We live in interesting times, particularly when it comes to all sorts of (non-scientific) predictions about the future - or a possible lack thereof. On the one hand, there exists a range of sources, from ancient texts to religious fundamentalists, projecting “the end is near” somewhere around 2012. And at the same time, there is a pool of visionaries of various psychic inclinations offering up their prophecies: the far future includes evolved civilizations employing futuristic technologies in a pollution-free environment. These scenarios represent simplistic dichotomies that predict either the end of the world as we know it, or a future high-tech civilization that not only survives but also thrives with technologies not yet conceived.
Personally, I prefer the long-view: that our species survives to create a greater civilization. The question I often ponder, though, is ‘how do we achieve it?’ Or, better yet, I’ll paraphrase Carl Sagan, who cleverly asks the question through his passionate character Dr. Arroway, “How do we evolve? How do we survive this technological adolescence without destroying ourselves?”
I recently had the lovely experience of participating in a symposium attended by about 40 people. We spent the better part of 3 days at an Orcas Island retreat ‘envisioning the local Pacific Northwest bioregion as protected’ specific to the current cycle of climate change. The group was comprised of truly sincere people of various spiritual systems of belief.
It was interesting for me to watch the reaction of those who presented and participated: whenever the words ‘science’ or ‘scientist’ rolled off their tongues, the words were usually spoken with a bit of a tone reminiscent of cursing. While they were intentional in their pursuit of a sustainable future, many in this group demonstrated a clear resistance to the consideration of scientific knowledge as a valuable or even applicable component correlate with their spiritual intent to protect their environmental home. In all honesty, I was taken aback by the general, almost kneejerk rejection of ‘science.’
Immediately upon my return home, I found myself in heated email exchanges with mid-level Pentagon brass discussing the logic and reason (or lack thereof) for placing solar cells in space, then micro-waving the accumulated energy back through our already damaged and delicate atmosphere to ground-based centralized transmission stations (I’m not kidding). Given their general resistance to any rigorous consideration of whether or not this technology could further upset our tentative balance with nature, I argued vehemently against SBSP. The Pentagon Lt. Col. with whom I exchanged emails admitted, “Frankly, I don’t think I can answer your concerns with the degree of fidelity that either of us would like.” I persisted: in any attempt to solve problems, the utilization of brutish technology devoid of any true and responsible reflection in nature is ultimately dangerous to our planet and ourselves, even if it is referred to as “renewable.”
Within a short span of less than 48 hours, I had engaged an intellectual breadth between “we must protect nature but science is bad” to “this space based solar military-integrated technology should be seriously considered for the purposes of national security.” The first group, spiritual yet not religious per se, rejected science almost outright and the second, shameless militaristic technocrats, pushed for a renewable energy solution without any serious consideration towards long-range implications. I came to realize that within both these groups lie troubling similarities: an assumption that science and technology are one and the same.
Our information highway runs rampant with a broad range of ‘science’ articles all proposing or promoting some new technology including space-based solar power. The distinction between science and technology is rarely discerned, as technology is generally presumed as the “new science” and perpetuated in the marketplace as such. Even popular scientists confuse the two, as demonstrated in a recent New York Times column posted by Brian Greene in which he clearly views science through the eyes of technology and promotes the idea that the more technology we utilize in our day-to-day lives, the more science is integrated. And Dr. Greene is not alone: the ‘science equals technology’ premise is a common underlying assumption within many scientific arguments.
Science seeks to observe then explain nature and the understanding of nature is forever ongoing.
Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge. Period. Technological advances are products of scientific understanding, but the two are not the same. Science seeks to observe then explain nature and the understanding of nature is forever ongoing. For instance, science may be able to explain the action of gravity in predictable ways, but our scientific theorems continue to fall short in explaining what gravity is or how it emerges. Technologies like jet airplanes can overcome the effects of gravity through brute force, but science does not yet fully comprehend the ‘nature of gravity.’ All great scientists accept that, despite our initial technological progress, we fall embarrassingly short of fully understanding nature.
If our technologies respected or were at least equal to our current understanding of nature, we would not find ourselves living atop a critically polluted planet. It is not science that put us where we are today, it is our shortsighted use of technology. Echoing that myopic lack of vision, Dr. Maja Mataric, Professor of Robotics at USC, states, “Anything discovered can be abused. People who are driven by profit will use scientific discoveries for all sorts of unpleasant ends.”
Instead of pursuing a greater knowledge of nature, we’ve become technocrats: we utilize technology in every aspect of our lives but never bother to understand how it works. We drive cars we don’t know how to manufacture, use cell phones based on invisible energy fields we don’t understand. In fact, we don’t care how things work - we just want to use them. And, every ‘spiritual’ person attending that Orcas Island symposium utilized polluting combustion-driven technology for transport to and from the retreat. They did not utilize ‘science’ to get them to where they needed to go, but technology. All technocrats, even spiritually oriented ones, support and use technology without giving a second thought to the science behind it.
The responsibility for where we find ourselves today does not fall upon the shoulders of science. On the contrary, it is our blatant disregard and ignorance of science that has created our situation. To study science is to enlighten ourselves about nature, and when we gain a greater understanding of nature and natural law, we have greater command of our technology. With both the sincere people wanting to “save nature” and the old-school military types wanting to “control nature” there is a serious lack of insistence that our technologies are developed in harmony with natural law. One group avoids considering the science, the other group avoids the science altogether and neither group is competent to create a greater more evolved technological future.
The way to bridge nature and technology is through science and the single, greatest action a “spiritual” person could do is study science. To wrap one’s compassionate mind around fundamental scientific concepts is to expand the comprehension of those concepts and that expansion will permeate every aspect of our society and culture. And, with all due respect, if there were anything the military technocrats could use, it would be an expanded understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.
The greater future is not built from either avoiding or ignoring science, but embracing it and re-aligning our technologies within nature’s laws and nature’s ways.
Danielle Graham is the Founder and Executive Director of the NW Frontier Research Institute (NWFRI) in WA State. NWFRI’s experimental research focuses on human-generated gravitational and electromagnetic anomalies and is published by the American Institute of Physics.
About the Author:
Do you think science is a key element in creating a greater future?