Saturday, March 7, 2020

Impact of Science on Society Essay Example

Impact of Science on Society Essay Example Impact of Science on Society Essay Impact of Science on Society Essay the sky was made up of eight concentric crystalline spheres, each one carrying a planet and the outermost one carrying the stars, which were supposed to rotate east to west. This circular motion, being heavenly, was perfect-except for these planets going what looked like backwards from time to time. Well, that particular little inconvenience was solved by putting each planet in a littie epicycle, or mini-orbit, spinning round and round while still remaining attached to its own individual main phere, which still rotated east-west like it was supposed to. That way, the planets only appeared to go backwards sometimes. The real explanation, that the Earth was moving as well and that this caused the appearance of retrograde motion, was unacceptable within the cosmological paradigm that was still operative in the Renaissance. It was unacceptable because it would have had philosophical and theological implications that were too hot to handle. The Bible would have been seen to be wrong, for example, because it said the Earth didn’t move. So epicycles fit the bill, and kept things the way they were supposed to be. However, you had to have over 70 of them, and even then they didn’t work absolutely perfectly. â€Å"Saving the appearances at all costs† in that way is generally how we react to little inconsistencies in our paradigm. If your paradigm is the rock of ages for you-and it always is-then you let go of it only with immense reluctance. We are, paradigmatically speaking, extremely conservative. Look at how often change is fought in history. Here’s an example that always tickles me. The chain of events back in the twelfth century that set Europe going economically after the Dark Ages was essentially the textile revolution. A new loom came in from Arab Spain. It had foot pedals, which left the weaver’s hands free to weave faster and make more cloth cheaper. The Dutch weavers smashed the thing up because it would have put people out of work. (That was a new idea in the twelfth century. ) A generation later, when the dust had settled, in came the spinning wheel from left field-a total surprise from China. It made thread very much faster than before. When the wheel and the loom were put together, the production of cloth skyrocketed. So there were more riots, because the cloth was linen, which was 8 T h e Legacy of Science made from a plant and was cheaper than feeding sheep and making wool, so the rioters were sheep farmers. But soon everybody was wearing linen, because it was cheap, and throwing it away when they wore holes in it. So there was this giant pile of linen rag lying around fourteenth-century Europe. The price of paper dropped like a stone, because linen rag paper was the best ou could make. There were more riots-sheep farmers again, because parchment was sheepskin, and it had become too expensive to use. So here was enough paper around to put o n the walls, and the scribes were going like gangbusters and pretty soon they were on strike for higher wages because it was a seller’s market. Everybody wanted their paperwork done because the Black Death was just over and everybody was inheriting like crazy. There jus t wasn’t enough writing ability to go around, until Gutenberg came along in 1450 with the printing press. Now this was something the Church wanted like a hole in the head, because it would encourage free thinking-until they realized that you could print indulgences with it. People bought the indulgences, because when they did that they got remission of some sins. With all the demand for instant salvation that followed, the Church made a million-money to build the Vatican, pay Michelangelo’s bill, and generally get involved in prestigious projects that made certain German clerics really mad at this consumerist, moneymaking approach to religion. One of these Germanic chaps nailed up his criticisms, and there was the Reformation. It’s a little oversimplified, maybe, but you get my drift. People in general would rather fight than switch. So, to repeat myself, if the paradigm fits and people resist innovation, why does change happen at all? Well, let me give you some examples of the mechanisms that operate to produce change, and you’ll see why it isn’t that simple. To begin with, often you just don’t know change is coming. Even if you’re personally involved, you may be looking the wrong way at the time, like young William Perkin of London in 1856. Around then, everybody wits looking for benzene rings and chemistry was the flavor of the month, and Perkin, a chemist, was trying to be the young science hero who would save the great British empire by discovering the way to make artificial quinine chemically. You see, 9 The Impact of Science on Society our administration and army chaps were dropping like flies out in the Far Eastern colonies because of malaria, and artificial quinine would have fixed things up right. Besides that, we were having to buy natural quinine from the Dutch in Java, and they charged an outrageous price for it. So that great motivator, money, was also at work. Well, after a bit Perkin came up with some interesting sludge, but one thing it wasn’t was artificial quinine, so he threw it down the sink, and discovered that he had invented the world’s first aniline dye. Made a million. Sometimes, though, you may be looking in the right direction, but you don’t see what’s happening. In 1778, just after you people had gone off on your own and left us with no more South Carolina pitch to put on the bottom of our ships to protect them from rot, the rather seedy ninth Earl of Dundonald in Scotland thought up a plan to recoup the family fortunes by getting tar out of the coal from a couple of mines on his land. This tar would replace the pitch and make Dundonald a rich man. Unfortunately, the