Man, powered by his imagination and inquisitive character, has wondered he mechanisms of Nature since time infinite. This quest for the truth, the ways in which his surrounding works, has led to many a scientific discoveries and innovations.
Since the art of making fire and creating handcrafted tools, our civilization has come a long way. Science and Technology are making advances at an amazing rate. From telephones to the Internet, calculators to computers, cars to rockets and satellites, we are submerged in a sea of discoveries and inventions made possible by Science. Fields like Medicine and communications have made inroads into our cultures and thus our lifestyles.
So vast is the impact of Science in our lives, that people fear the unthinkable. It leads them to accusations such as Science tries to play God. However, according to Hume, God is part of the order that exists in the universe. If so, then Science is just helping us discover the Almighty, which most people perceive as the Ultimate Truth. To quote Charles Pierce, “”There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be.”
Repeatedly, it is also heard that we are so dependent on Science and Technology that we who create it are nothing but mere puppets. How can we be the slaves of this great resource? In fact, it would not be wrong to term Science as a friend of Humanity. This faithful friend has come through many a times. We have reaped innumerable benefits out of this friendship. In return, the sacrifices we had to make constituted just a small price in return. This price can be termed as a small token of appreciation for our friend, Science.
According to an existential argument, existence precedes essence. If so, then human existence is absurd and unjustified. The goal of a human being then is to justify his existence. We humans tried to take charge of our own lives by choosing to justify its cause. According to Mahlotra, a person who is aware of the fact that by the freedom of choice we have, we are responsible for our actions and performs those actions acknowledging freedom of others too, is the one who shall find meaning in his life. Satre points out for us that a man is nothing else than a series of undertakings, that he is a sum, the organization, the ensemble of the relationships which make up these undertakings. For some people Science and Technology are those actions, which fill their life with meaning.
Medicine for instance, is one of the thousands and thousands of fruits that we have harvested from this friendship. It has helped humankind in innumerable ways. People have started taking charge of their own health and life. Therefore, the life expectancy of a person living in the nineties is about twenty years more on an average from that which people enjoyed at the start of the last century. By the virtue of medicine, not only does a person live longer but also lives his life to the fullest in the best of health.
Deadly diseases such as small pox, plague and polio have caused a large number of epidemics resulting in major loss of life. The Plague Epidemic of London in the 1600’s had wiped out nearly a fifth of its’ population. Researches and scientific effort led many scientists to find cures or preventive vaccinations for these life-threatening diseases. Today these diseases have been eradicated from the face of the earth. Thanks to our Science, millions of lives have been saved from the clutches of these evils. The benefits of discovery of these vaccines needed to be passed on to the public. To cater to the huge human population, Technology in this field evolved side by side the scientific progress. Better techniques resulted in faster and more efficient developments of these scientific discoveries.
The field of medicine today is well equipped to cope with the health problems faced by man. Science behind Medicine has led to awareness and preventive education among the public. Certain procedures propagated through these awareness programs such as regular exercising and taking regular doses of insulin for diabetes patients help maintain the health of today’s patients. Insulin can now be synthetically prepared in our laboratories using bacteria cultures. Antibiotics and other medicines sometimes help us fight life-threatening conditions. In short, the patients are often handed a second chance to live. We are no longer at the complete mercy of nature. The right to choose and to take control of one’s life has been passed down to the individual.
As pointed out by Willard Gaylin in his essay, Harvesting the Dead, the technology we have developed has essentially changed the definition of death. Now although a person could be declared dead, he could have willed his usefulness beyond his mortality. Medical Technology has reached a point where organs can be transplanted from one individual to another. Many see red in such an act as desecration of a human body. However, by donating his or her organs to give a new lease of life to someone else, the person found a meaning not only in his lifetime but also in his death.
Medicine has often been cited as a means to over-population. Sure, it helps us live a little longer but it also provides us with birth control techniques such as contraceptives and sterility operations to help prevent it. Speaking along this line, instead of blaming Science and Medicine for our troubles, would it not be right to blame those who do not heed the advice provided by Science and makes use of the technology it has provided to curb over-population?
