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Science, technology and human nature
An essay about the three driving forces of society
By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2001)
www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/probl/science.htm


In a rapidly deteriorating world where problems manifest themselves at an ever increasing rate, while becoming also more complicated, humanity relies on its ultimate weapon of defence, science and technology. Science and scientists, together with technology, are our hope for the future, but do we know their strengths and weaknesses? Aren't problems caused only by people assisted by technology? Shouldn't we therefore examine the nature of humans as well? This chapter examines these issues frankly, in order to show where we can and should improve our act. In other words, if science, technology and human nature have caused our global problems, what hope do we have of solving them using the same?

The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.
      - Albert Einstein

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this long document consists of four parts: part1 (this page), part2, part3, part4 according to their colours
introduction Why do we need to understand science and the scientist? Why have science and technology failed us? How did knowledge evolve and what were the factors that accelerated it? These are important and provocative questions.
what is science? It is the human brain that developed awareness to knowledge. In the course of human evolution, the brain developed memory. While some of our senses sharpened, others dulled. Science has been exercised for hundreds of thousands of years, but has recently been ascending at an exponential rate. Why?
the scientific method Humans have various ways of thinking, from ancient emotions to new-brain reasoning, and they all interact. Scientific thinking attempts to be objective. Read how the scientific method raises scientific knowledge above doubt, and how hypotheses and theories are formed and results published.
how science works An insight into the practical workings of science. Not a very nice story. Scientists are in a race, competing with other scientists to be first, and also competing for limited funds. Many of these practices do not benefit science.
peer review
In order to protect the quality of scientific publications, each paper is subjected to anonymous peer review. But is this a good practice?
limits to science Science is limited, not only by the capacity of our brains, but also by many other factors, such as the enormity of a problem, previous knowledge, the limitations of what we can do now, our present state of technology, and so on.
hidden types of science
Although not intuitively evident, all knowledge can be divided into four mutually-exclusive (non-overlapping) types depending on whether we are aware that we either know or don't know. What are these and what is the role of outsiders and skeptics and overlooked science?
the political mind-set The political mind-set of recent years, dominated by neo-classical freemarket ideology, has not helped science.
strengths & weaknesses
of scientists
Scientists are often not aware of their limitations and those imposed by the systems they have created themselves, or the confines placed upon them by society.
strengths & weaknesses 
of the public
Ironically, the public has strengths where scientists have weaknesses, and vice versa, suggesting that synergy between the two is bound to help both.
how science is affected
by brownlash
Where newfound facts suggest people alter their ways, first reaction is to either ignore it or oppose it vehemently. The brownlash is anti-science propaganda that could harm society and science, but that could also strengthen it. 
how to communicate
science
Scientists by nature of their specialisation, have isolated themselves from the public and society at large. Communication is necessary to allow the public to play their part and to make science benefit society. How to do it, is a form of art.
technology When science is applied to create advantage, it is called technology. Armies and businesses have always been interested in such advantage, to the extent that much scientific work is funded this way. It has both advantages and disadvantages. Technology is behaving like a runaway monster, totally out of control. The question remains: can we control it and do we want to?
human nature In the end, all our problems can be traced back to humans, for without this species there would be no problems. So it would be helpful to understand human nature, however cynical it may sound.
scientific corruption
The scientific endeavour should be strictly honest, but often scientists are not. Recent revelations known as climategate have shown the nasty side of science, as always power, funding, beliefs and reputation are involved.
the new world view Perhaps we won't be able to solve our problems because our world view is incorrect. Perhaps we will need to turn all our thinking upside down.
conclusion Wrapping it all up and giving indications of how to find solutions.
what's new Recent additions and changes to this page.
related pages
on this web site
New Ideas in Science: Dr. Thomas Gold analyses the herd instinct that leads to scientific consensus. (7p)
resource management: knowledge can be considered a resource, so how could it be managed? (22 p)
timetable of mankind: the most important discoveries affecting the course of history. (24 pages)
threats: a summary of the world's problems, arriving from many directions. (20 pages)
conservation: the principles and practice of conservation with emphasis on marine conservation. (large)
belief systems: a summary of the many beliefs, still active today, stifling rational thought. (23 pages)
sitemap: discover what the Seafriends web site is all about. (11p)
 go to part2 <=> go to part3 <=> go to part4

Reader please note that the issues raised in this article, have been caricatured. So when it says that scientists can't do this or that, it should be read as most scientists... or in general, scientists .... Exceptions to a rule can always be found. The name Man is used to denote mankind. Also please note that this document is updated from time to time.

