Worth Defending

In ancient times, love of wisdom had a name – “philosophy”. That context brings to mind sun-drenched hilltops in Greece and great libraries like Pergamum and Alexandria. Scholars were few, ‘pure’, supported by patrons or states, and breathed the rarefied air of privilege.

In modern times, we talk of “science”. There are many, many scientists around the world. They work on increasingly specialized research, and increasingly on applied science. They are largely supported by a vast international academic system that is quickly merging with complex economic systems. In fact, direct support from the commercial and corporate world is becoming the norm. Many scientists now breathe the chemical soup of industrialization.

The general public has the widest technology usage rate in history. There are billions as many transistors as people and the number of cell phone accounts is roughly equal to the world’s population.

Technology is almost becoming synonymous with science. “Techno-Science” has reached a level of acceptance and respect that was previously reserved only for religion. Even many of those who remain scientifically illiterate hold science in mystical reverence.

This is the greatest tragedy of all.

The death of pure science directly implies the death of human civilization. We will either be enslaved in a dystopian future or simply be replaced by artificial intelligence. It ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

In 1969, Robert R. Wilson, an advocate of a new particle accelerator research facility that later became Fermilab was testifying before a committee in Washington, DC. His exchange with one Senator has become legendary and is found in many places on the Internet, with Wilson himself memorialized at Fermilab.

Senator: “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”
Wilson: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”
Senator: “Nothing at all?”
Wilson: “Nothing at all.”
Senator: “It has no value in that respect?”
Wilson: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has to do with, are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”

 

There’s little I can add to that. Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) once said,

“the scientific spirit is of more value than its products”

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