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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 The steam engine held its own for a hundred years as the dominant form of transport, to be superseded in the next fifty by the motor car; within the last twenty years the jet plane has again revolutionized travel.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 obsolete?

(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.

   
  Questions
   
  1. (a) What does the author see as the essential difference between China and the West in their approach to science ?
       
    (b) What reservations or criticisms of the West's approach are implied in the opening paragraph ?
       
  2.   What are the flour basic principles of scientific method as explained in paragraph 2 ?
       
  3.   Explain what the author means by 'the speed and sophistication of this technological advance are constantly accelerating' and explain how the examples he gives illustrate this.
       
  4.   Explain the meaning of the following words as they are used in the passage.
      concentrated; conduct; adjust; dictating; foresee
       
  5.   Use each of the following words as it is used in the passage in a sentence of your own which clearly illustrates this meaning. Your five setnences should not deal with the subject-matter of the passage.
     

inevitably; isolated; evolved; fundamental; challenging

       
  6. (a)

How does the author suggest that a scientist might compare the success of democratic and non-democratic forms of government ?

       
    (b) Why will such an experiment never take place ?
       
  7.   The author sees benefits but also dangers and limitations in the pursuit of scientific materialism. Describe these benefits, dangers and limitations. Use material from paragraph 3 to the end of the passage. Write about 150 words.
       
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  Answers
       
  1. (a) Whereas for two hundred years the West has regarded scientific discovery as a means of producing material things for man's practical benefit and comfort, China has always placed value on scientific discovery, and therefore on knowledge, for its own sake.
       
    (b) The implied criticism of the West's approach is firstly that of materialism and secondly of over-practicality.
       
  2. (i) The first principle of scientific method is that everything is a fair subject for examination.
    (ii) The second principle is that all scientific discovery should be recorded in terms of the various accepted means of measurement.
    (iii) The third principle is the expounding of a theory to fit the known facts and explain them.
    (iv) The fourth principle is that of testing the theory by setting up an experiment. If the expected results follow the experiment the theory is thereby better substantiated.
       
  3.  

The development and complexity of these applied sciences continue at an ever-increasing rate.

 

Steam as a motive power dominated the industrial and transport scene for a hundred years, the petrol engine for fifty, and the jet aircraft for the last twenty, so the time lag in producing radical advances is constantly decreasing. the same applied to the use of tools. Their application increased productivity tenfold; factory lines greatly enhanced this productivity, which in turn has been dramatically increased by the use of computers.

       
  4.  

concentrated - focused

conduct - organize

adjust - adapt

dictating - controlling

foresee - visualize

       
  5.  

If you are convicted of a serious crime you will inevitably go to prison

She lived in an isolated house in the country, far from neighbors.

In some countries democracy has evolved without revolution.

His fundamental problem is lack of money; a loan might help to solve his immediate problems.

The idea of working in a third-world country is a challenging prospect.

       
  6. (a) The scientist could select two countries which are much alike and examine them both according to certain criteria. One is democratic, the other authoritarian. Each country would be assessed as to the standard of living of ordinary people, school, college and university efficiency, and the amount of crime committed, among other yardsticks. The results would indicate which political system is the more desirable.
       
    (b) Such a judgment would never be acceptable because political systems are rooted in history, because people are averse to change, and because many people rely on the continuation of the status quo. The results of the scientific analysis would also be embarrassing. Also, the ethos of the country would defy scientific evaluation.
       
  7. The benefits resulting from the pursuit of scientific materialism have been the proliferation of useful gadgets, such as various sophisticated means of transport, communication, and visual imagery. the modern car and aircraft have made travel quick and easy. The organization of factory production has presented society with a wide choice of goods.

The obverse of this coin is that new technology is rushing ahead so fast that as mankind becomes used to one set of new things, so a new set follows on its heels. The adaptability of people is limited, and the process having achieved its own momentum is now uncontrollable. Man is in danger of becoming the servant of the machine, so that he himself may become irrelevant.

Scientific materialism is limited in value in that innovation is becoming the exclusive realm of experts; its implications are unforeseen; it has no bearing on the true quality of life. ( 150 words )

     
           
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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