Science, Lost in Translation?
Presented by Prof. Harold KROTO
Type: Keynote Lecture
Fluency in a language is fundamental to an understanding of any culture and the struggle to develop the language of the Sciences, mathematics and related symbolism, proved to be unnaturally difficult. In fact Science was born around the time of the 16th Century as a consequence of a new philosophical approach which required evidence for the validation of all claims without exception. This way of thinking suddenly uncovered the fact that the common-sense attitudes that are necessary for basic survival are actually quite unreliable when it comes to understanding how the Universe works. So Natural Philosophy, which is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any degree of reliability, was born. The Enlightenment was the byproduct of this philosophical breakthrough and Science its Prodigal Son. From the moment of birth this philosophy has engendered conflict with those who claimed authority, and indeed still hold great sway over society, on the basis of unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable dogma. This conflict continues to this day as mystical and other dogma-based attitudes are intrinsically impervious to rational argument and will, almost certainly, lead to serious consequences for the human race in the future. Science, arguably the most influential factor in shaping the modern world, has been so incredibly successful that most no longer need even common sense (at least in the developed world) to survive. Although there have been negative consequences most people would feel that society has in general benefited greatly from the application of scientific advances ie Technology. However this very usefulness has obscured the fact that Science, aka Natural Philosophy, is actually a supremely cultural, intellectual and, most importantly, an intrinsically ethical activity, particularly with regard to deciding what is or can be true. As so few people are mathematically literate it is not surprising that there is little real understanding of what Science is or how scientific advances are made. This is a dangerous situation as this illiteracy applies to almost all politicians and administrators who have responsibility for making socio-economic decisions involving scientific and technological matters. Furthermore The Enlightenment, which can only survive in a democratic environment, is under threat as those who arrogate their power and influence through dogma, mystical dogma in particular, are conspiring to drag humanity back into a Second Dark Age. There is only one hope and this resides in a massive global educational offensive to improve the general level of knowledge and thinking. Although knowledge cannot guarantee good decisions, common sense suggests that wisdom is an unlikely consequence of ignorance. Fortunately there has been a major advance in that the birth of the Internet offers the second most important advance in education since the invention of the printing press. I would argue that Wikipedia is an amazing example of what can be achieved. Our GEOSET programme (www.geoset.info see also www.vega.org.uk) is a related project which aims to harness the efforts of educators via the Internet in a synergistic exercise to improve the knowledge and understanding of people wherever they are in the World and in particular help teachers achieve this end.