British government had already shifted to copper-bottoming its ships, so Dundonald’s coal-heating kiln, where he made the tar, was useless, and so were the vapors he had been watching coming out of the kiln. In fact, he’d even been lighting them and generally playing around, shooting flames out of a tube. He happened to mention this to his friend James Watt, and three years later, Watt’s sidekick â€Å"invented† coal gas. Dundonald died in poverty. However, even when you get what you’re looking for and you know you’ve got it, things can go haywire. Take Benjamin Huntsman, clockmaker, looking for a better clock spring in 1740 because pendulum clocks were no good at sea and you needed a clock to work out longitude, and in an era of great maritime expansion east and west, longitude was kind of essential. Now Huntsman happened to live near a glass works, and he saw the glassmakers putting in chips of old broken bottles, doing hightemperature remelts, and coming out with really great glass. So he tried the trick with steel. It worked, and there was what he wanted, the world’s greatest spring. The point was, Huntsman’s steel would also cut anything you could think of, so what it did for the lathe, and machine tools in general, and micrometers, and precision engineering, and steam engine cylinders, and the whole Industrial Revolution was something nobody could ever have 10 The Legacy of Science reamed of-least of all Huntsman, who sat there saying, â€Å"What happened? † Sometimes the catalyst for major change will simply come in, totally unexpectedly, from outside your paradigm. Take the case of the compass. It came in from China via the Arabs in the twelfth century. Nothing much happened until Sir Francis Drake came back from over here complaining about the way the needle did funny things when you got across t o this side of the Atlantic. Queen Elizabeth’s doctor took time off (18 years) to look at why, and decided that the Earth was a gigantic magnet with poles. OK, so what? Well, to carry out his experiments, he built himself a lot of balls of various substances-lodestone, amber, sulfur, glass, and so on-to represent the Earth, so he could see what they did to his compass. As he busily rubbed these balls to make them attractive to his needle, he noted somewhat disinterestedly that sulfur was very attractive, and added a minor footnote to that effect. Around 1640 the mayor of Magdeburg in Germany, one Otto Guericke, read the aforesaid footnote and tried the trick again. While he was rubbing his sulfur ball one day to make it attractive, it cracked and gave off a spark, and-yes, you guessed it-electricity. From the compass. From China. Even if you’d spoken Chinese you wouldn’t have seen that one coming! One of the most common ways change is generated is through interaction between one factor and another, and usually in unexpected concatenations. Take the skills a goldsmith has. He’s good at working soft metals and using molten alloys, and the hallmark of a good goldsmith is just that, his hallmark, the punch that puts his impress on his work. If you are capable of seeing that punched image in reverse, you can see how to cast a shape in the pattern made by the punch. And the pattern could be a letter, in metal, which is why printing was invented by a goldsmith-that’s what Gutenberg was. This interaction that can lead to change is often caused by imbalance, a kind of domino effect. The well-known modern one is that of the superplants. They give great yield-better than the old, less productive types. But they replace variety with a monoculture, and, if disease hits that, you’ve got no fallback. That kind of domino effect-the knock-on effect of imbalance in one area upon another-gave us one of the major scientific 11 T h e Impact of Science o n Society discoveries in history. When cannons started being popular in the mid-fourteenth century, they pushed up the demand for metal, and that got people deeper into the ground than before. One of the things they found was that the deeper you go, the wetter it can get, and the old suction pumps wouldn’t lift the water up higher than about 30 feet. Well, this problem caused all sorts of grief until one of Galileo’s boys, called Torricelli, worked out that it had something to do with atmospheric pressure. A friend of a friend of his went up a mountain with a tube of mercury to see if pressures were different up there and down here. Well, they were, but what was the gap at the top of the tube full of mercury? It was the thing everybody said didn’t exist-the vacuum. And suddenly you had barometers, airpumps, a new view of interstellar space, and a very different basis for science. Now, the mechanism by which change can be generated isn’t by any means always a technology-technology interaction. Take the ultimate effect of the telescope. When Galileo looked through it he saw satellites circling Jupiter. That blew a hole in the Earth being the center of everything, took humanity off its special philosophical pedestal, and prepared the way for a universe that wasn’t arranged the way Aristotle had said, but the way Newton was to say-like a giant clock, running by itself, with God maybe long gone on other business. Religion took a knock from that from which it never fully recovered. The German mathematician and businessman Gottfried Leibniz, working on the planetary dynamic problem at the same time as Newton and looking at the kinds of mathematics you’d need to measure infinitesimal rates of change in movement, decided that he had his hands on a tool of cosmic philosophical significance. If you could measure that infinitesimally, were you getting to be able to measure the basic units of existence? If you were, said the philosopher Immanuel Kant a bit later, you could discover and measure the way all things shaded into all other things at that scale. The new philosophy became known as. naturphilosophie. Its concept of â€Å"oneness in all† spawned