For suggestions and feedback, please e-mail the author. Read tips for printing for best results.
The whole document covers about 0.15 MB, 35 printed pages.

--Seafriends home--sitemap-- Revised: 20010816,20051103,20070412,20070725,20100218


Introduction

In a rapidly deteriorating world where problems manifest themselves at an ever increasing rate, while also becoming more complicated, humanity relies on its ultimate weapon of defence, science and technology. Science and scientists, together with technology, are our hope for the future, but do we know their strengths and weaknesses? How much can we rely on them? This chapter examines these issues, in order to show where our tools can be sharpened, and to expose some glaring deficiencies.
Science and technology do not stand apart, indeed technology is defined as applied science to give advantage. It has given us so much advantage that we have become able to exceed the natural confines of our environment, whereas the millions of creatures around us are not able to do so: Homo sapiens has come a long way from the worm it once was, through intermediary stages, to the erect primate and finally to what we are now. In the process, our brains and nervous systems have developed layer upon layer, for evolution cannot discard progress made in the past. Every new form of adaptation must come from a living ancestor and produce a viable successor. Failure in between is not on evolution's agenda.

At one stage, this organism became aware; aware of its existence; aware of time and place; able to look from the outside in. This does not mean that we are the only creatures able to do so. The others simply can't tell us or their mates. Intelligence is a fickle quality. Orang-utans are not very much less intelligent than we are. Many intelligent people behave unintelligently by smoking or driving themselves to death. Many people believe in pure nonsense, yet somehow intelligence is related to knowledge, to the way we act, and knowledge is accumulating at an ever faster pace. Why?

 "Bees, ants and termites, though not very smart individually, display much intelligence collectively - while people are just the opposite." - Amory B Lovins

"There is only one thing that can be said for certain about public opinion - it is wrong"  Plato

Look at knowledge as in itself being a living organism. For knowledge to exist, it needs memory, like our body's shape and functioning having been laid down in the record of DNA. Insects have memorised their behaviour in their instinct, which is part of their DNA or a similar large molecule. They adapt to a changing world (learn) by having a short life span, and reproducing profusely. Long-lived creatures are not able to do so. Next to instinct, they have developed memory. Humans ended up with very little instinct, relying instead mainly on their memory and learnt behaviour.
But memory alone is not enough, for if knowledge were not able to reproduce, it would have to die with each human's death. Knowledge would not be able to grow beyond each person's own experience. The breakthroughs where knowledge became science, came with a number of systems humans developed over an evolutionary very short time, to give knowledge the attributes of a living organism: growth, reproduction, retention (record, memory) and evolution, allowing it to grow exponentially to today's rate where scientific knowledge doubles every 10 years. Below follows a chronology of the major accelerators of knowledge: It is obvious that the power of knowledge has multiplied very rapidly in the past few years, but so have our environmental problems. The question now is, whether our knowledge tool will be able to outrun our problems and will be able to keep doing so forever. It may well be that a new class of problems will manifest, outside the scope of knowledge, and that a new way of thinking will be needed.

Technology has often been blamed for the predicament we are in, and it is true that it has empowered us to extend ourselves beyond the naturally stabilising boundaries of nature. We need to understand technology both from its guilt and promise. Will technology ever be powerful enough to solve our problems?

Without people, the world would not have problems. Nature would rule. Natural disasters would occur and nature would adjust, and slowly progress to a better world for all. When all is said and done, humans need to be singled out as the only cause of their problems. What makes us do it? How do humans work?

