Nothing like Science
(1) Since the eighteenth century, the scientific thinking of the West has concentrated on
the application of scientific research and resulting inventions to practical uses: this approach
has resulted in an astonishing variety of things which are supposed to increase the 'standard
of living'. It is instructive to compare this philosophy with that of China. During their millenniums
of history, the Chinese have made many discoveries. But for them, knowledge itself is the
important thing. For example, they discovered the magnetic compass; but it was Western
mariners who used it for steering ships which extended their empires over the globe. They
discovered gunpowder and exhibited it in fireworks for rejoicing; the West employed it in war.
(2) The philosophy of science by which we conduct our material affairs has four basic
principles. A scientist may - indeed should - enquire about anything. The results of his
enquiries should be recorded and, as soon as a way has been found to do so, recorded in
quantitative terms such as weights, measurements, wavelengths and so on. As a result of
these observations, the scientist will set up a hypothesis to explain the facts he has recorded
and measured, if he can devise an experiment dependent on this hypothesis and its results
come out as predicted, then he can be more confident that the hypothesis is correct in its
explanation of the facts.
(3) In the twentieth century we have increasingly come to accept the benefits of this
scientific approach to certain aspects of our lives. On the material plane it has given us some
remarkable things, and the number and variety of these scientific products are for ever
increasing. For instance, there are steam engines, bicycles, motor cars and airplanes,
telephones, telegraphs, radio and television. The speed and sophistication of this technological
advance are constantly accelerating. The steam engine held its own for a hundred years as
the dominant form of transport, to be superseded in the next fifty by the motor car; within the
last twenty years the jet plane has again revolutionized travel. Simple tools have always
enabled one man to do the work of ten: then industrial mass production increased the
effectiveness of his output by many times, and today's computer-controlled processes magnify
it by thousands. It is sometimes difficult to avoid the feeling that this continual innovation is
spinning dangerously out of control. Can human beings adjust to constant changes which
technology is forcing on them? Are machines dictating our lives and making man himself
(4) In a world dedicated to scientific materialism, it is important to recognize its limitations.
Millions of men and women now earn their living from scientific pursuits, in research or
manufacture. As the mass of detailed information increases it becomes more and more
technical, special words are invented to describe it, and inevitably each branch becomes
intelligible only to those experts involved in it. The man in the street, baffled by the jargon,
becomes isolated from the science around him. And how many of the scientists themselves
understand the wider implications of their work? When Charles Darwin published in 'The
Origin of Species' his theory about how animals have evolved their various species, he little
dreamt that the book would bring about a fundamental questioning of Christian belief,
challenging as it did the account of Creation given in the Christian bible. When Rutherford
split the atom, or Nobel invented dynamite, did they foresee to what uses their research
would be put?
(5) What do we do with the extra time which jet-travel gives us, or the leisure which
computers promise, or the longer lives which the conquest of so many diseases offers to an
increasing number of human beings? And what can science do to help solve political problems?
For instance, it would be possible to examine scientifically the relative success of democratic
and non-democratic forms of government by comparing their results in terms of, say, prosperity,
freedom from criminal activity, educational levels and so on, in broadly comparable countries.
But history, prejudice and vested interests are too strong for such a revolutionary application
of scientific method: it would be too revealing, possibly. Has the scientist anything to tell us
about the beauty of a rose or a symphony? Beauty which appeals to the eye and the ear is
beyond the reach of analysis and measurement, though science has, indeed, a beauty of its
own - an intellectual beauty. Truth is beautiful. The dispersal of error or the glimpses of a
new and unexpected harmony in Nature have, for the scientist, a thrill equal to that of a great
painting or a golden sunset. Who can decide which beauty is the more enduring? Perhaps
that is the dilemma of the twentieth century.