romantic poetry and music, nationalism, and revolutions including yours. It won’t surprise you to know that Jefferson wm a naturphilosophe. Naturphilosophie also helped to bring about modern medicine. In 1810 a French surgeon named Xavier Bichbt, another follower of the new philosophy, went looking for the vital, infinitesimally small bits in his I 12 T h e Legacy of Science business, and found body tissue-20 types of it. Incidentally, he set the fashion for grave robbing and also noticed that, if you were sick, changes showed up later on in the tissues of your unfortunate corpse. Maybe these happenings could be correlated. So pathological anatomy was born, and with it the modern idea of disease as a localized phenomenon, as well as the opportunity to look for, and find, bacteria. Canal building, spurred by the transportation needs of the industrial revolution in Britain at the beginning of the last century, turned up fossils in the strata they were cutting through. However, mysteriously, some of the fossils were of animals that didn’t exist any more, and most of the strata didn’t have fossilized humans in them. Well, here was a big problem! God was supposed to have made everything a t once, during creation, and yet here were some animals that obviously had failed, and no people back at the beginning of everything. So what was this-mistakes by God, with some things having been created later than others? Well, you know where that led. By the time the geologists had finished discovering that the extent of the entire fossil record through time was like an eyeblink compared with the age of the Earth, it was a simple matter for the whole thing to be organized into a new view of things by Darwin. This brings us to the materialist, physicalist world we live in today, where people maybe aren’t something special created by God in his own image but just a pile of chemicals. This is also a world where one interpretation of what Darwin meant by â€Å"the survival of the fittest† boosts rugged individualism and makes life not so easy on the underprivileged, and where his idea of â€Å"perfectable humans behaving according to laws like the rest of the organisms in nature† and, therefore, being part of societies that perhaps can be â€Å"changed for the better† is alive and well and regimented in the Siberian labor camps. I went through all those examples of change in action at length to give you a good idea why, when paradigms start to shift, the unexpected way they go is a shock to the system. This is why any time you do manage to produce a way of thinking or of doing things that seems to work well, you hang onto it. If you can work out a way to maximize what your society can do with the tools at its 13 T h e Impact of Science on Society disposal-give it the widest flexibility in terms of individual action and at the same time protect it from random, maverick action with some kind of rules-great. That’s why the institutions survive; they’re set up with the tools of the time and they’re systems that permit routinization of the group’s operating problems SO the individual members can get on with working or having fun while the institutions handle the day-to-day running of the place. So we keep the institutions that appear to do a good enough job because it’s easier than handling the problem of assessing how well whatever new tools you might have come up with could handle the same basic daily problems in radically restructured institutions. So never mind if the institutions don’t quite fit the new paradigm you’re moving into with your new tools; it’s better than experimenting. Corn, after all, is only corn because it’s stood the test of time. So most of the institutions we live with are, in some aspect or another, anachronistic. Take the law. Cross examination originated far from the courtroom, as a teaching technique in eleventh-century Italy for making sense out of old manuscripts. The technique was called glossing. Another institution, the language I’m speaking now, effectively froze when it was printed in grammars in the fifteenth century. The modern university started life as a place in twelfth-century Bologna designed to train lawyers to handle jurisdictional and property cases, particularly between the Pope and the Emperor. Many of the internal structures of our universities, at least in Britain, remain unchanged since that date. Representational government is something that was thought up in the eighteenth century when only the foolhardy few would risk the mud and the bandits to get to London or Philadelphia. We hang onto institutions as if they still meant what they did originally, as if the paradigm in which they originated hadn’t shifted. We accept politicians talking about what they can do to the economy as if the world still consisted of independent, separate sovereign states whose acts had no effect on each other, or as if the meaning of fundamental beliefs had not changed. One good example is yours: â€Å"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness† means nothing like what John Locke meant when he thought about it in the seventeenth century. Our freewheeling adaptation of t today would have shocked him rigid. â€Å"Liberty† for Locke meant 14 The Legacy of Scaence knowing and accepting where you stood in society and sticking to the rules that governed social class mobility, such as it was. â€Å"Happiness† meant amassing property and riches without being bothered by government! He would have thought we were living in anarchy. Be that as it may, we regard the institutions and their associated slogans as helping to preserve cohesion and stability in our paradigm-except that this is a cohesion and stability which is, as you’ve seen, at best transient. Once the French philosopher and permanent exile Rend Descartes got his hands on the way we in the West thought, stability and permanence went out the window. Before Descartes and his seventeenth-century paradigm shift, you