History of science from the dawn of mankind
Book review by Mirna Flögel-Mršic
I. Science - the Greatest Adventure and Challenge of Mankind
II. Paving the way into the Future (Quo vadis scientia?) (Following the Steps of Knowledge into the Future)
III. Civilisation Boundaries (raptures, interfaces, gaps, separation lines) of Knowledge (Mysteries of Culture through History), parts I and II
Under three titles organised in four volumes (2000 pages in total) A. Simonic offers a history of science from the dawn of mankind, when inexperienced humans lived separated by vast inhabited areas, to the present state of the world, dominated by science and burdened with urgent and unsolved problems of our overcrowded Globe, from times when man was scared of frightful natural and imagined forces to the present fear of himself and of the spreading inhumane powers of global market. Yet at the same time Simonic tells the story of separate cultural developments of various defined populations, coagulated by their specific experience, believes and knowledge, which under robust surface differences all hide the same human needs and values. In his books Simonic tries to remove the boundaries between the natural and social sciences and the humanities by expanding the complexity of the anthropological concept of culture, thus covering the vast interdisciplinary spectrum of scholarship known today as "cultural studies."
This unique scholarly work, densely detailed but highly readable, quotes many citations to mimic and reflect the "couleur du temps" through ages, thus presenting the key point views of various cultures during almost entire human history without endorsing or favouring any one of them. He only lays down the groundwork for a common sense approach to the problem of making a good life and evaluating that life in reference to the merits and menaces of presently emerging global society.
At the same time Simonic tries to awaken the social responsibility of scientists, to rehabilitate the human values that support coexistence and tolerance, recognised as virtues in philosophies and religions, and emerging from the universal "Lex vivendi" in biosphere.
Few scholars combine erudition with such clarity and ease of expression and write so purposefully for the general reader providing enormous riches and profound and challenging thoughts.
Simonic's work is a personal, learned, bold, and above all, wise retrospect of the dignified story of mankind, which he has peeled off wars and politics, and by which he offers a masterful, provocative, and eloquent antidote to the dumbed-down consumerism of our own times.
I. Science - the Greatest Adventure and Challenge of Mankind
In "Science - the Greatest Adventure and Challenge of Mankind" Simonic discusses science as the pursuit of knowledge in its many and varied individual forms, emphasising that knowledge itself is not independent and self-justifying. It performs a function, which is essential to human nature, and necessary to human life, yet it is only one of many existential needs in the whole of human life. The function of knowledge is to enlighten, to guide, and to show the way, to offer possibilities and set targets and values which, however, must be freely acknowledged, adopted and put into practice. Knowledge thus has an essentially mediatory function for man's free, responsible activity. The pursuit of knowledge can fulfil its function to the benefit of mankind, societies and individuals only if it remains science committed to the truth, rejecting all ideological distortion.
Science, as a free and responsible activity, must be seen in the overall context of the human life and activity, both of the individual and of society. Within that context, science has also its limits and its obligations. Like all human activity, it is subject to values and standards, which are determined by the need of integrated whole.
Science is a vast intellectual adventure, and it has attracted some of the best minds in every civilisation. To engage in it and tackle the challenge of Nature requires a vivid creative imagination, tempered by firm discipline based on a hard core of observational evidence. For science is not the mere collecting of facts - though this is necessary - it is a system of logical correlation of those facts cementing together a hypothesis or body of theory. This theory is itself tempered by the general outlook of the times in which it is formulated. The theory must be sound enough to attract minds trained in logical thought, and at the same time be open-ended enough to leave room for development and adjustment in the light of later evidence.
Scientific theories change for a whole host of reasons. To the extent that these changes are occasioned by ever more complex experience, science is a growing and expanding body of knowledge, but when they are brought about by religious, philosophical, social or economic reasons, the history of science engages with all the fluctuations of more general history. Nevertheless sooner or later, science always succeeds to free the truth from forged conclusions and offers new ways and views.
With the tremendous growth of scientific research and its importance for modern society, the ethics of science have become a matter of urgent concern not only for scientists but also for society as a whole.
Paving the Way into the Future (Following the Steps of Knowledge into the Future) (Tragovina znanja u buducnost)
Quo vadis scientia?
Under this title Simonic provides a synthetic historical survey of the growing human knowledge, its conventions and organisation into scientific fields, emphasising its origins and potentials, its philosophies, ethics and truthfulness, discussing its challenges and limitations as well as its exploitations by interest groups through changing times to present world.
