What is to be gained by denying science?

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Ormond
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » January 31st, 2017, 8:41 pm

Without the desire to know we would still be sitting in caves, provided the species survived to this point.
I am asking us to know even more.

As example, since ancient times our learning was focused on how to find food. But today for we affluent moderns the threat is no longer starvation, but obesity. The problem now is not a shortage of food, but too much food. That's a radically different situation which requires a new learning, a new paradigm, a new relationship with food.

I'm proposing a similar situation exists in relation to knowledge. When knowledge was in short supply and hard to come by, a simplistic game plan like "more is better" was entirely sufficient. But today, like with food, we face not a shortage of knowledge but an explosion of knowledge. Another radically different situation which again requires us to adapt.

I'm arguing for adaptation to the new environment we find ourselves in, which will require additional learning, new knowledge.
Or would you prefer to draw the arbitrary line of where knowledge should be thwarted somewhere further down the line? And that is a question that must be addressed if one is to call for limits.
I think we probably all agree on the following...

We all want as much knowledge as we can safely handle. None of us want knowledge which poses the threat of obliterating all knowledge.

If we think of knowledge as an element of nature like water or electricity then a familiar useful construct appears. We all want water to drink, but we don't want a flood. We all want to access electricity, but not a lightening bolt hitting our house. We've developed various strategies to harvest the benefits of water and electricity while avoiding the perils as much as possible. I'm proposing this same common sense mindset can and should be adopted in our relationship with knowledge. Some is good for sure, but more is not automatically better.

To answer your question more directly, here are some thoughts about setting limits. We might establish the understanding that we must clean up old knowledge messes before creating new ones. So, want to experiment with genetic engineering? Ok, let's consider doing that after we get rid of the nukes and solve the climate change problem. If we can demonstrate that we have the ability to solve the problems we create in our knowledge endeavors, that should give all us more confidence in our future knowledge adventures.
There's a psychic hole inside of us that we're trying to fill. That hole is created by the nature of thought.
I don’t buy it.
Put more precisely, you don't get it.
We strive not because we are not content, not because something is missing, but because we delight in what we can do, what we can accomplish, what we can make of ourselves and our world.
We know climate change poses a serious threat to human civilization, and yet we keep pumping oil out of the ground as fast as we possibly can. We'd rather burn every last drop of the oil than consider any significant change to our more, more and more lifestyle. That is not contentment my friend, not delight, but pathology. It would be different if we needed the oil to eat, to survive, but we're risking everything for luxury. These are not the kind of decisions that rational happy delighted sane people make.
Ignorance is a condition. It is not needed to balance knowledge...
Without ignorance, how would you experience the joy of discovery?
Eating more than we need does not benefit us and is detrimental. The same cannot be said of knowledge.
Ok, you are articulating the group consensus paradigm, the "more is better" relationship with knowledge. That point of view surely deserves a place at the table in this conversation given it is the majority view.

If you wish to be the spokesman for that perspective, you will bear the burden of explaining how we will successfully manage an ever accelerating rate of knowledge, power and change which hits human societies faster and faster and faster. Please keep in mind that this is not an incremental process, but an exponential one. Get your Ray Kurzweil books out again and give them another look perhaps.
As we ponder these questions there are many advances being made that will prolong and improve our lives and the lives of those around us. But not all knowledge is applied or practical knowledge. We will discover things about ourselves, life, and the universe we will marvel and wonder about. We will discover new worlds and things that we cannot yet imagine.
My counter proposal is that everything you've said above will remain true until the day the house comes crashing down around our ears, and then all the great discoveries will no longer matter. You've yet to explain how we will manage an ever growing collection of existential scale technologies which due to their scale, require us being right and doing things correctly every single time forever, something which has never happened anywhere or anytime in human history.
None of this is without its risks, but as some want nothing more than to sit before a cozy fire, others desire adventure, to explore, to challenge themselves to reach new heights. It is perhaps, as with other things, largely a matter of temperament. While some are afraid that opening the door will create a draft, others see the door as an opening.
Speaking on behalf of the group consensus, you are the one afraid of change, clinging to the old familiar ways, unwilling to explore and adapt to the new environment. It is actually you who are arguing against learning, insisting that we must continue to have the same relationship with knowledge we've had since 10,000 BC. And of course it's not just you, but pretty much our entire society, so you are in good company.
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 1st, 2017, 6:23 am

