In the present round of the century-old debate between Science and the Humanities, the humanities are a weak opponent. They are not sure of what they are and they do not seem to have much of use to offer. Whereas science looms in the fullness of success; it has made new advances in theory and its technological applications have transformed the world. Yet the sad irony is that, perhaps just because our humanities are so weak, we have been losing many basic humane values of science itself. Having lost our firm credulity about what man “is” and what society is “for,” we have become confused indeed about utility, efficiency, relevance, understanding. The usual admonitions that we must master the machine and become a truly scientific society are by now very impracticable. What would be the criteria of a scientific way of life?

It is not an academic question. In this essay I want to analyze two kinds of confusion that the scientific camp suffers from. There is a confusion between science and technology—this is glaringly displayed by such a spokesman as C. P. Snow in his recent lecture The Two Cultures. And there exists a confusion in both the popular and the scientific mind—though of course differently—between science and what has to be called magic and superstition. Now these confusions are socially disastrous. They cost us billions in social wealth, they damage backward peoples and retard their progress from poverty, they jeopardize our safety, and they distort the education of the next generation.



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There has always been an intimate and mutually causal relation between science and technology. Let me give only spectacular modern examples. It was a problem of navigation that first led to the momentous measurement of the speed of light. The study of thermodynamics, by Carnot, Joule, Kelvin, grew from experience of steam engines, was advanced by working on practical problems of steam engines, and led to discoveries in refrigeration. Darwin’s proof of evolution through natural selection relied heavily on experience of breeding livestock, while Mendel’s studies in genetics have led to endless uses in agriculture. At present the very word “technology” is used not so much to refer to practical arts as to the application of fairly up-to-date scientific concepts to the mass production of goods and services. It would be awkward to call carpentry “technology,” and it would be wrong to call medicine “technology”; but wall-board, canned foods, ship-radar, or the manufacture—and prescription?—of penicillin, are parts of our technology. Marxist philosophers have insisted on an indissoluble relation, if not formal identity, between science and technology, and in a background sense this is true. Especially experimental science would not much exist among peoples who lack elaborate industrial arts; they would not have the data, they would not have the techniques, and they would not believe it important. (But such peoples might be excellent naturalists and mathematicians, like the Greeks; and in social psychology, with its techniques of rhetoric and pedagogy, all peoples, of course, have plenty of experimental evidence—a point often overlooked.)



Yet it is dangerous to confuse science and technology. Confusion arises when contemporary science and the present stage of technology come to exist in people’s minds as one block, to be necessarily taken as a single whole. And the effect of this is that rhetorical arguments for some kind or complex of technology, which indeed has been made possible by modern science, are unfairly strengthened by the moral excellence, the prestige, and the superstition of modern science itself. Contrariwise, anybody who opposes the mass production, the export to underdeveloped countries, or the widespread domestic use of certain machines or technical complexes or therapies, is sure to be “refuted” as an obscurantist, an irrationalist or aesthete, a pessimist or a Luddite. Because the adventure of modern science must be pursued, it is concluded that there are no choices in the adoption of scientific technology. This is an error in reasoning; but unfortunately, there are powerful vested interests in business and politics throughout the world, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, that want to reinforce this error.

The criteria for the practice of science and the practice of technology are distinct. It is possible to affirm that the most absolute freedom and encouragement—including a blank check—should be given to the pursuit of scientific knowledge, and yet that the mass application of this knowledge to industrial arts, communications, medicine, etc. should be highly selective and discriminating, and even, under modern conditions, rather grudging in many departments and in many regions. I wish to affirm both propositions, and go on to suggest some political, moral, and psychological criteria for choosing a technology. (What an odd sound such a reasonable proposal has today!)

My reasons for praising science are, of course, the classical ones, but let me spell them out for the pleasure of it. The pursuit of natural truth is a noble good that justifies itself, like compassion, social justice, fine art, or romantic love; no superior standard exists by which to limit such pursuits, even though the sky falls. The life of research is one of the forms of human happiness. The submission of the intellect to nature is a kind of humble prayer. The scientific habits are positive virtues; and, negatively, science is the chief antidote to illusion, prejudice, and superstition. The adventure of discovery is itself romantic and delights the animal spirits; conversely, any restriction of curiosity and inquiry very soon proves to be psychologically depressing and anxious-making, and morally disastrous, leading to trickery and lies. Sometimes we may fear that, like love, justice, or art, the discovery of truth is dangerous or inopportune; nevertheless we must risk it.