The struggle to comprehend the strange world in which we live is a noble one, and a continuing struggle. Our present scientific synthesis is just another step along the road to a more comprehensive picture; it is not the final one. Yet the scientific outlook has provided a far more powerful means of understanding, predicting and controlling the world than any other human try. Simonic shares the vision of Francis Bacon, to whom we owe so much of the idealism that has motivated modern science, that "knowledge and power meet in one".
On the contrary to the hopes of prophets of science down through the ages, modern, western science and technology are being used, in the name of reason, to wage war against man and his natural and built environment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the developing world. The world of science faces new problems, which were scarcely imaginable to the brave prophets of science, from Francis Bacon to those of the recent nineteen fiftieth. Ever since the invention of nuclear weapons, we have faced the possibility of being destroyed by our science-based inventions, regardless whether the result may come from the ordinary operation of our science-based industry or uncontrolled genetic engineering. If the solution does not lie within science, then how far beyond it must we go?
Thus within the last generation the public perception of science and technology has changed drastically. Although we still depend on `science' for the operation and improvement of our material culture, few will still believe that science has the answer to all human problems. Indeed, we are now confronted by problems, increasing in number and in intensity, which are not only the results of technological and industrial developments but of subsequent wealth and social polarisation, and for which science, though a necessary element of their solution can by no means be sufficient.
How to make the proper contribution to the solution of the problems created by its own successes, still remains to be seen. It may take a full generation whose common sense of science has been formed by a social and ecological consciousness before the needed conceptions emerge. Simonic' s work strongly assists in the development of that new consciousness.
Whereas before one could imagine science advancing boldly, steadily rolling back the frontier between knowledge and ignorance, now we must cope with our ignorance of the disturbing effects of science-based processes. In the very near future we must collectively make some very hard decisions, not to allow our natural environment become degraded beyond repair. We are living in an age where perturbations of our environment are producing a sort of "science based ignorance" and the greatest danger of all is that we may remain ignorant of our ignorance, and thereby live in an illusion of security.
Simonic emphasises the role of scientists and learned to take the responsibility for the social development, both local and global. His historical review is but to remind that particulated knowledge and reductionist principle pars pro toto, ceteris paribus, could be misleading without the appropriate integrating philosophy, social conscienceness and awareness of individual human needs.
Simonic presents with striking clarity the problems that face people and societies today, and encourages a strategy for dealing with them. He shows how world problems, though man-made, are the result not of technological or social changes themselves, but of lack of foresight and lack of control over those changes. He reminds of ethical principles and urges scientists, artists and educators as creative levers of contemporary civilisation - science, culture and education - to accept the responsibility for shaping a human-friendly future.
Civilisation Boundaries (raptures, interfaces, gaps, separation lines) of Knowledge (Mysteries of Culture through History), parts I and II
Man is distinguished from other living creatures by his free will and imaginative gifts. By putting different talents together he makes discoveries and plans. His discoveries become more subtle and penetrating, as he learns to combine his talents in more complex and intimate ways. So the great discoveries of different ages and different cultures, in technique, in science, in the arts, express in their progression an ever richer and more intricate conjunction and evolution of human faculties.
Yet to admire only our own successes, would make a caricature of knowledge, especially now, when our moves escape the control and when instead of ever more beneficial and harmonious development of human race, polarisation of wealth and power, has endangered so many individuals by favouring only the most competitive, the fastest. Even they are endangered by stress put upon them. Globalisation has confronted interests of separate developmental ways and levels and it has brought fear instead of hope, insecurity instead of wellbeing.
Millions of years of biological evolution have shaped and fitted species to the environment they live in, and provided them with encoded, species specific, survival behaviour. Only the man is not locked into a specific environment. On the contrary, he is ubiquitous, unfitted and vulnerable, yet his genetic survival kit provided man with the capacity to adjust the environment to his needs. He does it by his imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness. The series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution - not biological, but cultural evolution. Man doesn't inherit the wisdom of how to behave to preserve his species. Man has to make vital decisions. He has to discover the universal lex vivendi, and he is free to obey it or not to obey it for his better or for his worse. No one in the biosphere is ready to kill and poison himself as humans do by drugs, weapons, ideas, greed and ignorance. This is the paradox of the human condition.
