Friday, 21 February 2014

The Benefits Of Science

Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991).

I frequently meet people who argue that science is not beneficial, even when they are communicating by computer. Personally, I regard knowledge as of value in itself and therefore do not need to answer questions like, "Of what use is it to know that the Sun is a star or that our galaxy is not the whole universe?"

When I suggest that human lives are qualitatively better for being longer, healthier and better informed, I am told, and agree, that some uses of science have been harmful or that many further improvements to life remain desirable. Here, the argument becomes confused. That science is not beneficial turns out to mean that it can be harmful (of course) or that it has not made everything perfect yet (of course not).

I recently pointed out to someone that he can read printed books by electric light at midnight and he did his best to belittle this achievement. I am pleased to see that Time Patrolmen, able to compare their period with others, appreciate the differences. In 1146 AD, Emil Volstrup must pretend to be indisposed and stay in bed. When another agent asks in Temporal, "'How goes it'?", he replies:

"'Incredibly tediously...I never before appreciated what a blessing printing, an abundance of books, is.'" (p. 418)

And Keith Denison says of his captor in the alpha timeline:

"'He owned a lot of books. Printing had been invented...books were available to the upper classes. They saved my sanity.'" (p. 363)

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I absolutely disagree with those who say science is not beneficial! I agree with you on how knowledge of the sciences has benefited mankind. The flaw lies in our imperfect human race, not science as such.

A far more interesting question is why a true science arose, on this planet, only within the civilization formed by Christianity in the West. In both "Delenda est" and IS THERE LIFE ON OTHER WORDS? Poul Anderson traces this, in part, to the Christian beief in the LAWFULNESS of the universe.