Quora – importance of science

Quora – Is the advancement of science the most important thing in the world?

By itself, no, and it is part of the picture.

Science in and of itself is neutral, it is what we choose to do with it that matters.

And understanding science, particularly the depths of the complexity of the evolution and stability of complex cooperative life like ourselves, is a big part of the picture. The commonly understood notion that evolution is all about competition couldn’t be more wrong in respect of organisms like human beings.

At our level of complexity, it is far more accurate to say that evolution is all about cooperation, and of course it is far more complex than that, as we all have many levels of cooperative and competitive systems within us, and to a good first order approximation, the cooperative are far more important to our existence than the competitive. And that is a deeply complex set of understandings.

We as a society face many levels of profound threats to our existence.

Our current technological society is based on several different sets of systems.

In terms of energy, we are reliant on oil currently. A liter of oil can perform the mechanical work of a man working an 8 hour day. So our current systems effectively give most of us hordes of mechanical slaves working for us. Unfortunately, that particular set of technologies is not stable, and must be replaced very soon if we are to avoid the dislocation of having most of the worlds cities and coastal agricultural land under water due to human induced global warming. Technical solutions to that problem are not difficult, but none of them work within the current economic way of thinking about things – which leads on to the next issue.

Our current economic system is based upon markets and exchange, and thus cannot give a positive value to anything that is universally abundant. This gives the perverse outcome that in a market based system, eliminating poverty by creating systems that deliver all that everyone reasonably needs actually leads to bankrupting the system.

If all that markets did was exchange goods and services, then that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but that is not all that markets do.
Von Hayek and many others have identified many complex sets of functions that markets perform, including distributed governance, distributed risk management, distributed cognition, etc. If we break markets, without having already tested alternatives for all the many levels of very complex functions that markets currently perform, then we are in deep trouble.

This is deeply complex strategic territory. It is complex in every dimension one can conceive of, and I have been actively exploring those strategic depths for about 50 years.

The systems are so complex that there can be no absolute guarantees of a “right” answer, as some of the systems are of a type that cannot be calculated in advance, even in theory, let alone in practice. So that all that one is left with is probabilities, and reasonable degrees of freedom and security (verses extinction).

Part of what must accompany an expansion of science is an expansion of understanding what it means to be a complex cooperative individual within a complex cooperative society; and what the reasonable limits of freedom and responsibility are in such a system.

Most people, particularly those in political, economic and military power, are a very long way from a sufficient understanding of the essential nature of cooperation to their existence (present and future).

So we need science, to give us understanding and technology, and we need ethics and wisdom to allow us to embrace diversity with respect; and to empower any and all individuals who are willing to acknowledge that all individuals have a right to life, and a right to reasonable freedom; and that what is considered reasonable can vary substantially with context.

What I am saying is not a demand for equality of outcome, and it is a demand that every individual have what most would consider a reasonably high standard of living as a starting point (free and gratis, requiring only a respect for the rights to life and liberty of all other self aware and language capable individuals). That is not a technically difficult outcome to deliver, but it is almost impossible within the current economic and political system.

When our news media demand that all issues be simplified down to sound bites that are a few seconds long, or tweets under 200 characters, then it is impossible to begin to grasp the complex nature of ourselves or the reality within which we exist.
Over simplification of deeply complex issues is one of the greatest dangers we currently face.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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