Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
Science and the making of contemporary civilization
J. Leite Lopes
J. Leite Lopes
I. The physical image of the world
II. Science and underdevelopment in Latin America
III. Science and dependent development
IV. Endogenization of science in which society?
V. The aims of science
VI. Science for liberation
What is our physical image of the world today? How was it achieved throughout history?
What was the importance of scientific research, of cultural creation, for the development of the contemporary advanced societies?
What was the effect of the lack of scientific education and practice on underdevelopment
What are the present-day problems, what are the prospects for the application of science and technology to promote adequate development not only in the less-developed countries but also in the advanced industrial nations?
Is the aim of science and technology to liberate man or to contribute to a world ruled by repression of the many poor by the few rich?
These are some of the questions which we all must study and try to answer if we are to formulate meaningful and significant proposals for the harmonization of the development of human societies in accord with their cultural heritage and national identity, in the changing world of today.
I. The physical image of the world
As is well known, speculations about the structure of the universe were always contained in the cosmogonic models and philosophical systems developed by ancient civilizations.
In Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, superb achievements were obtained by ancient societies - in their mythical approach to the study of nature, in their cultural monuments, in their artistic and technological ingenuity, in their astronomical observations, in the philosophies on space, time, matter, and life that they were led to create and which reflected their forms of interaction with the world
It was, as everyone knows, the atomistic philosophers of ancient Greece who exercised perhaps the greatest influence on the modern conception of the universe.
Before the Greeks, the Babylonians and the Egyptians had already made observations, during many centuries, on the motions of the sun and of the moon with respect to the fixed stars, and knew how to predict lunar and solar eclipses. In spite of the fact that the Greeks identified the celestial bodies with gods, Anexagoras stated that the sun was like a red hot stone and that the moon was made like the earth. The Pythagoreans, at the end of the fifth century B. C., stated that the earth is spherical, Aristarchus of Samos, in the third century B. C., discovered the complete Copernican system, and Eratosthenes, in the year 200 B. C., calculated, according to Claudius Ptolemaeus, the maximum distance of the moon from the earth and the minimum distance between the sun and the earth.
Abu 'All al-Husayn ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Sina, known as Avicenna, philosopher, codifier of Aristotle and one of those who preserved and contributed to the transmission of Greek culture, stated: "Time is the measure of motion.''1 In the Rasa'il, a 51-treatise encyclopedia known as the Koran after the Koran, one finds a list of distances to the planets (as a function of Earth radii) and of sizes of planets; it is stated there that space is "a form abstracted from matter existing only in the consciousness.''] But how many documents were lost or destroyed, as happened for instance in the subjugation of the magnificent pre-Columbian civilizations by the invading Spaniards in Mexico, in Central and South America?
After these systems were forgotten during the decay of later antiquity, there came the Christian medieval model of the image of the world. As expressed in Dante's Paradiso, the earth is the cent re of the universe, Satan is at the centre of the earth, the heavens consist of ten concentric spheres. Everything below the moon is subject to corruption and decay; everything above the moon is indestructible. "God, the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover, causes the rotation of the Primum Mobile, which, in turn, communicates its motion to the sphere of the fixed stars and so on downwards to the sphere of the moon."2
The great scientific revolution in astronomy and in physics came long after the Greeks, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the work of Galileo and Newton, who built up the first scientific image of the universe.3 By discovering the laws of motion of the bodies of our daily experience and by generalizing these laws to all bodies in the universe, and by inventing the infinitesimal calculus needed for this work, Newton achieved the first great synthesis, which is the aim of modern science, in intimately correlating ideas and facts apparently strange to one another: the fall of an apple from the tree, the fall of the moon around the earth, the motion of the celestial bodies under the action of universal gravitation. "In the beginning," wrote Einstein in his Autobiographical Notes, "(if there was such a thing) God created Newton's laws of motion together with the necessary masses and forces. This is all; everything beyond this follows from the development of appropriate mathematical methods by means of deduction. What the nineteenth century achieved on the strength of this basis, especially through the application of the partial differential equations, was bound to arouse the admiration of every receptive person."
After the Newtonian mechanics of action at a distance, the notion of field was introduced in physics, mainly through the work of Faraday and Maxwell on electromagnetism, which culminated with another great synthesis, that which unifies the domains of optics, electricity, and magnetism. What made Maxwell's theory "appear revolutionary," wrote again Einstein (reference 4, page 33), "was the transition from forces at a distance to fields as fundamental variables. In this connection I cannot suppress the remark that the Faraday-Maxwell pair has a most remarkable inner similarity with the Galileo-Newton pair - the former of each pair grasping the relations intuitively, and the second one formulating those relations exactly and applying them quantitatively."4
At the end of the nineteenth century, there were the discovery of the electron and of the proton, and a collection of remarkable questions which led, on the one hand, to the discovery of the quantum of action by Planck in 1900 and, on the other hand, to the development of the theory of relativity by Einstein in 1905.