I have not mentioned the final proposition in the classical eulogy: that science is useful, it finds out all kinds of things for the general welfare. Isn’t it strange that just in our times thoughtful people might, on reflection, deny this? “The invention of flight, for example,” says John Ullman of Stevens Institute, “is probably, on balance, a curse.” From Hiroshima on, many scientists, for instance those associated with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, have shouldered responsibility for the spectacularly evil consequences of their work. This certainly does not mean that they give up studying nuclear physics; it does mean that they try to select and control the technical applications.

As soon as we turn to the technological applications, we have left the absolute and are in the realm of prudence and choice, we weigh and balance values, we try to take account of consequences, we realize that consequences are often incalculable. And yet—apart from the recent cases of the bombs and fall-out, some smoke control, and the traditional caution of medical men—there have been almost no criteria in this field beyond cost and marketability! On the contrary, the policy in advanced countries has been “as much as possible of all the latest things,” and the policy in backward countries is now, “all of it, as quickly as possible.” Yet these things determine our ways of life. Ideally we should pay the most serious attention to selecting each particular innovation and to continually reviewing the technology we have. At the least we should be ruthless in calling a halt to the further proliferation of those machines and their complexes that have demonstrably become ruinous, like the cars and roads.



Start with the criterion of utility. To examine it, consider the limiting case of Afro-Asian regions of dire poverty and drudgery, populous and industrially backward. What capital and technicians are useful for them?

The demand of the (Western-trained) leaders in these regions—it is hard to know what the people would choose—is to industrialize totally, on advanced Western models, as quickly as possible, and so attain the American standard of living. The policy to accomplish this may be to concentrate at once on heavy industry, steel mills, machine tools; or less radically, to devote part of the production to native goods for export, to build up a balance of trade. Either way, the policy means hard work without immediate rewards, curtailment of consumption, a stringent and likely totalitarian dictatorship both for work-discipline and for very long range planning, the corresponding increase of the bureaucracy, the enforcing of completely new work habits, the disruption of age-old community forms, occasional famines, sometimes the need to repress tribal revolts. Further, there is bound to be over-investment in immense mistakes; nor would it be surprising if, at the end of the process, much has been created that is already outmoded, and even more that does not, after all, suit the native conditions, materials, and uses. All this could be documented again and again from the history of the industrialization of Russia, China, India, the Congo, etc., etc.

Surely this policy is an illusion sprung from a superstitious notion of what it means to be modern and scientific. Naturally it is abetted by foreign promoters who are interested in exporting pipelines, mining machinery, and paved roads. But also governments and international agencies, claiming to have only benevolent aims, willingly go along with it. Yet if there were no wish to make profits or wield political influence, it would certainly be more useful to restrict the import of technology specifically to the maximum mass production of basic subsistence—food, clothing, shelter, and medicine: to give as soon as possible a self-supporting livelihood. And otherwise hands off! This would be a far cheaper gift, and in the long run would be a safer investment. People would be better off almost at once and then could think up the advantages that come marginally next in order. They could make their own community adjustments to the new conditions. In the production of subsistence there cannot be great mistakes, for people know the values. Less prior training is required. Less is wasted on politicians and policemen; it is more difficult for grafters to take their toll. People come to a higher standard according to their own style and choice and therefore can develop a living culture. And the relation of means and end is fairly direct, so people are not mystified.

For such a policy, the primary technicians required are geographers and physicians, to ascertain the health and resources of each region; then engineers and anthropologically trained craftsmen-teachers and agronomists. (Perhaps even literacy is not so indispensable.) There is not so much need for geologists, metallurgists, etc., nor for economists and urbanists. And no need at all for geo-politicians, promoters, and commissars.

If we turn, next, to our own, the most advanced country, the need for selection is even more obvious, though less drastic. It is now generally conceded that much of our production and consumption is useless, of poor quality, wasteful and demoralizing (although economically, let us remember, 30 per cent of our people live in hardship). Then in discussing the Affluent Society, let us by-pass utility, as a familiar topic, and talk about other criteria.

