Friday, 23 March 2012 21:58

Is Science and Technology the Savior of Mankind?

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My natural inclination is philosophy, not the physical sciences. By philosophy, I do not mean academic philosophy.

Academic philosophy has lost its way and is not philosophical at all. If you think of Wittgenstein and his preoccupation with language, you ask: what has that got to do with philosophy?

Philosophy has to do with efforts to understand whether this life of ours has meaning or not. We are born, grow up and live in pain and must die. We are like other animals and trees, biological organisms; our bodies are made of matter (the various elements, atoms, particles and sub-particles) and in time must decompose and the elements return to their kind in nature. The elements must decay and return to particles (protons, neutrons, electrons), who, in turn, must decay into sub-particles like quarks and neutrinos, and eventually to only what we do not understand (perhaps, to nothingness; the nothingness from whence our bodies came from).

A philosopher ponders the seeming paradox of human existence: here we are biological organisms, and seem no more than a mosquitoes hence are nothing important, yet we possess consciousness and are able to think and understand the world, at least, up to a point.

Some say that consciousness is a product of matter, that the specific permutation of the various elements in our brains produced consciousness. Neuroscience tells us how the neurons transmit messages to each other at their synapses by releasing certain neurotransmitters (such as Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, GABA, Acetylcholine etc) and those interacting with certain electrical ions (magnesium, potassium,  phosphor, sodium, calcium etc produce message transmission from one neuron to another.

But is this all there is to human thinking? It would seem so; how so? If an injury occurred to the brain, say, the brain is deprived of oxygen for a while (it dies after about six minutes without oxygen), it does not seems able to function properly. In Alzheimer’s disease a part of the brain is apparently disordered and such individuals seem unable to remember their past and generally do not think as we normally believe that human beings think.

The point is that it would seem like thinking is a biological phenomenon and that that is all there is to it. Yet something in us, in some of us, anyway, keeps telling us that there may be more to us than our bodies.

Those for us who are religious believe that there is what they call God. I do not know whether there is God or not; the salient point is that something in me would like to believe that despite the evidence of my five senses, the fact that my thinking seems the product of physics that there is more to me than I understand. What that something is I do not know.

The function of philosophy, I think, is to grapple with the human dilemma, human beings awareness that they are like other animals hence to nature nothing special, that they end upon their physical death. Empirically, our lives are like the lives of flies yet we suspect that we may be more than meets our eyes.  To me, this is the type of discourse that so-called philosophers ought to be preoccupied with; they ought to be trying to figure out if human beings are just animals or if they are animals plus something not animals.

Instead of this type of discourse, modern philosophy, especially what calls itself academic philosophy, concentrates on the trivial. At best academic philosophy gives students a review of what past philosophers thought about. Students, if at all, are taught about what Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Berkeley, Hobbes, Locke, Pascal, Voltaire, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, James, Bergson, Sartre, Camus, Jasper, Heidegger, Habermas, Arendt, and others said. Those thinkers lived in different times and what they said are not exactly apropos to what needs to be said today. The question is what do today’s so-called philosophers say?

What folks said in the past, obviously, ought to be read and understood, but who believes that if you want to understand science that you have to study what folk called science five hundred years ago?  The twentieth century alone contributed more to science than all the science of the past ten thousand years did. We do not go to the past to understand science, how the physical world operates, but study what present scientists are studying about nature. Yet, so-called academic philosophers seem to believe that rehashing what past philosophers said on any subject is what philosophy ought to be about.

The subject of philosophy is and ought to be: what is human existence all about:  are people mere animals or are they more than animals? Does something in people survive their physical death and if so what is it?

Of course, if one is inclined to religion, one can easily rehash what the various religions said about our ultimate fate but those are conjectures that do not stand any kind of test of verification.

Well, in my opinion, modern academic philosophy does not grapple with relevant issues; it escaped from reality and concentrates on the trivial and makes much noise about nothing.

I know where Western academic philosophy is at. I can say with a straight face that contemporary Western academic philosophy is more than useless. Perhaps, the exception is existentialism. Sartre’s notion that life is meaningless and purposeless and that nevertheless we have to be courageous about it and live it on our own terms, posit what seems to make sense to us and live accordingly, that is, give our lives personal meaning, seems to be a worthwhile approach to living.

