Challenges More Difficult for Science Than Going to Mars…
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 3 Feb 2014
… or Exploring the Origins of the Universe or of Life on Earth
Society worldwide is faced with a multiplicity of challenges. It is therefore extraordinary to observe the resources deployed to reaching the Moon, Mars and other planets. And why not other solar systems? A particular focus is given to locating “habitable” Earth-like planets elsewhere — and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. More extraordinary is the focus on the origins of the Universe, billions of years ago.
Science is however skilled in avoiding deployment of its creativity — or justifying allocation of resources — to challenges that are framed as “too complex” or simply “uninteresting”. There is a sense in which the specificity of the extraterrestrial — viewed through cognitive telescopes offering a form of tunnel vision — is a form of conceptual displacement, readily to be interpreted as social irresponsibility. Efforts are made to correct this impression by suggesting that such exploration contributes to the “advancement of human knowledge”. Little is said of how complicit such activity is with placement of satellites and military resources in space — perhaps to be dubiously recognized as “dual-use methodology“.
Perhaps most extraordinary is the recognition of some involved that humanity will need to leave Planet Earth — shortly? — in order to occupy the environments in which it can continue to replicate the complex patterns of problems that science has been unable to address on Earth (cf. Clara Moskowitz, Stephen Hawking Says Humanity Won’t Survive Without Leaving Earth, SPACE.com, 10 August 2010; John M. Smart, The Transcension Hypothesis: sufficiently advanced civilizations invariably leave our universe, and implications for METI and SETI. Acta Astronautica, 78, September-October 2012). The imagination of the young is harnessed to such escapism. The widely-commented film Avatar (2009) offers many lessons in this regard.
The purpose here is explore a checklist of priorities and related considerations which science chooses to neglect in favour of associating its image with what is far away and long ago as being vital to the human enterprise. This could be caricatured as “cherry-picking”, or a quest for “low hanging fruit”, as being the most appropriate use of the intellectual resources of science. It could also be questioned as an indication of the subservience of science to vested interests able to influence through funding the direction of research (if not the results required). This neglect is also explored in terms of the renunciation by science of engagement with the so-called “wicked problems” variously explored with respect to planning and governance.
Part of the difficulty lies in an unhealthy interpretation of science by its advocates — an approach increasingly defined as “scientism“. This refers to belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview, or the most valuable part of human learning — to the exclusion of other viewpoints and approaches. Apologists for “science” have the greatest difficulty in distinguishing it from scientism — and communicating that distinction. Hence the even greater ambiguity in the case of “scientist”. This exploration follows from an earlier argument (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012).
Engaging with the disadvantaged proactively
Scientific resource management
Management of distinctions and boundaries
Wicked problems and the renunciation of science
Management of disagreement and self-reflexivity
Metascience enabling upgrades to the scientific process?
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Feb 2014.
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