Efficiency, among us, tends to be measured solely in terms of a particular machine (e.g. gasoline per mile) or in terms of a particular complex of industrial operations (e.g. using the by-products). But if we look at our production more philosophically, in larger wholes and more remote effects, we see that some of our most cherished technical assumptions lead to inefficiency. For instance, by the evident principle that as the unit-cost of production falls, the unit-cost of distribution rises, it is likely that much of the vast technology of food processing and transportation is inefficient. Back in the 30’s when times were harder, Ralph Borsodi showed experimentally that, using domestic electrical apparatus, it was cheaper in hours and minutes of effort to grow and can one’s own tomatoes than to buy the national brands—not to speak of the quality; other items (e.g. wheat and bread) were cheaper not on an individual but on a small cooperative basis; and still other items were cheaper maximum-mass-produced and nationally distributed. My conclusion is not that we ought to produce every item in the most efficient way—we have a surplus and it is not necessary for us to be that efficient—but rather that, since our economists do not habitually make this kind of accounting, our national housekeeping has become slovenly. Because of our slovenliness we fall in bondage to the supermarket and cannot get a cooperative movement going as in Scandinavia; and therefore the quality of our goods is inferior to the Scandinavian.

Similarly it can be demonstrated that, except in highly automated factories where labor-cost is small compared to fixed capital, or in heavy mining attached to its site, for the most part large industrial plants and concentrations of industry are less efficient than smaller ones that assemble parts machined in small shops (e.g., it is cheaper to transport the parts than the workers). Certainly in the layout of our cities, almost any kind of neighborhood plan and community-centered production would be far more efficient than our suburbs and commutation. A more human-scaled production has obvious political and cultural advantages; it allows for more flexible planning, it is more conducive to scientific education and invention. We complain of the deadening centralism and conformity, and we put up with them because they are efficient. But they are inefficient.



We hear rhetoric on the theme of learning to master the machine lest the machine master us. Let us consider a couple of criteria for the selection of technology and the users of technology, that directly address this problem. If possible, the operation of a machine should be transparent and comprehensible to its users. This can be aided by the design and casing of the machine and the education of the users. Consider the important corollary that a machine ought to be repairable by its user. Our present plight is that, in the use of cars, telephones, electricity and gas systems, radio equipment, refrigeration, etc., etc., the mass of people are in bondage to a system of servicemen for even trivial repairs. The servicemen notoriously take advantage of the situation, but much worse is the increasing tendency of the manufacturers to build obsolescence and non-repairability into the machinery. (This is a negative criterion indeed! But it is inevitable that a caste possessing mysterious knowledge will shear the sheep.) Psychologically, we have developed an anxious climate in which we don’t know how to buy because we can’t judge quality. It would be very different if we began to introduce the convention that a consumer must learn to take apart a machine and know how it works, before he is permitted to buy it—much as some of us still frown on an adolescent who cannot fix his broken bicycle. To make an analogy: considering the vast quantity of cars and mileage, there are remarkably few accidents, but this is because Americans have been tested and know how to drive.

Fifty years ago, the twin ideas of Progressive Education (learning by doing) and Functionalism in planning and design, were matured to meet just this problem of making people more adequate to their new technological means, and of molding the new means into a shape and style more able to be grasped by people. Both movements were criticized as anti-humanistic, as abandoning classical education and traditional canons of beauty. But their principle was precisely humanistic, to re-integrate the new scientific specialism with the common intellectual and moral life.

Let me now spend a paragraph on the idea of Functionalism, because it is still not properly understood. The aim of functional design is not to make a home look like a factory, but to find a style in which the homes and factories can be comprehended as one city; it is a classical aim. The functioning of a home will make it look different from a factory, but the practical relation of the home to the factory—e.g. that the men work at the factory—must also be functionally designed, and this will unify the variety in a clear and living expression that the mind and eye can follow with increasing comprehension and joy. As so-called “functional” planning has over-matured and become rotten, however, we find that homes, offices, universities, and factories have all come to look the same and not particularly like anything; while the community relation among them is not designed at all—there is no city but only “urbanism.” What they all do express is packaging for public relations and sales. (Alas! is this the scientific American standard that the underdeveloped regions aspire to?) Similarly, the rotten stage of progressive education has come to teach, not how to test and handle the material and social environment on one’s own terms or to change it for the better, but how to become socialized to it.



Patrick Geddes was a champion of those twin ideals of fifty years ago, and he also advocated a selection of technology. He was in the moral tradition of Ruskin, but himself a scientist and friendly to science. Geddes imagined that history was on his side, for the “neo-technology” of electricity had come to replace the “paleo-technology” of coal and steam. Electricity satisfied the criterion of cleanliness, so that we could reject the ugly black concentrations of the 19th century; and it was easily transmissible to give ubiquitous sources of power, so that we could either reject concentration altogether or choose it for non-technical purposes, e.g. for the culture of cities (the phrase is Lewis Mumford’s). Some of what Geddes hoped for has come about; but on the whole the “forces of history” have not given good planning, in the absence of positive political and moral selection. And by a melancholy irony—history is good at creating melancholy irony—some of us followers of Geddes wryly praise the hideous old slums over the neo-technological slums, for they had more human scale and pullulation of life.

