2 Contrary Streams; Cause for Pessimism? Resolution; Man for Science, or Science for Man? In Closing

Home | Indexing | About us | Why Mens Sana? | Conceptual Foundations of MSM | Contact Us




Two Contrary Streams of Thought

There are two streams of thought which must engage our attention in this section. One is deterministic and leads to pessimism. The other is intent on controlling the perils into which scientific progress can lead mankind and is hopeful of success if checks and balances are in place. It keeps to the forefront the question whether man is for science or science for man. Let us take up each of them one by one.

Cause for Pessimism?

Let us take up the first thought here. What benefits mankind is only a by - product of scientific development and can never become its aim, much though we way wish to believe otherwise. The painful truth is that not only is science neutral in its value orientation, (Russell, 1987, p.481-82, see also note attached), this neutrality of science makes it eminently suitable to the machinations of man’s ulterior motives. This is the reason why, for example, nuclear weapons keep on getting produced in spite of the fact that every scientist knows the vast devastation they can cause. We do not have to go very far back to realise this:

The practical importance of science was first recognised in connection with wars. Galileo and Leonardo obtained government employment by their claim to improve artillery and the art of fortification. From their time onwards , the part of men ofscience in war has steadily grown greater (Russell, 1987; p.480).

This is again a dilemma for the scientist as a propagator of his branch, and may be considered a defect of scientific advance by the activists of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament (or, for that matter, even the environmental activists). This is also the reason that scientific development will continue to use its own perpetuation as its only guiding factor, irrespective of whether it causes the welfare of mankind, or otherwise. And also the reason that as long as scientific progress is our major thrust, nuclear disarmament activists (or even the environmentalists) will continue to fight a losing battle. And why the scientist, as a man of science, will never be able to resolve the pangs of guilt and remorse aroused in him as a person belonging to the race he will ultimately help to destroy:

If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.

-Albert Einstein (Of his making the atom bomb possible. Quoted in News Statesman, 16 Apr., 1965)*

To be sure, the conflict between ‘Man’ and ‘Science’ will continue till either of them is either exhausted or wiped out. In the meantime all that we may succeed in doing is  try and achieve some state of equilibrium wherein, till this final stage is reached, life can continue with the simulations and masks that make it tolerable. No. This does not mean destruction is round the corner, or the final deluge predicted is most theology is just waiting in the wings. It only means we still have time to prepare ourselves for the final reckoning. And if to discard Science as a remedy to this existential despair appears an attractive alternative, perish the thought. No one, supposedly in his senses, will accept your ‘obscurantism’.

Resolution of the Pessimism

The earlier paragraph ends on a rather sombre note. And a pessimistic one at that. There may arise howls of protest, or at least an extremely uncomfortable feeling in most readers . It is like the feeling one gets after watching a tragedy movie. Having witnessed the benefits of scientific and technological advancement pervade every aspect of our lives it is disconcerting to accept such a proposition, to say the least.

What shall we do then? How shall we place this thought in perspective? How shall we resolve the pall of gloom that sets in with such a realisation?Well, let us try.

It is in the nature of entities that begin to also end at some time. It is fundamental to the rhythm of nature, and the universe. Man is born and must die. Seasons start and must end. Days end into nights and nights into days. Years start and end, as do decades, centuries, eras and epochs. None of the material entities have the attributes of beginninglessness, and therefore endlessness (except perhaps primordial matter itself). That quality, if at all, religion attributes to entities like Soul and God, which are considered timeless, beginningless, endless etc. etc. Science has no methods, as yet, to study these entities, and so can learn nothing about them.

Two thoughts can comfort us in this situation.

One is, even if we grant that what starts must end, it does not mean we cannot enjoy the interlude. Although we may start driving from our house to a certain destination, just the thought that the journey is going to end need not deter us from enjoying the whole drive. Man is born and must die. True. But the fact that he must die need not prevent him from living his life well, fruitfully and happily. For, in so doing, he only fulfils himself.

This is what man can do in spite of a realisation of the inevitable and inexorable direction in which Science will propel him. Granted, the realisation adds a tinge of  sadness to the happiness. But there is no unalloyed happiness anywhere, there is no pure or true state of anything. That is only an idealised fiction, a goal unknown, a destination unreached. Moreover, in enjoying the journey, it need hardly be said that one is aware of, and removes, the known nuisances and road blocks. The whole fight of the environmentalists, nuclear disarmament activists, and those against other weapons of mass destruction, as the fight against poverty, exploitation, racial, gender and caste discrimination, as also the incessant fight against disease, distress and disability that the field of medicine is involved in, along with greater use and production of sophisticated means of transport and mass communication - are all meant to ease this journey. That cannot be stopped and needs to be put into place rather vigorously. And effective checks and balances put into action at every step further prolong the ease.