said credo ut intelligam-I believe, and through my belief I come to understand. After him you switched it around: intelligo ut credam-give me the facts and I’ll let you know. In his great Disc o w s Sur la Methode (or, â€Å"how to think†), he gave us the modern approach. He called it methodical doubt. He said, â€Å"If they tell you it’s certain, call it probable. If it’s probable, call it possible, and if the deal is that it’s possible, forget it. † And Cartesian methodical doubt is the engine of the modern scientific world and the bringer of accelerating rates of change. So, where have we ended up? If the mechanisms of change are as serendipitous and as hard to second guess as I have suggestedand we are, thanks to Descartes and others, in a world of increasing rates of change-are there any lessons to be learned from the past to help us at least adapt? Is it true that those who are not prepared to learn from the past are condemned t o repeat it? Do we really only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been? Well, there are repeating factors, back then, that seem to be present when change occurs, much the way cholesterol is with heart attacks, present and only maybe causative. First there’s the one that appears to be the most obvious, that change happens because you need it-â€Å"Necessity is the mother of invention† and all that. There’s an interesting study of Europe up through the late Middle Ages that seems to show that innovation happens and is taken up most in areas of marginal circumstances and stress, and least where things are pretty comfortable. Let’s look at the ancient Egyptians. When you’ve established the simple fact that once a year the Dog Star, Sirius, appears just 15 T h e Impact of Science on Society before dawn (after having been invisible for seventy days) and one day later the Nile floods and dumps fertilizer and water on the land, and that it does so with extraordinary exactness every year, you develop a calendar just to tell you which day Sirius is going to appear, dig your irrigation canals, and sit back. That’s all you need in the way of new tricks, so Egyptian society never changed after that initial step. It never needed to, in 3000 years. But the ancient Greeks? Well, put yourself in their position. In the eighth century B. C. you live on narrow coastal strips in what is now modern Turkey, in littIe city states with just enough to survive on. The weather is lousy and uncertain, and the barbarians are clobbering you with regularity. You’ve got to get out and trade, make a buck, just to keep going, so you think up ways of systematizing the method of hustling business. You look up at the sky, and what you see is not Sirius rising and nothing else; you see a great road map for your seaborne traders to use. You work out star tables to navigate by, and the more you look, the more you see that the permanent perfection of the night sky is a lot different from the temporary mess down here. So curiosity becomes a way of life. No wonder the Greeks invented their particular form of curiosity. (They called it philosophia. ) It’s what you get when you’re looking for answers. In a sense, it was Greek philosophy, born of their difficult circumstances, their desire for answers to questions, that started change happening in Western culture. What got it accelerating, though, was something else, and that’s the ease with which people communicated, moved ideas around. The easier you cross-talk, the faster change happens. Take medieval Europe. When the Vikings and the Saracens and the Hungarians stopped the rape-and-pillage stuff in the tenth century, people started coming out of the woodwork and building little roads toward each other and traveling along them. The next thing you know, you got the medieval water-powered industrial revolution, which kicked the European economy into high gear within three generations. In the Renaissance, a hundred years after the arrival of printing, you had 20 million books, most of them in specialties that could only exist when the specialists had a way of reading each others’ stuff. This gave us nothing less than the scientific revolution of the 16 The Legacy of Science sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a slew of people talking the kind of incomprehensible stuff most of you live with in your area of expertise. Don’t be insulted; how much do you understand of the language of paleontology? Specialization is essential. I’d hate to have flown here in a plane designed by a plumber. To return to my point about communication, in the nineteenth century, after the development of electromagnetic systems for moving messages around (Le. , the telegraph and the telephone), the whole body of modern science emerges-in particular, physics. So, the ability to communicate seems to be a basic factor in the mechanism of change, and we have communications today that make earlier forms look like hieroglyphs painfully chiselled out in stone. New developments in areas like magnetic bubble domain memories and superconducting materials will enhance our ability to use data beyond anything we’ve even begun to think of. With our present facility for communication, we’re doing more of one particular trick than at any time before. And that trick, it seems to me, is putting things together. Let me suggest a new axiom: juxtaposition is the spice of life. Humanity’s biggest talent, unique t o us, is juxtaposing, finding and operating novel relationships between things or ideas. Indeed, at the turn of this century in Vienna, a group of thinkers who were to have a profound influence on Einstein (the positivists, led by Ernst Mach) came t o the conclusion that all science could talk about was relationships. This was after Michelson and Morley had failed to find the ether. You remember that up in Cleveland in the 1880’s the two of them were looking for a medium that would be the carrier of light, magnetism, and electricity. Everybody