As collective entities scientists and their science have used, over the course now particularly of the past three centuries, laws and theories which scientists have discovered, plus them using understood reactions and responses of chemicals, physical changes, forces, materials, and suchlike; And all this science is wholly based on a greater or lesser degrees of certitude for these theories and laws. They have been applied wherever they have been applied however as if their efficacy were certain of and being universal, and ubiquitous, even though the ranges of strengths of certitude for these theories and laws are various and many of them in use being not so well-established.
Thus they represent broad generalisations based nearly all of them on the logic of induction for their soundness for effectiveness, and fitness for purpose. Induction as logic is susceptible to levels of probability – for instance – because the sun has risen every morning for past millennia, this tells us that the probability of it rising again tomorrow morning is extremely high. But because no-one has fully tested say a newly discovered medication, the probabilities of this medication being effective or of doing harm or of giving unwanted side effects is very much open to future experiment and observation; and so therefore the probabilities for it becoming a standard treatment are at present much lower than that of tomorrow’s sunrise.
And so there exists a gap between intent and performance in any application by man of that science he has “captured” and “harnessed” to serve human needs in daily life. This gap is not just, say, that of the low efficiency of a steam engine locomotive compared to that of a diesel one, although this phenomenon may be related to the gap I am envisaging. This gap is a gap which is to be perceived by use of a deductive logic, and this is a closed and assured certain logic when the premises for the deduction are also true, and this is in opposition to the more loose reasoning of induction.
This gap then is that difference which can be well instanced by using division arithmetic to demonstrate its necessity, and the resultant untidiness in its effects can be further elicited from us using such an analogy. Some whole numbers cannot be factorised without one having remainders left over. All prime numbers are of this kind. Those numbers which factorise without remainders we can parallel with natural reactions seen in their effects and phenomena at work; at work without man’s deliberate interference or harness around them. Nature has no ‘ulterior motives’ in the way that man plans for his use of natural phenomena in his science, and so furnishes his purposes. Occurrences in nature ‘just happen’.
Those primes, which are numbers that cannot be resolved into factors without having always remainders (e.g. 31 is a prime and can be factorised into 3×10 and 1 left over or else as 4 x7 and 3 left over and so on, and always something left over). These leftovers run parallel in our analogy to those gaps between an abstract universal and ubiquitous approach to their application, as against the actualities of their application by man. All of our scientific understanding entails this shortfall from abstract absolute efficacy. The ubiquitous usage of these applications in practice is always carrying rather more than merely their several designed purposes and intended effects.
If one could measure this gap, by say creating or suggesting a unit of quantity or quality to suit the gauging of difference between “the cup and the lip” of this abstract universal ubiquity assumed for the application of science, and so pin down these necessary shortfalls, we would have a ruler or a set of scales or such which could be used to record precisely these gaps. As I have said, the actual application of scientific practice means a differential is always the case
Just as certain items of clothing are labelled ‘one size fits all’, in this sense, so is our science, as applied. Just as one brings home ones new piece of clothing and it looks outrageous on you, so applied science also offers parallel unwelcome results. True that the garment does manage to ‘cover your nakedness’ and science applied likewise does manage to ‘serve our needs’; although neither of these attainments is wholly satisfactorily achieved.
Again another parallel is to be found in latter-day war zones. A party in arms might send aircraft to drop bombs and so to kill and maim people indiscriminately. There’s nothing other than a very general target for most bombs. Nearby might be a team from Medecines sans Frontiers at work and very specifically busy upon individuals wounds to repair and heal them and put people back into ‘working order’. This parallel illustrates the absurdity, the crass mindless destruction of warfare, and the painstaking care needed in great amounts, merely to piece together again just a little of the damage caused quickly and wantonly by warfare.
Isn’t our use of scientific understanding just like this? It is as indiscriminately in use as is bombing in warfare. And those working against the heaving tide of universal ubiquity are like Canutes and the encroaching tide, the Medecines sans Frontiers teams.
Here enters our concern for The Isle of May and its puffins. May is a Scottish island, and it is a nature reserve most particularly ahaven for seabirds. For 20 or more years now enthusiasts have been working hard to reinvigorate the numbers of puffins nesting and breeding there. Theirs has been and continues as being a direct intervention into a natural decline in numbers, so as to rebuild those numbers up deliberately and somewhat artificially. Here then is the team of Medecines sans Frontiers for The Isle of May’s puffin populations; excepting that this puffin team is attempting “righting a wrong” caused by unatttributable causes; perhaps by the Hand of Man somewhat; perhaps by the natural way of things mostly?
This Isle of May endeavour is a typical David and Goliath combat of the kind science loves to take on.
The abstract universal and ubiquitous understanding of the usage of scientific theories and laws in practical applications is greatly exacerbated by the mass production and the largely standardised manufacture of these appliances being made, sold and used.
This is that ‘any colour you want as long as it’s black’ offer which many such items in use bring with them. This utility glozing over of a true understanding by scientists, of the fact that their laws and theories are not to be deemed 100% good and suitable for application – for what else can they do indeed but assume this as a given fact? – as further worsened by mass production and standardisation of goods and services presents itself as being another great weight on a monolithic steamroller of a means of exchange engine, which flattens, for good or for ill, all that gets in its way.
This fact does mean of course that some unexpected, unseen, unforeseeable effects arising out of these gaps might really and truly be on the whole beneficial; but even this ‘beneficial’ can only be said to be limited to an area or ambit, and so it may well be of no avail or even negative elsewhere.
And this localisation of these effects, as being intended, unintended, seen, unseen, foreseeable, or not, is at the heart of our actual usage of scientific apparatus and appliances.
