With the rapid pace of scientific advancement that we’re seeing in the world today, I’ve been wondering if it’s all a good idea.
The field of memetics says that these sorts of ideas will spread themselves regardless of whether they’re good for humanity or not. I can think of quite a few examples of technological advances that don’t seem to benefit us at all (chemical and biological weapons come to mind) and that got me wondering about the moral obligation of scientists.
Should scientists make moral choices about whether or not to continue the research they are doing? How would such a choice work? It’s quite a complicated question. Take Einstein’s nuclear research, for instance, if you were to ask the population of Hiroshima if that was morally acceptable research, they’d say no. On the other hand it has lead to clean(er) energy for the world and even the atomic bomb has had the consequence of making large scale wars impossible. The answer to the moral question of whether or not a given scientific breakthrough will be good or bad for humanity must lie in the sum total of it’s consequences on our society… but how can anyone be expected to know all (or even most) of those? It’s impossible.
Scientists are also largely removed from the practical execution of their research. That rests with the large corporations that fund them… and that makes sense to me. I don’t want scientists to spend large amounts of their times dealing with business pressures, marketing and all the other capitalists bullshit… they’re scientists, they must concentrate on the science. So it’s the corporations that should be making moral choices about what scientific avenues to pursue? Now that is scary!
I suppose that any big new idea will be a catalyst for change in society and it is that change that has the most dangerous potential, change is always dangerous (just ask the dinosaurs).
I don’t see us throttling our technological advancement any time soon and I’m not sure that we should… We’ll just have to hope that our greatest evolutionary power – our adaptability – will see us through the dangers and changes that we bring upon ourselves.
“As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying.” – Arthur C Clark