The Balloon of Science and the Ignorance of the World
November 25, 2017
Our achievements in science are a paperchase after diminishing returns – the more startling the achievement, the more of an actual achievement it really is, the greater, the more appalling, are its consequences for humankind; and the paperchase is thus started which perpetually is gathering up its flying debris and which aims to allay its aftershocks.
I expressed to my friend an idea that scientific advance is rather like a huge balloon inflating; and the territory within the balloon is our scientific safe-harbour; that place wherein science works in our favours in daily life and in practical ways – ways ranging from the ballpoint pen to the Silicon Valley complex.
As the balloon inflates which represents more scientific advance of mastery over the natural world, so the punctures and leaks appear and become ever more and bigger as the balloon continues to be forced ever larger. (We shall come later onto why and how the balloon is forced ever to grow in size; for now I merely want to describe the balloon image as a parallel analogue to the pursuit of scientific knowledge and its practical applications)
The tears and punctures which arise in the skin of our balloon as it is ever inflating, arise because there has been imperfect knowledge of the actual science mastered, an imperfect knowledge which carries its own kickbacks which act to rupture the balloon.
(Israel when The Twelve Tribes finally entered The Promised Land, failed to abide by God’s word to them which commanded them that they should destroy, kill, every occupant of that land when they marched to victory in battle over them. The Israelites did not kill all those members of the settled peoples whose land they conquered, nor even did they displace them all into other lands. In fact they lived alongside a number of them with a result that some intermingling of bloods by marriage and procreation was a result over a period of time.
Let us not regard the wrong and the right of God’s commandment to the Israelites, or of the Israelites’ failing to abide by that commandment; let’s just note that had Israel in its invasion committed what we now call genocide utterly on those peoples it conquered, there could have been no mixing of bloods. This logically-speaking would have been excluded as an option for a fickle future to arrange in its good time.
Let the Israelites, in the first case, be committing a total genocide, let this be like scientists having perfect knowledge of their discoveries and inventions; and let in the second place, the actual fact of Israel not abiding by God’s command and thereby leaving some invaded peoples alive after their conquest, let this be like when scientists act and do their science, discoveries and inventions without them having perfect knowledge of their masteries.
The mingling of bloods then is the equivalent of that imperfect knowledge of scientists, specifically that part of their works which they did not fully understand and which thus are active in their works as rogue elements of it, and they are at work, and, necessarily so, without their effects having mitigating or controlling factors built in – working as it were, as if ‘free radicals’, and thus in the course of their practical outcomes eliding themselves like an adulteration into, seeping, weeping, into the fabric of what scientists had assumed to be a fait accompli, a scientific triumph over natural causes and effects.
On the other hand, had there been a total genocide, which equates with a total knowledge by scientists of any scientific endeavour or application, and of all its causes and effects, there could have been, and necessarily so, no elision or seeping or weeping of ‘unknown free radicals’ into the now wholly closed system which science had isolated securely so as to forward human ease and betterment)
Thus these loose-ends of lost causes and chilling effects offer every time their unforeseen knock-ons which I term, a little dubiously, ‘free radicals’ and they inevitably are loose ends which accompany all scientific practical applications and manufactures and tools and appliances and products – ranging from every washing-machine to every space station, from a steel pin to a Pantheon dome.
Surely the post-modern intellectual is unable to argue against me by him or her denying the statement that there is no such thing as a perfectly sealed system at work in the environment in regard to nature herself, and also, crucially, in regard to any practical application of science. The idea of applied science itself implies that there are always emissions, or dissipations, or complications and combinations agoing on whenever nature ‘is harnessed’ by men and women, and moreover, that these were knock-ons which were unforeseen, maybe often, given the state of knowledge at their inceptions, were unforeseeable, and that these unpredicted, maybe unpredictable, knock-ons for the most part are most often detrimental to life and to the environment, acting to degrade these, and to do harm which is often irreversible, or at least which is extremely hard to contain and manage.
These unpredicted degradational knock-ons are our punctures and tears in our ever enlarging balloon of scientific mastery over nature, and are arising as our balloon inflates, moreso and moreso and of a course. Some tears are huge, like the atrocious ones named Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then there’s the human error ones at Chernobyl and at Three Mile Island, or the purely unfortuitous unfortunate ones such as the BP oil-spill offshore of Florida, or a better example, the resultant subsidence across the South Wales Valleys due to extensive geographical and chronological intensive coalmining beneath vast areas of urban housing development. There are also the atrocities in China and in USA and in Egypt and in Turkey, and in former USSR, and the list goes on – and on – all committed in the name of such boons as hydro-electric power, and there is the careless botch whereby occurred drainage of huge lakes and fisheries in the Caspian Sea area, and elsewhere there are lands the size of Texas made barren and waste by a cocky human hubris to exert power over nature in whimsical expectation of unalloyed beneficial results.
