"...like the orb spider, man lies at the heart of it, listening..."
revealed much. Today, much of that study is called "physics."
Some of the discoveries are wonderful. Some of them make us wonder if we can survive them.
|In the 60's and
70's the journal Science published several papers that examined
the social consequences of science and technology, which has handed mankind
tools of unprecedented power to alter our environment. Two
of these were "The Tragedy of the Commons," by Garrett Hardin and "What
We Must Do," by John Platt.
Both papers were pleas to break out of egocentric and ethnocentric world views and attend to impending catastrophes that now face mankind, catastrophes that were never before a danger because human knowledge did not have the power that scientific understanding now gives it.
Many people heeded the alarms. Many more did not. Today, many decades later, the alarms appear to be silenced, the catastrophes no longer impending.
Decision makers should
heed the fact that science is a way of looking at the world in ways that
reveal things a bit beyond the edges of easy human comprehension.
They must understand that first glances usually give us misconceptions.
They must contend with the consequences of a human population that almost
never takes those extra steps toward the deeper understanding, almost never discovers that, "You can find magic in places
you never thought to look." Everyone has
rich potential for deeper understanding.
But everyone is also cajoled, even pushed, toward dumbing down.
Hardin and Platt were simply looking at technology, vis-a-vis human cultures, with the simple insights which give science its powerlike ratio and proportion, exponential variation, multicomponent measure, statistical inference, Boolean relationships, and implications of mutual reciprocityand then they asked some crucial questions.
Their answers are
crucial, too. But their answers are seldom seen, almost never understoodlike
the 17th century laws of motion that Newton saw and today's physics teachers
Platt's three most crucial "things to do" were to avoid nuclear holocaust, sidestep environmental catastrophe, and prevent collapse of democracy.
We have so far succeeded at the first, have possibly failed at the second by setting into motion unstoppable ecological disruptions, and have so corrupted democracythrough powerful public opinion manipulation and concentration of decision-makingthat we might not recognize collapse of democracy even if it's already happened.
Above all, we are in the midst of a population explosion (as seen in evolutionary and geological time scales) which is already putting severe pressures on our natural resources. And decision makers repeatedly make statements revealing alarming ignorance of the simple science and "obvious" logic that should guide their decisions.
Must guide them in the light of Platt's warnings.
Dumbing down is dangerous. Dumbing down in a democracy is doubly dangerous. Dumb can be fatal when our toys tap the tremendous powers of today's science. Pseudoscience is a trap of nearsighted pinched vision; furthermore, getting caught in it might satisfy some felt need, but simply seeing the real science is far more satisfying. And everyone can see farther if they work at it.
If Mother Nature has a humanly recognizable face, she must be grinning widely these days. Nuclear holocaust and environmental catastrophe are among her antidotes to human population explosion.
Human evolution is evolution toward ever more powerful reasoning skills. The human mind, not the human power to kill each other, is what has put us in dominion over dangerous lions, bears, sharks, poisonous snakes, and retroviruses. (Well, perhaps we should think more about that last one.) And evolution doesn't stop: it's incredibly anthropocentric to think we might be "the supreme being" at a final state of evolution. It's also a fatal mistake.
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