Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Future Of Science

Image result for bertrand russell

1.

- Tell me what you think:
Men sometimes speak as though the progress of science must necessarily be a boon to mankind, but that, I fear, is one of the comfortable nineteenth-century delusions which our more disillusioned age must discard. Science enables the holders of power to realize their purposes more fully than they could otherwise do. If their purposes are good, this is a gain; if they are evil, it is a loss. In the present age, it seems that the purposes of the holders of power are in the main evil, in the sense that they involve a diminution, in the world at large, of the things men are agreed in thinking good. Therefore, at present, science does harm by increasing the power of rulers. Science is no substitute for virtue; the heart is as necessary for a good life as the head.
 And:
Science has not given men more self-control, more kindliness, or more power of discounting their passions in deciding upon a course of action. It has given communities more power to indulge their collective passions, but, by making society more organic, it has diminished the part played by private passions. Men's collective passions are mainly evil; far the strongest of them are hatred and rivalry directed towards other groups. Therefore at present all that gives men power to indulge their collective passions is bad. That is why science threatens to cause the destruction of our civilization.
The quotes are from Bertrand Russell's 1924 book, Icarus Or The Future Of Science.
- Russell thought if we could get to a communism that respected the heart, getting there by the way of worldwide democracy, we'd be safe, but clearly there was a problem. 
- We might destroy ourselves first.
- Yes. Russell accepted the reality of both mystical experience and the world of science, allowing them each their separate worlds. Perhaps if he'd tried to reconcile religious experience with the world of science he'd have come up with an answer.
- Can religious experience advise us on how to use our technology? Can technology be applied to religious experience?
- Yes, both. We've talked about this. 
- We've talked about so many things.
- The problem Russell raises is keeping our communities from killing us while we allow our better natures learn to remake and advance those communities. Being able to see the warning signs that our communities are about to crush our attempts at understanding might, if not solve the problem in itself, at least be a step in the right direction.
- It might.
- The worst, most dangerous form of government is not dictatorship, which can be benevolent, but totalitarianism. Totalitarianism has many varieties, some atheist, some religious, some socialist, some capitalist; generally totalitarianisms have in common advocacy of violence, hatred of strangers, and claim to total control of society. Do you recognize these three elements?
- You mean how they fit together?
- Yes.
- There is always the old fall-back to explain human stupidity: we get together to enact the story of an old god, representing our present world, in battle with a new god, representing our future world. Ritual. We look forward to its conclusion in which our violence has eliminated our enemy and brought into being a new world. Enmity, violence, totally new world. Here the story to the ritual is 'remaking the nation'.
- Ritual is a kind of social technology. Our experience with kindness, love, with everything good tells us this machine of ritual blocks them from coming to be.* Technology applied to religious experience is the identifying of social models. Religious experience applied to world of science is doing something about the wrong social technologies when we see them coming. 
- The power of science will still be in the hands of rulers who'll use it to kill their enemies and take total control of the lives of their own people. You might have reconciled religious experience with technology by identifying a model, but what can we do with a mere model against that power?
- In trying to bring the world of good into the world of science, models that bring together both worlds help us stay focused, reach consensus on what kind of social behaviors are dangerous.
- As for example violence, total control, hatred of strangers.


2.

- I know you like, or rather are in love with your model bringing the good of the world into science. I have some doubts.
- About what?
- Your and Russell's good is kindness, love, and the rest of the qualities we say we feel in religious experience. But scientists are also making models bringing together with the world of science, not religious experience, but consciousness. According to some all the world, from our thinking to the orbits of planets, is an ongoing computation, and consciousness is the computer that the program doing the computation runs on.
- It's no more than an interesting metaphor. One variation has it that consciousness is a machine of endlessly computing self reflection: self aware of self that is aware of self that is aware of self.... But religious experience of an unmoving whole without parts doesn't fit with a counting that adds up to infinite parts and infinite movement.
- They deny the reality of religious experience.
- Russell's response:
It is obvious that a man who can see knows things which a blind man cannot know; but a blind man can know the whole of physics. Thus the knowledge which other men have and he has not is not a part of physics.**
Consciousness has tasks much larger than computing.


Further Reading:
The United States & Totalitarianism
The Technology Of Good 
_________________
* Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Matter, 1954