called this medium â€Å"ether. † Well, Michelson and his friend were trying to show that the two halves of a split light beam would come back together again, out of phase, because one-half had been shot in the direction of the Earth’s travel against the so-called stream of ether) and would take a while, and the other, which had gone perpendicular to the ether, and so wouldn’t suffer drag, would return early. Actually, there had been no difference at all. The beams arrived back simultaneously. Then Fitzgerald, in Dublin, made things worse by saying that this was because the forward motion of the Earth was contracting one part of the instrument exactly the right amount to give the 17 The Impact of Science on Society forward-moving beam a shorter route to travel, so it could get back exactly that much faster, and match its other half. And, the experiment could never be carried out without that happening. SO, whether or not there was an ether, you’d never be able to find out, since all you could get would be the local-effect results from your work. That led the positivists to state that science could only ever produce relative, not absolute, results. All you could talk about was relationships. But I mean relationships in a rather more limited sense-the sense of the way properly original thinking involves juxtapositions that have never happened before. Of all the mechanisms of change, it seems to me that this is the fundamental one, the on-the-spot local â€Å"fitting together† of disparate phenomena that comes up with the kind of changes I’ve been describing. This ability to juxtapose is not a very surprising one; it’s logical enough in the light of our own neurophysiology. Recent ideas on neural activity suggest that the brain operates in a very associative way, with small neuron clusters containing core concepts, rather in the way a battery holds a trickle charge. These core concepts would be irreducibly small fragments of sounds or sights, or any phenomena that you experience. And these clusters are all, in some way, apparently interconnected, set up in microcolumns and macrocolumns, each column made up ofmillions of these lit,tle clusters of neurons. Now, if you consider that the brain passes information by means of synaptic junctions (the bits where one neuron almost touches another) and that there are potentially more of those kinds of connections in the brain than there are atoms in the known universe, you get a feel for the immensity of the network. With this ssociative system, to retrieve data, you go in, so to speak, anywhere on the network and find the target by association. Given the scale of things, an associative approach might be the only way the whole huge complex could work. Anyway, retrieval by association would be a good survival mechanism, because it would make you very flexible. The other interesting thing about functioning in that associative way is that as you head along the associative links toward the target, you may become aware of other core clusters that you weren’t aware of before, because in a sense you simply drive through them. That, in the simplest sense, would be why the brain is 18 The Legacy of Science i capable of associative chains of thought like this one: look, see, water, glass, mirror, image, painting, oil, Arabs, desert, sand, castle, and so on. It’s why poetry works: â€Å"What oft was said but ne’er so well expressed. † Jokes appear to work like that too; the punch line makes an association you hadn’t thought of before, and you laugh because you didn’t get to the new associative link before the person telling the joke (which is bad for survival, but, as it turned out, you weren’t in any danger). Let me try what I mean. Take the concepts â€Å"bird† and â€Å"fruit. † All of you have those concepts associated in your own personal way in your network. I don’t know whether it’s like mine, with â€Å"bird† and â€Å"fruit† associated by â€Å"trees,† but let me see if I can put those two concepts together in a way that they’ve not been put together in your brain before, and we’ll see if my theory works. A drunk goes up to his host at a party and says, with all that clarity used by the very small and young: â€Å"Excuse me. Do lemons whistle? † To which his host replies: â€Å"No, lemons don’t whistle. Why do you ask? † And the drunk says, very chagrined: â€Å"Oh. In that case, I have just squeezed your canary into my gin and tonic. † You see what I mean. What I’m saying is that the basic mechanism of change-the juxtaposition, in a novel relationship, of apparently unrelated phenomena- may operate in the same way a good joke does! It may also be why change is almost always so serendipitous and unexpected-and hard to forecast. Given all I’ve said so far, let me be extremely speculative. We’ve seen how the model I’m talking about functions, and some of the ways in which it’s changed. We’ve seen how difficult it is from within the paradigm to see why moving to a new model would be beneficial-â€Å"Better to keep the devil you know. † We’ve seen that when paradigms are about to crack, there’s generally some social unrest going on. In Copernicus’s time it was barbecuing freethinkers (they called them heretics). With Darwin it was supposed to be the end of beliefs and standards. In the thirteenth century they said paper would devalue the words written on it, and for Gutenberg it was, â€Å"Printing will take away our memories. With us, it’s all the words you see in the media: alienation, frustration, me-generation, immorality, illiteracy, and so on. So is our paradigm about to go through some of the agonies I’ve 19 T h e Impact of Science o n Society been describing? Is it due t o shift? Well, obviously it is. But let me suggest that instead of moving to a radically new paradigm, we may, because of the tremendous faci lity for interaction that communications gives us, be moving to a no-paradigm culture. If a paradigm is, and has always been, a structure built on an