Perceiving academic philosophy as not able to deliver the answers I sought, I undertook to study what the giants of Western science and technology found about the nature of being. My head is saturated with what these good folk found about the nature of matter, space and time. I dare say that I am fairly up to date with what  the following scientists and technologists found about how nature operates: Galileo Galilee, Isaac Newton, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, John Dalton, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, James Clerk Maxwell, Ludwig Boltzmann, Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, Niles Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Max Born, John Von Neumann, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Friedman, Georges Lamaitre, George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, Robert Oppenheimer, Francis Crick, James D. Watson, Joseph Lister, William Thomson Kelvin, Robert Goddard, Gregor Mendel, Alexander Fleming, Paul Dirac, John Archibald Wheeler, Murray Gell-Mann, and Alan Guth. Some notable applied scientists are Gutenberg, James Watts, Stephenson, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Daimler Benz, and The Wright Bothers: Orville and Wilbur, John Logie Baird, George Washington Carver, Wernher Von Braun, Howard Florey, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

But despite learning what these good folk found about nature I am nowhere near answering the questions that exercise my mind: does life on earth have meaning and purpose?

My experience on earth tells me that my body and our bodies are food for worms hence are nothing; as I see it, our bodies are worthless and valueless. Despite this awareness of the ultimate worthlessness of our bodies we slave for them. We work to earn the means to keep our bodies in existence, to feed, clothe and house our bodies. If our bodies are food for worms why this futile struggle to defend and protect them? Why go through all the efforts we go through to maintain that which ultimately must die and dissolve back top nature? It does not seem to make sense; it seems like madness, if you ask me.

If all we are is our bodies we really are nothing. If all we are, are our bodies I do not see why it is not okay for natural forces like tsunami, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, plagues (germs like bacteria, virus and fungi) to sweep us to death.

If all I am is my body, part of nature, I do not see any reason to complain if nature destroys my body. Indeed, I do not see any reason to complain if an Adolf Hitler of the future acquires nuclear weapons and decides to wipe out the entire human race and does so.

If we are just our bodies I would not bat an eye if natural or human agents destroyed us. We are nature and nature destroys itself to give fort to a different form of nature.

If, as astronomers tell us, in the future the sun expands into a supernova and incorporates our earth and both of them blow themselves to smithereens, and from their ashes new planets are formed (or they collapse into themselves to form a black hole), I would not mind it at all.

If all we are is matter existing in space and time, I do not see anything wrong with death, and dying this very minute.

In a manner of speaking, it can even be said that it were better death came and got human beings and stopped them from suffering as much as they do. As Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out in his book, World as Will and Idea, there seems a will to survival in animals, human beings included. Animals seem motivated to live at all costs, live for what they do not understand, and live to suffer. It would seem better to eradicate that will to live and have people die and end their misery filled existence.

I am saying that science has not helped me understand why people should live, not any more than philosophy did in making sense of human existence.

My question then is: is science what it is cranked up to be? If all that David Hume’s logical positivism does is understand the workings of nature (matter, energy, space and time), but no more, is it the savior of mankind?

If the answer provided by the physical sciences to life’s real questions is no better than those provided by philosophy is science any better than philosophy?

In light of the fact that philosophy abdicated its putative function of enabling folk to seek rational answers to existential questions, and science does not even try to, where should one turn to in seeking answers?

Make no mistake about it: science and technology has done a lot to improve human existence. Just think of what people’s lives were like before Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin; they were killed by assortment of bacteria. Science has improved our lives and for that we must be grateful to it and to scientists, and continue with the scientific effort to understand and control our environment. Yet science has not answered our existential questions, such as, who are we, where did we come from and where do we go to when we die, or is death the end of it all?

Should one go to religion? But religion is largely superstitious nonsense and treads on fear and ignorance. Religions God appears to have given folk intelligence, mind, and than asks them not to use it to figure out what the truth is, to, instead, just believe in the mostly nonsense purveyed by the clergy.

Obviously, I cannot embrace old time religions. So, where should I seek answers? How about metaphysics?  Whose metaphysics? Spinoza’s pantheism seems to make sense; I mean the idea that there seems a rational intelligent force that operates impersonally in all manifestations of nature. But Spinoza is only helpful up to a point, for accepting that there is a force operating in nature that seems to make things ordered rather than chaotic does not help one answer the question: why should one live, does living have meaning to it?

Let us summarize what I have gleaned from Western Science. Contemporary Western Science essentially tells people that this world, the world of space, time and matter, is all there is to their existence; that they should study the material world, understand it and devise technologies to adapt to it.

Scientists, in not too many words, tell us that we should not permit religion and other purveyors of superstition to deceive us into believing that there is another world other than this natural one we live in. As they see it, for hundreds of years, religion (in the case of Europe, Catholicism and, now, add Protestantism to it) held the people in ignorance and fed them superstitions.

