bottle, you will not get her back in.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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mpbrockman - 02 May 2008 04:27 AM

Celsus, was this the guy?

I don’t think so. The guy I heard was essentially saying what I was mocking above, that science is just another philosophy (or religion) that one can choose to agree with or not. (This reminded me of the doctor who, when discussing acupuncture, said that penicillin even works on the comatose. Wonder how the patients “belief“ in penicillin came into play there?) So it doesn’t quite sound like what Mr. Hill is saying in your link.

But I do appreciate the effort, MP.

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