Finally, consider some uncritical applications of science in biology and psychology. The most obvious illustration is the craze for antibiotic drugs. These have been mass-produced and promoted—with a simply fascinating lack of reduction in price—with a now conceded disregard of the organism as a whole. A powerful therapy, indicated for emergencies (e.g. for a dangerous mastoiditis), is used for a quick cure of minor or systemic infections (and a child so treated for numerous earaches may end up deaf). Or, central-system sedatives and tranquilizers are administered that by-pass malnutrition, bad living habits, and bad environment. Meantime, the scientific “untechnological” tradition of medicine from Hippocrates on—diet, exercise, natural living, airs, and places—is quite neglected, and the crucial factor of resistance to disease, the profoundest secret in medicine (just as prevention is its glory), is not studied. Instead, mass-immunity to a host of particular symptoms is the sought-for goal, although almost certainly the optimum possible health of each individual organism is being sacrificed. But the aim of medicine is not, as such, to increase the average life-span of a population—a person can be kept alive as a vegetable for years—but to foster the quality of life. If we want a single word for the criterion of selection here being absurd, it is, perhaps, relevance to the thing being treated.

The irrelevant application of technology to psychology is too rich to cope with, it would carry us away. Let me simply mention a few typical items. Dr. Skinner of Harvard has invented a machine that is useful for investigating responses to stimuli, so it is now at once proposed to mass-produce it as a teaching-machine, although it is quite irrelevant to the chief factors in either teaching or learning. Or, a new computer is installed in Iowa that can score millions of standard tests in practically no time at all, so my boy’s class is interrupted to take these tests, and I predict that the curriculum will be subtly modified for the convenience of the scoring. Or, in a town in Maine a well-financed research project, involving seventeen variables and plenty of work for the rented computer, discovers that boys tend to elect shop and girls tend to elect cooking; the author of the report comments, “We used to think that this was so, now we know.” How shall we name the criterion that is here being violated?

Perhaps the needed criterion is modesty: to have as few of any machines, methods, products (and research projects) as possible. In any region the space is limited; the people are tending to multiply; but the machines and what belongs to the machines have multiplied still more, with overpowering effect. The bridges and roads are more impressive than the rivers they span and the places they connect, but they are less interesting. Most immodest of all, of course, are the techniques of communication that have cluttered up the void and silence with images and words. It is now the rule that books are written to keep presses running, and the more radio channels we tap, the more drivel will be invented to broadcast.

Thus I have touched on half a dozen criteria for the humane selection of a technology: utility, efficiency, comprehensibility and repairability, ease and flexibility of use, relevance, cleanliness and elegance, and modesty. These criteria are esteemed by scientists and engineers; they are common ground between science and the humanities; they do not entail any conflict. Why are they not generally evident in our “scientific” society? I have purposely chosen only large and economically important examples: the type of foreign aid, the planning and distribution of cities, the organization of production, the American standard of living and public health, the methods of education. To repeat, the question of humane criteria in scientific technology is not an academic issue.



Return now to the thread of our argument, the confusion of science and technology and the powerful rhetoric of referring to them as one block. This rhetoric becomes explicit when a group that is interested in promoting a particular technology is opposed. Thus the big drug companies, being investigated for their outrageous pricing and monopolistic stifling of small competitors, have righteously exclaimed that without their methods of mass production and promotion and pricing, scientific research comes to an end—there will be no more Listers and Pasteurs! Equally far-fetched is the uncriticized assumption of all the large suppliers of scientific technology that they alone are the right sponsors, champions, and entrepreneurs of scientific thought and research: this gives them the license to raid the universities for talent, to fill the public schools with their brochures, to influence the appropriation of school funds, to get tax-exemptions for “scientific” foundations that are really parts of the firm, and even to dictate the lines of further research and sometimes actively to discourage “unprofitable” lines of research. In foreign aid and the export of capital, firms that have equipment to sell, and materials and fuels to buy, are wonderfully persuasive about helping backward societies to become modern scientific societies. The Pentagon also is an enthusiastic advocate and underwriter of pure research—though not especially on the genetic effects of radioactive fall-out.