Placeholder: I am going to reply in this thread soon but have been busy doing my tax return, which, as Mr Trump will testify, is an exercise in limiting the knowledge of the tax man. Back soon.
"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." - Eric Cantona.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Atreyu » February 1st, 2017, 7:00 pm

I began following this thread and would like to comment.

Indeed knowledge can be detrimental. It becomes detrimental when our Being does not come close to the level of our knowledge. By 'Being' I mean, literally, what we are. If what we are is savages, then knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons can be very detrimental. This means that as Knowledge grows Being must grow along side it. And if it falls behind beyond a certain critical threshold then it guarantees our destruction. Our level of Being falling way below our level of Knowledge means that in essence we are apes with machine guns. And this is not a desirable state at all....

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 2nd, 2017, 4:52 am

Ormond:
Perhaps the beginnings of a solution might be to focus on the fact that, while I often put it poorly, I too am arguing for more knowledge, that is, more knowledge about our relationship with knowledge, more knowledge about the revolutionary nature of the times we live in. So if a reader wants more knowledge, let us agree to have it, in that direction.
OK. Knowledge about knowledge - meta-knowledge. Sounds OK in principle. And more education about the nature of the times we live in. That sounds good, and much more concrete - easier to get a handle on.

If it isn't already being done in sufficient detail (or at all), I would favour the teaching in schools of the social impact of scientific knowledge, with emphasis on the development of our destructive power. Teaching about the scientific discoveries which lead to the development of first the "atom bomb" and then the hydrogen bomb would be obvious examples. But, importantly, it would mean teaching about those discoveries in tandem with teaching about how and why they were developed, used and stockpiled in the way that they were. I think it would be very important to concentrate on the "why". I think one of the most important things to learn in studying history is that people don't generally act like irrational morons or evil monsters who want to kill just for the sake of it or saints. They generally act in ways that, if you fully understand the circumstances of the time, their influences and their motives, make sense to them, and can therefore make sense to us.

I do think that our education systems tend to be too reductionist. Separate subjects taught by separate teachers in separate classrooms with barely any crossover. History and Science are taught as if they have nothing to do with each other. But History, when taught well, is not just a chronology of a bunch of stuff that happened. It examines why humans act as they do in various circumstances. To me, its central aim is to show that humans throughout the ages and throughout the world have been more similar to us, and to each other, than we might have previously realised. And to therefore show that it's possible to understand where they were coming from. Only when we do that can we start to learn from their successes and failures.

So, to be specific, I think a very important series of classes would examine the development of scientific knowledge about atomic structure in conjunction with examining the development that lead to the Manhattan Project and the subsequent Cold War arms race. It would examine how leading scientists got involved in the politics. It would examine why the decision was made to develop and use the first fission bombs and then why the decision was made in more than one country to continue towards the much more powerful fusion (Hydrogen) bombs.

One aim would be to show that we have reached the stage where our technology gives us the ability to destroy ourselves not by being mad or bad but by doing a long series of things that mostly made sense to the people involved at the time. I think it is only by laying bare this process that the students themselves can start to draw their own conclusions as to what lessons we learn from that. Including what lessons we learn about the use of scientific knowledge in the future.
I see knowledge as an element of nature, like water or electricity. Human beings have typically been quite confident and bold about trying to take control of the forces of nature and bend them to our will. We don't say, "that's a river and there's nothing we can do about it". Instead we say, "let's build a dam and create a lake", and then we roll up our sleeves and bend the river to our will. A huge amount of thought and experiment had to go in to the invention of dams. We didn't shrink from the challenge, we tried again and again and again until we got it right.

