The World Does Not Need More Scientists

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things:-
We murder to dissect.
– William Wordsworth

 

In his dramatic work The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe presents the story of Faustus, a man obsessed with gaining knowledge and power over the world, for which knowledge he has such a great yearning that in exchange for it he willingly barters his soul to the devil. During his period of domination, Faustus enjoys the power to command whatever he wishes for, including the fulfillment of all his earthly desires, and the ability to transport himself to whatever part of the earth he wishes to visit.[1] But when his term of enchantment is ended, the devil comes to claim his due, at which point Faustus is transformed from an omnipotent sovereign to an abject, terrorized wretch because of his immoral lust for occult knowledge and power over Nature.

The story of Faustus neatly encapsulates the story of humanity in the modern era. For like Faustus, we modern humans also seek knowledge and power over Nature, to do as we please, without any limitations. Marlowe’s play can be interpreted in various ways, but one interpretation is that, in wanting to become both omnipotent and omniscient, Faustus commits the grave sin of seeking to become godlike, and thereby displacing God. Besides dabbling in other studies of occult knowledge, both the historical Faustus and the character based on him were alchemists, who in some ways were precursors of modern scientists, with their repeated experiments and their desire to transform the nature of substances – in other words, to bend and subjugate the natural world to their desires. Although the attainment of the central desire of alchemists, to transform base metals such as lead into gold, is not possible, chemists have found ways to synthesize a very large number of artificial substances, as well as transform one substance into another, such as fabricating plastics from oil. It is not at all surprising that one of the greatest scientists of all time, Isaac Newton, was also a devoted and lifelong alchemist.

At the heart of every science is the belief that the Universe is best studied, probed, examined, dissected, analysed, and decomposed by isolating its various elements and studying their nature and properties separately from all other elements. This approach is most evident in physics and chemistry, the most quintessential, logical, rigorous, successful, and mathematical of all the sciences. Not surprisingly, since success breeds imitation, they have been regarded as models to emulate by scientists and knowledge-seekers in other fields of research, sometimes with false or comical, but other times, as in the case of economics, with deadly and tragic results.

Although this approach does indeed yield useful and interesting knowledge of a certain kind, it is fundamentally misguided in its approach, for it ultimately leads its practitioners astray by looking at the Universe from the wrong perspective. Scientists are like ignorant bumpkins who, not knowing how to use a telescope, look through it from the wrong end. But even this analogy is misleading, for there is no telescope in the world, no matter how large or powerful it may be, that allows its user to see more than a tiny patch of the sky at any one time.

Although scientists understand many little truths about the world or Universe, the great majority of them do not understand the One Great Truth about the Universe. And it is precisely the reductionist and isolationist approach they follow that blinds them to the One Great Truth, namely, that everything is related to everything else, and to seek to understand any single element of the Universe in isolation from everything else is fundamentally mistaken, for this approach leads to false beliefs and conclusions. Knowledge of the many little truths leads scientists and their devout followers to believe that the Universe, and more specifically the Earth, since this is the only part of it that lies within our intimate knowledge and destructive control, exists solely for us clever human beings to manipulate and transform its parts, including even other living creatures, into forms that please us. Knowledge of the One Great Truth, however, leads us to regard the many different parts of the Universe as different facets of one interconnected whole, and therefore we should treat all of these parts with the great respect that is due to the whole.

There are many native peoples who understand, or at least formerly understood, the One Great Truth about the world. These so-called primitive peoples knew things that science will never understand because of its atomistic approach – its relentless mania to divide everything into its component parts by breaking or dividing everything into smaller and smaller units. However, to the extent that they have been corrupted by the lures of science and its devilish offspring, modern technology, many of their descendants have forgotten the One Great Truth which their ancestors once knew, respected, and embodied in the way they lived their lives.

Although science is very good at solving single or limited problems, like finding a cure for a disease, producing a better motor, or building a more effective weapon of destruction, it is not very good at understanding things from the global perspective. This is due to the specialization that is rampant in the teaching, study, and practice of science, but it is also due to the great complexity of many of these problems.

In many cases, science and its handmaiden technology provide short-term solutions to perennial problems, such as food and energy production, that often create serious long-term problems, precisely because of the scientist’s tendency to look at the problem in isolation from everything else, which often leads them to ignore the many different unintended effects that the proposed solution will produce. Nuclear energy, pesticide use, and industrial farming are just a few examples. The use of quick solutions like pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms represents not a failure of Nature but a failure of humanity, specifically our childish lack of patience in seeking to understand the causes of the problem and finding natural solutions for it. For these natural solutions often exist, if only we are willing to look for them rather than automatically and thoughtlessly reaching for the immediate, artificial, overly simplistic, and frequently harmful solutions provided by human ingenuity, which are almost always based upon a limited understanding – which it were better to call ignorance, since that is what it really is – of Nature’s highly complex and interrelated processes.

