Science and technology are for any the jewels in the crown of modern civilization. Their success reflects to the western culture and the nations which embrace them, their glory reflects to modern society and the modern way of thinking. We live better, we think better, we are better humans! And what better argument for that, than to show to the unbelievers a brand new robot walking or running, or a brand new shinning car or loan mower, or even a shiny quantum computer which celebrates all the feats of modern science and technology in a single “box”. I even write on a computer science created and publish my article in the World Wide Web CERN invented for God’s shake! Science is the name of the game! Progress is our middle name! And technology our surname and our passport for the future!
Any attempts to speak against science or technology are dealt with the same old, simple and cocky counter-argument: IT WORKS B***ES!
Well, the short answer to that simple: NO.
But let’s elaborate a bit by taking things one by one.
First of all: Science. Many people has a distorted understanding of what science truly is, since if they knew they would understand that the argument that “science works” is not even wrong (as Pauli used to say to his students if they answered something completely irrelevant to the question asked). It is completely irrelevant and out of the scope of science per se!
True science has nothing to do essentially with technology or with making anything work! Science is about developing prediction models. Science is about formulating theories which form a frame of explanation of physical phenomena and then create models which can support further explanation of similar phenomena. Science is about understanding the (physical) cosmos, not about making CDs or cars. Science tries to understand the “how” and we could have zillions of theories regarding everything without even considering making something out of those theories. Newton did not think of spaceships when he was trying to understand how planets moved. Plank did not think of creating quantum computers when he tried to formulate a consistent theory to describe the very nature of nature itself. Yes, technology is based on science. But that means nothing about science. It means something about technology! Which by the way is also based on the hard work of people, their passion or their love! And any of these elements could claim a piece of the glory of technology success, sometimes even more than science itself! Last but not least, technology is about making things that actually work and do something, most of the times while we do not know why; the CD works even though we have not yet agreed on one interpretation of quantum mechanics which deals with how the laser light works. Technology is loosely based on science and most of the times things which work for years do not have yet a valid scientific theory to explain how they work.
And here comes the most difficult part: Technology. This is self-evidently something that works. So how can someone deny that?
The answer is: EASILY.
Let us start with the philosophical problems of how technology alienates or dehumanizes people, or how technology removes actual control from us and places it… somewhere else (not sure where actually when it comes to neuron networks – see a related interesting article regarding A.I., Deep Learning and Neural Networks here) These are arguments which can easily destroy any position in favor of technology as a tool which improves lives. When we say “technology works” we must first of all define what this phrase is supposed to mean. If the goal of technology is to support humans in what they do, then making humans machines is certainly not in the right path of success. If technology’s goal is to make our lives better, then making us living zombies (who just use smartphones, log into Facebook and speak through sterile ways of non-direct communication) is again a step in the wrong direction. There are people today who rely solely on their GPS to find their way home. This is not technology that “works” even though the GPS software and hardware may work nominally. This is technology that does NOT work! (at least based on the initial definition of what consists a successful piece of technology)
What is more, you would be surprised to know that technology may actually not work as you expect at all in the first place! Consider a lawn mower for example. A simple machine, helping people do the chore of mowing the lawn in less time and much better. And yet, a competition between a lawn mower and a man using a scythe, resulted in the man doing manual labor winning! Check the article “Technology does NOT work! No really. Ask your loan mower” here for more examples and a deeper analysis of the issue. (and it would be interesting to go to the field of medicine to see how much technology works there – see here for example – but that is another big story)
In general we would be surprised on how many things can be done better without what we call today “technology”. Just challenge the deeply rooted DOGMA that anything new and technological is better than its manual counterpart and you will be stunned to see that the best things are done without even laying your hands on anything artificially created. (what is “artificial” is another great philosophical question outside of the scope of this article – search Harmonia Philosophica for more on that)
The western civilization has taken the materialistic path of technology for many years now, based on the unproven assumption that everything is just matter and that improving ourselves on the material level is the only goal we should (or can) have. And yet, the ancient founders of our civilization (Greeks) did not have technology more than they did philosophy, music and science. (this view also dominates medicine – see “Why Medicine is NOT a pro-Science argument!” article for more insight on that)
The counter-argument that technology is needed to support the growing population is a partially valid one, but with many limitations and interesting comments to make. Surely technology helps us sustain billions of people living on a limited space. Ancient Greeks did not have such a problem and that is why they did not develop technology-oriented science in the first place (although they certainly could, the first example of a steam engine was created back then). So yes in many sectors technology provides solutions and works, but that does not alleviate the objections raised above concerning its drawbacks or limitations. And let’s not forget that science and technology have many times worked not towards preserving life but towards promoting death. (see the article “Science, Eugenics and why Nazis won after all” to understand how eugenics was not something that can be attributed only to the Nazis) So the attribute “it works” is not something related directly or inherently to the notions of science or technology but mainly to the people using them. What is more I am sure that love and compassion would work much more effectively in dealing with an overpopulated planet than any technology we currently use (and which is disseminated under specific agendas to specific countries). If something deserves the attribute “IT WORKS” that certainly could be those notions – promoted mainly by religion – than any other.
But religion does not have such a strong marketing department as science and technology has today. And this is the main reason only the latter are presented as “working” by modern society; after all what would a materialistic society promote if not materialistic-based notions? (read Harmonia Philosophica for more on modern societies materialistic dogmatism by searching for the relevant tags “materialism”, “science dogmatism”, “society”)
In summary, there is no science or technology that simply “works”. Such arguments are not only simplistic in nature but also blatantly wrong and misplaced. We should seek balance in our life to regain our humanity. And this cannot happen through reckless cries but via calm and peaceful reflection. Perhaps while mowing the lawn…