Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Loren Eiseley: the unpredictable, pt. 3

"A few years ago I chanced to write a book in which I had expressed some personal views and feelings upon birds, bones, spiders, and time,  all subjects with which I had some degree of acquaintance.  Scarcely had the work been published when I was sought out in my office by a serious young colleague.  With utter and devastating confidence he had paid me a call in order to correct my deviations and to lead me back to the proper road of scholarship. He pointed out to me the time I had wasted--time which could have been more properly expended upon my own field of scientific investigation.  The young man's view of science was a narrow one, but it illustrates a conviction all too common today:  namely, that the authority of science is absolute.

To those who have substituted authoritarian science for authoritarian religion, individual thought is worthless unless it is the symbol for a reality which can be seen, tasted, felt, or thought about by everyone else.  Such men adhere to a dogma as rigidly as men of fanatical religiosity.  They reject the world of the personal, the happy world of open, playful, or aspiring thought."

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Night Country

I am not launching an attack on science, nor is Loren Eiseley.  Science is one of several methods humans use to understand their environment and their place in the universe.  Science is not perfect nor are scientists superior thinkers.  They are expert in their field of research, but even there one finds disagreements among the researchers with considerable expertise and knowledge.  Science can tell us how things came about and how to do many interesting or curious things, but it can't tell us if we should and why we should do these things.  Science showed us how to build an atomic bomb or how to create chemical weapons, but science can't tell us if we should build that bomb or develop those weapons.

The answer to a "why" question  requires a different mind set, a different knowledge, a different perspective that can't be tested, tasted, felt, or measured.  It requires a way of thinking that combines a knowledge of the human past, present, and projections into the future.  Should we build an atomic bomb?  What are the consequences of creating such a weapon?  Once something is created, its very existence seems to promote its use.  That's the next question:  should we use it?  Why?  How? When? Science can not be expected to provide the answer to these all important questions.

No comments:

Post a Comment