Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Will we ever learn?

With Sackerson away, Paddington will post some (possibly) off-topic comments.

The technology that enables 7 billion of us to survive, and provides creature comforts to those in the industrialized world, is due to a tiny percentage of talented and creative scientists, together with a core of engineers who adapted and refined the results, and a larger number who actually produce the products that we use.

Despite that, I am hard-pressed to find a society anywhere that gives those people the level of respect or adulation awarded to sports figures and entertainment personalities. The monetary rewards are far less than for the average investment or insurance agent, lawyer, accountant, or medical doctor.

In the extremist Muslim world, much of science is decried as 'anti-Islam'. Evolution, physics, and geology are under attack in at least 37 US states by creationists. Much of science is also discounted by the New Age thinkers, who don't like facts to get in the way of their own comfortable beliefs.

Yet our leaders believe that the answer to our economic meltdown is to throw money at the people who caused the crisis, and who produce nothing at all. Even at universities, where some rational thinking should be expected, the sciences are de-emphasized, since they are 'hard' and unpopular, while we build programs in psychology and business management.

Without a cultural change in these attitudes, I am fearful that we may see the end of technological civilization within a few generations.

15 comments:

Nick Drew said...

it's at least a possibility, Paddington: 'progress' in technology is only inevitable in the same way that the high-jump record only ever goes up - it's true, but only by way of tautology

the Romans' technology for producing concrete that sets under water was 'lost' for a millenium

I reckon that (science-fiction-wise) you could posit an evolutionary development in which the high-jump record froze and was never bettered

hopefully you are wrong about technology, though ! (my personal preference coming through, here)

dearieme said...

Somehow I don't expect to see Economists developing a theory to explain why Economists are so overpaid.

Anonymous said...

I fear it's just supply and demand, mate.

How many people would pay £50 a month for a Sky subscription to watch you or me build a server or invent the TCP/IP protocol?

Yeah, got it in one - zero.

hatfield girl said...

It's thinking straight, and sticking to the point that is 'hard and unpopular' in any discipline. People quite enjoy thinking but thinking rubbish is so much more accessible and yields much higher pleasure-in-thinking returns in psychology and business management.

Paddington said...

Thank you for your comments. I still hold to my point that we are in danger. The social distaste for the analytical disciplines means that demand exceeds supply.

Anonymous - I agree with your argument. However, people still demand those gadgets, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Paddington -- I'm not a student of Islam, however, I'm under the impression that during the period of time known as the Dark Ages while Europe was wallowing in misery great advances were made in math and the sciences in the Arab world. Perhaps they will experience their own renaissance...one can hope.

Wolfie said...

As if by magic "Anonymous" turns up to demonstrate the risible state of education in the country.

We are surly doomed.

Paddington said...

Anonymous - mostly, the Islamic world kept alive the knowledge of the Greeks. However, that was before a more radicalized version of Islam, brought about partly by the reaction to the Crusades.

Anonymous said...

Paddington: "brought about partly by the reaction to the Crusades."

Don't forget the earliest crusades were Islamic intrusions into Europe, actually all the way across Asia too.

Sid said...

Wolfie - why must we be surly doomed? Why can't we be cheerful doomed instead?

Henry North London said...

Few generations Are you being wildly optimistic or something?

I would have said 30 years...

Paddington said...

Henry - there will be localized areas where the technology is kept alive for a time, but such innovation requires a huge industrial base to maintain.

Sackerson said...

Agree, Padders. We need a technology survival strategy - solar-powered plants in Arizona manufacturing all the bits to make solar cells etc - and of course, an elite educational core, too. Sort of ed/techno fast breeder reactors.

wildgoose said...

The Crusades were a (belated) reaction to centuries of violent conquest of Christian lands by aggressively expansionary Islam.

And the Islamic World didn't keep alive the knowledge of the Greeks, they destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire where that knowledge was created and used. It was people fleeing the Islamic destruction of Constantinople and bringing with them this learning that kick-started the Western Renaissance.

Paddington said...

Wildgoose - you mean like the Indo-European numbering system, which made the start of modern mathematics possible?