We have standardised mass produced items at work and running piecemeal – here there everywhere; it is ubiquity within particularly. Is there a worse recipe for disaster than this prospect, caused by a massive preclusion to us being able to take effectual remedial measures against the fallout from the fact of these gaps I spoke of earlier? So as to turn the tide on the dispersed and pixelated effect of this distribution on the gaps, as it is embodied by each discrete working appliance and device, and so on, and on a global-scale?
David slays Goliath, and it is a great pity that we as a people generally don’t have that same depth of faith that the Lord will provide for us also.
Across the globe, and despite research publications and joint ventures, data sharing, and the Internet; among people of science (and others), there are perhaps tens, hundreds, of thousands of tight island citadels whereabouts are separated pools of scientists at work on a narrow specific range of problems and ideas. Following leads, but notably ones which normally are different to any other pool’s in a significant way, having some angle; and also quite often in competition, even more often under confidentially, and so in a race.
Little scientific work is done today without a utility motive being behind its motivation.
This again presents the same piecemeal stonewall effect via a huge number dispersed isolated centres of works, so that for us to try to better their collective net unwelcome effects, presents an unscalable barrier to us. Even the guys working for good on The Isle of May have little idea of their work and its effects upon the broader environs beyond their remit. They probably have little grasp of, nor even have heard of much, other than the details of their local pursuit, and maybe just some modicum of sympathetic connection with likeminded workers elsewhere. They probably don’t give much thought to the idea of looking to see how puffins fit into a much larger picture. Theirs is a small succinct theme of ecological work, strictly delimited, and it is their life’s passion.
Here now is Autolycus, tinker, pedlar, thief – a character in Shakespeare’s penultimate drama ‘A Winters Tale’. In the drama he travels from village to village bringing to the peasantry sackfuls of ‘knickknacks and gewgaws’; dazzling to unsophisticated eyes, wavy glittering tinsel trimmings for sale; whilst at the same time he is slitting the bags of purses and robbing among his enamoured clientele.
Autolycus is like the scientist, because should any scientist stop to think, s/he would know well enough that the items s/he develops and applies and passes to the manufacturer to mass produce, that these items have an ecological and environmental cost, an invisible, at present seemingly invincible, price tag, maybe unknown in quality or quantity, and of distant to very local proportions, yet s/he is happy to push forward anyways.
Just like Arthur Miller’s character Joe Keller in the drama “All My Sons”, figuratively we are making and selling, invisibly, aircraft parts known to be fatally flawed. We like Joe are not willing to foot the psychical, the ecological, the practical bills, on our somewhat haphazard scattered appliance of science.
So, what’s to be done?
It’s clear to me that we are not to be aiming at done and dusted solutions; that more realistically we should be aiming to be nipping in the bud and heading off at the pass, taking every rat-run, and leaping every hurdle, so as to shape up and meet collectively a set of modestly graded but continuous, reductions. These will be reductions in what might be termed gap interferences in our lives and on our planet, and this being done over the process of time passing. But are we going to be beating the clock – and the clock will not get ahead of us?
How can we know until disaster is on the doorstep? What is there to be done?
I’d point out that it is not a matter of coming in at the other end of the problem, with science as our shield and the sword or lance in our hand; and thereby aiming to reduce emissions or to process offsets of carbon etc etc, by use of science – and this kind of thing. This sounds to me very much like The House of Satan divided against itself; excepting that the Fall of that House will be heavily and ultimately onto humanity and will possibly destroy us.
Instead of fighting the problem by use of the items which are causing the problems, a sit were, throwing good money after bad, we would be better to begin tackling the problem of us having creating using wanting too much science; and so reducing measuredly our reliance on technical and other machines and processes altogether
The self-evident action then which can be done to improve things is for us to choose better our applications for science, those tools and appliance sand processes which we develop and which are ‘too costly in the size of their fallout and/or in their durations for fallout activity. (Of course radioactivity is both long lived and severely acute as a problem; especially when accidents have happened like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. It’s a good metaphor for our build-ups and backlogs of attritional reactions and consequences coming of late from the natural world and against us because of our unrestrained unrestricted meddling.
So, less science, and selective science, low level fallouts, smaller gaps, thus reducing the global footprint of human degradation of our environment; and I do say also, of our standard of quality of life.
Case in point; emotionally-speaking at the least; recently in the UK self-test DNA kits have come onto the public marketplace. The fact is perhaps not material here, but yet of interest that these kits have been giving a lot of false positives to women checking whether they hold a certain gene liable to be concerned in early onset breast cancer. What I myself felt was a danger, a risk, is that these kits being used in determining parenthoods; and I thought of how many households they might have potential for breaking up and for setting people lifelong at odds with one another.
As I see it DNA kits over the counter and offered without prescription are a very poor idea – the huge and powerful sufferings they are able to cause, and in the case of women’s breast checks, their results having poor reliability anyway, seem far too onerous to warrant their open sale. They are on open sale simply because they are not unlawful to be sold openly like this, and because there exists a sufficient demand for them. Wherever, whenever, the conditions of lawfulness together with a consumer demand strong enough warrant meeting, – that is a profitable level of demand, – there will be offered for sale anything at all that is able to be a service or manufactured
My suggestion that we should delimit the items we choose to develop and apply science to, would cut across this free market liberty which is allowing anything to go on sale which is lawful and in adequate demand. But it’s not censorship I ask for necessarily.
Our electronic skills and technology might be put to the use of polling us all (who have a PC) to put to us decision-making on what we develop and apply science to current, novel, and next-level, non-staple items. All decided by majority vote
At least then we get what we ask for, and have only ourselves to blame