For a couple of hundred years, our proliferating technologies have been selected on the criteria of marketability and profitability, and by and large the market has had some regard for usefulness and efficiency. (But not invariably. Moral economists like Ned Ludd and Coleridge, Ruskin and Ebenezer Howard have been critical for the same two centuries.) In the past fifty years, however, new conditions have developed that are unambiguously harmful. There has been systematic corruption of the public notion of what is useful. (An early typical example was the campaign that put across bleached flour as tastier and more “refined,” since it spoiled less in the grain elevators.) The growing public ineptitude and ignorance, and a growing mystique of technical experts, have made any rational restraint difficult. And finally, by an inevitable reflex, the stream of science itself is channeled and hampered by the too abundant technology that it has created.



This, I submit, is the context of the current debate about education. Then it is dismaying to read arguments, like C. P. Snow’s, from the “scientific point of view,” that completely disregard it. Snow is so puffed up with the importance of science in its technical applications that he fails to ask any scientific questions, or to have any qualms of scientific conscience. Apparently some scientists feel so grand about being on the governing board that they are stone-blind to the evident fact that they are not the makers of policy. E.g., is it by their choice as scientists that scientific knowledge is kept secret? Are they satisfied as scientists that space-exploration has so speedily become a means of spying that Russians and Americans cannot cooperate as well as honorably compete? (It is said that at present our instruments for gathering information are superior, but the Russian rockets can carry more pay-load: now, what would be logical? who is proposing it?) “The sciences,” wrote Jenner—to Paris in 1803!—“are never at war.” This follows from the essence of science as a consensus of all possible observers.

But perhaps this is the kind of wisdom to be got through the humanities.

The fact that just now scientific technology is controlling, abusing, and threatening to devastate mankind is neither here nor there as an argument for how we should educate our youth to make a better world. There were long periods when priests had power, other periods when soldiers had it, and even periods when literary mandarins had it. All of them did useful things and all of them made a mess. So I would propose that scientists think twice about what kind of power they have, what they are cooperating with, and with whom, and try a little harder to know themselves. There is a well-known humanistic technique for this chastening enterprise, the method of Socrates. (Psychotherapy is one of its modern branches.) A little history, too, should be a required course.1



Let us turn to a little history. A hundred years ago when Matthew Arnold was arguing with T. H. Huxley on this same subject, the cultural climate was different not only in that scientific technology had not yet spread so triumphantly over the globe, but also in that England was still somewhat a “Christian country.” Arnold could rely heavily on tradition and sentiment and arguments about conduct and character. Now there is no doubt that in our times “Science” has become the dominant belief of men, replacing Christianity and many other faiths. It is now the scientists who rely on assumptions of tradition, sentiment, and right conduct. I think it is necessary to explore this deeper issue in order to explain the uncritical acceptance of the technical fruits of science; for radically new ways of behavior require profound changes in popular belief (as Max Weber, e.g., explored the new beliefs of the Reformation in order to locate the attitudes necessary for capitalist production and re-investment).

In my opinion, science has become a superstition for both the mass of the people and the scientists. For the mass it has the power of magic. For the scientists it has the exclusive virtue of an orthodox theology.

Roughly defined, magic is the power of affecting material nature by occult means known to a caste of specialists. Let us recall that from deep in the Middle Ages—perhaps earlier—the practice of experimental science was popularly linked with magic rather than with the philosophic quest for truth or the immediate utility of industrial arts. The typical figure is Roger Bacon. People have always had a rational respect, sometimes good-humored, for the savant or contemplative natural philosopher; but experimental science is dangerous in its nature, for if the systematic observation and manipulation of matter can elicit truth, the discovered truth can be used to manipulate matter. And indeed, the early experimentalists were afraid of themselves; for instance, the great alchemists insisted that pure motives and a religious life were essential to the work; and there was a history and literature of charlatans, sorcerer’s-apprentices, and mad scientists.

We have poor memories and we no longer keep in mind that Christianity, at least, thrived greatly by its sacramental magic, its relics, and its miracle-workers; and its present lapse is owing to the brute fact that, over several centuries, it has been defeated by experimental science in a frank and fair contest of miracles and wonders. Science has worked better against plagues, and it has proved to be immensely better at flying and distant communication. As late as the Russian Revolution, a means of trying to defeat Christianity was to take a moujik up in an airplane and prove to him that God wasn’t in the sky after all. (Let me say, moreover, that the fields where Christianity still has pretty good hold of the souls of men are precisely, conversion and peace of mind; for here, Christianity has a few fumbling techniques, like revivalism and prayer, whereas Western science knows nothing and resists learning anything. But the Eastern technologists have invented brain-washing.)