We might think of knowledge as a river that has over run it's bank and is threatening to flood the town. Let's be human beings and not just sit on our ass saying, "Oh gosh, nothing can be done, we don't know what to do".
The analogy between knowledge and natural phenomena is interesting, but I think we have to be carefully with analogies because, if taken too far, they can sometimes be more confusing than enlightening. One objection to this analogy is that we do bend knowledge to our will, and that is the problem. If we hadn't bent to our will the knowledge that E = mc2 and had just let it run along unimpeded we wouldn't have nuclear weapons. The use of that knowledge, and related knowledge, to create nuclear weapons is, in your analogy, the damming of the knowledge to form a lake, isn't it?
Let's take 50% of all science research funding and redirect it at finding some method of managing knowledge development so that we are in control of knowledge, instead of knowledge being in control of us.
Well, I've given some initial thoughts above about possible changes to the education system. Whether that would require 50% of all science research funding, and which departments would be cut back, I don't know. I guess president Trump and his gang are probably quite clear about which parts to cut back on. Climate change research and anything to do with human fertility. Keep pumping carbon dioxide and new human beings from our own tribe into the world as fast as we can and let God sort out the mess.

A bit of politics to end there.

-- Updated Thu Feb 02, 2017 10:44 am to add the following --

(By the way, if anybody from Wyoming is reading this I'd just like to add: Go Trump! Lock her up! Climate change is a myth designed to promote socialism! Contraception of any kind is a sin!)
"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." - Eric Cantona.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » February 2nd, 2017, 6:10 am

A bit of politics to end there.
And this is the problem with teaching reality in schools. One man's meat is another man's poison. So the education we end up with is a compromise.

A lot of people have made the same analogy as me, basically you secure dangerous things from your children because they don't know better and you are protecting them. The same applies as adults.
Democracy basically doesn't work for I think two main reasons.
Firstly because we don't all have the exact same expertise so when millions of people vote for something, the vast majority of those people know little to nothing about what they are voting for.
Secondly those in positions of influence are rarely competent to their positions, they have mostly achieved their positions though small (or large) scale politics. Just as one example Hitler came to power in a democracy. He never won a popular vote but in the end he didn't need to, he had enough votes and influence to be given a position in a party which had won the popular vote and he then gained controlling power within that party. To give a slightly less extreme case, where I used to work, the business leaders in charge didn't really know how to make the product they were in charge of. In fact they didn't really understand the process of how to make a product. We've all heard stories of producers involving themselves in movies to the detriment of the movie, but this is not a phenomenon of movies this is all walks of life. Again think of your own job and think of how bad a job your leaders are doing. I was talking to an engineer the other day who was involved in major projects such as building underground lines and the amount of waste due to incompetence is just out of this world.
So democracy doesn't work and capitalism doesn't work. As we have them. I have no idea how to improve either other than by drastic means.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 2nd, 2017, 11:53 am

Steve3007:
I would favour the teaching in schools of the social impact of scientific knowledge, with emphasis on the development of our destructive power.
The relationship between military power and scientific development is an interesting and important one.
Teaching about the scientific discoveries which lead to the development of first the "atom bomb" and then the hydrogen bomb would be obvious examples.
The emphasis on the development of our destructive power can present a skewed picture of science. Nuclear physics is only one branch of science. Saying that scientific discoveries led up to the development of the atomic bomb is misleading. It is not as if the development of the bomb was what those scientific discoveries were aiming at or intended to be used for. The message, whether intended or not, should not be - science leads to destruction. The cat is already out of the bag with regard to nuclear weapons. It is far more likely that the advancement of science will be part of any solutions we find to the problems that we face today and tomorrow. We cannot go back and should not block the roads leading to where we might go.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Atreyu » February 2nd, 2017, 4:03 pm

I think the point is that science has/will make it infinitely easier for mankind to wipe himself out of existence. Even taking the same type of existence (being), mankind could never do anything that would wipe out the entire species without modern science. 1000 years ago, if every single powerful person in every society collaborated together to wipe out the species they would have failed miserably, and would never have gotten close to reaching their goal. Today, a fairly small group of people in the right positions in just one nation could quite possibly pull it off....

