Friday, September 03, 2004

Nanotech arrogance will meet the Luddite hammer

Plant me firmly on "future doesn't need us" ground if this is a representative opinion among all of nanotechnology's thought leaders.

True science is ruled by humility, since a scientist above all is aware of how vast is his deficit of knowledge. A scientist who is ruled by arrogance, prejudice and caricature of what he does not understand is not practicing science at all, but is treading into historically cataclysmic territory.

And in Europe, if the past gives us any guide, the scientist who dismisses as unimportant the moral and ethical foundations of those whose lives he is allegedly improving will assuredly be shown the hammers of the Luddites.

But a greater man said it better:

    I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries.

    Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.

    Albert Einstein

NanoBot Backgrounder
The Kabbalah Nanotech Connection


Cientifica said...

To label people as death-deserving enemies because of disagreements about real-world politics is bad enough. To do the same for disagreements about a delusional world inhabited by archangels, demons,
and imaginary friends is ludicrously tragic.

-Richard Dawkins

Howard Lovy said...

Yes, it's a great quotation, and one that unfortunately we need to be reminded of in light of many of our own era's murderous fanaticism that disguises itself as "religion."

But what does it have to do with Cientifica's laughable dismissal of Jewish tradition that dates back to the 12th century as "Madonna's latest fad" and its clear lack of knowledge of the topic? Cientifica is always the first to gleefully draw attention to others who write about a topic they clearly know nothing about.

I think that many scientists who rejected religion early on in their education are still stuck with an outdated, or immature, vision of what religion is or means to many people. There are plenty of religious people who do not believe in the traditional concept of God, yet find religion a great place from which to build their moral and ethical foundations.

These days, there are many people who feel religious in a kind of "spiritual" sense (no, not just new agers), and pick and choose what they want from a salad bar of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and others. The Kabbalah trend is part of this phenomenon. Much of what the celebrities practice is not recognizably Jewish to me, but there are far more important issues of religious intolerance in the world to deal with than to become offended by high-profile religious tourism.

This new, vague "spirituality" is an entirely different phenomenon than closed-minded, violent fundamentalism within all religions that you so often see in the news.

No, this "other" kind of religious renewal is even the ethical foundation for many on the left, and for some in the environmental movement who are now beginning to filter nanotechnology through this world view. So, when they see their foundations being simplified or falsified and mocked by the science community, it's really not a surprise that they end up thinking of science as part of the problem, since scientists appear to lack any kind of moral or ethical roadmap to guide them along as they develop this new technology.

I guess that's why I was a bit outraged by Cientifica's comments. It just appeared that, for all the talk about learning the lessons of GMO, Cientifica is reverting to the same old arrogant attitude that created so much European mistrust against science and scientists.


indeterminatedyad said...

I missed where Cientifica dismissed Kabbalah as Madonna's latest fad. It seemed that they were dismissing Madonna's embracing Kabbalah as her latest fad.

In any event, when do we get back to discussing nanotechnology? That seems to be a pretty worthy topic, doesn't it?