Just as every human generation learns for itself about life and about any wisdom a life lived might obtain; this which essentially is over-sanguine presumption spurred on by an over-sanguine complaisance, abides and thrives; and it is that any current generation believes it will not make the mistakes as did its fathers and mothers. And yet the very thought of avoiding such errors stands out as being a major act in any current generation’s repeating the mistakes of preceding generations. It may be permissible to say, although it might sound far-fetched, that it is these veritable loose-ends and knock-ons and their natural scope for unknowingly allowing the opening up of open-ended humanly-crafted systems of scientific application, which unknowingly to us wreak unforeseen havocs upon us. It might be permissible to compare such a situation to the human situation whereby each successive generation thinks itself better-prepared for life and endeavour than were former ages.
Such a comparison might point up the fact that many of these punctures and tears in our permanently inflating balloon of scientific mastery which are occurring continually and in ever greater numbers and size, that these ‘loopholes’ of ‘free-radicals’ come about so often, and take the the shape of knock-on effects so ubiquitously; that they can be sourced at bottom as originating from this very same sink of overconfident sanguinity and human complaisance by which every present generation considers itself to be amongst those whom Job calls to saying: “I see that you are the people, and wisdom will die with you” .
Thus as we push back the barriers to scientific knowledge making our balloon, our mastery over nature, ever greater in its influence and extent, we are pushing back not merely a physical geographical area within which we have hoped to hold dominion, nor merely just a virtual area within our heads or else via our sensory observations; but we are also attempting to push into the future, ever further, like a rabbit tries to open up an increasing distance from the car headlights approaching it. The common phrase for this in our journalism is ‘mortgaging the future’. But this phrase says nowhere near all.
As a race of humans in this predicament we have no options on the table but to keep on keeping on along this route we have chosen for ourselves. Let me talk a little about my visit to a beautiful county town in The West of England called Hereford. I went there yesterday. What is going on there expresses excellently well in microcosm the whys and the wherefores which explain how we have given, are giving, are happy to allow, ourselves no options other than to keep on keeping on in the same sad ways. Truly we are in the grip of a man made maelstrom.
Hereford is a microcosm of the British economy; as is more or less any medium to large city in Britain today. And Britain’s economy is the epitome of economies around the world which are attempting ‘going global’ in a big way.
In Hereford is a ‘Greenwich Village’ type are which is provided with many many shops which sell high-end delicacies and trinkets; in short nothing that is necessary to sustaining life. This sector of Hereford, which is of a considerable size – say five or six acres of area, is booming, thriving, and many shops compete with one another to bring in a portion of the well-heeled population of the city to buy what I myself would call utter junk.
The retail prices asked are high; so high as to exclude the likes of myself; I could not spare so much on a thing that does nothing except perhaps look good in a bay window. Thus one can infer the demand for such things in Hereford must be there and present in a high degree. The persons who frequent this sector and buy are often easy to spot because of their sumptuously grand attires and couture. They are of the kind of person who does not realise how extremely privileged they are.
Behind in the lesser streets and away from this gorgeous locale and precinct, Hereford shows itself to have another darker side, whereabouts workaday retailer outlets selling groceries and kitchen utensils and electrical appliances and so on are either closed down or else dilapidated premises. The other side of the tracks. The people here are shabby and by comparison scavengers for their livings and daily needs.
Of course the high-end items sold are considered very desirable, and hence their costliness – whether they are scarce or not in nature or as crafted or processed items I just do not know; although I have seen ridiculous things selling for ridiculously high prices at such venues. A piece of driftwood, or a piece of scrap metal worked up into an ornament, which is called ‘upcycling’ here. Very little real hours of work have gone into these things, and even less artistic or tender care into creating them. They stand on their novelty value, on impulse purchases, although there are also workers in metal and jewellery makers who put more into their things, yet who still charge far too much.
The British economy is reckoned by latest figures to be 80% services. Of this 80% most is retail and of this retail most is this junk and high end stuff found at swish Hereford. We buy food and clothing here too; but we have so much money (some of us) that we spend more on such junk high-end trinkets than we do on food and clothing. And we treat our purchases of them like “the grasses of the field, which is green today and tomorrow is cut down and thrown into the fire”. We buy and enjoy the novelty – maybe for as little as a few days – then it goes in landfill or is sold off on eBay or else junked in a secondhand shop. The levels of attrition on careful work hours in the case of jewellery and metalwork; and on resources which sometimes are extremely scarce like gold or like lithium are, is of no consequence to those who live in this ‘throwaway’ luxuries economy dreamworld.
These high end items then have built-in obsolescence; built in not to their fabrics and compositions but into their purchasers’ minds. Nothing means anything much – it is all replaceable because tiresome after a short while of having had it.
Britain is a degenerate and ailing nation; of have and have nots; the haves having lost the plot with too much to spend and the have nots so deprived that they do not know how deprived they are, or what they are lacking so as for them to become something like fully human by them attaining or obtaining.
