Friday, June 7, 2002
Millennium group confronts inevitable conclusions
Have we made all the great scientific discoveries our puny human minds can make? Sure, we can keep building a better mousetrap, but is there anything left for an Einstein, Darwin, or Newton to discover? Will societies with goals antagonistic to our own, such as the Taliban, use our own technologies against us?
These are the issues discussed by the book group members enrolled in the Ends of Civilization program hosted by the Gleason Library. Eight attended the meeting about the End of Science on Tuesday, May 14; the same number came to the cultural discussion on Tuesday, May 28.
Author John Horgan believes that humans have reached their scientific limits in The End of Science (1987). The discussion group found the book somewhat "dark and foreboding" according to Jeff Aronson, facilitator for both of the final sessions.
Aronson serves as the interim principal of the Vinalhaven School, a public school with 211 students (grades K-12) on a small island town in Maine. He worked for seventeen years at the University of Vermont and four years at National Public Television in the area of public education programming. Not a scientist per se, Aronson is interested in the broad theme of the Ends of Civilization program, and has acted as a facilitator for all the books.
Considering the End of Science
Horgan, a writer for "Scientific American," explored each area of science by covering the main discoveries. Subjects included such topics as philosophy, physics, biology and neuroscience. In each section, the author included profiles and comments by major figures in the field today, and concludes that humans have reached their intellectual limits. Some members of the discussion group found the personality-driven approach fascinating while others found the quirky depictions of scientists frustrating, according to Aronson. What about the premise that humans have reached their limits in discovering the world?
"I don't agree," said Aronson, "An essence of humanism is that man can startle you." Author Horgan does allow that our view of the world would change dramatically if we were to discover life elsewhere in the universe. However, the author notes that due to our physical limitations, aliens would probably have to discover us.
Examining the clash of cultures
The group found the book Jihad vs. McWorld, subtitled Terrorism's Challenge to Democracy, by Benjamin R. Barber (1995) extremely relevant in today's global situation. The author critically looked at McWorld in the first part of the book and Jihad in the second part. The new introduction to the book, written since September 11, noted that while staunchly condemning commercial culture and its technical advances the Taliban use the same tools to do battle:
• modern media, including the Internet,
• credit cards,
• global financial systems, and
• modern technology.
"Technology is the great de-stabilizer on one hand; and the great unifier on the other," said Aronson.
In wrapping up the final meeting, he called on attendees to consider the entire series of books as a whole. He observed that all the authors propose that cultural democracy may have reached its limits in education, racial stability, the environment, science and as a multicultural force.
The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities provided the reading materials and speakers for the Millennium discussion program, which visited 27 libraries. You may call the local library with suggestions for future programs at 1-978-369-4898.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito