Scientists not giving human life its meaning
WHEN IT comes to science I’m with Bob Geldof. The DNA discoverer Prof James Watson told a Dublin audience last week that scientists could find a cure for cancer within 10 years and my first thought was: So what, if we are only going to live our crummy lives the same way? And for every you or I who gets an extra few cancer-free years, so will a Kim Jong-un or a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Incidentally, I’m also with Geldof in knowing “absolutely f***-all” about science (his words, naturally, not mine). I still remember the withering look my father, an engineer by training, gave me when I tried to convince him I could create a perpetual motion machine out of a sequence of large and small cogs.
At least I’m scientific enough to know these first two points may be related. I studied humanities and feel more at home in that camp and am therefore prone to downplaying the achievements of science.
Yes, technology lets me download excellent Philosopher Zone podcasts from Australian national radio ( tinyurl.com/ 829lpkc) but it has also lumbered me with the life-draining experience of maintaining four email accounts while also monitoring Facebook, Yammer and Twitter.
Anyone who knows a bit of history, moreover, will be wary of scientists’ claims that they are making the world a better place. Simply knowing more than the next man does not give you the higher moral ground.
Ludwig Wittgenstein put it best: “Wisdom is all cold and . . . you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold.”
I had practical experience of this last week when I watched a BBC documentary showing Michael Mosley swallow a tiny camera to stream images of his digestive system from top to bottom. It was interesting but it didn’t make me a better person.
This may all seem self-evident. In fact, I hope it is self-evident, but it needs repeating because
of the way we are being love- bombed by science through the likes of Euroscience Open Forum 2012, the conference at which both Watson and Geldof spoke.
To its credit, Esof 2012 contained a diverse programme and the one event I got to – a mesmerising reading of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen by Rough Magic Theatre Company – explored this very issue of the interplay between science and morality. However, the overarching narrative of Esof 2012 was that science is a marginalised and under- appreciated activity, which could not be further from the truth.
The scientific community has enormous influence, in some cases is extraordinarily well funded and it is capable of “capturing” the world economy and global politics in the same way international finance does – and with the same lack of accountability.
Just think of the power wielded, for example, by some of the world’s largest technology and pharmaceutical firms.