agreed core of common beliefs, knowledge, value judgments, social constraints, and so on, then are we heading the opposite way, to a situation of no common agreed center, of shifting, pragmatic local standards, with failure of what we used to call consensus and regionalism globally on the increase again after the early years of P a x Americana, with the nation-state obsolete, and so on? We would be a society physically and psychologically fragmented, because with soft energy options and telecommunication, â€Å"centralization† and â€Å"economies of scale† (those catchwords of the last years of the Industrial-Revolution paradigm we’re coming to the end of) are no longer necessary. To those of us condemned to repeat the lessons of history because we won’t learn from them, what I’m describing sounds like a frightening prospect. Chaos is what it sounds like, but isn’t what’s happening just a paradigm shifting (like all the others did) because we’re ready for the shift? Change occurs ultimately because we want it to. We have the tools because at some time we decided we wanted them. These new tools, provided by science and technology, are more than just tools-they’re instruments of social revolution, violent or peaceful. As the tools change, so too does the ability of society to organize itself. Once we needed god-kings, or feudal lords, or absolute monarchs, or no sex before marriage, or empires, or 12-hour days, or whatever, to keep ourselves together. Now, maybe, we don’t need centralized social structures and rigid regulatory mechanisms any more. We are, after all, as Immanuel Kant said, creatures of the imperative. If the ethics start to get in the way, we dump them. But let’s take a brief look at the kind of behavioral social dumping we may be up against with some of the possible results of our newfound abilities t o initiate change much more readily and rapidly because we can juxtapose things inside the computer, where we have a facility for juggling the mix like never before, at a rate and in volume almost astronomical. And, by the way, for those of you who feel nice and safe because of the old sayings â€Å"Garbage 20 The Legacy of Science in, garbage out† and â€Å"A machine is only as good as the people punching the buttons,† try some of the newer heuristic systems that learn from their own experience. The main thing, it seems to me, is to remember that technology manufactures not gadgets, but social change. Once the first tool was picked up and used, that was the end of cyclical anything. The tool made a new world, the next one changed that world, the one after that changed it again, and so on. Each time the change was permanent. Using the tool changes the user permanently, whether we like it or not. Once when I was in Moscow talking to academician Petrov, I said, â€Å"Why don’t you buy American computers to get you into space quicker and more effectively? † He replied, â€Å"No fear; they’d make us think like Americans. † You only have to go back a few years in this century to see how our gestalt, our way of behaving, our values, have been changed by science. If I say just a few names, you’ll get my point: the Pill, calculators, jet airplanes, television. Take those examples and look at their secondary social effects. Yes, the Pill has made family planning feasible, but now the Third World regards it as a suspicious imperialist Western trick to keep their numbers down while we go on with our â€Å"economic imperialism. † Calculators have changed the meaning of testing people in certain kinds of knowledge, which we need to do to ensure publicly accepted standards of professional ability. Jets mean people can now fly and visit the ends of the Earth, but they also mean that we export our way of life and our sometimes unacceptable value systems to places that neither want nor need them. Television makes my life one of totally vicarious experiences. It gives me packaged glimpses of the world beyond my horizons, takes away my comfortable preconceptions, and replaces them with glossy, quick-fix substitutes that are even less good to me than my preconceptions were. All I know now is that I don’t know! To get back to my â€Å"dumping† idea, you see how the gadget changes more than just what the ad says it will do. With our rates of change, the only constant in our paradigm may well become change itself. All you can be sure of about tomorrow is that it will go on being different, and, if you’re lucky, only at the same accelerating rate. Above all, the judgmental systems from the old paradigms may 21 The Impact of Science on Society not work in that world. Today we are, in fact, the last of the old world, living with institutions that are already creaking, facing twenty-first-century problems with nineteenth-century attitudes. Most of us find difficult to accept what we might have to dump. We face questions like these: If criminality is caused by XYY chromosomes, who do you blame for a crime, and why do you punish at all? When everybody has a home computer work station, what happens to unions, the infrastructure that runs the roads and transportation systems, the community life that â€Å"work in a central location† means, the new isolation of being alone most of the time? If data banks carry all the knowledge we possess, to be accessed at need, what will be the purpose of memory, of â€Å"knowing† anything? And what happens if what you got from the machine yesterday (what we’ll call â€Å"what you know†) is different when you go back to the machine today? If you have no expertise because expertise is no longer necessary, what are you left with? If technology provides virtually free energy, with the ability to turn anything into anything else (which we can already doit’s just too expensive to be feasible), and we no longer need the raw materials we used to because we can now make them, what happens to the materials producers in the Third World? Unlimited energy, the so-called philosopher’s