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 2nd, 2017, 5:12 pm

Atreyu:
I think the point is that science has/will make it infinitely easier for mankind to wipe himself out of existence.
And yet we see every day that it does just the opposite. Many of us would not be alive if it were not for science.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 2nd, 2017, 7:46 pm

Steve,

Thanks for reviving this topic, and for your thoughts.

Given that you are a scientist, it would interest me greatly if you should know either 1) where this topic is being examined by your peers, or 2) if a conversation like this might be started among real scientists somewhere.

I've probably made the contribution here that I can make. Many of my posts are not being published (including a long reply to Fooloso4 above) and I can't PM you or anybody else, so it seems time to take my show on down the road to the next little town.

Good chance you won't get this either, but anyway, I'll be thinking of you in my travels and hoping you might be in a position to spread this discussion to where ever it can be heard. Good luck!
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » February 3rd, 2017, 5:01 am

Maybe I can reiterate what I said earlier.

At some point the earth will cease to be capable of sustaining human life. For example the Sun goes supernova. Now that is a long time but there may be other events which are similarly destructive closer to hand (ie direct hit by a large comet). The only way to preserve human life indefinitely is through scientific progress. Granted we may kill ourselves before a comet does but we are at least giving our future selves a chance.

Would everyone agree that without scientific advances then at some point we are certain to be extinct?

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 3rd, 2017, 5:41 am

Fooloso4:
The emphasis on the development of our destructive power can present a skewed picture of science. Nuclear physics is only one branch of science. Saying that scientific discoveries led up to the development of the atomic bomb is misleading. It is not as if the development of the bomb was what those scientific discoveries were aiming at or intended to be used for. The message, whether intended or not, should not be - science leads to destruction. The cat is already out of the bag with regard to nuclear weapons. It is far more likely that the advancement of science will be part of any solutions we find to the problems that we face today and tomorrow. We cannot go back and should not block the roads leading to where we might go.
Yes, the application of our accumulated knowledge - technology - is both part of the problem and part of the solution. I wouldn't advocate some kind of attempt to roll back knowledge of such things as nuclear weapons technology because, as you said, the cat is out of the bag; it would be impossible. And it also wouldn't be desirable because it is inextricably interwoven with the knowledge which leads to more beneficial technologies. Not just technologies that are obviously connected to it, like nuclear power or medical uses of radioactive isotopes, but pretty much everything else too. The layers of knowledge that led to the development of these computers with which we're communicating, for example, are the same layers that led to nuclear weapons.

So perhaps my emphasis on the specific case of teaching the history of nuclear weapons development in conjunction with the science was misleading. What I was suggesting, admittedly in vague terms, was that it might be possible to educate the next generation more successfully in the chains of cause and effect which lead to scientific knowledge being used in the way that it is. To remove the "the human race is mad and irrational" attitude that often seems to rush into the vacuum left by our lack of education on these things.

Not very well expressed. I might have another crack at it later.

Eduk:
Would everyone agree that without scientific advances then at some point we are certain to be extinct?
Obviously it is an absolute certainty that at some point in the future we will be extinct, with or without scientific advances. But if there were no more scientific advances then I doubt whether we would be extinct in anything like the foreseeable future. Without the knowledge we've so far accumulated, it seems pretty certain that the Earth couldn't sustain anything like 7 billion humans. But that's not the same as saying we'd go extinct. 90% of the population might be killed by starvation and conflict but that would still leave a population as big as it was in the 18th Century.
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fanman » February 3rd, 2017, 6:27 am

