Saturday, December 5, 2009


Science and art realigning?   For a long time I have thought of the disconnect between the majority of Americans and the scientific community.  There is a general and apparent sense of fear about science and technology misapplied.  I am not arguing that this paranoia is completely unwarranted but that it causes some to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when it comes to applying  technologies to this thing we call human life.  In this article Peter Forbes writing for the Times Online describes a current trend in science writing - artistic individuals compelled to write about scientific themes.  This may be the  end of what I call the "Burning Windmill".

To me the image of a burning windmill represents the moment the masses pass judgmental on emerging scientific technologies.  The image came to me while watching the original Boris Karloff black and white version of Frankenstein.   In the end the monster is chased by the mob to a tower, which is in fact a windmill.  Here the people decide the most appropriate course of action is to kill him, burn him in the windmill.  The movie ends before we see proof of his charred body and in this indefinite passing of time I see an uncertainty.  A persistent uneasy feeling held by civilization since the publication of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein in 1818. Will the firemen show up and put out the flames or will  the angry mob successfully extinguish the experiment.  How can the citizenry keep the application of science in check?  How can we prevent the misapplication of technology without behaving like the mob at the windmill or the mob that carved the flesh from Hypatia with abalone shells?

Further in the article Forbes talks about the healing process between the infamous "two cultures" of science and humanities.  The first step for any individual taking on a healing or reckoning path  is acknowledging fear. The fear that "although science may be powerfully predictive, it threatens to undermine the beliefs and intuitions we uphold to make life tolerable; We fear we may learn something we would rather not know”.

While ruminating  on these concepts my mind kept floating back to the desert, peering into the world of Edward Abbey where he has an epiphany - how he feels about science and technology.  His words are an excellent foothold to begin reconciliation between the two cultures.  In Desert Solitaire Abbey is philosophizing with a visitor to Arches in the chapter Episodes and Visions  and realizes he is...

"not opposed to mankind but only to man-centeredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man; not to science, which means simply knowledge, but to science misapplied, to the worship of technique and technology, and to that perversion of science properly called scientism; and not to civilization but to culture."

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