And is not this the State of the World today – the people who have things are in large part ignorant and indulgent in their habits, minds and lifestyles – the people who have very little are hardly visible on anyone who counts’ radar; I mean anyone who counts by any worldly measure of them. And this is the great problem we face in the world today; it is not depleted resources or human social inequalities; these are the symptoms of our great problem. Our great problem is that we lack empathy for one another; and often we lack empathy because one class of ignorant person passes by another class of ignorant person (thus the have and the have not pass each other by) like ‘ships in the night’, and they pass as having absolutely no idea of how this passer by alongside them lives, thinks or feels.
They just do not mix much – they live in the same nation in the same cities but rarely ‘cross over’ to see one another pass by. I made a joke recently about how Sir Winston Churchill was thought never to have boarded a public transport bus in his eighty plus years lifespan; and this sour joke is a pretty good gunge for how we live now here in UK. We do not need ‘Gated Communities’ we merely price out the classes of people we don’t want to socialise with; or else we display so much scabbiness of décor and maintenance in our dress or our properties that no self-respecting ignoramus from the wealthy classes would enter in and so “abandon all hope.”
Like colonies of primates we huddle together each in their comfort zone communities comprised of the appropriate social rank. Safety in numbers. Safety in known quantities. Safety in not extending themselves, or risking something for nothing (returned to them in the eyes of the world).
And the global vision is to make a whole world after this model – to produce high-end (misnomer ‘added value’) goods which sustain the exorbitant levels of prosperity in wealthy people’s pockets, whilst allowing an underclass of have nots to scrape and scavenge for livings on scant incomes. This underclass are those factor workers in Bangladesh whose building fell on them – yet we stil buy their clothes at our fashion outlets and which the making of killed them. The underclass are those Chinese workers who kill themselves as a result of an onset of depression caused by long working hours and tenuously insecure livings on depressed wages. The underclass are those men and women one sees in shops here, on a Friday evening jamming up the tills with queues for lottery tickets – a dream going nowhere – and buying ten or twenty perhaps more chances to lose money for no returns. The same people will smoke tobacco and other substances; will buy in drinks and get out of their skulls every weekend; will buy expensive cable TV services to access Premier League football games, etc, or spend more than they can spare in a nail bar or sun lounge or hairdressers every week.
All of these commodities are handsomely taxed by government, so that much of government income comes from these close to beggars amongst society; a huge number of them – a great underclass of funding providers for government; who are encouraged to be so feckless but yet the ill health they suffer in later life as a result of such a lifestyle, is a stick for politicians to beat them with as a reminder to the better-off classes that these underclass people are incorrigible.
Thus the resources of the world are accelerated in their consumption by way of the disposable nature of scarce luxury resources, their throwaway value once their novelty expires. Thus economies are being ramped up and overheated by such shallow and facile consumer ethics; deliberately so; and so to keep the levels of prosperity high for many – were we just to stop doing what we do the effect would be a collapse of our ways of life. This were it not for the terrible suffering, of hunger and of deprivation which would occur everywhere, and that it would cause, may be no bad thing – allowing a turnaround, a new start, and maybe a far better world?
Science and practical applications of scientific knowledge are merely a significant part of this social dysfunctionality which we are living out right now; and are not the whole of the story. Our behaviours economically are also, similarly to science, not able to hold in and to contain all the mental and physical effluents and bad odours which they are creating; in respect of one person against the next person, in respect of mad and rapacious rapine in the processioning of non-renewables in particular, with the noxious wastes their processing emits, produces. Our behaviours, ignore our neighbours, lose sight of all empathies, reinforce ignorance and small mindedness, and allow us to be utterly contented for the most part with our parlous and predatory grasp on the reality of the world.
Science not only supports such stupid behaviours, there is also the economics of science, as we have created these, or else have allowed them to arise, necessitate these stupid behaviours, unless we volunteer to accept there being by design a great global collapse of the commercial consumerist vision and so clear the decks and try to start anew a finer vision of life leading to something better.
My own finer vision of life is simply Jesus Christ – had it not been for Jesus Christ there would be no alternative vision for life, of power and of breadth, of robustness and of the right human temper which might else be put forward as a desirable and practicable possibility. I heard a guy on the radio saying harsh words about a slot on the news magazine talkie programme each morning called ‘Thought for the Day”. Essentially it is a religious slot; but because of ‘present circumstances’ it is frequently hijacked by people peddling their own wares of Red Indian sayings and of the power of crystals. Nonetheless many of these peddlers are without knowing it halfway to being Christians; for which I wish them well on their journey.
The bad-mouther of the ‘Thought for Today’ slot said that he felt so tiresomely dreary when men and women came on the radio telling their stories which all say the same dull thing that ‘if everyone was nice to one another, then the world would be a lot better than it is now’.
This same bad-mouther chap would do well to resort to St John’s Gospel and take a lesson there; (Chapter 11 verse 47 and following) where is borne a record that:
“The chief priests and the Pharisees formed a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”