Thursday, February 28, 2008

Control Over Experiments - Is Physics Innocent?

There are several deficiencies in the arguments which have been used to wash physics' hands entirely of all responsibility for the abuses of power over people and nature which have arisen in modern times. Those arguing for the innocence of the scientific method emphasize science's search for knowledge, and make a sharp distinction between those searching for knowledge (scientists) and those using it (everyone else.) There are other very significant deficiencies: (a) A lot more time and excitement is given to knowledge per se than to nature, almost as if nature itself were less interesting than our ideas about it. (b) Faith in Progress (advances of science, discovery, technology, paradigm shifts, frontiers) - faith that progress is happening, that science is (the) key for carrying it forward, that progress is a good in and of itself, and that progress is sure (the provisos vary) to help the human race ("quality of life".) (c) A tendency to take full credit for the glory of the modern age while downplaying the broken-ness and horrors. (d) Underemphasis, lip service to, or neglect of the liberal arts, humanistic, religious, and social values, as if science were the cornerstone of all learning and intellectual pursuits. (e) A very simplified and even neutered perception of nature. (I remember an intelligent colleague arguing at length that animated movies are steadily looking more and more like real life, and that pretty soon it will be impossible to tell the difference between an animated movie and a filmed one! One glance out my window at the snow melting off winter trees is enough to disprove that thesis.) There can also be a tendency to accuse anyone with a less black and white attitude of being anti-science.

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