I think that naturally, increasing our knowledge comes with the risks inherent to human nature, but as with most things is life, there are positive and negative aspects to be considered. As our knowledge increases, I think that it will lead to increasing quality and longevity of life along with continued technological advancements - we only have to look at history to see that trend with the increasing of knowledge and scientific advancement. On the the other hand, it will lead to us developing more powerful weapons to use against each other, also as history has shown. So due to human nature, the advancement of knowledge seems to be a double-edged sword in some respects. As our natural resources deplete, and the population of earth increases, I think that we will focus more on developing and cultivating renewable sources of energy, if we deny science on the basis that too much knowledge is dangerous, how will we continue to have enough energy to supply the huge demand?

On balance, I think that the advancement of knowledge and science is a good thing - that not only the positives, but the necessities outweigh the negatives. Yes there are inherent dangers, but I think that the holistic progress of the human race depends upon the expansion of knowledge and science. If we as a species attempt to stop acquiring knowledge, then we stay exactly where we are at this point in our development, which seems unthinkable. Progressiveness is in our nature, so deny the expansion of knowledge and science I think works against something we do very instinctively, and may be impossible to curtail. I have a couple of medical conditions which require treatment, without advancements in knowledge and science, I highly doubt that I would even be alive to be discussing this topic. For this reason alone, I think that increasing knowledge is necessary. As I think that for every advancement in weapons development, there's advancements in treating diseases.
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » February 3rd, 2017, 6:28 am

ok I guess the sun turning into a red giant in 5 billion years is a little too far away to plan for right now.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is do scientific discoveries increase the chance of survival of the human race (as a whole) or decrease the chances of survival of the human race. After all fire is itself a scientific discovery, so exactly where you drew the line or how you enforced a policy would be tricky. Also while it's fair to say a nuclear war could potentially decimate the human population it's unlikely to completely remove all humans from the earth. Perhaps we would just be back to the 18th Century levels as suggested.

By the way teaching the history of science along with the science can never be a bad thing in my book.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 3rd, 2017, 7:57 am

I think the lesson of the last few posts is that the survival or extinction of the human race as a whole is not the interesting question. In the foreseeable future the species as a whole is almost certain to survive in some form. In the distant future it's certain to go extinct. Certainties aren't very interesting!

I think the question that is more interesting to most people is the well-being of individual humans, which means (to use an extremely badly timed phrase from former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown) "an end to boom and bust". (He used it just before a huge economic bust.)

A 99% die off would still leave a more than viable population, but that doesn't make it OK! The best possible scenario would be continued technological developments leading to sustainable prosperity for the current world population, resulting in the lower birth rates that you tend to get in developed societies, resulting in a slow decline in global human population which doesn't require an involuntary mass cull by at least two of the four horsemen.

Given that this model completely depends on the development of environmentally sustainable prosperity for the whole world, recent geopolitical developments suggest that it almost certainly won't happen. It requires global cooperation for a relatively long term goal and relatively little immediate material gain. Markets, like evolution, have no incentive to plan for the long term future or invest in things that benefit competitors.
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » February 3rd, 2017, 8:44 am

Given that this model completely depends on the development of environmentally sustainable prosperity for the whole world, recent geopolitical developments suggest that it almost certainly won't happen. It requires global cooperation for a relatively long term goal and relatively little immediate material gain. Markets, like evolution, have no incentive to plan for the long term future or invest in things that benefit competitors.
I do have some hope though. Although it's a bit analogous to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We will work together to combat global warming once it's wrecked huge havoc on the earth. I think we need to actually experience it to believe it. Once we have most people will wonder how we could be so impossibly short sighted and work to sorting it all out. Which will take many hundreds of years, but we can do it if we try :)
To give an example there are deceases like measles which caused great problems. Science found vaccines. People who saw the effects of these diseases took the vaccines. The diseases almost disappeared. People stop taking the vaccine because no one has seen the diseases. The diseases come back. Repeat.

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