Impact of Science and Technology on Human Values Essay

By | June 14, 2019


  • The conflict between science and human values
  • The wrong notion of scientist Human being assumed as bodies, animals even machines
  • Revival of slavery
  • Definition of science and what it stands for
  • Ultimate and instrumental values science, commanding the hidden potential in nature
  • Earlier concept of science, love of knowledge
  • Present power impulse of science
  • The difference and consequent result between power impulse and love of knowledge
  • Power, not the end of life but a means to other ends
  • Fundamental similarity between science and art
  • Dissent, a native activity of a scientist
  • To be effective as public practice, science must protect independence
  • Science, not a mechanism but a human progress

The very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self

Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is famed to do, deceiving elf

These lines from ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by Keats very aptly describe the attitude of those who believe that there is a basic conflict between science and human values. They are convinced that the very word ‘science’ drives away all notions of human values for the simple reason that, whereas science deals with facts and recognizes nothing but facts, values are based on fanciful ideas of human welfare and spiritual will-being. Curiously and interestingly enough, such convictions are held by some of the very well known intellectuals.

That is why, Aldous Huxley, in his book, “Science, Liberty and Peace”, laments that many scientists, technicians and consumers of gadgets tend to accept the world picture implicit in the theories science as a “complete and exhaustive” account of reality and to regard those aspects of experiences which scientists ignore for one reason or the other, as being less real. This attitude is the natural result of the prestige enjoyed by science as a source of power on the one hand and the general neglect of philosophy on the other. This attitude is termed by him as ‘nothing but thinking’.[the_ad id=”17141″]

Accordingly to this way of thinking, human beings are assumed to be nothing but bodies, animals, even machines and the only real elements of reality are believed to be matter and energy in their measurable aspects. Therefore, values are considered to be nothing but illusions that have somehow got themselves mixed up without the experience of the world; mental happenings are regarded to be nothing but epiphenomena, produced by and entirely dependent upon physiology; and spiritually is supposed to be nothing but wish fulfillment and misdirected sex. The natural consequences of this outlook are clearly apparent in the widespread indifference to the values of human personality and life, so characteristic of the present age.

As a result of this indifference, various inhuman practices have found currency among the so-called civilized people of world. There has been first of all these, the revival of slavery in its worst and most inhuman forms-slavery imposed upon political heretics living under various dictatorships, slavery forced upon whole classes of conquered population, and slavery inflicted upon prisoners of war. Then there has been increasing indiscriminate slaughter during wartime, with utter disregard for the traditional distinction between civilians and combatants, resulting in a methodic and scientific general massacre and wholesale destruction. Another consequence has been the employment by civilized people, with high standards of scientific and technological training, of torture, human vivisection and systematic starvation of entire populations. Last, but not least is the phenomenon of forced migration – the removal at gun – point of millions of human beings from their homes to others places, where most of them face certain death due to hunger, exposure and disease.

All these have happened, and may happen again and again, because of the misconception about science and scientific attitude. It must be understood that scientific picture of the world is inadequate for the simple reason that science does not even profess to deal with experience as a whole, but only with certain aspects of it in certain contexts. The more philosophically minded men of science understand this truth. However, before taking up exposition of this thesis, it must be recognized what science stands for and what is the concept of human values. Einstein has defined Science as an endeavour to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thorough-going an association as possible.” Values, on the other hand, may be defined as those objects or states of affairs, actual or imagined, which are considered interesting and/or desirable by normal human beings.[the_ad id=”17142″]

Values have been subdivided into ultimate and instrumental values. An ultimate value is the one which is desired by sentient beings or by man for its own sake, whereas, an instrumental value is the one which is sought after as means to the realization of the first class of values. It is contended that the ultimate values are identical with the states of mind or experiences, which are considered to be desirable in them. But this is not always true because some of such values can be equated with the external states of affairs. For instance, those who fight for the freedom of their country, which is under foreign dominance, do not aim at merely a set of pleasant feelings, a desirable state of mind, but at a real, objective state of affairs. Such states of affairs certainly deserve to be placed under ultimate values. With this background of the conceptional implications of value, it is not difficult to understand the relationship between science and human values.

Science as defined above amounts to the organization of knowledge in such a way that it commands more the hidden potential in nature. But this is performed by science not by the use of force but by understanding. Whatever the claims that were made by scientists of yore, today it is commonly realized that science gains its ends only with the laws of nature. We can control nature only by understanding her laws. The power that we come to command over her is not through bullying her, but as the by-product of our understanding of her. Therefore, all science is search, and this search is for unity in hidden likenesses. What the scientist looks for is order in the appearance of nature by exploring such likenesses. In other words, science finds order and meaning in our experience.