The second important point worthy of consideration here is what we shall come to now. It is true everything that begins must end. But the end of one is also the beginning of another. Days end into nights, but nights also end and are replaced by days. Men live and die. But their deaths are replaced by generations that exist after them. Similarly with months, years, seasons, eras and epochs. Nothing ends really. It is only the start of something else And it is cyclical. It comes back. Every destruction carries within it the germ of a new beginning. In fact the germ of rebirth is present in the death itself. When a day ends, the start of the night contains the germ of a potential day which must inevitably arise later. Even if, therefore, Science may be responsible for the eventual destruction of man and the universe as we understand them, that will only be the start of a new era, a new yuga. A new process, a new beginning. A new cycle. And the end of man will lead to the beginning of such an epoch which contains the germ of his resurrection at some point in time. Probably metamorphosed, probably only distantly akin. This may appear a futuristic statement, but is based on observation of phenomena, and may therefore be considered a speculation in the realm of probability.

Where, then, is the existential despair? Where the need to discard Science? We may indeed perish the thought, for where is the obscurantism?

Man for Science, or Science for Man?

As apposed to the former view, which we set out to resolve (and succeeded to an extent), is the view while must engage our attention here. If the former thinks of Man as getting used for Science, this wants Science to be firmly utilised in the service of Man, and never the other way around.

Man’s well-being has never been strictly defined but it has always acted as a universal value. It must be the overriding goal. Human life, the possibility of its comprehensive development, is of the greatest value. Science, and development, are the means to such an end. The price that humanity must/ must not pay for truths to be discovered in nuclear physics, molecular biology and such other fields must not be such as to undermine man’s welfare for the welfare of science. The essential value-neutrality of science will have to be supplemented by the values that man has upheld for centuries as fundamental, which religious thought and moral philosophy have continuously professed.For :

There is no evil in the atom : only in men’s souls.

- Adlai Stevenson*

This however need not lead us to scientific nihilism or to Rousseauisticviews that slow down scientific progress to ‘zero-growth’, or to ‘anti-science’, or a science counter -culture. All it means is the modern scientist must weigh the progress of science and technology (especially the latter), with the consequences of their progress for mankind. In all such procedures, the wellbeing of man must be the over-riding goal.

These issues are discussed in contemporary science, and notably in philosophy, chiefly in connection with the admissibility of certain kinds of research which by themselves, or in application, may damage man and humanity. Not only nuclear physics is the subject of controversy, but also molecular biology, genetics, medicine, psychology, psychiatry and other fields of knowledge where man is the object of study. Many scientists believe that man will come across political, moral, ethical and psychological problems which will make those facing nuclear physics seems like child’s play (Frolov and Yudin, 1986). Especially the developments in biology (like cloning, surrogacy, stem - cell research etc.) pose fundamentally new and very complex problems for the thinking man in general and philosophers in particular. It makes sense to say that philosophers of science would do well to think a great deal more in the future about ethical problems than about logical problems (Glass, 1970). The dangers of using biological findings in warfare, the consequences of psychopharmacological drugs, the practice of organ transplants (‘What makes the individual’) all pose many complex and fundamental questions before man and humanity.

For all these reasons, the development of strict socio-ethical standards of experimentation with man  becomes a vital need. Equally important is the need for stringent social and ethical supervision of such standards. Thus, on the one hand, the scientist must self consciously follow such codes himself. On the other, regulatory bodies must see to it that such codes are strictly enforced, and any transgressions adequately prevented and /or punished.

In Closing

Let us now ask once again : Where, then, is the existential despair? Where the need to discard science? We may indeed perish the thought, for where is the obscurantism?

We may also consider ourselves duly comforted and even a bit happy at having revolved the issue partially, at least for now. The tinge of inevitability and tragedy lingers. True. But that is what makes the comedy of living all the more enjoyable. And desirable. And Science is about the joy of living, if nothing else, even if it is about the depths of eventual despair.

We have decided to enjoy the journey while it lasts.

How about you?


*Cohen and Cohen (1986)

Mens Sana Monographs [MSM]: A Mens Sana Research Foundation Publication




Enter supporting content here