Science of today

In the summary of the scientific development in Chapter 1, it  was possible to see how the search for the general involved studying the particular. The general has however too often remained limited, hampered by a sceptical attitude toward holism. Taking ourselves as the starting point of all thinking we have succeeded in being unaware of much that is controlled by the surrounding context. Traditional European individual-centred heritage has held man to be exceptional and superior, the very owner of nature. The supremacy of thought and reason, of cause and effect, as a guiding star for the perfect rational man is still held as an ideal. Apparently, we have a long-standing fear that rationality will be overwhelmed by chaos and the spiritual by the sensual.

The same can be said of dualism or polarity, the traditional Western way to arrange the world and life in mutually exclusive concepts. We think in terms of either/or, black and white, good and evil, defining things by their opposites. In our fractured world-view we still drastically separate subject from object, mind from body, culture from nature, values from facts and spirit from matter. With our dualistic, mechanistic, atomistic, anthropocentric and hierarchical world-view we have alienated us from the intricate web of life and the cosmos.

Society still holds specialization as natural, inevitable and desirable, even though man represents the least specialized creature on earth. The earlier scientific and technological view of nature as a grand mechanistic machine with no intrinsic values persists. So do the traditionally positivistic attitudes based on Frances Bacon’s 16th century ideas on the extraction of maximum benefit from nature. Today, these ideas includes science itself which too often is regarded as a main tool for the creation of economical profit instead of the motor of human quest for knowledge.

However, the worst thing is that the established scientific community has such a strong resistance to change, fortified by deeply rooted private interests. These interests include military-industrial enterprises, oversized weapon bureaucracies, influential secret weapon laboratories, universities with miltary research grants, elitist expert groups trying to control the arms race, and of course personal patents rights. To these can be added a customary resistance to change from an uninformed general public, from the unions which oppose the disappearance of jobs and from the politicians who strive for reelection. Without carrying things too far it is possible to say that our obsolete academical bureaucracy moves into the 21st century with 20th century thinking and 19th century institutions.

To sum up, this mentality continues to encourage business as usual, that is, control, exploitation and destruction of nature through scientific ‘force’. Short-term profit is permanently gained through neglect of the second law of thermodynamics. The bill for these illusory benefits will, however, have to be paid. Some of the consequences are already clearly visible and have resulted in the entropy of global pollution and the collapse of nature. (See Catton 1982)

It is therefore quite understandable that today’s science and technology often give rise to a deep distrust. The most discreditable to science is, especially in the eyes of the younger generation, its engagement in military research. Development, production and stockpiling of the means to kill ever-more people at ever-greater distances in ever-shorter time promotes a general distrust. The same distrust exists with regard to civil nuclear science and technology. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are by no means forgotten.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

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