In fact, this was the conception of science in the beginning. Science owes its origin to the love of knowledge. But this impulse itself is twofold. We may either seek knowledge of an object because we love the object or because we wish to have power over it. The former impulse results in the kind of knowledge this is contemplative and the second one to that which is practical.[the_ad id=”17150″]

Now, what has happened is that with the development of science, the power impulse has increasingly prevailed over the love impulse. It is the power impulse, which is embodied in industrialism and in governmental technique. This very impulse has given rise to the philosophies known as pragmatism and instrumentalism, which hold, broadly speaking, that our beliefs about an object are true in so far as they enable us to manipulate it with advantage to ourselves. When the truth is so conceived, science offers a great deal to the man who wishes to change his environment, for example, science has to offer astonishingly powerful tools. Therefore, if knowledge consists in the power to produce intended changes, then science gives such knowledge in abundant measure.

But the other desire for knowledge belongs to an entirely different set of emotions. In this case we wish to have knowledge of what we love not for the purpose of power, but for the ecstasy of contemplation. This is simple fact that wherever there is ecstasy or joy or delight derived from an object, there is the desire to know that object – not in the manipulative fashion that consists of turning it into something else, but in the fashion of the beatific vision, because the object in itself and for itself sheds happiness upon the lover. Therefore, when scientific search arises from the first impulse, that of power, it leads to a clash between science and human values, but when it owes its origin to the second impulse, it not only leads to a harmony between the two but also contributes to the fostering and strengthening of human values.

Thus it is only in so far as we renounce the world, as its lovers, for the sake of love, and attach ourselves to it as its technicians. But this amounts to a division of soul, which is fatal to what is best in man. The scientific society is becoming incompatible with the pursuit of truth, with love, with art, with spontaneous delight, with every ideal that men have hitherto cherished. But it is not knowledge that has brought the situation to this end. In fact knowledge is good and ignorance is evil and to this principle the lover of the world can admit no exception. Not only this, even power, in itself and for itself, in not the source of danger. What renders the situation dangerous is power wielded for the sake of power, not genuine good.[the_ad id=”17144″]

Power is not one of the ends of life, but merely a means to other ends. These ends are essentially human values. Therefore, it can be said conclusively that there will be no conflict between science and human values when science is considered only a means to get power and that power, in turn, is regarded only as a means to minister to good life. Here one must remember that science can only ascertain what is and not what ought to be, which is necessarily the domain of human value.

Besides resolving the conflict in this manner, we can also see how science can and does give birth to certain fundamental human values as has been very ingeniously done by Bronowski in his book “Science and Human Values.” If we again look at the definition of science given above, we shall notice that science is not a copy of nature, but a re-creation of her. The act of discovery amounts to nothing but re-making of nature. In art, like-wise, nature is re-created by the painter, the poet or other artists. But the act of re-creation does not end with the discoverer whether in science or in art. Every person who comes in close contact with the discovery performs the act. A deep theorem or a great poem moves a reader in the same way as they did move their originators. So to the reader, it is an experience of re-creation.

This fundamental similarity between science and art is accounted for by the fact that both display the existence of a single creative activity, emerging from the creative mind of man. The creative mind, working for science, is engaged to bring together different facts of reality, and, by discovering a likeness between them suddenly makes them one, and that unity emerges as a scientific law. But science does not stop at the formulation of the laws. The laws are condensed around concepts and these concepts lend science its coherence, its intellectual and imaginative strength together, like knots in a mesh. Now, when we look at facts, at things, or at concepts, we cannot disentangle truth from meaning – that is from an inner order. That is why the values of science are fundamental human values.

These values arise neither from the personal virtues of scientists, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. In fact, they have grown out of the very practice of science; because they are the basic and inescapable conditions for the practice of science would spontaneously bring these values to light.[the_ad id=”17151″]

As said above, truth is the drive at the centre of science, not as a dogma but as a process. Now, if truth is to be found and not given, and if, therefore, it is to be tested in action, some other conditions must of they grow from it. First of these is independence in observation as well as thought. Without independence, scientific activity gets not only jut thwarted; but strangléd. As a by-product of independence, there has to be recognition and respect for what is new and bold in all the work. The science has bred the love of originality as a mark of independence.

Independence and originality being granted a place of pride, the right to disset comes as a natural concomitant. It fact dissent has been the native activity of a scientist. But dissent is not an end in itself-it is the mark of freedom. Just as originality and independence are the private needs for the existence of science, dissent and freedom are the public needs. However, if science is to become effective as a public practice, it must go further – it must protect independence. For that it must offer safeguards, which are free enquiry, free speech and tolerance. Scientists obviously prepare grounds for a democratic society.

Further, tolerance among scientists cannot be based on indifference but on respect. This is because science confronts the work of one man with that of another, and grafts each on each and this is impossible to do unless there is justice, honour and respect between man and man. The attitude of respect as a personal value implies public acknowledgement of justice and of due honour. Only when all these conditions are present that science can purse its steadfast object of exploring truth. Without these, science cannot exist.
Therefore we can see that science is not a mechanism but a human progress – not a set of findings, but the search for them. Those who believe that science is neutral, confuse the issue because whereas the findings of science are neutral, the activity of science is not. The confusion is caused when we equate science with machines. But science is human search and research; learning by steps of which none is final, and the mistakes are as much rungs in the leader as the truths discovered. One must not forget that scientists are also men and, as such, are fallible, and still, as men must be willing to correct themselves. No wonder than that the very values of science are recognizably the fundamental human values.

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