stone, brings far more questions than answers. Not the least of these is the new importance it will have for the planetary heat budget, which at the moment is pretty much only the business of nature. Well, my guess is (and here I remind you of the unquestionable value of any guess made from within the inevitable limitations of our paradigm) that we’re all headed for one of two kinds of future. In one future, we take on the new data systems the way we took on all the other tools in the past, with a view to making them do what we’ve always done up to now, only better, faster, and cheaper. In this case, I think we’re in for a dose of Luddite reaction as our social structures fail to take the strain of that much shift that fast in the working habits of the population, not to mention 22 The Legacy of Science the redundancies that come if all you do is replace people with machines. The other problem with that old-paradigm approach is, of course, that you do what Bell up at Yale says, and turn into a two-class society. You have the numerate, who have access t o and ability to maximize use of the data systems, and you have the leisured serfs, who don’t, and who get paid for a 10-hour week with nothing to do but wish they knew how to use their spare time. It has often been said that the public doesn’t appreciate the speed with which things have developed in data systems. I like the analogy that if your Rolls Royce had done what computers have done over the last 20 years, it would cost a dollar and do a million miles to the gallon. People, I think, just don’t understand the velocity with which this new post-Gutenberg era is coming toward us. The other future I mentioned is a good deal more difficult to forecast. It’s very much up in the air. All I can do is to be extremely speculative again. I suppose what I’m suggesting is a crash restruchring of the educational system. I’ve been a teacher myself, so I know how easy this is to say and how difficult to do. However, if we were to manage some kind of interdisciplinary curriculum that taught people not the facts, which would be obsolete before they used them, but how to use the data systems to juxtapose, to look for relationships in knowledge, to see patterns in the way things happen and affect their lives, then perhaps we would be moving toward a very different type of society, one free of a central paradigm at all. After all, the only need there ever was for a paradigm was based on the strictures placed on society by its contemporary tools-or rather, lack of them. Now we have a tool-electronic data systems-that could lift almost all of those strictures from us, that could create a society that might be pluralistic in the extreme, lacking in any of the virtues we now ascribe to concensus, materialistic in every sense, highly articulate, what we would call unethical and immoral (what it would call pragmatic), selfsufficient (what we would call isolationist), libertarian (what we would call permissive), and above all, open-minded, curious, and tolerant. Sounds like a weird mix? Well, you asked me here to speculate. But in one sense it‘s what we’ve been heading for all along-a kind 23 T h e Impact of Science on Society of controlled anarchy, kept in balance by the electronics. It’s the truest version yet of what John Locke meant by â€Å"the unfettered pursuit of happiness by every man. † And if the vision bothers you, remember that once we decide that the paradigm is shifting, we adapt extremely quickly. Your great-grandmother, after all, would have thought you a drug addict for taking an aspirin. Question: You discussed the future paradigm as perhaps being nonexistent. Is it possible that the paradigm might be evolving just as human evolution evolved to the point where it is reaching its own sense of oneness with its future? In other words, we are part of the paradigm and the paradigm is what is evolving. We are part of the evolution. Answer: The great thing about that question is that it’s unanswerable. I mean, by definition it’s shear speculation again. All we can do is talk about it because we’re inside the paradigm. These wild speculative guesses are set in concrete because they’re within my paradigm. If they sound wild you should hear what happens if you come from another planet. Question: At the end of your talk you quoted Locke and said we should all seek our own happiness. Happiness is a paradigm. We all live in dreams. Every person has his own idea of what happiness is. We have paradigms that are imposed on us by the world, but we each have our own paradigm. I don’t know what human life means without dreams that are paradigms. Answer: Yes, I think that’s very well said. All I was suggesting was that this might become more possible than in the past. I didn’t mean that you lose your paradigm. I meant that perhaps your paradigm becomes a little less constrained by everybody else’s paradigm. Question: As scientists working for the government we are often asked to forecast what new inventions we might come up with over the next year. I wonder what implications that has for our role in bringing innovation into the world. Answer: I think it’s a superb example of what I was talking about. The government decides to make you decide what you’re 24 The Legacy of Science going to discover, and if you don’t come up with it you lose the grant! Question: Of all the countries you’ve worked in, which one, in your opinion, provides the best education, and, in particular, how do you view education in the United States? Answer: That sure sounds like a quick way t o get my head chopped off! I think educational systems tend to be structured according to the societies in which they work. I mean, our educational system in England is extremely difficult, different from yours, and very elitest. A very small percentage of us go to university, and we’re used to choosing the subject that we study at university a t the age of 16. We specialize in only two