Thursday 22 July 2010

But what about science?

When I think about future civilizations I often find myself spontaneously worrying about the future of science - will it survive, can it be revived?

Yet my worry is irrational - because science is not and never has been a part of the human condition: it is merely a localized and timebound phenomenon - at least, 'science' in the sense of a separate and recognizable system or institutional structure has been historically and geographically unusual.

Indeed, I suspect that science is in reality much, much more limited in its reality than in appearance. Most science is, after all, a kind of Laboratoire Garnier simulacrum: I mean like those TV adverts of bespectacled, serious-looking people with white coats and clipboards, who wander through a white room of test tubes and retorts, ticking boxes... 

It is also possible that science is actually the upper end of, and is a very unusual combination of, a distribution of general intelligence, creativty and motivation which differs widely between different societies of different sizes; such that a critical mass of such rare people has never been likely, and in fact has near-zero probability in most places at most times throughout history.

If so, real science is very seldom going to be common - even under ideal conditions, which are unlikely to emerge and even less likely to be sustained; and we should be careful not to confuse this with first a professionalization then later routinization of the external (but not core) features of real science.

A future society either will, or will not, have science as a recognizable activity - but there is not much (apparently) that we could (or should?) do about this: real science (when it really existed) was essentially a by-product, not a planned-product. 


dearieme said...

God said "Let Newton be.....".

But he was careful to say it in NW Europe after the Reformation and Renaissance.

Anonymous said...

"A future society either will, or will not, have science as a recognizable activity - but there is not much (apparently) that we could (or should?) do about this: real science (when it really existed) was essentially a by-product, not a planned-product."

Given that in order to maintain science we need sufficient number of people who have certain heritable trait values (high IQ for instance) then we could implement eugenic procedures to ensure that we have a sufficient number of people with the appropriate traits to maintain science. Whether or not we *should* do such a thing is well, a matter of personal opinion (needless to say).

Jason Malloy said...

Certain domains of purely curious inquiry will probably fade away (or morph into navel gazing quasi-science) because of diminishing returns: more expansive and expensive endeavors necessary for comparatively disappointing returns.

But people will probably always be willing to pay for just a little more convenience, pleasure, and health. STEM career tracks, and research and development will continue on because they will remain profitable.

Although, if Robin Hanson is correct (and I don't believe he is), science is destined to wither away when natural selection supplants the "dream-time".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jason - From browsing this blog you will perceive that I would now regard Robin Hanson's predictions of the future as about as wrong as it is possible to be!

I regard the present state of 'science' as a bubble of borrowing, hype and dishonesty - and believe that Hanson-esque overall-scientific-progress stopped some decades ago (probably the mid-1960s) since when there was first a plateau (when gains were balanced by losses) and that now we are well into the downslope.

Phenomena like the rise and continued solid dominance of string theory are not neutral navel gazing wastes of time; they are much worse: hard evidence of scientific decline and loss of useable knowledge (due to the endemic degradation of the scientific communities who are necessary to use past recorded knowledge).

a Finn said...

Charlton: "But what about science?

System can be replaced, when there is a sufficiently convincing alternative model and real subsystem alternatives based on it. Hans Herman Hoppe (I am not a libertarian) once said that society's destiny is sealed, when the state employs and schools the most of intellectuals and scientists. Scientists and intellectuals are not the highest rulers of the system in the short term, but they are such, in a way, in the long run. They create the necessary tools, education, methods and ways of thinking that the highest rulers and other people in society espouse and utilize. And of course some scientists become rulers. I go forward in short pieces:

- Given the inadequacies of human psychological capacity, I don't think it is possible to arrange state or other large bureaucracies (e.g. large multinational corporations) in sustainable ways. They all become in the end cancerous towards their societies, even if they start genuinely benevolently.

- There must be alternative and viable work and status possibilities to scientists. A loss of ten dollars is two times more significant psychologically than receiving ten dollars, and if the sum becomes large the multiplier increases considerably. E.g. if person's whole wealth is 100 000 units and he has the possibility of either losing all his wealth or receiving/ earning 100 000 units, receiving or earning doesn't mean much compared to losing all. If the system is replaced, scientists face the possibility of losing established and at least in the short term secure work and status and/or the future possibilities concerning them. The new system, whatever it is, is uncertain to scientists, even if it promises work and status possibilities. Thus the resistance, which will become more intense, the more desperate the situation is.