As long as people believed in the rubbish taught by the Christian faith and other religions the clergy was able to control them.

And what did the people receive in return for their tributes to the Church? They got been controlled by the Church and deceit. They ended up not understanding how nature works, so that diseases killed them like they killed rats. They prayed to non-existent gods instead of studying nature and from their learning know how to avert preventable natural disasters.

Science tells the people to stop praying to non-existent gods and instead do what it takes to adapt to the realities of this world.

This advice seems a noble injunction. Who wants to give his life over to the superstition purveyed by the ignorant clergy? For over two thousand years the Christian Church extinguished the light that was Greek rationalism and gave the people the darkness that was Christian Europe. No rational person wants to return to the dark ages, not if he can help it. Obviously, science is the best way forward for mankind. I am a student of science.

On the other hand, I am also aware that Western science offers us pessimism. Science tells us that our world came into being in an explosion that occurred thirteen billion years ago. That the Big Bang created space, time and matter; that somehow space, time and matter combined to produce the galaxies, stars and planets and biological life forms.

Science teaches us that each star has enough fuel to last so long before it explodes and dies or implodes into a black hole or red dwarf, neutron star or whatever.

Science teaches that in time, may be four billion years from now, our earth and its star, the sun would die a fiery death. Science teaches that ultimately the material universe would die, either in a fiery implosion or from expanding to a point where it looses heath and everything freezes to death.

The message of the gospel of science is that life on earth is ultimately pointless, meaningless and purposeless. We are nothing; we are valueless and worthless; we are not special, we are just a variety of animals that, like other animals, eat food to derive energy to stay alive but in time would die and disappear into the putative oblivion from whence we came.

Empirical observation seems to bear out the conclusions of science, after all tsunamis easily sweep millions of people to death and other natural disasters do the same.

Pure reason would seem to suggest that we are just a variety of biological organisms and are not different from the rest of them. We are not better than mosquitoes, except, perhaps, in our deluded eyes, our wish for importance taken as actual importance.

Simply stated, the conclusions of empirical science seem to suggest that human beings are not important, that even that which seems to make them the paragon of animals, their ability to think, consciousness, is epiphenomenal, and is a product of their bodies. Scientific realism is depressing.

Science not withstanding, something keeps telling people that they are more than meets the eyes.  As Polonius told his son, Horatio, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there seems more to life than is taught in our philosophy (science). But what is that more than is taught by science? Ah, there in lies the rub!

If we (I am African) accepted the conclusions of Western science we would live as folks in the contemporary Western world are increasingly living, a life where everything goes. If all we are, are animals one understands why Westerners now do what they do, such as engage in the absurd behavior they call homosexuality. Only animals, those not even as evolved as dogs, would engage in such dreadful behavior. It is degrading beyond measure for a man to put his penis into another mans anus and call such macabre behavior pleasurable. Only the sick could do such a dastardly thing and claim to derive pleasure from it. Yet it is been done in the West.

Only a spiritually dead folk can engage in such dreadful behaviors. It seems that Western science deadens the human spirit hence produces people who do dreadful things. Indeed, the luminaries of Western science, such as Isaac Newton, seem to have had dead spirits and engaged in absurd sexual behaviors. A dead civilization produces dead men walking around and claiming to be alive.

Worse, in the West you have adults who prefer to sex with children, children as young as two years old! These pedophiles actually believe that they are alive (in my view, they are already dead). And guess who engages in these absurd homosexual and pedophilic behaviors?  They are mostly scientists, that is, those who study matter but not the human essence.

If all there is to human life is matter, as science points out, there is no point to existence.  If there is no God and life after death, as Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov rightly pointed out, there is no reason why folk should not do whatever they feel like doing, including killing other people and call it pleasurable (such sadists as Adolf Hitler already did that).

The nihilism of Western science is so apparent that one wonders why other people have not appreciated it.

I am saying that science is a mixed blessing; in the one hand, it obviously improves our physical lives but in the other hand, it gives us the impression that existence is meaningless and, as such, does not matter if it is ended right now.

But is life all that meets the eyes, as Western science seems to propagate? I do not know the answer to that question.

I do know one thing though; old-time religion is not the alternative to our seeming meaningless existence.

I have taken the time to study and understand the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism and African religions, Christianity and Islam.  I have written about these religions. To me, these religions seem utterly meaningless; they seem worse than the disease they are trying to cure.

Yet, something in me tells me that there may be more to life than what science tells us. So, what is it?

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176