Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our lives are being outrun by Science and Technology

In meditative observance of the 73rd anniversary of the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan  

Dr Abe V Rotor

Left: Atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Right: Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, taken by Charles Levy AP

On August 6, 1945, the US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, following up three days later with another bomb on Nagasaki. As per records, approximately 80,000 people were killed directly by the explosion of the atom bomb. Another 35,000 were injured and maimed for life. By the end of 1945, another estimated 60,000 people lost their lives under the impact of harmful radiations emanating from Little Boy. By the end of 1945, Little Boy had killed more than 1,40,000 people in Hiroshima, which turned into heaps of mangled concrete and metal.

In our age of modern science and technology, of automation and computerization, of globalization and space travel, will we finally find peace and prosperity? 

I proceed by presenting to you two challenges posed by our increasingly complex scientific and technological world.

The first challenge is to keep up with the pace of scientific and technological change. At its present rate, we are virtually grappling with the pole vault to cope with the leaps and bounds of discoveries and inventions which are pushing us to change our ways, and our very lives. It is no longer us who dictate science and technology; it is science and technology that dictates us.

The second challenge calls for a conventional approach. It is to find the means with which to cushion the impact of rapid change of science and technology on our lives by clinging on some anchor of values. If we have a choice of priorities, of looking back at history and tradition, or by simply standing rationally firm to what is good not only to us but for all mankind, then we just can not become easy victims of “progress”.

Our lives are being outrun by Science and Technology
In so short a time – virtually just within a life span of many of us in the elder generation - the world witnessed three important unprecedented discoveries which have changed human life and our society forever. There is no turning back now. Science and technology marked the milestone of no return, a point of irreversibility as we race for industrialization, and plunge into the “third wave” of progress

The three scientific breakthroughs are

1. Splitting of the atom (nuclear power, atomic bomb);
2. Invention of the microchip (electronics, computers); and
3. Cracking the DNA code (Human Genome Project, genetic engineering).

The applications of these breakthroughs cannot be overemphasized. as we witness today or in the near future the following:

1. Man’s landing on the moon;
2. Information highway via satellites and the Internet;
3. Cloning and genetically modified organisms (GMO);
4. Universities without walls (distance education);
5. Robotics and nanobotics (microscopic robots);
6. Frankenfoods, (modified foods);
7. Test tube babies, menopausal childbirth;
8. Gene therapy and immunotherapy;
9. Extended life span (now 78 years on the average to 140 by 2500); and
10. Cryonics or human hibernation, which prepares man for space travel.

We just can not be bystanders, an advice as old as the Renaissance, when Shakespeare said, “The world’s a stage, each has a role to play.” We are participants in this “modern” drama of life heretofore known only in fiction.

Virtually there is no place to escape from our high tech world. Imagine life if there were no cell phone, cable TV, video-games, malls, hospitals, e-mail, solar watch, MRT/LRT, ATM, and the like. And if we think about today’s process in making many products we use everyday - from ball pens to cars – imagine computers and robots at work in place of man.

Scenario: You are awakened by a quartz clock. You switch on the light, tune in the TV or radio, take a bath, pick up the phone, cook breakfast, read the morning paper, dress up, take the elevator, drive the car, etc, etc, etc. All this is not surprising to most of us.

But hear this. The milk you drink is genetically modified (human embryo hormone was injected into the cow to produce more milk), the corn flakes you eat comes from BT corn (corn with a gene of a bacterium – Bacillus thuringiensis), your potato and onion are irradiated for longer shelf life, your lettuce carries a trace of dioxin, the deadliest toxin ever synthesized, your tuna carries a residue of mercury, the microwave emits rays that are not good to health, the paint in your condominium contains lead, plastic deteriorates and you may not know you are absorbing the by-products, synthetic fabric is the cause of your allergy, there is nitrate (salitre) in corned beef and in tocino, MSG (sodium mono-glutamate) in noodle, aspartame in soft drinks, sulfite in sugar, potassium bromide in bread. And the list goes on, ad infinitum.

Again we ask, “Where will all this lead us to?”

Well, read again Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into the night” purporting everyone to become vigilant and not settle into comfort and take a license for freedom. It is the road often trodden. Why can they take the less trodden?

This masterpiece reflects an experience the boy Dylan had one Christmas. He was given a beautiful book that told him everything about the wasp, a relative of the bee. Everything about the insect - except “Why?” And the boy wondered, “Is this all?” Rage builds up the more we ask “Why?” – and we find no satisfactory answer.

Does it strike you sometimes that knowledge – even the knowledge we obtained from the university - does not bring true satisfaction - much less enlightenment? It is because our education, especially in science and technology, emphasizes the “How?” rather than the “Why?” Instead of searching for meaning we are searching for causes, or cause-and-effect. As we study phenomena we seem to underestimate the question, “Why?” which is the foundation of values.
Search for life’s meaning or values on a historical perspective

Maybe it would be good to our searching mind to reflect on life’s meaning or values on a historical perspective. Consider these

1. Socrates model, the right to seek, to awaken from ignorance. (birth of the university)

2. Communal enterprise which gave the vitality of the Renaissance, brought West to conquer the East (colonizing and civilizing)

3. Voltarism – “reach for knowledge and share the experience of civilization”. (Post-Alexandrian concept of one civilization, one world)

4. Enlightenment spawned by the French revolution (birth of democracy and nationalism)

5. Capitalism-consumerism, the world is a global village (economics today).

We have been disciples of Voltaire too long, believing that the greatest achievement of mankind is civilization. We do not dispute that civilization is a prerequisite of progress. But recently we began to raise disturbing questions.

Before going farther let me interject a tale of B. Traven, The Treasure of Sierra Madre which is reminiscent of an earlier story, The Pardoner’s Tale by Chaucer. In both tales, the plot is about men who meet by accident and join together in search for gold. They take mortal risks for one another in their community of search. But when they find the gold, they are filled with suspicion and end up fighting each other - and losing their treasure in the process. This syndrome still haunts us today.

Now let us consider these issues.

1. Two world wars, nuclear armaments, unending armed conflicts

2. Domino effect spawned by super economies which toppled the lesser economies (Asian crisis) 

3. “How the Other Half (of the population) Dies” (a book exposing inequitable distribution of wealth, as the reason of mass hunger and poverty, by Susan George)

4. “Silent Spring” (a book by Rachel Carson, an expose’ of deadly chemicals, specially pesticides, which are destroying wildlife and the environment)

5. Pollution, global warming, Ozone hole, which are consequences of man’s quest for a better life through industrialization

6. AIDS, drug abuse, broken homes, erosion of values

7. Mass poverty, widespread ignorance

8. Destruction of the ecosystems

9. “You do not find sacredness anymore,” Time

10. “Death of privacy,” Time and Newsweek.

The deleterious by-products of today’s science and technology exacerbate the problems of mankind. Paradoxically, science and technology have not successfully eradicated the ancient scourge of mankind – disease, poverty and ignorance. While man may have a grasp of history and his society he has apparently lost control of his destiny. ~

             Hiroshima and Nagasaki in ruins and today 
(Internet Photos)

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