The Seafriends web site aims to analyse all these components, in order to refine our thinking. It is not a trivial exercise, since the nature of our environmental problems is that we have more of them, they arrive more frequently, are more intensive and more complicated - all independent factors that multiply. In this chapter you will encounter some critical thoughts, that have not appeared elsewhere.


What is science?

(L: scientia= knowledge) 
We've talked about knowledge in general, and the way humans invented external systems to give it the properties of living organisms: to grow, to reproduce, to be retained, yet to evolve. But every kind of knowledge is propagated using the same mechanisms of propagation, including superstition, and religion, reason why they are still so popular today, in this age of reason. Is it possible to better understand our brain? Here are my thoughts. Humans have basically these kinds of 'thought':
Emotional thinking is the most ancient form of thinking inside us. It is instinctive (but not fixed), thus hard-wired (but adaptive) and is therefore insensitive to the knowledge-enhancing systems we have invented. It will be with us for the rest of evolution. Based in ancient layers of neurones, emotions like anxiety, happiness, sadness, elation are associated with outside phenomena that present themselves to us. Emotional thinking is fast and can be irrational, although it is usually self-preserving (One burns oneself on a stove only once).

Superstition is an ancient mix of emotional thinking and reasoning, mainly induced by fear, which makes it very persuasive. Knowing something for sure, and feeling good about it, is very satisfying. When combined with ritual, masses of followers imitating one another, it can be very persuasive, suppressing reasoned thinking in most individuals. Superstition and quackery have been riding the same wave as science, that of better means of dissemination, denser populations, and now the Internet. They have also been evolving as new opportunities occurred.

Politics is our most ancient way of reasoning, although not entirely devoid of emotions. It prescribes group behaviour and survival techniques, often without morals. It is basically about surviving within a group but having one's own way as well, and involves allegiance, deceit, dishonesty, back handers, favours and hidden agendas. In this age of reasoning, it is about taking the best science and, based on society's shared values, making decisions, which are often controversial, resulting in winners and losers. Personal position often stands in the way of finding the best solutions for all.

Science is about presenting, challenging and refining hypotheses over long periods of time to better understand how things work. The goal of producing scientific theories and models is not to describe nature in all its detail, but to understand the law-like mechanisms that maintain the order that underlies the variety. In order to progress, science must be deadly honest. Science ascribes no values to its findings. Things are just the way they are. Scientific discoveries can be used by society to create prosperity or to wreak havoc.

Philosophy is practised to extend knowledge beyond the boundaries of certainty, to challenge the mind into thinking outside the frame, even though it cannot (yet) be tested against reality. Many scientists and politicians practise philosophy in their own fields of knowledge. Over the years, many philosophers have been engaged in unproductive thought, attempting to fit reality into a belief system, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, philosophy is also used to justify harmful actions (like the killing of people, that the rich must get richer, that wars must be fought, etc.).

Note that rational thinking can be affected by money, wealth or influence. Every person is bribable - just name the amount. One does not criticise the things one dearly paid for. One does not see the faults in celebrities. One does not criticise a celebrated cause. One does not take issue with the majority viewpoint. One doesn't bite the hand that feeds. Mothers fail to see fault with their children. Lawyers don't take issue with the legal system. Humans don't seek faults within themselves. And so on.

We'll conclude this subchapter by discussing a few commonly mentioned concepts in thinking, which help to explain issues, assist memorising, and sharpen the mind. By looking at an issue from new viewpoints, one can arrive at new thinking and see solutions which were previously hidden from view. It is called thinking laterally (L: latus=side; lateris=of/from the side; sideways):

caricature (L: caricare= to exaggerate) a grotesque (usually comic) representation of a person by exaggeration of characteristic traits, in a picture, writing or mime. A caricature strips an issue to its bare minimum, while retaining and exaggerating its characteristic traits. It helps one to think clearly and to compare it with similar cases. It also helps remembering it. This article contains many caricatures.

synonym (Gk: syn=with/together/alike; onoma=name) a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another, in the same language. A word denoting the same thing as another but suitable to a different context. Using synonyms when explaining knowledge, helps to better understand the issue.