Issues such as euthanasia and abortion have always been topics of debate in the field of Medicine. Even before the present day techniques were developed, people already had in place procedures that essentially had similar goals to what is now termed as euthanasia. Science has just provided us with simpler ways that are not tough on the patients themselves. This in my opinion is no justification but the fact. Further man controls the use of any technology. It is a question of ethics of the person resorting to such means. If there is enough reason and rationale behind it, then it can be judged as an act of mercy. On the other hand, an abuse of this technology is nothing but a murder. Even if it results in a few cases of abuse of this science, we cannot possibly discount Science or Technology as bad or evil. It is its use that is bad.
There has been a lot of discussion and hype surrounding the recently unveiled Human Genome Project. As one of the researchers puts it, “It has opened a library of life which might take atleast a century to explore”. With such a huge database at our command, there is no telling where Science and Technology might lead us next. According to the mission of the Genome Project as given on its main web site, it is to identify the thousands of genes found in man, determine their scientific sequences, interpret the data to find solutions to some of the unsolved questions on human life. Though finding facts about our bodies is it’s main emphasis, it would also look into the possible ethical and legal consequences of unveiling such data to humankind.
The project has been speculated to stop and even reverse the aging process. In short, it might be possible to bridge the gap between life and death. Shocked at such a bold claim, many people overlook the benefits that such a discovery could endow on humanity. Instead, they say that by acting in such a manner, we humans are trying to play the role of God. However, according to Capra of Tao of Physics, Science is trying to find the basic stuff that constitutes the reality. This research has shed enormous amount of light on life. Though only a piece of the great jigsaw puzzle of life, it leads us one step closer to the whole picture. Understanding the data helps us find the meaning of life and who we really are. It helps us figure out why we act and behave in a manner that we commonly do. Thus with a better understanding of our bodies, we progress towards conditions which our bodies perhaps want. If this is so, then it can only result in better living standards. What would be that God, who does not yearn for the prosperity of His people? Instead of saying that we are trying to play God, we may just in fact be discovering God and His ways.
The Genome Project supplies us with valuable information, which tend to further the good done by Medicine. The knowledge obtained about our DNA could help us to diagnose, treat and someday prevent the thousands of disorders that affect us. Prescription drugs can be formulated using this new piece of data. These drugs could help us fight of certain diseases, which can not be cured effectively, or those for which we have no medicines like A.I.D.S. They could even prove to have fewer side effects and more suitable for the way our body is built. We can even imagine a time when the word disease is long removed from the dictionary. Learning our genetic codes could help us determine the modes of attacks used by pathogens and viruses. Technology could prosper enough to wipe out deadly diseases such as malaria from humanity.
Another possible use of this vast information can be marked out in Genetic Screening of pregnant mothers and their fetuses. Some people see red in this citing discrimination of the less fortunate individuals where though genetically they are at a risk for some disease which they do not even show symptoms of. However, every coin has two sides to it. If the prediction turns out to be right, is it right to put that unborn child through a lifelong agony of pain and suffering, always depending on others to fend for them? The democracy that we live in guarantees its citizens with the freedom to choose. After such genetic screening, all that we would be doing is handing the parents of the unborn child the right to choose life or abortion of their child. After all, they are going to care after him or her for the rest of their lives.
Genetic Engineering has for the last decade or so been one of the upcoming fields of Science. The Genome Project has certainly added a shine to it. Forsenic Department of Police for instance, has benefited a lot. It helps us trace criminals and stop them from terrorizing the world. Thus, it helps set law and order in the nation.
For a lot of time, especially the period of the First World War, there had been talks about Eugenesis (Happy Genetics). It is simply a breeding program for humans with certain desirable characteristics for the benefit of humans. Thomas Murray in his essay, The Growing Danger from Gene-Spliced Hormones tries to point out that tall people are generally preferred in a society. To ensure that their children are accepted, many parents provide them with synthetically prepared Growth Hormone. This simply can be counted as a bad use of this wonderful Science. It in no way implies that any research or discovery in this field is a source of evil.
Communications is one more area where Technology has undergone a rapid transformation. A century ago, telegraphs were regarded as luxuries and one of the few modes of communication with the rest of the world. Today, the scene appears to be quite different. From telephones and telexes to Internet, e-mail and mobiles, technology has connected the whole world into a global village.
