Science is like Philosophy embedded in the Society and its Culture. There are many definitions of what Culture and Science are. Both certainly can be considered as value systems separated by a different speed in respect of development.
Culture, and here we include Religion is reflecting enduring behaviours, ideas, attitude, and traditions shared by a large group of people being transmitted from one generation to the next and modify slowly. Tradition in this context has two elements. Firstly a material component as shown in clothes, tools things we experience and use in our daily life and secondly a nonmaterial component which are reflected in ideas and attitudes.
Science derives from Latin “Scientia” meaning knowledge and can be described generally as a system of acquiring knowledge by beings. This system basically uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain so far unknown phenomena of reality and tries to find ways to apply new and experimental knowledge in daily life of our Natural and Social Environment. As science is knowledge driven, we have to realize that in the last hundred years, the speed dramatically changed in respect of scientific advances.
As mentioned before “Culture and Science are value systems” one more in the field of conserving and safeguarding of what we have and know, the other, the science, reflecting more the intellectual revolution of the ongoing evolution. Especially today at the beginning of the 21st Century, the cultural aspect is, when talking about science a critical point of consideration as scientific knowledge and cultural behaviour is drifting apart at a path never seen before.
Let’s briefly go to a video of one of my favourite theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, who talks about science and how advances in Genetics may change life as we know it, and opens up a new field were biology and electronics are becoming one integrated discipline. This idea is based on advances in our knowledge driven society, but are we culturally, emotionally and mentally prepared for this and other futuristic events?
In this connection, we really need to open up more and review how we are able to understand better and interpret well our scientific advancements and theories. We should, therefore, not trying to avoid those often revolutionary thoughts, just because they may make us feel uncomfortable once applied science goes out too quickly of its theoretical and experimental phase, but approach new ideas with openness.
Let’s briefly reflect on the scientific development of the last 500 years and changes in our cultural and scientific environment. In the year 1600, Giordano Bruno an Italian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, anticipated modern science in his theories.
The most notable of these ideas were his theories of the infinite universe and the multiplicity of worlds, in which he rejected the traditional geocentric, the Earth-centred astronomy from Aristotle, claiming the Earth was the rotational center of the universe, and went even beyond the Copernican heliocentric, the Sun-centred theory, which still maintained a finite universe with a sphere of fixed stars. This was in the year 1600, quite some time ago, and yet in its consequences still actual.
Giordano Bruno maintained his unorthodox ideas at a time when both the Roman Catholic and the Reformed churches were reaffirming rigid Aristotelian and Scholastic principles. G. Bruno made desperate attempts to demonstrate that his views were not incompatible with the Christian Culture and conception of creation.
The inquisitors, however, rejected his arguments and pressed him for a formal retraction. G. Bruno finally declared that he had nothing to retract and that he did not even know what he was expected to retract. At that point, he was sentenced as an impenitent and pertinacious heretic. On Feb. 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: “Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.” Not long after, he was burned alive.
Well today, persons holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted, are (hopefully) not burned alive anymore for their revolutionary ideas in science and other knowledge driven concepts. When reading “the news”, however, it appears sometimes that we have developed new sophisticated methods to silence new ideas in our “modern society” being as effective as those more brutal methods back in the year 1600!
Some years back, when I worked in the industry, I learned and do believe in the Phrase: “A few committed people can change the world!”. When worked and lived in South East Asien countries, in the early 1980, some companies, sponsored by their governments, had the “Revolutionary Vision”, that existing well advanced CRT colour TV technology would be substituted, in about 25 years by an, at that time, truly infant LCD technology. Well, Western advanced Economies did not believe in this technology and what happened, those Economies who developed quickly the experimental knowledge are dominating since the end of the last century this market via their leapfrogging technological advances having disrupted the way of those who produced and marketed the CRT technology.
