I'd like to preface this essay ( as I've often felt compelled to do ) with a disclaimer - in this case to say I believe that science is a valuable tool, and likewise modern technology, but with serious reservations. Firstly, we can only believe in them to the degree we can believe in the people who practice them, and, like the rest of humanity, some of these people are first rate, and some are dastards. Secondly, we can only believe in them with an awareness of their limitations as guiding forces in life. The reason I say this is that the Western World has, at the present moment, no cohesive worldview. That is, we have no worldview that incorporates reason and factual analysis with the spiritual and ethical aspects of life traditionally provided by religion.
It seems clear that to have a life worth living, our disintegrated outlook must give way to one that incorporates these differing aspects of human life into a whole. And I believe that through a number of modern insights ( particularly those provided by Darwin and Freud ), combined with Platonic philosophy, such an integrated view is now possible. But this latter question cannot be addressed in depth here.
The subject of this essay is, at least in part, Steven Hawking, the influential physicist who passed away just recently. Again, I have nothing against Steven Hawking personally, in fact I have great respect for his courage in facing a debilitating and terribly protracted disease. I hope people will see it's possible to criticize a person's views, or what they have come to represent, without criticizing them as human beings; but based on experience I wouldn't be surprised if, in spite of what I say, some people do take this essay as a personal attack. Be that as it may, as George Orwell said, I'll "write as I please." I don't think a writer who's afraid of controversy can say anything worth one's time. . .
Hawking had been held in very high esteem. So much so that for all intents and purposes he's been held out as an oracle, a sort of modern god. Yet to me, in many ways, he represented everything wrong with modern, technological society. His presentation always struck me as that of a disembodied brain, a mere mechanical utterance, empty of all emotion, of all passion, holding forth from some bloodless nether-world on the great questions of human life.
His voice seemed almost to be the very voice of modern technology itself. Nor, does it seem to me, did Hawking do or say anything to deny or deflect such an interpretation. Among other proclamations he held forth on how we should close all the philosophy departments in modern universities because they are antiquated, and have now been superseded by science. . . Because apparently, they have now been superseded by Hawking himself!
It did seem he was a perfect god for our times - one incapable of touching us, of moving us to any higher state of consciousness, or bringing us even the smallest drop of solace. In his sterile monotone he presided over a universe of neutered numbers. The answer is "String Theory," or "Dark Matter," or as Douglas Adams said so wryly in his novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42! Meanwhile children continue to go hungry, polar bears (along with tigers and too many other species to count) are forced every day closer to extinction, and the world strides on blithely one step closer to destruction. They are answers that answer nothing, that can change nothing, and that is why the corrupt established order, bend only on it's own wealth and self-aggrandizement, embraces them.
We are enthrall to our own self-destructive power, enslaved by the very forces we believe make us great. Let's look at the world today, one dominated by the scientific outlook, and ask ourselves, "Is it the kind of world we'd like our children grow up in?" I believe few of us could honestly say it is. Those who wholeheartedly support applied science and technology would argue that too many people have failed to adhere to that outlook. If only we all complied all would be well. The irrational and destructive elements in human nature are responsible for our decline, in spite of the civilizing influence of science - and there may be some truth in this view, but I believe it's mostly a comforting rationalization.
Firstly, it begs the question. For if science is to succeed as the guiding principle of civilization (and it certainly is put forward as such, whether scientists themselves say so or not) then it must command widespread compliance. Even a small minority of irrational people can wreak havoc with the smooth functioning of a social system based on science. So in this light the argument of insufficient compliance itself becomes evidence the scientific outlook can't meet the exceedingly high standard of a guiding worldview. For if science can't achieve the first prerequisite of its own success - namely, sufficient compliance, then it can't solve humanities problems.
