The categories and ideas of human reason have their ultimate source in human sense experience, and all terms describing our mental abilities as well as a good deal of our conceptual language derive from the world of the senses and are used metaphorically. Moreover, the human brain which supposedly does our thinking is as terrestrial, earthbound, as any other part of the human body. It was precisely by abstracting from these terrestrial conditions, by appealing to a power of imagination and abstraction that would, as it were, lift the human mind out of the gravitational field of the earth and look down upon it from some point in the universe, that modern science reached its most glorious and, at the same time, most baffling achievements.
No. First Man in Space
It is, I think, safe to say that nothing was more alien to the minds of the scientists, who brought about the most radical and most rapid revolutionary process the world has ever seen, than any will to power. Nor were they prompted by an unseemly curiosity in the sense of a temptatio oculorum. They were inspired by an extraordinary love of harmony and lawfulness which taught them that they would have to step outside any merely given sequence or series of occurrences if they wanted to discover the overall beauty and order of the whole, that is, the universe.
This may explain why they seem to have been less distressed by the fact their discoveries served the invention of the most murderous gadgets than disturbed by the shattering of all their most cherished ideals of necessity and lawfulness. From this, it seems to follow that causality, necessity, and lawfulness are categories inherent in the human brain and applicable only to the common-sense experiences of earthbound creatures.
Man in Space
And yet, an actual change of the human world, the conquest of space or whatever we may wish to call it, is achieved only when manned space carriers are shot into the universe, so that man himself can go where up to now only human imagination and its power of abstraction, or human ingenuity and its power of fabrication, could reach.
To be sure, all we plan to do now is to explore our own immediate surroundings in the universe, the infinitely small place that the human race could reach even if it were to travel with the velocity of light. But even for this limited job, we have to leave the world of our senses and of our bodies not only in imagination but in reality. T he magnitude of the space enterprise seems to me beyond dispute, and all objections raised against it on the purely utilitarian level — that it is too expensive, that the money were better spent on education and the improvement of the citizens, on the fight against poverty and disease, or whatever other worthy purposes may come to mind — sound to me slightly absurd, out of tune with the things that are at stake and whose consequences today appear still quite unpredictable.
There is, moreover, another reason why I think these arguments are beside the point. The very integrity of science demands that not only utilitarian considerations but the reflection upon the stature of man as well be left in abeyance.
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Has not each of the advances of science, since the time of Copernicus, almost automatically resulted in a decrease in his stature? And is the often repeated argument that it was man who achieved his own debasement in his search for truth, thus proving anew his superiority and even increasing his stature, more than a sophism?
Perhaps it will turn out that way. The simple fact that physicists split the atom without any hesitations the very moment they knew how to do it, although they realized full well the enormous destructive potentialities of their operation, demonstrates that the scientist qua scientist does not even care about the survival of the human race on earth or, for that matter, about the survival of the planet itself.
For in all these efforts the scientists acted not as scientists but as citizens, and if their voices have more authority than the voices of laymen, they do so only because the scientists are in possession of more precise information. There are a few indications that such might indeed be the case.
This is due to the fact that within a system of laws which are based on certain fundamental ideas only certain quite definite ways of asking questions make sense, and thus, that such a system is separated from others which allow different questions to be put. The remarks of Heisenberg seem to me to transcend by far the field of strictly scientific endeavor and to gain in poignancy if they are applied to the technology that has grown out of modern science.
Every progress in science in the last decades, from the moment it was absorbed into technology and thus introduced into the factual world where we live our everyday lives, has brought with it a veritable avalanche of fabulous instruments and ever more ingenious machinery. All of this makes it more unlikely every day that man will encounter anything in the world around him that is not man-made and hence is not, in the last analysis, he himself in a different disguise. It is as though the sciences had done what the humanities never could have achieved, namely, to prove demonstrably the validity of this concern.
In terms of this development, the attempt to conquer space means that man hopes he will be able to journey to the Archimedean point which he anticipated by sheer force of abstraction and imagination. However, in doing so, he will necessarily lose his advantage. All he can find is the Archimedean point with respect to the earth, but once arrived there and having acquired this absolute power over his earthly habitat, he would need a new Archimedean point, and so ad infinitum.
In other words, man can only get lost in the immensity of the universe, for the only true Archimedean point would be the absolute void behind the universe. In that case, he would only take possession of what is his own, although it took him a long time to discover it.
These new possessions, like all property, would have to be limited, and once the limit is reached and the limitations established, the new world view that may conceivably grow out of it is likely to be once more geocentric and anthropomorphic, although not in the old sense of the earth being the center of the universe and of man being the highest being there is.
It would be geocentric in the sense that the earth, and not the universe, is the center and the home of mortal men, and it would be anthropomorphic in the sense that man would count his own factual mortality among the elementary conditions under which his scientific efforts are possible at all. At this moment, the prospects for such an entirely beneficial development and solution of the present predicaments of modern science and technology do not look particularly good. For this is what we actually do when we release energy processes that ordinarily go on only in the sun, or attempt to initiate in a test tube the processes of cosmic evolution, or build machines for the production and control of energies unknown in the household of earthly nature.
The conquest of space and the science that made it possible have come perilously close to this point. If they ever should reach it in earnest, the stature of man would not simply be lowered by all standards we know of, but have been destroyed. Copyright , , , , , by Hannah Arendt. Email Updates Enter your email address to receive occasional updates and previews from The New Atlantis. The question does not concern man as a scientist, nor man as a producer or consumer, but rather man as human.
Quoted from Great Ideas Today , , p.
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Sullivan, Limitations of Science , Mentor Books, , p. Alex Bernstein, for example, has devised a program that enables a machine to play spectacular good checkers. Sivan told the gathering "Dr Kalam said your dream or idea must not make you sleep. Get inspired by great leaders, but do not try to emulate them. You have to come out with original solutions and not a copy of somebody else's idea.
If you want to become a Dr Kalam, do not chase his hairstyle. You follow his idea and the message he gave".
The space scientist said while the country may be perceived poor by many people it occupies the first position in the world for sending remote sensing satellites. Despite the progress made over the last half a century, there are many unsolved issues of poverty and hunger, health and sanitation and clean drinking water, he said and called upon IITians to come forward to help solve them.
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