Our hope was, during the Enlightenment, to dissolve all magical fears. Tyrannies and castes were undermined; religion was refuted; progressive education began to be invented; and the claims of science too became more modest (I think that this was the chief contribution of Hume). The climax of this effort against superstition was the amazing synthesis of Kant, who managed to combine Hume and Rousseau with his own background of astronomer and pietist. But the history has turned out otherwise. For political, economic, and technological reasons, magical fears have not been dissolved. The specialist caste of wonder-workers has grown more specialist (and recently less modest), and the rest of the people more out of touch and inept. And of course, given the actual disasters that scientific technology has produced, superstitious respect for the wizards has become tinged with a lust to tear them limb from limb. When C. P. Snow calls this anti-scientific bent Luddite and machine-breaking, he misses the public tone, which is rather a murderousness toward the scientists as persons—it is more like anti-Semitism. (Wiser scientists, like Huxley or Helmholtz or Einstein, have been sensitive to the danger of scientific estrangement, but their efforts of a hundred years to enlighten the people have clearly failed to touch the real causes.)

In one respect the popular superstition of science is more desperate than the medieval superstition of the Church. For in the past, as counter-evidence to what the priest said, there was the tradition of scientific experience and natural philosophy, and especially every man’s experience in industry and agriculture; but now it is just this kind of counter-evidence that is pre-empted by the experts. For instance, our learned physicians are much better, but when they happen to be off on a wrong tangent, a patient cannot escape to his common prudence, veterinary wisdom, or old wives’ folklore. If a man does not trust in Science, in what shall he trust? It was to address just this problem that Kant, again, insisted that, in the university, the faculty of philosophy must stand apart as a critical “loyal opposition from the left” (the phrase is Kant’s), in order to purge of superstition and extravagant claims the other faculties, of theology, law, and medicine, and he would now surely have included engineering.



The overwhelming majority of our modern scientists are certainly not afraid of their own powerful experiments, whose effects they understand better. Indeed, the religious benevolence anxiously demanded of the experimenter by a Paracelsus is neglected even beyond the limits of prudence and common morals. First-rate scientists are today working, apparently indifferently, on fantastically harmful projects that ordinary mortals would shy away from. (I assume that we must take this “indifference” and lack of a position as a profound unconscious dissociation: they are warding off feelings of involvement, whether of fear, guilt, or power.)

To understand our scientists, let us contrast their official modern position with a more traditional scientific attitude that has come down from the heroic age of the 17th century.

The official modern position is that scientists are dedicated to science. Let us spell this out. (1) Science is a self-contained, infinitely self-accumulating and self-improving system of consensus, corrigible only by further science. Scientists are committed to this system and get their satisfaction in its service. (2) The object of scientific inquiry is the truth of nature, but nature is valueless (neutral). Scientists do not love nature. (3) The truths of nature can, however, be usefully applied to human desires; but it is not the scientists who care about these applications, for scientists do not as such have desires; they are dedicated to the self-improving system of science. Nature cannot provide them with goals because nature is neutral. (4) Scientists are not responsible for the use made of their work. They may have sentimental biases, but these do not exert much force on them. The important thing is the chance to work, and all problems provide the chance for equally excellent service. (This does not, of course, preclude feelings of pride when important use is made of one’s work.)



What shall we make of this astonishing theological position, maintained with considerable dogmatism, that began to flower, I guess, in the German universities of the 19th century? It establishes a caste serving an abstracted entity, the self-developing system of scientific consensus. The form of the service is adherence to the “scientific method” and it is very strict, sometimes obsessionally so, as when, in a particular case, no matter how the results are really attained, e.g. by luck, insight, or philosophic appraisal, they must be ritually checked and put in proper form to enter into science. The method is the only sure way. With this goes a detachment from any other immediately human or divine commitments.