Clearly some contrary aspect of human nature can't be persuaded, mitigated, educated, eradicated, or nullified, by science; and if practicality is the measure by which we judge a system that claims legitimacy through its superior practicality then, here again, we find evidence of failure. This isn't to say that some other existing paradigm is better, merely that science hasn't overcome this impediment any better than religion, or any other founding social principle to date. Yet their influence is so great they've acquired almost godlike status. Whenever people want to bestow upon something unquestioned legitimacy, from a brand of toothpaste to "channeling" alien beings from the Pleiades, they try to wrap the thing in an aura of scientific legitimacy. So if science is what we think it is, why are we teetering on the brink of destruction?
Twenty-five-hundred years ago Socrates said science couldn't answer the only questions he believed mattered to human beings. It wasn't that he didn't believe science could, for example, increase the grain harvest. It was that he saw that the meaning of life could not be determined by increasing the grain harvest. Of course it's good thing to increase the grain harvest (unless resulting increased populations merely become a precursor to greater disaster) but that the search for real meaning has nothing to do with such questions. Science may be able to increase the grain harvest but it can't explain the mystery of being, and it can't prevent some strong man from seizing all the grain for himself, regardless of whether he needs it or not. Science can simply do nothing about greed, prejudice, hatred, envy, narcissism, revenge, or the thousand other human flaws primarily responsible for the misery on this planet. We are the dominant spirits among the only known living organisms in the entire universe, and yet we really know little about the meaning or purpose of life.
Socrates said, "know thyself," and that "the unexamined life is not worth living." That wasn't an inconsequential abstraction. Without self-knowledge (that is introspection, a genuine search for the truth about our own natures, and the meaning of our consciousness) science and technology are useless, because they cannot save us from ourselves. Until we have control of our own psyches, and find a path that satisfies our spirits, we will be driven to acts of war and hatred, and forced to re-live the cycle of destruction and misery that has been our fate since time immemorial.
People demand more of a worldview than an instrument to explain the workings, and manipulate the essence, of purely material phenomena. They demand a means of hope, a means of fulfillment, and even a means of attaining exaltation. The real questions of life - the questions of human relationships, of love, of hate, of loyalty, of the spirit - these questions are not addressed by modern society, and so are now left to a hodgepodge of mostly charlatan spiritualists. And we wonder why there is an epidemic of loneliness, why we have so little real caring for one another, or the other living things on this planet.
In this hyper-technological society billions grope for a reason to live. Given our values we are making ourselves irrelevant. Computers will be able to do everything we now care about better than we can, and judged by these end results, the scientific outlook can be seen as actually insane. Life is worth living, or not living, according to what we believe - according to whether we love, or do not love, or we only love ourselves, or all we do is hate.
In our pursuit of mastery over the physical universe, to the exclusion of honor and spirituality, we've created a species of inverse human evolution worse than the Darwinian principle of survival, and the classical conception of human aspiration has been supplanted by one that elevates men like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove to the highest echelons of society, while so many people of courage, spirit and vitality - the natural leaders in any sane world - are made pariahs, or even hunted down like dogs.
This is no exaggeration. People of exceptional character and aptitude, from such diverse origins as Martin Luther King, Sitting Bull, Bernadette Devlin, Mohandas Ghandi, and Paul Robeson have all been outcasts, or even murdered precisely because they were too whole in mind and spirit to accomodate themselves to the truncated and vivisected condition of modern man. Yet someone like Steven Hawking is accorded the status of a deity! Why? Precisely because he doesn't threaten this inverse evolution that is enslaving modern man; he exemplifies it.
The meaning of life cannot be found in a mathematical formula - in some new technological "marvel," In our search for meaning, and the foundation of a society worth living in, materialistic philosophies fall short. The true seekers - those who stand facing eternity - know there's more here than "dark matter" and the next trip to the shopping mall. Those who've had the courage to truly live, who've stood up to the implacable soullessness of the age, have at best a mild contempt for the pronouncements of men like Steven Hawking. Likewise, the great masses of suffering humanity, who struggle daily with the real questions of survival, will never worship at the alter of science. They will never be satisfied by "string theory" or 42. They know better.
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower