Does Technological Seduction Destroy the Rigor of Science?
Furthermore, science has its discipline, its beauty, its wonder. Without these qualities, without this quest that is not necessarily always utilitarian it would have been impossible to explore the laws of nature with such patience, curiosity and zeal. However, it is important see how science is disseminated , projected and appropriated. It is in this context that the overwhelming presence of technology in our lives has to be situated. True, technology cannot be separated from science; in a way, technology is the concrete, visible manifestation of scientific principles. Moreover, technology is magical; it does things; it makes human lives easier; and to use technology one need not be a scientist, and hence technology has its mass appeal. The nation-state is interested in it; the market values it; consumers need it for their comfort; and the army and bureaucracy need it for their meticulous task of objectification, observation and national safety. And at this stage of post-industrial development technology seems to have invaded every aspect of life. We live amidst gadgets. Technology as a symbolic good—pampered by the market and its culture industry—seduces us. It is at this juncture that the question we are raising becomes relevant: Does the overwhelming power of technology somehow subdue the rigor of science, its critical spirit, its free enquiry, its democratic principle? True, technology cannot be separated from science. But technology is not the essence of science. Because technology has an utilitarian motive which pure science need not necessarily have. For example, doing physics meaningfully is one thing; and manufacturing technological gadgets like magic objects for promoting consumerism is something else. In fact, as opposed to what Karl Popper thought about science, this sort of technological seduction can act like some sort of drug, generate passivity, hamper criticality, and eventually promote totalitarianism.We all know that in modern times (and European Enlightenment was a turning point) science plays a key role in the construction of our worldview. And science, its enthusiastic adherents argue, is objective, cumulative, universal and value-neutral. Science has its reason, its methodology, its experimental approach and its empiricism. No wonder, science, historically speaking, has fought many battles against religious orthodoxy and cultural prejudices. Science leads to innovation, critical thinking and free enquiry. In modern/secular times science education, needless to add, acquires tremendous legitimacy. In fact, there are great thinkers who have argued that it is science—or its spirit of rational dialogue—that is conducive to the culture of democracy. Scientific propositions, argued Karl Popper, are like ‘conjectures’ that can be falsified; and hence science means not adherence to absolute truths or certainties, but
the possibility of refutations and falsifications. This implies that to pursue science is to remain open, accept that one’s ideas may be falsified because of new evidence. Science grows because of this endless process of trial and error, conjectures and refutations. For Popper, it is this spirit of science that can fight the politics of totalitarianism. Science, for Popper, is the spirit of an open society.
See the profit-making business implicit in the phenomenal growth of engineering colleges. See the pathology of all sorts of coaching centers preparing (or drilling?) youngsters for an entry into these engineering shops. What is the state of science in this business, in this culture of education that has severely affected the way schools see the worth of physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology? Or for that matter, think for a while, acquire the courage, and ask what our pampered institutions—IIT-IIM nexus—are doing? Are they promoting science—the kind of science that created Newton and Einstein, J.C Bose and C.V Raman? Or are these middle class temples producing only techno-managers? It is high time we began to ask these embarrassing questions.
We invite our readers to participate in this debate, and send their valuable insights to us which will be published in the November issue of The New Leaf.