Alec Perkins Phelan Seminar Weekly Paper 2.5.

2008 The contemporary view of science is that it is inevitableand closely intertwined with technology. Very few of modern human activities are untouched by a scientific mindset in some way and virtually all products have been created, or at least improved on, due to scientific discoveries or approaches to problems. Any that arenot often attempt to masquerade as science simply to be able to compete, since scientific technology is so dominant. Mumford explores the roots of thisdominance, arriving at Galileo’s proposition of science as objective and being both theoretical and empirical. Looking at the world with the mindset of it being something to observe and document creates a conception of the world as a system of mechanisms, a collection of machines operating under knowable principles. The “mechanical world picture” relies on a compartmentalized conception of nature, observing and understanding each component by itself, ignoring the complexity of the overall system. The sheer complexity of the natural world necessitates division of labor in science in order to have deeper understanding, but it loses broader understanding in the process. The example of the attempt to mechanize pain shows an understanding of the physical process by which it is triggered, but ignores the emotions and responses it brings about. The concept of science as the formal and systematic exploration of the world through experimentation and observation is universal in that it is not bound to a specific culture or group. Science’s own tenant of repeatability reinforces this. (This raises the question, is this due to something inherent in science, or is it simply a perception of science.) However, both the practice of science and the seemingly

inevitable applications of it are rooted in the culture in which they take place. While science in its most pure form is objective and unbiased, the people of science are still people, and bring with them all of their biases, prejudices, assumptions, and preconceptions, for better or worse. Science does provide a common language, with regards to the concepts, as the focus is the natural world, and now universe, which everyone inhabits. This language encouraged scienceas it eliminated mystical answers and emphasized physical causes. New phenomena must have a physical cause, and through the scientific method, that cause can be determined. Some branches of science grow in response to practical needs, though many fields do not wait for needs or applications. New discoveries are discussed in terms of “potential applications” followed by lists of vague and broad fields. Science now defines technological possibilities, instead of science responding to technological needs, and in many cases the practice of science defines needs for a specific technology or provides new applications of other technologies. “The chief premise common to both technology and science is the notion that there are no desirable limits to the increase of knowledge, of material goods, of environmental control, that quantitative productivity is an end in itself, and that every means should be used to further expansion” (Mumford, 127). Is this still true? Potential trends of more symbiotic relationships with nature and the understanding that we are a fundamental part of it are beginning to (re-)emerge. Nature itself seemed too vast to significantly affect, but science and technology have scaled up our reach, extending a sphere of influence beyond even our own planet. At the same time, a professor recently lamented to me that his students were not interested in learning about a certain abstract topic just in order to know it and the new modes of

understanding it brings with it, but instead kept asking “how is this useful?” and how they could apply it to other work. This suggests an interest in the practical applications over understanding, though it could simply be due to the pressure of grades that the students were facing. What would things be like today if Galileo had not proposed the empirical side and the merging of technology and science had never occurred (or was this combination inevitable)? Would everything still be based on scarcity instead of productivity and growth? It is likely that there would have been significant technological exploration and development, but not nearly on the same scale or at the same rate.

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