Most people have been following the historic landing of Philae on 67P. As an ardent follower of the physical sciences, I am not a believer of coincidences. However a series of abstract and seemingly random events in the background of this monumental event made me doubt my beliefs.
Event #1: Like most of the world, I followed the ESA’s historic landing of a probe on a comet with giddy pride and for a rare moment, felt honoured to be present in this time period.
Event # 2: I found myself watching a talk by Slavoj Žižek on the philosophy of thought which resulted in getting myself in a mixed state of confusion and clarity.
Event # 3: Having had my fill of philosophy, I went back to see the latest developments of the Rosetta Mission. As I surfed articles on the ESA, I was disheartened to learn that the European Commission had scrapped the Position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the EC president, the evening before Philae landed on 67P.
The Chief Scientific Advisor was a recently created positon that offered advice on trivial issues like Climate Change, GMO’s, nuclear power, abortion etc…The small stuff. The office is not involved in policy making, just in informing policy makers on what the science says.
The fact that this Back-to-the-Dark ages policy move of scrapping the CSA, was done in the backdrop of the Rosetta Mission is poetic injustice.
At the same time some of the phrases uttered by Žižek ricocheted in my mind. He had spoken about the analysis of thought and how by breaking down the base reasoning of the human ideals that is found in a democracy, we can find the true motivations of our actions. He went on to say that the once we understand the source of these ideals, we can then define a branch of philosophy and manifest these ideals as political policy, economic action and social structuring.
Philosophy and Science
Philosophy and the Physical Sciences are not two subjects that are often uttered in the same breadth. Although both subjects belong to the realm of academics and are based on analysis and experimentation, the methods of deduction adopted by its practitioners greatly differ in nature.
At first glance the physical sciences seem like the most logical and sensible of the two subjects. The breadth of the physical sciences is spread over the entire observable universe. Every element of the physical sciences can be observed, scrutinized, broken down, destroyed and recreated on occasion, in order to prove a hypothesis or discard one if proven false. Introspection, criticism and competition are rampant, ensuring the rightly disappearance of quacks and pseudo-science in exchange for a true discipline with scientists who can confirm their findings with verifiable facts. Indeed Physicists, Mathematicians, Chemists and Doctors are to be heralded as discoverers who pick at nature’s threads in order to show us the beauty of her entire tapestry. As Richard Dawkins rightly said, “Science is the Poetry of Reality”.
Philosophy on the other hand is an intangible subject. Created from the minds of men, it is a subject that is uniquely relegated only to the way the mind of our species works. The origins of its creation are unclear whilst the destruction of a thought is a time consuming process, adulterated by beliefs and superstitions. It is the extension of ideas that are based on observational biases and their interpretations are subjective to the observers. Each ideal is transmogrified, as ideals are nothing more than abstract thoughts whose explanations could be diluted by language.
However, in spite of this unambiguous distinction, the subjects are closely related. The physical sciences and philosophy both have the tendency to build upon themselves, till the fine lines that demarcate one subject from another eventually become part of the same complex concept. But apart from this element of commonality, it could also be said that philosophy has leverage on the sciences.
While the physical sciences are based on observable facts, the act of searching for these facts is based on our curiosity. Without curiosity, there would be no need to experiment, no need to discover and no need to force change.
But where does this curiosity come from? If we reserve ourselves to our species, then we realise that a person’s level of curiosity is directly related to the environment in which they grow up. Extensive studies and examples have shown that, not only is Eugenics a pseudo-science, but the environment in which a person is immersed, greatly affects their accomplishments, intellectual drive and risk taking mannerisms.
It is based on our environs that we develop a system of discovery, a system of belief and a system of education. It is this system of learning that ultimately defines the way that we look at our origins and how we measure ourselves. Taking this viewpoint into consideration, philosophy ultimately defines how we base our outlook to scientific discovery and thus political policy.
Getting the probe to fall right
What distinguishes humans from other species of this biosphere is our ability to create technology. The recent Rosetta Mission is a testament to this statement. But as technology begins to grow at exponential rates, the philosophical studies also need to grow and adapt to these changes. As more of technology enters our lives and we launch more Rosetta Missions to quench our interstellar ambitions, we will soon be faced with an evolutionary stampede in which man will question his outlook towards life and the society he wishes to create. This society ought to be based on changing ideals and influenced by a new culture that will enable us to transcend as a species.
It is here that philosophy plays a role…It is the instrument by which we can give direction to this change and enable us to channel our curiosity free from prejudice, superstitions and falsehoods of a bygone era. It will enable us to think objectively and look at our environs in order to understand every element of it and to do so in a collective way replacing competition with collaboration.
In light of these arguments, the scrapping of the CSA’s position seems almost contrary to progress. How are the politicians elected by us capable of making informed choices at societal level if the cruxes of their decisions are based not on tangible consequences but on political agendas? Dismissing the CSA is tantamount to dismissing the only educated guess in the formulation of a consequential action, thus augmenting our risk to the unjust tyranny of chance.
As the EU furthers its ambitions to grow, the underlying ideals and the measurement methods used to gauge their success need to come under scrutiny from the people who uphold its values. This implies that the ideals, the perceptions and the philosophies that govern this democracy need to be in the hands of those who believe in sustaining its future, and that their actions should resemble these ideologies.
Breaking down the dogmas of philosophy and creating new ones will help us in building new ways to think. Without the risk of thinking individually and objectively, the chances of discovery are reduced and the verity, splendor and wisdom that can be revealed by the physical sciences are at risk of being lost rather than gained with the passage of time.