contrast (L: contra=against; stare=to stand; contrastare= to juxtapose, oppose) juxtaposition or comparison showing striking differences. Like synonyms, contrasts allow one to look at an issue from an entirely different angle or perspective. By saying what it is not, one can often better understand what it is.

generality (L: genus= birth/race/stock; generalis= related to its class/origin) a statement or principle having general validity or force. Applicability to a whole class of circumstances. It pays to think about a problem in terms of its principle or laws, and how it relates to similar problems.

analogy (L: analogos= proportional; Gk: ana=up/again; logos= word/reason)  a process of arguing from similarity in known respects to similarity in other respects. Analogies are very powerful to guide one's thinking. Knowing that driving a car fast, causes disproportionately more friction, can lead one to understand or to expect similar aggravated friction when attempting to rapidly change society. Cars and society do not resemble one another, yet they may follow similar principles. Analogies can help tremendously in explaining issues, but they can also be abused when incorrect.

metaphor (Gk: metaphere= to transfer; meta=beyond; phero=to convey/carry) the application of a name or descriptive phrase to an object or action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable. Metaphors help to explain, by pulling thought away from the issue, towards imagination. It is easy and tempting to use the wrong metaphors, which is a technique used in brainwashing and propaganda. Metaphors are extremely powerful in affecting our thinking, also in science where they are eagerly sought after.

allegory: (Gk: allos=other; agoria= speaking) a story, play, poem, picture in which the meaning of a message is represented symbolically. The Bible is full of allegories. Whether they actually happened, does not matter. Whether they convey the message, does. Allegories are very powerful analogies to get a message across, especially  to people who can't think logically.

parable (L: para=beside/beyond; bolus=haul/throw/cast; parabola=comparison) a narrative of imagined events used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. An allegory.

paradox (L: para=against; doxa=opinion) contrary to opinion; counter-intuitive, contradiction. Contrary to common belief or wisdom. The paradoxes in science, where one theory seemingly contradicts another, are the most fascinating areas of thought. The second law of thermodynamics insists that order degrades to chaos, yet life appears to be able to create order out of chaos, in seeming contradiction.

paradigm (Gk: para= beside/beyond; deiknumi= to show; show side by side) an example or pattern. The word paradigm means not just example, but an entirely new way of thinking; a mind-set. It transcends (surpasses) analogy. In the beginning of this subchapter, the systems humans invented to promote knowledge, were likened to the creation of a living organism, enabling it (science) to grow, reproduce, retain its information and evolve. This is a new paradigm. It suddenly sheds new light on science's history, as well as enabling us to better understand related phenomena. It opens up our thinking, allowing us to find new analogies based on the new paradigm. A businessman, reading this, may see an analogy between his business and science in the light of the new paradigm, and this may lead him to improve not only growth, but also reproduction, retention of information and evolution in his company. A new paradigm may cast new insight across several scientific disciplines, and is therefore very powerful and much sought after.

convergence (L: com=together; vergere= to incline) the coming together. As scientists work on related problems in different parts of the world, they are nonetheless synchronised by what is technically possible and by what has been discovered before. It appears as if they work in parallel and that the same idea has to be born at the same time because its time has come. Knowledge converges when the last bits of the puzzle are found and the whole is pieced together.

emergence (L: ex= out of; mergere= to dip) come up or out into view, especially when concealed before. To transpire. Emergence is used when a whole new way of thinking, a whole new discipline is born from the findings of another. Electronic circuits led to binary logic, to computers, to programs, to applications, to artificial intelligence, to virtual reality. At each level, a new discipline emerged, apparently unrelated to its origin. From the bits in a computer, its program cannot be derived. From a program, its function cannot be proven. Yet at each level, meaningful scientific progress can be made.

Vertical thinking is like digging the same hole deeper. Lateral thinking is like trying again elsewhere. - Edward de Bono.

Do we need to pave the world with leather to make it smooth and pleasant to walk on? No, we can pave our feet with leather to the same effect.  - Buddhist wisdom.

Start using these tools for thinking today.


go to part2 <=> go to part3 <=> go to part4
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