The dogmatism is pretty absolute. The fact that certain areas of experience have proved stubbornly unfruitful for the scientific method as we practice it, is not taken as problematic. Rather, sometimes such areas are slighted as absurd or non-existent. (This is when, as C. D. Broad said on psychical phenomena, “The editor of Nature seems to think he is the Author of nature.”) Sometimes, as with morals and fine arts and letters, the areas are compartmentalized off as arbitrary or “emotional,” although quite important—on this view, the emotions are denied any value as means of knowledge (a view, by the way, that is biologically absurd). And very often, as in social studies, problems are piously swamped with busy-work scientific approaches that yield little but, being in proper form, preserve the seamless robe of science. It is hard to think of a single work by a scientist that systematically and empirically explores the failures of scientific method and the blank areas recalcitrant to scientific method. Again one has to go back to Immanuel Kant! But he was not an experimentalist. Finally, with regard to the applications of science, it is confidently promised that the fruits of the scientific method will produce happiness. Evidences to the contrary are not given much weight, and anyway they will be nullified by the further advance of science. For instance, “sin” is now experienced, by laymen and scientists both, as physical and mental disease, corrigible only by further modern science. Understand, my point is not that these prejudices and claims of modern science are necessarily false, but that we are obviously dealing with a rigid orthodoxy and plenty of superstition.

Contrast this with the more traditional view—it could be called natural philosophy or naturalism—that goes back to the Renaissance and is still the abiding strength of many scientists, and that leavens all science. The difference is in the great importance that the moderns assign to the system of science as a self-contained entity to serve, whereas the naturalists conceive of themselves as investigators of a kind of personified Nature, from whom they get their primary satisfactions. Naturalists would not say “nature is neutral,” though of course “she” is beyond men’s petty concerns. They love nature, or are curious, or surprised, or awestruck at finding Cosmos in Chaos. Sometimes they are afraid, like Job confronted with Warhorse and Leviathan, for “nature is red in tooth and claw.” Correspondingly, nature provides goals, and often principles of ethics. By contrast, the excitement of a modern scientist in his confrontation of nature is that of solving a hard puzzle and getting on with the work.



Scientific “objectivity,” then, can mean two different things: For the naturalist it is non-attachment and holding back, in order not to disturb the object of his absorbed attention—though he may have experimentally intervened to put the object in the proper condition for his attentiveness; and the fruition of his action is perhaps an insight or theory that unites him, as if orgastically, with the object. (The type is Darwin, gazing long hours at the bee and the flower.) But to the modern scientist, objectivity is the detachment, necessary for accuracy, of the good reporter or scout, whose satisfaction comes from dutifully bringing home the true account to headquarters, to add to the system of science. (But of course it is the experiment that is reported and not the “object,” for the object is what is indifferently whirled and banged. I take it that this is the philosophical meaning of the Principle of Indeterminacy, that it is not the “object” that is reported, but the interaction of the apparatus and the object. But why not of the experimenter, the apparatus, and the object? This is the crux of the matter.)2

The heroes of science, ancient and modern, have of course been lively men, men of the world, or savage men, or childlike men—one thinks of Newton playing, as he tells us, with his colored pebbles on the shore of the endless sea. Much of their spirit, and the love of nature, exists among our scientists and engineers. I do not know what the relative proportion is—it is an empirical question and perhaps testable—but my hunch is that the norm of our contemporary dedicated scientist, especially in the bureaucratized universities, foundations, and business and state offices, is more like the old scholarly monk or priest: obsessional, puzzle-solving, ritualistic, and with a detached kind of objectivity. I do not mean that the dedicated scientist is an Organization Man, for he has a real subject matter; he is not just filling a role. But the bother with such types, socially, is that they rarely have enough inner vitality to withstand being exploited by fanatics or dictators or brigands. Whether we think of Germany, or Russia, or our own country, our modern scientists do not loom as especial exemplars of manly honor.

But whatever the scientists mean to be and are, many of the technological products of modern science do have the following characteristics: they have been worked up in a spirit detached from ordinary uses; they embody knowledge increasingly far from ordinary experience; and therefore they are imposed on society and compel people to move and work in ways strange to them. The machines that people use are, effectually, canned rituals. Perhaps it is necessary for most scientists to continue as priests of the system of science; but if so, their detachment, and their puzzle-solving, will continue to saddle society with life-complicating, indirect, and essentially irrelevant and boring products. Naturally human beings are adaptable and malleable, and they manage fairly well to go through the song and dance of our industrial and other technological systems. But this is not a desirable state of affairs. People can be socialized to scientific technology, but they are not at present adequate to it—nor is much of it good for anything. Therefore they are conformist and superstitious.

