Enlightenment, Technology and the Rise of Democracy

Enlightenment, Technology and the Rise of Democracy

The blog of Ken Weiss presents an interesting discussion on evolution of scientific thinking over the last 300+ years.

Adam’s sin and Next Generation Sequencing

He argued that technology and ‘big data’ were always present with respect to the existing knowledge-bases of earlier eras -

Even Darwin used microscopes, global travel technology, and his era’s version of ‘Big Data’, along with globally expanded measures of geological formation and change, to develop his theory of evolution.

…but something changed regarding the role technology plays in our scientific thinking.

The problem, for those of us who see it as a problem, is not the value of the technology where appropriate, but that it first of all determines the very questions we ask (or that being in the science tribe will let you get resources for), and secondly leads to repetitive me-too, ever-larger but often not better thought-out work. The costly imitative nature will reach, if it hasn’t already reached, a point where the incremental new knowledge is as trivial as collecting yet another tropical flower or beetle would have been to Victorians.

When the point of diminishing returns is reached, so is a kind of conceptual stagnation.

Our earlier commentaries touched on some of those points. For example, you can check -

What Is Enlightenment?

Full Cycle of Science in Protestant World

In our opinion, the discussion of Ken Weiss missed a third dimension that played important role in the transformation of science. It is the change of society to full-blown democracy and complete acceptance of the democracy God. A reading of Oswald Spengler’s book, where he presented four stages of civilizations, would be helpful.

When we worked in theoretical physics, we saw a different process of birth of new ideas from today. Many new fields started with some unknown young physicist writing one paper that went unnoticed. Then he wrote another one, which got barely followed by his friends. Three or four papers later (and if he was lucky), an outsider took notice and contributed with his own paper. If everything went well, after almost a decade, the original author could write a ‘Reviews of Modern Physics’ paper summarizing the achievements of him and others. Only then the commoners found out that something exciting was going on. Compare that with democratic science, where we try to judge papers based on their immediate ‘success’ in twitter.

Democracy has got so ingrained in our scientific fabric that we do not realize in how many ways it affects us. As an example, the reward system of scientists is based on government funding, but the government is becoming more and more democratic or crowd-pleasing. Crowd is never pleased with esoteric science and likes to see something of ‘immediate importance’. As a result, scientists either lie in their grant applications (death of Feynman’s rules for scientists) saying that their work will cure cancer, or scientists move away from spending their life on solving esoteric problems. What is wrong in scientists overstating their case in grant applications as long as the work eventually helps the society? It is that the culture of lying allows the entry of ‘social scientists’, who manages to redirect science elsewhere.

Democracy, which leads to short-term-ism, is not consistent with enlightenment science.

Written by M. //