I believe the song title was “She blinded me with science” by Thomas Dolby in 1982. OK, so I’m old, it was a great song.
That’s not what I wanted to talk about today but it’s a great way to start a post. I’m currently reading a book about what to expect from physics in the next 100 years and last night I was reading about science. The author points out that science is the one thing that establishes and vitalizes civilizations. Once a civilization abandons science it starts to decline.
Two great civilizations of the past that flourished were the Chinese and Ottoman empires. The Chinese empire lasted for almost a millennia and brought us paper, the printing press, the compass and gun powder. The Ottoman empire almost claimed all of modern Europe and brought us algebra, produced advanced optics and named the stars. Meanwhile in Europe, things were not so bright (It was the dark ages… pun intended).
So what happened? The Chinese empire build a huge navy in 1405 and started to explore the pacific. After 4 large expeditions and many discoveries, they did not find a civilization to conquer so the Chinese lost interest and let their navy rot. They turned inward and the rest of the world passed them by.
The Ottoman empire started to decline when the Muslim scholars of the time interpreted knowledge to mean only knowledge of religion. As a result Muslims replaced the study of Science, Math and Medicine with debates about Islamic teachings.
At about the same time in Europe, the great awaking was taking place. The power of the Church was weakening and Universities were moving away from religious studies in favor of Science, Math and Physics.
So the answer to the question “What Happened” seems to be clear, ignoring science is a sure fire way to encourage failure.
We are not at a stage where we ignore science, but some sciences are clearly at a disadvantage in North America. Stem cell research is one that immediately comes to mind. My daughter just graduated with an honors degree in Biology and she shakes her head when she reads some of the arguments against certain types stem cell research. At the cellular level, all stem cells can become anything independent where they came from. It seems that a lack of understanding coupled with religious views are forcing research off shore.
History has proven that mixing science and religion doesn’t end well, but we are a short lived species destined to repeat our own mistakes. As a scientist it warms my heart to read how the success or failure of a society rests in the hands of scientific minds.
We just have to make sure that those minds have everything they need to succeed.