Technology has helped increased the speed of communication whereas at the same time the costs for such a proposition have greatly reduced. People who are separated from their friends and relative by a distance of thousands of miles can now get their message around the globe in a matter of seconds using technological instruments such as the phone and emails.
Computers have often been cited as the greatest boon offered by Technology to humanity. Its entry revolutionized the whole world. Great pieces of data could be stored with comparative ease. Problems, which would have taken years to solve manually, took a couple of days for the computer to work out. This led to an amazing rate of progress achieved in a considerably short period. For instance without the computer models, it would have never been possible to stimulate extremely slow chemical reactions and predict their outcomes as if they were actually performed. The discovery of the structure of protein has been another major accomplishment in the field of Biochemistry with the aide of Computers.
However, with this system, there was one major drawback. The computers were local and could not share data and results with people around the world. Further in the Cold War world, it had even become dangerous for nations to have their entire bundle of secrets stored on one or two computers. Spying and theft were potential problems. Progress was often hindered. Consequently in the early nineties, the military developed a secretive code for the computers, which could work through and transmit information from one unit of computer to another unit without loss of data. It is now used by millions of people worldwide to share information, make new associations and to communicate. For many businesses, Internet has become integral to their way of operation. As John Evans puts it, “The Internet is like a giant jellyfish. You can’t step on it. You can’t go around it. You’ve got to get through it.”
With Internet, people have access to a wealth of information. It not only serves the business community but also acts as a lifeline for many scientific researches and educational inquiries. Practically most of the important journal articles by the well-known scientists and authors are published on the Web. Information about the rarest of the items and happening around the world can be obtained right form the comfort of our computers. Not only that, the benefits of the Internet are not restricted to a selected few but also are widely dispersed. In countries like the U.S., people enjoy things like Online Banking, media reports and even entertainment. Many of our needed amenities are readily available off the web. We can make use of them with comparative ease and even save a considerable amount of time. By doing thus, Internet is helping us achieve maximum efficiency and results out of our scarce and limited resources.
With its uses, Internet is also perceived as a potential threat to our privacy. People are afraid that hackers can sometimes find data such as our bank account numbers and fraud us even without our knowledge. Further critics also argue that people rely too much on Internet and believe all that comes up on their screens. This accusation of media is similar to what Shrader points out to in his essay, The Power Button. That is true to an extent. We need to be careful in our ways and act with caution while on the net. Several awareness programs have been initiated to counter such effect posed by the Internet
Most of the developed nations have made ample use of the Internet and its wonders. However, agriculture forms the base of most of the economies of Asia and Africa. Technology has had some influence on these nations as well. Their agricultural produce on an average is up by atleast a factor of two or maybe even three in periods as short as a decade. Irrigation techniques have helped farmers grow crops in the barren and scorching deserts. Water is conserved by constructing dams and reservoirs. Pesticides help protect the output from crop-destructors such as insects and other pests. Industries based on Agriculture have incorporated this new technology in form of new and more efficient machines. The total output of such countries has increased tremendously.
Science and Technology also helps a nation protect its citizens from any natural or man-made disaster such as earthquake, tornadoes or even war. In such events the people are warned in advance and timely action is taken to guarantee the lives of millions of people every year. Here in the U.S. weatherman remind us how technology has improved such that we humans can predict the weather of the next fifteen days. Weapons built by the nations for protecting and serving their integrity help bring about peace amongst rival countries as no one in such a case is ready to face the destruction caused by them and thus shrink of a thought of war on an enemy.
In my opinion, Technology and Science like most things have both the good and the bad side to it. There are definitely certain ethical and legal issues associated with it. However, looking more closely at our world, we find ethics in most of the disciplines including Religion. People can take advantage of any field if they wish to, but our social and political ties prevent most of us from acting in manners considered as taboos. Some people who yet work in ways to disrupt the social structure are often times rejected. Further there are laws in place to guarantee that no one’s right to freedom of choice is infringed upon.
Douglas Shrader tries to explain through the Utilitarianism Principle that if an act produces more good than harms for a society, it can be reasoned out as a right thing to do for the society as a whole. Similarly, if we take a balance and weigh the benefits and costs of Science and Technology, we would find that the case is not even close. The benefits far outweigh any costs connected with Technology and Science. In fact, it seems almost impossible now to imagine a world living without its Science and Technology.