I haven’t had a chance yet to listen to the whole of Kim Stanley Robinson’s talk at Duke, but what I’ve seen so far is very good. I’m more posting this here so I have a reminder to watch the rest once I get home, but nothing is stopping you all from enjoying it now.
science is a Utopian project; it began as a Utopian project and it has remained so ever since, an attempt to make a better world. And this is not always the view taken of science because its origins and its life have been so completely wrapped up with capitalism itself. They began together. You could consider them to be some kind of conjoined twins, Siamese twins that hate each other, Hindu gods that are permanently at odds, or even just a DNA strand wrapped around each other forever: some kind of completely imbricated and implicated co-leadership of the world, cultural dominance–so that science is not capitalism’s research and development division, or enabler, but a counterforce within it. And so despite the fact that as Galileo says that science was born with a gun to its head, and has always been under orders to facilitate the rise and expansion of capital, the two of them in their increasing power together are what you might call semi-autonomous, and science has been the Utopian thrust to alleviate suffering and make a better world.
There is a bit farther in where I have to disagree — he equates science with a new kind of religion. I understand why he’s making that argument, but I consider it lazy thinking; it’s like saying a car is a horse, because they share some basic function, but at some point in the transformation of a concept, you have to stop and say, “Wait a minute…this is something new.” Both a car and a horse may be useful for transportation, but a car is not a horse: we have a very different relationship to the two, their prevalence bends culture in very different way, their differences are far, far greater than their similarities. In the same way, Robinson can say “It’s a religion in the sense of religio, it’s what binds us together. It’s a form of devotion: the scientific study of the world is simply a kind of worship of it, a very detailed, painstaking, and often tedious daily worship, like Zen,” but that glosses over the fundamental differences. Science changes the world and our understanding of it in ways that religion cannot.