So many areas of human activity, such as chemical industrial agriculture, demonstrate the truth of the saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” especially when it is not accompanied by the knowledge of just how little we know and understand about the Nature that we believe we can control and make do whatever we have a will to make it do. The triumph of the artificial, at which we humans excel, represents not progress but frequently a great step away from everything that characterizes Nature: beauty, balance, durability, efficiency, complexity, variety, sustainable growth, harmonious and interconnected existence, and longevity. After all, there is no human creation that can do what every living organism can do, which is to grow and repair itself so that it maintains itself in an integral and functioning state while it is alive.

Although science purports to be the detailed study of Nature in all of its many different aspects, whether physical, chemical, geological, biological, meteorological, astronomical, or cosmological, in many ways science is the antithesis of Nature. This is clearly shown by the countless ways that science has damaged, polluted, and destroyed the Nature it studies. As Wordsworth declared, we literally murder – while we pollute, alter, contaminate, and desecrate – in order to dissect, probe, analyze, and torture Nature so as to make it yield its secrets to us.

Like other fields of human endeavour, such as war, religion, literature, art, sport, music, and politics, science has its honour roll on which are inscribed the names of its great and notable individuals, those individuals whose wondrous accomplishments serve to inspire others to emulate them by following in their hallowed footsteps. Similarly, science has written its particular version of human history which, in simplified form, is as follows: during most of their history, human beings lived in a state of almost complete ignorance about the true nature of the world in which they lived. They held many false beliefs about the causes of events such as disease, drought, birth, death, the seasons, the origin of life, and the creation of the world, frequently attributing these natural phenomena to supernatural causes. Not surprisingly, the average human life was short, with mortality due to a variety of different causes – disease, famine, injury, war, poison, predators, and natural disasters – very high. This was the extremely long period of darkness, ignorance, and superstition, when our species was still in its infancy, from which dark period our species has only recently emerged, thanks to the miraculous discoveries of science and medicine, and the equally miraculous inventions of technology.

Considering its numerous practical accomplishments, it is not at all surprising that science has displaced religion in the hearts, or it were better to say the brains, of many of those who are privileged enough to live surrounded by and immersed in the countless technological marvels which it has wrought. Confidently believing in the limitless power of science, there are many people who have cast off their ancestors’ belief in God as a silly superstition that is not worthy of a rational, logical, and sensible human being. For science, in seeking purely mechanical explanations for every single natural phenomenon, has completely removed God from the history and operations of the world. In its mechanistic view of the Universe, there is no place for the Creator of the Universe. Collectively, the many scientific unbelievers are behaving like vain, arrogant, and ungrateful children who, having become adults, declare that all of their successes and accomplishments are due solely to their own efforts, and consequently they owe nothing at all to their parents, who, in their modest opinion, contributed absolutely nothing to their many accomplishments, including even to their very existence.

At the beginning of science’s rapid and astonishing development, the battle between science and religion was fiercely contested by proponents of both sides. But with each victory, science, along with technology, its loyal and doughty fellow knight, gradually gained the upper hand, so that now, these two titans of rational human endeavour walk the face of the Earth, clad in their impregnable armour, while easily fending off all challenges to their supremacy.

However, it is far too early for scientists and their many faithful followers to proclaim victory. For the ascent of science dates back a mere 400 years or so, while the ascent of the technological wonders which now follow it everywhere, like a shadow that obscures the life-giving rays of the Sun, date back only a little more than 200 years. In the grand scheme of things, these are pathetically short periods of time when compared to the age of the Universe, the age of the Earth, and the almost equally long age of Life on Earth, which have all endured for billions of years, a difference in scale of 1 to 10,000,000.

What is the likelihood that science will live to celebrate its thousandth birthday? If one is able to examine the present state of the world objectively, which most of those who place their trust entirely in science and technology are not able to do, the likelihood of this occurring is very, very small. And it is, ironically, precisely because of the astonishingly rapid success of science and technology in changing the world to suit our selfish human desires that makes this event so unlikely. For by separating us from – and making us believe that we are superior to – Nature, which is the true and generous source of all Life on Earth, science and technology, those lying and deceiving children of our overly fertile brains, have greatly multiplied our numbers while spawning innumerable artificial desires which in no way contribute to our long-term survival as a species. These two things – our unchecked human population and our constantly-multiplying artificial desires – which most of us ignorant fools regard as testaments of the unlimited powers of science, medicine, and technology, are in fact the primary threats to humanity’s long-term survival.