Very often the syndrome “Not invented here” causes, that the advances already well known are not harvested favourably to improve modern life in the 21st Century further. Those advances are furthermore often hampered by the political and commercial misconception and the sponsored (Lobbied) regulations.
It is to believe that, in the field of electronics, the next leapfrogging advances will come from Robotronics, and in Medicine from advances in Stem Cells, Genomics and innovative equipments. How will the West this time deal with so called high risk technological and “experimental” advances?
As mentioned before we are obviously not burning people alive anymore for their ideas, but in the name of safety, of economic relevance well regulated guidelines and laws by various government agencies are slowing down, unnecessarily, progress in applied science deriving from new experimental activities and entrepreneurial visions.
The recent discussion on stem cells involving even the Vatican to receive, potentially, a science blessing and to potentially distinguish which research is good and which one not, gives me a shiver as it appears we have not overcome and learned from the cultural driven events in the year 1600, were G. Bruno already tried to communicate that science is an intellectual discipline not trying to claim that knowledge of the past is wrong, but that knowledge is a moving target which helps us to demystify and understand the reality and cultural environment we are living in, better.
Science opens up new horizons, which often, is interpreted as departing from a “wrong past”. This believes should be considered as a misconception as the past is based on understanding of the available knowledge at that time.
As science advances with an accelerated speed, humans have to learn and also to adapt more quickly to new realities in respect of culture and tradition. Defending culture and tradition of a society, is, therefore, not a contradiction of a knowledge driven societies, though timelines are in fast motion in the 21st Century. With more “tolerance” regarding new ideas however, our society is certainly becoming richer, we only need to try to adapt and communicate it better.
In the past, lets say the 16th Century, science development was slow and cultural development was dominant which started to change stepwise in the 19th and 20st Century, where technology advanced accelerated.
What we can see today in the beginning of the 21st Century is that knowledge driven development is accelerating even further. Scientific electronic related Know how doubles at a rate of 18 months. In Medical science, nearly every week we can now read about the “breakthroughs” in gen technology, stem cells and related “experimental treatments” curing diseases and regenerating organs. Science development is approaching potentially Lightspeed widening the “Gap of Understanding” between Science and Culture, unfortunately, further.
Everybody certainly is agreeing that any new advances have to be carefully evaluated before using it in practice and daily life, but once there is a fundamental proof of concept established we need to advance quickly and not hide behind regulations and laws reflecting an opinion valid for past knowledge based activities and the cosiness of our comfort zone.
Medical science is a discipline which is today advancing extremely quickly, but as applied new medical science is still regulated for processes based on Know how of the last century we need to find ways how to close this gap in order not to give the impression that valid regulations are protecting an economic interest of existing business only.
Medical advances made in the last century are “outstanding in respect of improving quality of live of people” with chemical and biological based pharmaceutical blockbusters, but as mentioned in the case of CRTs, everything has its time and new science developments will disrupt existing activities in one or an other way. Technology, like capital, moves quickly to places were it can develop freely and if it is not at home it will be somewhere else!
It remains to be seen which of the different new technologies eventually will be able to cure diseases, but it appears that stem cell, gen technology and deep brain stimulation, i.e. equipment related technologies are advancing extremely fast and showing improvements in patient, considered as being impossible a few years ago only.
In the video showing Andres Lozano on TED
the latest results in deep brain stimulation are shown, which allows surgeons to place electrodes in almost any area of the brain, and turn them up or down — like a radio dial or thermostat — to correct the dysfunction. This emerging technique demonstrated that a woman with Parkinson’s instantly stops shaking, and brain areas eroded by Alzheimer’s are brought back to life. I have seen this video already serval times, because we have not only a “Proof of Concept” but see real advanced medical treatments with success never seen before.
We hope that those new science insights will open the minds of politicians, regulators and even tradition conscious people, to adapt more quickly to the new medical treatment options by specialists, without having them facing the fate of Giordano Bruno indirectly, meaning, being silenced by modern methods.