subjects from ages 16 to 18, and we then take a national examination in those two or three subjects. Only one of those subjects is what we go to university for, if we pass a competitive examination to get a place at the university, and the ratio is usually about three or four hundred people to each place. Now, we have to have an elitest educational system like that because we are very small and we’ve become quite poor ever since we lost the jolly old empire. If we didn’t have that kind of high-quality turnout we wouldn’t have enough people producing enough stuff on the market for us to sell anything to anybody. So I think we have an elitest educational system not because it’s a hangover from the old imperial days, but because if we don’t produce a very, as it were, sharp-edged elite intellectually, we won’t be able to compete with giants like you on the market. Question: I would like to ask whether the, what shall I say, elite in Britain and perhaps in Western Europe believe in full employment not merely because of the necessity for having the things that people produce when they’re fully employed, but rather as occupational therapy for the masses, around the idea that idle hands do the devil’s work, and that whereas intellectuals can keep their minds occupied and out of mischief, the common man is not capable of this. George Orwell said something like this (and it’s not something I agree with), but I would remark that Eric Hoffer said the common man was lumpy with talents and could do all kinds of things besides produce goods and shouldn’t be viewed merely as a production machine. Can you speak to that, sir? 25 T h e Impact of Science o n Society Answer: Well, I can’t speak for all of Europe, but I think the French probably think that full employment’s essential and they’ve had four devaluations of the franc as a result. It seems to me that full employment is a relatively new phenomenon. We’ve slid over into economics, and I’m extremely worried-I think anybody with any sense and honesty always is, in that subject. However, I believe I’m right in saying that full employment is a twentiethcentury phenomenon. The concept didn’t exist to any great extent at all prior to that. And I think it probably came at the tail end of a very healthy, burgeoning post-Industrial Revolution in both America and Europe. I think what we’re seeing now is a transition period to what Bell calls a post-industrial society, and it’s a period aided and abetted, of course, by the recession, which is caused not by the fact that we can’t switch paradigms but because oil costs a great deal. I think the situation, fortunately for me, is so confused that no clear statement can be made on it by me or anybody else except a politician. Question: If I understand you correctly, it seem5 to me that you’re putting out the impression that our technology is running away from our society. In other words, it’s speeding up at a rate that we can’t quite keep up with. In the past, when this has happened to societies, some major upheaval has occurred, whether it be sociological or financial, economical, or revolutionary, like wars. Do you have any idea what is going to cause us t o catch up with our rapidly advancing technology? Answer: Well, I think part of what I said earlier indicates what I think about that. First let me just dispel any idea that I believe in the so-called force of technology. I mean, technology is what people do. You invent the tool because you want it, or because you perceive an imbalance or a need, or you’re just greedy. You say, â€Å"I want this piece of technology,† and it comes into existence and you use it. I think society gets technology as it gets governments that it deserves. Sometimes, but not very often, technology tends to go a little faster than our ability to keep up with it. I’m not sure that this has happened to any great extent in the past, but I’m sure that it’s about to happen now. I think anybody with any sense would recognize that electronic data systems are going to make a quantum leap in terms of the effect of juxtapositioning, as I said earlier. As to what we can do about it, it seems to me that the 26 The Legacy of Science only way to get into it is through the educational process. It’s too quick, and you can’t have a quick-fix answer. It’s no good teaching us what to do. I think you’ve got to begin with the children who are 4 years old now and start the process there. As I said, I just hope some teachers who are better than I am at organizing this kind of thing in education, which is tremendously difficult, will get on with it, but I can’t see any other way of doing that. We are up against a period of very difficult transition. Question: Being somewhat of a video game fanatic, I’ve noticed that extremely small children play video games much better than anyone else. They’re well adapted to the electronic age because they have far fewer preconceptions, apparently. The way things are going, it looks as if things are going to get less and less expensive and more and more reachable in terms of the spread of technology and the spread of knowledge. Everyone can learn. Even if we can’t feed everybody in India, we can teach them all how to read. Pretty soon everybody will have his own terminal. Now, over the years, one of the major complaints of the Third World, even the Third World in the United States, has been that they never had the chance to get a leg up because they were deprived from the start. So, could it be possible now that we really will achieve a parity of sorts because everybody will have the same chance once this technology becomes more equally spread? Answer: Well, it depends entirely on what regulations are applied to the use of the technology. If I live in a totalitarian state and I produce a computer you can bet the people who use it are going to use it in a very different way than they use it in Spokane. As Pe

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