Surveying the high schools, Dr. Conant of Harvard concluded that only 15 per cent of the youth were “academically talented” enough to take “hard” subjects, sciences and mathematics. Then something is wrong. And of the 15 per cent, we may be sure, the majority are merely dutiful passers of tests, good at manipulating symbols, but without feeling for the causes of things. They are not scientists. If this is what is meant by a scientific society, the world of the “new scientific revolution,” as C. P. Snow calls it, I cannot see the advantage of it, either for mankind or for science.



* * *

My argument has been that we live in a climate of superstition, where a dogmatic and obsessional caste of scientists imposes rituals on an ignorant populace living in a low-grade anxiety of magic. In this climate it is possible to proliferate without restraint a mass technology selected not on moral or useful criteria, but for the advantage of the powers that be. And these powers further exploit the scientists to the detriment of science.

What then do I want? What am I after? For the immediate future, four simple things. I want our scientists to dissociate themselves from the military that is abusing them and to appeal to their Russian colleagues to do the same, so we can have peace. They can and do communicate; and my guess is that an agreement among a couple of hundred of them could exert an effective pressure. I want the scientists to regard the development of the regions of poverty in the light of what is humanly advantageous for those peoples, with a less uncritical acceptance of our own technology as the ideal; and in our own country, to be more circumspect about whom they are working for, and on what. Finally, in the allocation of time and funds for education, I want the scientists to throw their influence on the side of a course and method of education that will break down the barrier between science and the humanities and begin to dissipate the climate of superstition, instead of the present proposed program of apprentice-training, which will make it worse.



1 Let me say that I myself have never been able to distinguish between “science” and the “humanities”—perhaps this is my blind spot. The reasons for the absolute autonomy and even preeminence of science, that I listed above, are all humanistic reasons, they are what belong to a whole, free, risky human existence. The moral criteria for selecting and refining an industrial society, that were listed above, are common to scientists and humanists, they are philosophic. If scientists do not think in these terms about technology, it is that they have lost touch with common sense; if humanists do not think about technology at all, it is that they have become withdrawn and therefore stupid. But finally—and this is a point that most scientists and many modern literary critics are singularly unaware of—the chief content of literature is itself scientific, it is the worldly wisdom and “criticism of life” of good observers who, in the field of human relations, had plenty of empirical experience. If the classics of literature do not much state summary propositions like studies in sociology and psychology, but rather have the complex density of poems and plays, it is because the subject matter of human conduct requires this density of statement; it is notoriously missed and distorted by less concrete language. The interpretation of literary statements is the job of humanists, using the tools of historical criticism, linguistics, poetics. Certainly it is a subtle, difficult, and often vague business; but I don't suppose that anybody in his right mind ever thought that the science of man would be less complex than physics or biology. Just consider how the idiomatic use of a language, so judged by the consensus of millions of users of the language, must give us far more experiential evidence for what is the human case than could possibly be gathered by the trivial samplings of sociologists and psychologists. (I take it that this was the great re-discovery made by Wittgenstein in his old age, and since developed by the new school of linguistic philosophy.)

2 A fairly close analogy to the theology of modern science is the old Augustinian theodicy, the notion that the history of the world is a process unfolding the City of God, and that it is the part of a Christian to inhibit or otherwise detach himself from natural experience, and to imitate the abstract patterns. In the analogy, the self-improving system of scientific consensus is like the unfolding of God's purpose. The psychology of both scientist and priest is objective and obsessional, frowning on spontaneous responses and rejecting other methods than the proper ritual service as essentially irrelevant if not wicked. Both nobly propose Truth and Beauty as absolute aims and models, and promise happiness for mankind; but these goods are attainable only through strict observance. Most important for our purposes, however, is what these groups give the world: both give forth matter, sacramentally improved. The Church, having a religious background, exerts mainly psychological influence; whereas science, having a basis in industrial arts, has produced our technology.
Perhaps there is not only an analogy but a historical continuity. We can trace the Neo-Platonizing (and sometimes Gnostic) theodicy deep into the 17th century, where it influenced major thinkers like Leibniz. Let me make a speculation. In the heroic age of science, the scientists were in rebellion against the ritual order and turned, as natural philosophers, to personal contact with personified Nature. But when science combined with the “Protestant ethic” and became bureaucratized, and then became the dominant system of ideas, the theodicy and its service again came to the fore. Certainly the transformation from “idealism” to “materialism” in which the revolutionists of the 18th and 19th centuries had such high hopes, has not mattered much for true believers.

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