- Rearranegement of science? The first in the firing line are the professional revolutionaries, social engineers, liberal political extremists, producers of politicized science and others in affirmative action jobs. The next pruning concerns the inflated bubble science (overlaps with the previous), although there is no clear cut way of defining where the dividing lines are. The third wave is connected to the structure of society. Science is a production of goal oriented complex theories and methods, connected to the complexities in the societies, the world and the universe. E.g. densely populated urban areas require water and sewage systems, which require construction engineers, biochemists and chemists, office buildings and office workers, hierarchies, organization and management researchers, water purification plants and their workers, transportation of people and things on the roads, etc. In the countryside compost outhouses and a well, perhaps it's water quality is checked now and then, is enough. Thus if societies are decentralized towards interconnected networks of communities, something between countryside and urban areas, there is less need for urban large complex organizations, and their professionals and scientists. Forth final nail asks what is really the utility of each new scientific solution. If people live in ancient way, it is clear that each new scientific solution can increase considerably the food production and it's security, food preservation, food distribution, health, life span, transporation range and speed etc, but in the modern society the utility of each new scientific solution becomes on average less and less. If we calculate all costs of science, direct and indirect, negative externalities and the utility, what we really need? Also many low tech solutions can more than replace many high tech scientific solutions, e.g. normal healthy diet and living, and exercise can increase health and life span much more than most high tech medical solutions can repair the effects of typical urban bad diet, alcohol, tobacco and immobility.

Continued ...

a Finn said...

Part 2.

- What can replace the lost jobs of scientists?

a) Production of the social in the communities, community networks and between them. First priority and this is also counterweight to technological solutions, i.e. technologies are more restricted to work and study. It is better to meet friends, people of the community, co-workers, etc. face to face than to call them with a mobile phone. Work and study requires to some extent mobile phones and computers. Social life in the communities and family life largely replaces the present liberal consumption.

b) Production and upholding of the community network structures. There are strong natural societal tendencies towards centralization and high density urban areas, despite the fact that community network structures have their own superior qualities and efficiences. Thus there are needs for high tech solutions, e.g. to overcome the inefficiencies of distances and transportation. Digitalized models send through internet lines and 3D printing with them; metal parts, plastic parts, wood parts, books etc. Automated high speed transportation networks to wares. Local high tech self sufficiency of communities and networks, extending from farming to other production. Redundancy of parts (community) to the functions of the whole (community networks); and redundancy of the whole to the functions of parts. Automatic rerouting of functions around failures. High speed, but low energy transporatation to people. Streamlining everything, e.g. simplified, but more efficient, easily adjusted and more reliable computer programs to replace the overgrown present programs. Streamlining processes. Small scale processes can be used in large scale as parts and/or by expanding them; and the other way around. If any process in production, function or service fails when progressing from 0 to 100 at e.g. 71, process doesn't have to start from 0, but can restart as near 71 as possible. When one process among multiple simultaneous processes fails, other processes are affected as little as possible. Etc. Lego reality; multiuse parts, motors, ingredients etc., can be used in and to build almost anything.

c) Inventors, "mad" scientists and science, study and exploration as a normal life style in communities. Both pure science and practically useful science done. How to do high quality science both with streamlined, minimized, cheap and simple equipment and resources, or with seamlessly combining efforts, equipment, resources and knowledge of communities in community networks without centralization.

d) Long term science projects with the combined efforts of the networks. These are necessary because of two reasons. We have to ultimately know how genes function, how to build rockets capable of interstellar travel, what are the possibilities of supercomputers, how to make self-replicating terratransformers, how to build military defense to suit the new society structures, how to build new mathematical tools suitable to the new society, etc. These serve theoretical and practical needs, and they serve also as protective direction of energies. If science is not directed to long term projects, it will eventually turn increasingly to work up, deform, destroy and manipulate people with bureaucratic social engineering; international power projects; political correctness; liberal internal colonization of social life, tradition, religion, consumption and economy; etc.

Continued ...

a Finn said...

Part 3.

e) The most important combined religious and science project, requiring the efforts of all the sciences, is how to make these community network structures efficient, self renewing, self repairing, permanent, evolutionarily selective (the best and the most efficient community methods, techniques and rules spread and the opposite to these disappear), automatically resistant to excessive hierarchization, bureaucratization and centralization; etc. How to make the social ties between community members tenacious, and thus also the communities.

The word "efficient" here has a new meaning that might mean the traditional calculable comparison, but also incalculable better. Thus if something in e.g. social life is known to be better than something else, but incalculably so, it is efficient. This social betterness must never be transformed to e.g. monetary calculation. It would be distortion of reality and science, act of domination and manipulation, and harmful.

f) The methods of power can be made transparent by incorporating them to education. Science and it's negative societal externalities can be estimated when new methods are under consideration, and made transparent and widely known. The practical negative externalities are checked later and also generally observed by community networks and adjusted accordingly. Interests of scientists must be sufficiently opposite to each other and tied to other social structures to prevent bureaucratic alignment.

Religion is not a method that is used. If it is, it is useless and not a religion. Only genuine faith works. The fact that religion produces good practical, social etc. effects is just a positive externality, a side effect of faith.