The history of modern science is relatively new, starting 400 years back with Galileo, Copernicus and Newton (Adler, 2002). However in this short duration science has made unprecedented progress and advancements, completely transforming the manner of our living. Scientific progress has followed an exponential path of growth, with the number of new discoveries and technological innovations in a century exceeding the cumulative total of previous achievements.
This progress is evident in the quality and scale of life that has changed more in the last one hundred years than it did through all the thousands of years of earlier progress of civilization due to application of scientific knowledge that has been accumulated over the last three centuries. The impact of science on society has been tremendous, fundamentally and completely transforming every facet of civilization; Agriculture, medicine and health care, telecommunications, transportation, computerization, social life and so on, everything has been fully reshaped by powerful forces of scientific progress (Carlisle, 2004).
However, despite these staggering leaps of technology and industry that has brought incredible power, comfort and conveniences the critical attributes of life such as happiness, peace and agreeable degree of satisfaction are yet eluding a large proportion of humanity. The utopian hopes that development of science would finally end all the misery and bring the age of peace and prosperity failed to materialize, notwithstanding the impressive strides of scientific advancement (Adler, 2002). While the pace and panorama of life expanded on a numbing scale, it failed to prevent or avoid conflict and create a harmonious order in the world.
For example, there is no countering the fact that two of the most catastrophic wars in human history have taken place in 20th century itself, in the very cradle of exalting scientific achievements (Carlisle, 2004). There has not been a decade since 1900 till date when world has not seen a major war, or when the levels of violence has shown signs of reduction (ibid). The technological power in human hands promises greater prosperity, but it has also delivered greater violence, global tensions, widening tension, and newer diseases.
One of the major drawbacks of modern scientific advancements is that it has surged ahead with such swiftness that there has been hardly any time for introspection, retrospection or reflection on the path through which it is moving. Unconcerned with moral and philosophical questions, at times scientific advancement purely follows the principle of objectivism, where it ‘s focus centers on mere achievement of results- the consequences and results of its action did became immaterial before the goals pursued (Barnett, 2000).
While eulogizing technological advancements, it is worthwhile to remember that it is the same technology that enabled us to develop nuclear weapons- the ultimate objects of mass annihilation. Industrial technologies producing refrigerator, air conditioners and innumerable other products released toxic gases and polluting materials that destroyed ecology, disrupted environment, created a hole in ozone layer and exposed world to dangers of global warming and climatic change.
Genetic engineering and stem cell research have promised revolutionary solutions for myriad of severe medical complications, but the power of genetic technology has many unseen attributes that may insidiously affect the visible world. The directionless growth of technological advancement has equipped us with new power controls but the discretion to use that power cannot be determined by technology or science.
It requires a measure of self-control and discipline that has been so far missing at both the scientific and societal levels (Barnett, 2000). However, to say that scientific advancement has caused only problems and miseries would be too medievalist an attitude, and one that is completely blind to the reality. The world of today in itself is a testimony to the momentous achievements of science where every human action is an attribute to some or other product or service that exists due to scientific and technological advancements (Carlisle, 2004).
The problems of humanity are not caused by supersonic aeroplanes, supercomputers, and genetic technology, but because there is a lack of understanding on the role of science in life and the psychological tuning that is required to understand the meaning and implication of scientific advancement. Seen from a philosophical perspective, science is a path of knowledge that attempts to logically and rationally understand facts of world, and in the process discover order and intelligence of nature around us.
Science is not entrusted with the objective of producing technology-technology is the application of scientific knowledge; the aim of scientific advancement is to discover the truth that already exists in the nature. Scientists like Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Rutherford and Einstein are considered great because they studied the nature deeply and arrived at truth that was always present but concealed from world (Crowley, Schunn, Okada, 2001). Thus the real scientific advancement is about expansion of knowledge, broadening of perspective, and expansion in vision.
Gadgets and instruments are mere tools of technology that itself change with the fads and needs of time. Once world was awed with the technological wonders of steam engines; today it is equally awed with computers and cloning (Carlisle, 2004). In the transition from steam engine to computers, scientific advancement has opened up new vistas of knowledge and understanding that have been used as platforms for further progress-material, and more importantly, intellectual
Today human beings have knowledge gained by science to decide the exact kind of application they may need to make the changes that would improve their conditions. In this regard the modern generation is the most fortunate of all the generations, where it has almost unlimited powers to decide its own fate and charter it’s independent course. 300 hundred years ago, the world was critically dependent upon natural forces for majority of its requirements and even to a great degree for its survival. A famine could wipe out millions of people, diseases like plague and small pox could kill more than a third of Europe’s population.
Today there are no natural epidemics that could simultaneously threaten survival of a million people in one sweep (Crowley, Schunn, Okada, 2001). It’s true that diseases like AIDS yet lack a permanent cure and cancer is still the greatest horror in the medical field, but the fact that emerges out is average age of people all over the world has increased by 15-30 years and many erstwhile developing countries have performed impressively on scale of human, education and economic fronts- the two most relevant examples being China and India (Carlisle, 2004; Barnett, 2000).
There is no denying that scientific discoveries have led to technologies that have produced weapons of fearful magnitude-from nuclear weapons to biological agents, but scientific knowledge has also helped to create the communication web in the world, that has brought people together from different parts, helped them to interact, understand and develop a bond of togetherness (Barnett, 2000). As a closing remark it can be said that the scientific knowledge is intimately tied with our wisdom.
Wisdom allows differentiating between the destructive applications of scientific advancement and constructive power of scientific knowledge. Science, or scientific knowledge, per se does not set standards of right and wrong- for example it would not ask a scientist to use nuclear technology for generation of electricity and not build bombs- but what is critical is the scientific spirit that values principles, and applies moral and ethics in their scientific quest.
Carlisle, R. 2004.Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity–From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven. : Wiley. : Hoboken, NJ. Adler, R. 2002. Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation. Wiley. New York. Barnett. S. A. 2000. Science, Myth or Magic? A Struggle for Existence. Allen & Unwin. Mahwah, NJ Crowley, K. Schunn, C. D. , Okada, T. 2001. Designing for Science: Implications from Everyday, Classroom, and Professional Settings. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, NJ.