Saturday, February 6, 2010

“Science for Peace” with Professor Torsten Wiesel (February 1, 2010; Teresa Yuchengco Theater)

Progress and development in the field of science at the end of the Second World War had largely been influenced by the vested interests of national defense, especially by the polarizing presence of the two global super powers that emerged from the bloodiest conflict in human history. These super powers were the once powerful Communist USSR and the capitalist democracy of the United States, including its allies, all of whom held the world at the edge of its seat as the fear of a nuclear holocaust swirled around in distressful paranoia and proxy wars through the Cold War. Prior to arms-motivated endeavors in science, scientists once dedicated themselves to postulations, experiments, theory-development and invention for the benefit of their communities, the health of the public and ultimate enlightenment when understanding the natural world. Even as the Cold War came to a close and the U.S. took its seat as the dominant military super power on Earth, weaponry and conflicts remained the general theme for scientific/technological research and development. According to Professor Wiesel, political leaders do not have a strong background on the sciences and so are not akin to the passions, motivations and philosophies that endear scientists. Although each country has different means of legislating, law-makers must give appropriate attention to the field of science. Education, especially in the age of interconnectivity (i.e., the Internet) allows people to understand and remove any anxieties against and misapprehensions about the new and the unknown brought about by the efforts of scientists. Nuclear energy can be used for good or destructive purposes, but it depends on the wielder. Progress can only be achieved through the understanding of science. Scientists, especially the young ones, must reorient themselves away from a theme of destruction. Education and understanding must be encouraged, which would basically promote science for the benefit and harmonious growth of human society. In all practicality, man has gradually learned to mend and mold the laws of nature through his understanding of science and the natural world, especially in this age of genetics. Ethical standards and religions/moral institutions continue to treat developments in science as abominations of sorts. Scientists have begun to unlock the secrets of atoms and genes, that have brought about better understanding and unlimited potential to solving the problems and shortcomings of the world. Dr. Wiesel mentioned something about genetically modified food, which, although “unnatural” to the eyes of conservative zealots, is the most pragmatic way to eliminate hunger, poverty and marginalization amid the scarcity of natural resources; that in due time people would learn to accept and appreciate the advancements of science.

In my opinion the word “unnatural” is by all practical means and purposes malleable in meaning and semantics. Many have accused science of serving as an instrument of unethical conduct – that man should not be playing God and tweaking with the forces of nature. I, however, think that this is the extension of the quote, “Education is the great equalizer,” because it shows that knowledge can be applied to the benefit of mankind. Peace through the benefits of science can be achieved if everyone is bestowed with these advancements; otherwise, if discoveries are only for a few, then this all the more contributes to marginalization and inequality in society. Life is indeed filled with choices for a self-conscious and contemplative creature like man when contending with the whims of nature, coincidence, circumstantial convergence and probability. Man can exercise his free-will (which, theologically speaking under the Christian context, is bestowed upon him by the Divine) to improve his and his fellowmen’s lives. I think that once man is able to pull-out of the Economics of marginalization, that contends with the “efficient distribution” of scarce resources, then he will be able to move on to more noble and dignified endeavors. Science provides the key to not only understanding and discovering the natural world, but also a tool by which man can understand himself, his nature and his purpose. Science allows man to realize his humbling limits and his incredible capabilities within such a restricting timeframe of existence, for after all, we are all only a speck in the continuum.

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