Science, Technology, and the future of Humanity

Some questions for Reflection.

Dr. Paul Gregorios

1. Modern Science, and the technology based on it, are comparatively new in the history of humanity, only a few centuries old. Science had once to fight for survival against the unjust onslaughts of the dogmatic western religion. That period is now happily over. Science has now come of age, and can stand on its own, not seeking any protection or promotion from religious circles.

2. On the other hand, Science itself had been tempted, especially in the light of some of her more spectacular achievements of the end of the last century, to claim certain dogmatic certainties for herself. But as our century draws to its close, dogmatic scientism becomes increasingly outdated and unfashionable.

3. Today one notes at least four different attitude to Science and technology occupying the centre of the stage.

a) First comes the popular view about science and technology, a view which is a kind of hangover from the hectic days of triumphalistic scientistism. This is the belief widely held, that science and technology are potentially capable of solving all the problems of mankind. This naive view is especially common in the developing countries of the world, where the wide use of modern science and technology is comparatively new, and the marvels of science and technology can still make a great impression on the minds of ordinary people. I think this view is still rather common in India.                        

b) On the opposite extreme, and almost totally irrational, is the view of the Counter-culture Syndrome in advanced industrial societies. Theodore Roszak, says:

Because science dominates the reality game of high industrial society, I am convinced that a hard critique of its Psychology now has everything to do with restoring our cultural health1.

Acknowledging his debt to such contemporary thinkers as Abraham Maslow2, Lewis Mumford3, Lancelot Law Whyte4  Thomas Blackburn5  Arthur Koestler6, and others, Roszak charges that

Science is far too narrowly grounded in the personality. It closes out too much experience and in this way drastically distorts what it studies.7

His view is that

Science has been lionized out of all proportion by the necessities of urban-industrial life and by the political opportunism of the technocracy.

Roszak's solution is the "rhapsodic intellect" in which science is wedded to mysticism and art to produce a revolution of consciousness which restores the "sacramental vision of nature" to Science. But this revolution

will happen, perversely and heretically at the fringes of our culture and work its way in toward the center. The Scientists and guardians of single vision in urban-industrial society and the intellectual Linchpin of the technocracy, may be among the last to hear the news!8

c) A third type of view comes from English-speaking philosophers of science. Despite the wide divergence among them, there is growing consensus among Carl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Stepehn Toulmin. While Popper argues for the autonomy of a "third world" of man-made ideas called scientific knowledge constantly in process of revision and evolution9.  Feyerabend argues for epistemological anarchism in science10. The second edition of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions11 came out in 1970 with his theory of paradigms further refined. Kuhn sees science as a "way of seeing" through paradigms or picture-analogie, the paradigms themselves being in a process of constant revision and change, change not in accordance with any rational law, but almost haphazardly often by revolutions most of the time through battles between rival paradigms created by congeries of specialists' communities"12. Science is a system of theory choices, preference being for theories or paradigms with greater accuracy to demands also some free creativity, ie. an irrational element as well.

Al1 these philosophers, however, agree on one point-- Science is not proven knowledge; it is only a way of seeing reality, quite a successful way, admittedly.  But no thinking person would claim infallibility for science, nor would he give it any methodological monopoly over human knowledge. Science is a useful tool, it helps us to predict certain aspects of reality and therefore to control them. It may also help us partially to understand the nature of reality, but cannot give us an adequate picture of it. Such a modest evaluation of science seems to be the one prevalent among most Philosophers of science.

d) A fourth view of science is the one held in most socialist countries. It is difficult at the moment to document this view from primary sources, since western language sources are scanty. One of the best recent western studies is Loren R. Graham's Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union13. What we see here is a science-based natural philosophy. Marxist ideology itself claims to be the silence of dialectical materialism, a scientific analysis of social reality. Graham calls contemporary Soviet dialectical materialism “an impressive intellectual achievement". His praise, and let me add that the American Professor Graham is no Marxist or Marxist sympathizer, is rather fulsome

in terms of universality and degree of development, dialectical materialist explanation of nature has no competitors among modern systems of thought. Indeed, one would have to Jump centuries, to the Aristotelian scheme of a natural order or to Cartesian mechanical philosophy, to find a system based on nature that could rival dialectical materialism In the refinement of its development and the wholeness of its fabric14.

In other words the Marxist effort to integrate philosophy with science has no contemporary parallel in the West, where the two are kept in fairly watertight compartments even by many philosophers on science. One may question some of the assumptions of Soviet dialectical materialism but its rigorous effort to build an integral system that unites ideology, philosophy and science is more impressive than any other.  But this also means that Eastern European scientists and philosophers of science do not share the uncertainty about a technology so characteristic of the contemporary western scientific thinkers. The west feels tempted to call the Soviet attitude 'scientism' -- the belief in the omni-competence of science. The Eastern European would deny that the epithet is merited. He would say that Marxism is the only ideology that integrates science in a larger framework that deals with all aspects of reality. It is a flexible ideology, which can give up a strict Laplacean type of determinism in the light of the insights of modern physics, but sticks on to causality despite indeterminacy at certain levels.

It is not a mere platitude to say that all these four views must contain some element of truth, though the degree of verity in each may be different. The third view which is the view of most thinking scientists outside the socialist world today, could be considered more modest and objective than the first or the second, but it does not raise the question of the role of science in the sum-total of human endeavour. It is that question that increasingly rises before us as western civilization itself goes through a measure of soul-searching and self-criticism. 

The main point of this paper is to sharpen the articulation of this question and some related ones. Some of these questions are

  1. What degree of regularity and determinacy has to be assumed in reality in order to explain the fact that science has been successful?

  2. Does science provide objective knowledge of reality?

  3. Does the fact that at certain micro levels the observer is inescapably influencing the structure of the reality observed, lead to the conclusion that in all scientific knowledge pure objectivity as unattainable?

  4. What kind of objectivity does science provide?

  5. To what extent is the claim to objectivity questionable?

It has often been assumed that Science and Technology are by their very nature universal, while culture is by nature local. Can this view be sustained? How is modern science and science-based technology related to Western culture, and at what points do we need to beware of this relation in adapting modern science and technology to our needs in India? (This question is much wider than the issue of small, medium or appropriate technology).

4. On the one hand, it is charged that the classical Vedanta tradition which denies any ultimate significance to historical and material reality is inimical to the development of modern science and technology in India. On the other hand, it is being argued that the view of  reality disclosed in modern physics is much closer to the world-view of Taoism , Buddhism and Hinduism than to West Asian religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam15. What is the truth in either of these assertions?

5.  Science can promote certain values like integrity, honesty clarity, etc. But most of the value questions facing society lie outside the purview of science as such. Some questions in scientific investigation are themselves not capable of scientific solutions. (eg. What degree of risk are we justified in taking in connection with experiments involving genetic mutation and creation of new bacteria strains?) How does society make sure that the work of the scientist is itself subject to values and norms decided upon by society?

6. Development of the scientific consciousness to be detrimental to the development of the faculties like intuitive ness aesthetic sensitivity, vision of the whole of reality, etc.

Is there any truth in this allegation? Have we over-valued science and technology because of their phenomenal success in the recent past? How do we correct this imbalance, and devote greater attention to the development of the other faculties of the human person?

7. Science tells us very little about the quality of life. And it is being increasingly realized that a higher quality of life should be a permanent orientation in all economic and social planning. Can Science play any role in quantifying or 'functionalizing' Quality of like in such a way that it can be programmed into national planning? What Indicators or parameters of Quality of Life are available for this purpose?

8. Research in Science and Technology usually finds funds mainly from two sources -- defense establishments and large corporations.

The interest of the former is in military technology and that of the latter is in fairly quick profit. How can society ensure that research funds are available for scientific projects that genuinely promote human quality of life apart from defence utility or commercial profit?            

9. Is it not a luxury for us in a country like India where 60% of our people still do not have a dignified human standard of living, to worry about the long-term cultural and spiritual consequences of adopting modern science and technology, since we have no other instrument available for removing that poverty? On the other hand, once you have taken the option to follow the road of science and technology and urban-industrial civilization, can you really change direction in mid-course? Have we in India any other option than to follow this road and face the consequences when we get to the stage where the problems generated by the road tend nearly to over-whelm our humanity?

10. In terms of political options and their ideological underpinnings, do we really have an alternative, a third way, a way which is different from, and avoids the pitfalls of, market economy capitalism of some sort and centrally planned Marxist type of socialism? Is it simply the formula of non-alignment plus mixed economy? Is there an ideological road that is politically viable which takes seriously our own cultural heritage and makes the best use of science and technology? Or are we condemned to the fate of formulating our positions only in relation to certain western positions, ie. opposition to some, partial acceptance of some, odd mixtures of different western positions, (mixed economy), qualifications of some of them (socialistic pattern of society), substitutes for Western concepts, often mostly in name (Sarvodaya, Janasakti)? Where is the forum where our scientific cultural minds and our spiritual leadership come together for a common creativity? Is our planning commission or our Education ministry the right place to lodge this concern? If not, do we need a new one, high-powered with creative strengths flexibility, time and resources?



1. Where The Wasteland Ends, The Making of a Counter Culture

Wasteland, p.371

2. solution proposed, hierarchical integrations of many modes of knowing, including those of Tao and Zen as well as the scientific

3. a science based in "an organic world-picture

4. integration of art, ethics and natural philosophy within a ‘science of form'

5. integrate sense-experience, intuition and objectivity on a complementarity model

6. anti-reductionist emphasis on wholes and systems

7. wasteland, P.372

8. ibid.p.378

9. objective Knowledge, An Evolutionary Approach, OUP. 1972

10. Against Method, New Left Books, 1974

11.Chicago University Press

12. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Ed. Criti cism and the Growth of Knowledge     p.253

13. Vintage Books, New York, 2nd ed. l97l, 504 pp

14. op.cit.p.430

15. eg. Fritjof   Capra, the Tao of physics