The mightier, the richer and the better informed, the less responsible for the wellbeing of individual life and mankind. The simultaneous early traces of material culture, of awakening consciousness as well as artistic and religious expressions show a harmonious and creative start of human material, spiritual and intellectual life. In the effort to understand and use the Nature, to adjust and embellish his surroundings for his needs and extravagancies the man has changed his attitudes towards God, Nature and himself, his creative potential has grown, his capability of understanding has broadened, the "society" has been born and interest groups have been formed, civilisations emerged and vanished, the scales of values have been defined, the rules of social organisation and behaviour have been coded and changed - cultural evolution feeding science, arts, ideologies and religions was progressing.
Yet the constructor of pyramids, coliseum and cathedrals unfortunately didn't remain a fearful artist, bold and victorious conqueror, he turned also to be monstrous devastator, who exterminated animal species, who even tried cannibalism when he, still inexperienced, locally ruined all other sources of food. Of course, we have cause to be proud of the progress of our minds and of some modern work, and our capacities. Yet our achievements escape the control. Triumphs of science and technology encouraged our greedy super-ego to get rid of any humane feelings and the intellectual logic alone seems unable to tie it down. Man is not anymore progressing in a harmonious way. The intellectual progress through the history is followed by the katabasis of ideals, from Olympus to Forum, from Forum to Academies, Monasteries, courts and armies, and further down to football grounds and TV-screens.
Individuals, helpless to confront the feeling of insecurity, trust the society, yet societies are not human-friendly. They do not have needs, individuals do. Societies should recognise the individual needs and universal lex vivendi, if they aim to preserve human race on the globe.
Biological evolution is slow and each change is well tested. Humans are the outcome of the last change on their evolutionary branch, possibly still on probation. Since Darwin taught us to view nature as a brutal competition among species, few philosophers have regarded virtue as a natural impulse. Yet it is the evolutionary biology, not ethical theory, that offers an explanation of why people often sacrifice self-interest for the common good. The evidence of the latest research demonstrates that the hidden manoeuvring of the genes punishes the egotist and rewards the saint. However, the interplay of genes alone cannot trace nor follow "a politically correct choreography". Man's free will shouldn't be used against himself.
The unravelling of the encoded autobiography of our development within the genome reveals our inborn yet limited freedom. However, we do not have to surrender our freedom to the society nor to the global financial engineering. We do not have to accept the perverse inversion of the global market where the man serves the capital instead that capital is serving the man. The history teaches us that intellectual freedom of wise individuals pointed to the right direction at times of crisis, though excommunicated by the selfish interests of mighty contemporaries. Socrates taught us to act morally, Jesus taught that God is the father of every man, Bruno believed the Universe be infinite and God be immanent in all. Their enlightening thoughts survived the poison, the cross and the fire pointing to the natural low of existence, i.e. of subordination of selfishness to the benefit of the harmonious whole.
The reenvoking of the story of our coming into existence and of highlights of our cultural evolution could teach us the rules of coexistence and remind us of the unavoidable universal low of survival. Human achievements, and science in particular, is not a museum of finished constructions, it is a progress, in which the experience is gathered and truth and values perceived. In every age there is a turning point, which offers standards by which to judge the merits of our time against those of previous centuries and other cultures.
A developed nation provides to its citizens political freedom and a decent standard of living. Yet so many countries are unable to accomplish this. The world at the beginning of the twenty-first century is more divided than ever between the rich and the poor, between those living in freedom and those under oppression. Even in prosperous democracies, troubling gaps in well being persist. As the credibility of traditional explanations - colonialism, dependency, racism-declines, many now believe that the principal reason why so many countries and social groups are better off than others lies in the cultural values that powerfully shape nations and peoples' political, economic, and social performance. Globalisation cannot exclude the great majority of population to the benefit of selected few. An evolution of mankind should be promoted to provide existence in peace and security for all. History and science should enlighten our minds with the wisdom to change our values and attitudes to pave the way for a progress of all and to a friendly coexistence of man and nature all over the Globe. Simonic pleads for revitalisation on human needs and values buried by forces of show business, football competitions, global marketing and www races. He confronts the religions and sects, the economies and cultures, scholars and consumers urging the awakening of the responsibility and wisdom, of education and freedom, of friendship and tolerance. Only in true friendship of individuals humans won't be a failed experiment in the course of biological evolution and mankind could look forward to its future.
Simonic's work is provocative and inspiring attempt to encourage every reader to make his own contribution in that direction.
Other articles related to Prof. dr. sc. Ante Simonic:
- (E) Quo Vadis Scientia? - Ante Simonic - Autor
- (E,H) Prof. dr. sc. Ante Simonic, Deputy Prime Minister
- (E) CIVILISATIONAL DIVIDES OF KNOWLEDGE BY Dr Ante Simonic