Monday, March 28, 2011


I've been reading Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton with my 12 year old (for bedtime reading), on the recommendation of my 13 year old.

It's her favorite series right now.
I am gathering a world of wisdom for the one character, Ian Malcolm, mathematician and skeptic of the project (recreating dinosaurs from DNA extracts found in amber) from the get go.
Here's a good one about control and is in keeping with my thoughts on

"You know what we are really talking about here," Malcolm said. "All this attempt to control...We are talking about Western attitudes that are five hundred years old. They began at the time when Florence, Italy, was the most important city in the world. The basic ideas of science- that there was a new way to look at reality, that it was objective, that it did not depend on your beliefs or your nationality, that it was rational- that idea was fresh and exciting back then. It offered promised  and hope for the future and it swept away the old medieval system, which was hundreds of years old, the medieval world of feudal politics and religious dogma and hateful superstitions fell before science. But, in truth, this was because the medieval world didn't really work any more. It didn't work economically, it didn't work intellectually, and it didn't fit the new world that was emerging."

"But now," he continued, "science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world anymore. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways-air, and water, and land-because of ungovernable science." He sighed. "This much is obvious to everyone."
...."at the same time, the great intellectual justification of science has vanished. Ever since Newton and Descartes, science has explicitly offered us the vision of total control. Science has claimed the power to eventually control everything, through its understanding of natural laws. But in the twentieth century, that claim has been shattered beyond repair. First, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle set limits on what we could know about the subatomic world. It doesn't make any practical difference as we go through our lives. Then Godel's theorem set similar limits to mathematics, the formal language of science. Mathematicians used to think that their language had some special  inherent trueness that derived from teh lasws of logic. Now we knw that what we call reason is just an arbitrary game. it's not special, in the way we thought it was.

 "And now chaos theory proves that unpredictability is built into our daily lives. It i mundane as the rainstorm we cannot predict. And so the grand vision of science, hundred of year old-the dream of control-has died in our century. .. Science has always said that it many not know everything now but it will know eventually. But now we see that isn't rue. It is an idle boast. As foolish, and as misguided,a s the child who jumps off a building because he believes he can fly."
...We are witnessing the end of the scientific era. Science like other outmoded systems, is destroying itself. As it gains in power it proves incapable of handling the power. Because things are going very fast now.....And that will force everyone to ask the same question- What should I do with my power>-which is the very question that science says it cannot answer."

"So what will happen?" Ellie said.

Malcolm shrugged. "A change."


p2.rab said...

good observation..... sometimes, I feel that scientists are just big kids with big toys,,,,, Very few scientists recognize the repercussions of their research and fewer brood over -- "What should I do with my power" ---.

It's a balance between being skeptical about human follies while encouraging objective intellect. There is a need for more events like the 1975 Asilomar conference. That meeting was widely hailed as a landmark of social responsibility and self-governance by scientists wherein scientists stumbled upon the power of biotechnology and asked society -- "What should I do with my power" --.

Instead of completely dismissing science as The Enemy, we need more public outreach on the part of scientists.

Carl Sagan said -

The best way to avoid abuses is for the populace in general to be scientifically literate, to understand the implications of such investigations. In exchange for freedom of inquiry, scientists are obliged to explain their work. If science is considered a closed priesthood, too difficult and arcane for the average person to understand, the dangers of abuse are greater. But if science is a topic of general interest and concern - if both its delights and its social consequences are discussed regularly and competently in the schools, the press, and at the dinner table - we have greatly improved our prospects for learning how the world really is and for improving both it and us.

p2.rab said...

related TED talk:

Anonymous said...

I was struck by how it shows how our perspective is always changing, we talk about absolutes, like science, but there is always some new ideas that changes how we look at the world. I have been seeing a lot written about information and the new ways people (and scientists and sociologists) are starting to assign new importance to information as it's own unit. This review gives a good begin to the ideas.


rfs said...

@p2.rab-For sure. Science is not the enemy. Unclear thinking is.Thanks for the link.

rfs said...

@echolage-Everything changes doesn't it? That's what schools have a hard time dealing with.
Thanks for the link. Looks really interesting. Will read it soon.

Debra said...

I just heard at church that when a new science text book is finished and handed out at school that it is already out of date. Interesting.
Blessings, Debra
Raw Vegan Diet

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