The Internalization of Science and Technology
The scientific revolution of the sixteenth century was significant not so much in the discarding of geocentricity though this was one of its earliest steps; not so much in the discovery of Kepler’s laws though this opened our visions to hitherto hidden features of planetary motions, not so much in the formulation of the laws of motion, though these led to a deeper understanding of the physical world; but the scientific revolution was significant because it initiated a universality in the scientific quest such as had never before occurred in humanity’s history.
Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society expressed that hope that in due course all nations “will embrace each other as dear comrades, and will join forces, both intellectual and material, to banish ignorance and to make true and useful philosophy regnant.” At least part of his hope has been fulfilled.
Since the emergence of modern science, the enormous range of scientific efforts in different countries, and then in different continents, have come to be subsumed under a single umbrella, made up of an abstract international body of scientific practice and culture. Every nation has its own research laboratories and publications, and yet, the works carried out and published in these geographically separated places are interwoven into a web held firm by invisible bonds that know no borders, and feel no cultural differences. The meter and the kilogram in any national bureau of standards are precisely the same, no matter what the religion or form of government may be.
Science certainly has its local interests, narrow nationalisms, and petty fights over priorities. After all, it is only a human enterprise. There are races and rivalries in the pursuit of knowledge, and competition in discoveries. There is national pride when a prize is announced. And yet, the technical work of scientists is blind to nationalities, they overlap and mingle like sounds from different instruments in an orchestra to create and constitute the grand symphony that international science is. The strength and stature of modern science lies in its universality. Science is no longer bits of insights here and there, nor speculations of particular people. It surely is not parochial in its interpretations, nor narratives from revered books. Rather, science is a collective transnational quest, an unrelenting drive to eradicate every misunderstanding in the interpretation of every occurrence from the micro to the macrocosm, a drive to unravel every mystery and dispel every doubt and darkness about the phenomenal world.
In no other context in human culture: not in art or music, not in sports, much less in politics, do men and women of all races, languages, religions, and nationalities, hold hands across political boundaries as comrades in a common quest. This speaks as much to the glory of science as an enterprise, as all its technological triumphs do.
Aside from transnational science, what characterizes modern times is the ubiquity of technology. If we look around any spot on earth that has found its way into the mainstream of human activities, we cannot escape the presence of wheels and wires, gadgets, generators, vaccines and pills. The material impacts of science, the magic and madness of machines are omnipresent and indispensable. There is no member state of the United Nations Organization where science is not taught, where planes don’t land.
Science quenches curiosity through disinterested search, technology enhances creature comforts. One can live without curiosity, but it is tempting to rush for creature comforts. That is why whether one cares for science or decries it, not many ignore the technological offshoots of science. No matter what language we speak and what creeds we hold, the commonalties in the towns and cities of the modern world are electric lights and communication systems, automobiles and computers.