Today I received an email from the hivemind, saying, in part:
his first speech as President-elect last November, Barack Obama
reminded us of the promise of “a world connected by our own science and
imagination.” He recently stated, “promoting science isn’t just
about providing resources–it’s about protecting free and open
inquiry… It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say,
even when it’s inconvenient–especially when it’s inconvenient. Because
the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a
greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as
President of the United States.” And today, in his inaugural address,
President Obama cemented his commitment to this ethos and culture by
vowing to “restore science to its rightful place.”
What is being asked is this: help define the rightful place of science
in our world. The answer is this: Literature, Science, and the
Arts. The three noble human endeavors. Each necessary; none
sufficient; each overlapping; none mutually exclusive.
Science is one leg of the three-legged table that elevates all mental sustenance out of the mud.
Science is what has kept Malthusian Armageddon from overtaking us all,
at least so far. In the epic conflict between exponential growth
and limited resources, science is what has kept us one step ahead of
Science is a source of power, in at least two ways. The most
obvious is that it enables us to manipulate our environment. Less
obvious is the fact that the scientific tradition hardens the prepared
minds. This makes it harder for our political environment to
The reason that the Rovian machine needed to undermine the credibility
of science, is that the scientific culture is a threat to political
power. No society is sustainable without a balance of
power. One role of science, is to serve as a part of the
check-and-balance system that makes society sustainable.
Thus, to understand the place of science in society, it is necessary to
envision a dynamic tension between science, and the other sources of
power in a society. Commerce, agriculture, education, the legal
system, organized religion, and so forth, all play a role in society;
they all are sources of power. There is constant maneuvering,
clashes, alliances, ostracism. It is sort of like a family, come
to think of it. Science is the brainy, underappreciated middle
child. (I hope my mother doesn’t read this. I never felt
Socrates, it is said, said that the unexamined life is not worth
living. Scientists are always running around examining
everything. This makes life more worth living. However, it
also is true that the overexamined life is pretty damn boring. Literature and the arts provide a needed balance.
One unfortunate side effect of the quest for a permanent Republican
majority, was the partial marginalization of scientific culture.
This was intentional. It also was doomed to failure, because, as
I mentioned, no society can persist if there is too great of a
concentration of power. There can be no truly permanent
Republican majority, because there can be no permanent majority of
anything. Science, then, is one of the ingredients in a
Note about the illustration: I used The Goole to search for images
about “Literature Science and the Arts”. This picture came
up. I have no idea why. The original page is gone.
Which, of the persons depicted, represents Science? I think it is
the one with the sea green skin, but I can’t be sure. Examining
the picture does not help.