Because so many of us do not understand the One Great Truth about the Universe, we are, day by tumultuous day, creating a perilous situation – perilous because it is so highly unbalanced and is becoming more and more unbalanced with each passing day – that will eventually lead to our downfall. The belief that we will always be able to find a solution for our man-made problems, so that we can continue doing what we are presently doing, is not at all justified. For this wasteful, polluting, and highly destructive way of life has been practised by human beings for a mere two hundred years, which, in the grand and ancient scale of Life on Earth, is a mere blink of the eye.

As any student of mechanics will tell you, when a system is in imbalance, as the Earth increasingly is as a result of our very foolish collective actions, it takes an equally great disturbance or violent motion to return the system to a state of balance or equilibrium. There are only two possible outcomes: either we regain the balance with Nature that our scientific arrogance has led us to violate so greatly, or the balance which we continue to violate on a vast scale by our selfish and extremely wasteful actions will be imposed on us with absolutely no regard for our concerns or well-being. The status quo, which is to continue doing what we are doing worldwide, is not an alternative outcome because it will lead inevitably to the second of the two aforementioned outcomes.

The assurance and sense of security and control over our lives and our fate that science, medicine, and technology have given many of us is a completely false assurance. We have been lulled by science’s promises of longer and longer life, freedom from disease and famine, and dominion over the world into believing that there is nothing that can harm us, because science will always find a solution to whatever ails or confronts us, or threatens our existence and our well-merited evolutionary success. For it is precisely this foolish, overweening pride in our scientific accomplishments that will ultimately lead to our downfall.

Although some science and technology is good, a lot of it is unnecessary, wasteful, frivolous, bad, harmful, misguided, and sometimes just plain stupid. There are situations where following the scientific method is appropriate and preferable. But to assume that it should always be applied in every situation is simply another example of the very common human error of indiscriminately generalizing a principle or method to all situations, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not.

What the world needs are more generally-knowledgeable people who know something about many different areas of knowledge, and are thereby liberated from the need to rely on the advice or expertise of so-called experts, many of whom don’t know what they are talking about, in large part because of this foolish mania for specialization. At the very least, all people should know enough to be able to tell whether an “expert” is trustworthy or not; in other words, we should be able to judge the presumed expertise of the experts. There are some areas, such as economics, where this blind faith in the presumed competence of “experts” has caused very great harm. In addition, we must stop producing these unbalanced intellectual monsters who limit themselves to learning only a very tiny portion of human knowledge, while they myopically ignore everything else that lies outside of their narrow area of speciality.

Our vaunted human understanding, in particular the scientific perspective which views the world as separate, discrete, and wholly independent entities that interact with each other according to regular, well-established laws, is nevertheless incapable of grasping the fundamental truth about the Unity of All Things. There are some fields like ecology where scientists are finally beginning to understand this unity. In other words, after some four hundred years, scientists are at last beginning to understand the truth that was already understood by numerous pre-scientific peoples for thousands and thousands of years. What this shows is that the arrogance of science in rejecting all previous human knowledge as unscientific, and therefore unworthy of its attention, was extremely foolish. By committing the deadly sin of pride, scientists have been guilty of leading humanity along a road that, if we continue blindly along it as we have been doing until now, will lead us to our destruction.

Contrary to what many people believe, we human beings are not smarter than Nature. Rather than viewing Nature as an unintelligent obstacle or enemy that must be conquered, subdued, and overcome in order to remake the world to accord with our desires, we should be more humble and try to learn from Nature, so that we can live in harmony with it. For this is the only way that our species will be able to survive for a long time on the Earth. In other words, we must abandon our uncritical faith in science, medicine, and technology because it is precisely this faith that is the primary cause of the many growing problems that are visible all over the world.

What good is all this scientific knowledge when there are no human beings to appreciate, understand, and make use of it? For the truth is that all of this knowledge is of value and use only to human beings. And when we consider that it is precisely the monomaniacal pursuit of science that, more and more, is endangering not only the survival of so many of the Earth’s inhabitants, but also our own survival, then the sensible course is simply to stop this intellectual madness before it destroys us, just as it destroyed Doctor Faustus, who very foolishly sought to become omniscient and omnipotent, as if he were a god.

 

[1] Modern humans are able to do a number of the things that Marlowe attributed to Faustus, including eating grapes in the middle of winter, travelling through the air, and viewing the image of the most beautiful woman in the world, who he believed was Helen of Troy.

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