"When one looks back over the development of physics, one sees that it can be pictured as a rather steady development with many small steps and superposed on that a number of big jumps. Of course it is these big jumps which are the most interesting feature of this development. The background of steady development is largely logical, people are working out the ideas which follow from the previous set-up according to standard methods. But then, when we have a big jump, it means that something entirely new has to be introduced. These big jumps usually consist in overcoming a prejudice."5 The inventive physicist finds that he has to question this prejudice and replaces it by an entirely new image of nature.
In his work on the special theory of relativity, Einstein made one of these big jumps and achieved a great new synthesis of apparently disconnected ideas: the prejudice of absolute simultaneity was questioned, analysed, and replaced by a new conception of physical space, a new entity in which ordinary three-dimensional space and time are amalgamated to constitute a four-dimensional manifold, a consequence of which is that space may generate time, energy may generate momentum, energy is equivalent to mass, electric and magnetic fields are aspects of the same subjacent variables, the electromagnetic field.
Moreover, a new concept, that of a superlaw, was introduced by Einstein in physics with his relativity principle. By postulating that the laws of physics must be independent of the state of (rectilinear and uniform) motion of the observer, of its position in space, and of the time at which his observations are made, Einstein formulated a general requirement to be satisfied by the equations of physics. If an ordinary physical law expresses a relationship between variables associated to phenomena and events, the principle of relativity states how such a relationship must be expressed, how it may not be; mathematically, the principle of relativity states, as is well known, that the physical laws must be invariant under a certain group of transformations, the Poincaré group. This was perhaps a striking and very precise realization of the claim, or desire, that scientific knowledge must be wholly impersonal, independent of the physicist who makes the experimental observations. And also the proclamation of absolute statements - the invariant laws - as well as the relativization of the notion of measure, of the values of length, volume, time interval, energy of a physical system, for example, as numbers which depend on the frame of reference in which the measure is carried out.
It was still Einstein - and we commemorate the centennial of his birth this year 1979 - who after ten years of research discovered the relativistic theory of gravitation, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, constructions in the theoretical physics of all times. By achieving a new synthesis, which generalized Newton's gravitation theory, Einstein identified the gravitational field with the tensor of the space metric, the physical space as described by laws of Riemannian geometry. The machinery of this geometry led Einstein to invent his equation of the gravitational field - an equation which is based on the notion that matter affects the curvature of space-time and that space-time acts back onto matter and determines the nature of its motion: a revolutionary concept which destroys the old notion of space as a passive stage where events take place, without affecting them, as proclaimed by Leibnitz.6
It was mainly his invention of the relativistic theory of gravitation which led Einstein to formulate his conception of the genesis of scientific knowledge in physics: the concepts and the laws which relate them to one another can be discovered by means of purely mathematical constructions, and give the key to the understanding of natural phenomena. Experience may suggest the appropriate mathematical ideas but these can surely not be deduced from it. Experience, of course, remains as the only valid criterion for judging the physical utility of a mathematical theory. But "the concepts and principles are free inventions of the human intellect, which cannot be justified either by nature of that intellect or in any other fashion a priori."7
This epistemological conception of scientific work, of, so to say, an anti-Baconian character, is indeed to be found from Newton, Lagrange, Hamilton, to Einstein, De Broglie, Heisenberg, and Dirac.
The discovery and the development of the theory which describes atomic phenomena - quantum mechanics - as well as research on the ultimate constituents of matter, the so-called elementary particles, dominated the physics of the last fifty years.
It was only in the beginning of the eighteenth century that the atomic hypothesis, put forward by the Greek philosophers, lost its theological and metaphysical character. Democritus, in the fourth century B. C., stated that "the only existing things are atoms and the vacuum; all else is mere opinion"; and thereby put forward the important notion that the complex variety of bodies and phenomena result from the motions and interactions between invisible and indivisible particles, the atoms, which obey "simple" laws. Newton himself wrote: "It seems probable to me that God in the Beginning formed matter in solid, messy, hard, impenetrable, moveable Particles of such Sizes and Figures and with such other Properties and in such Proportion to Space as most conduced to the End for which he formed them; and that these primitive Particles being Solids, are incomparably harder than any porous Bodies compounded of them; even so very hard, as never to wear out or break in pieces; no ordinary Power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first Creation."8
You all know that the atoms - or at least the objects we came to call atoms - were found to be rather complex systems. The development of modern science, from the seventeenth century to our days, the extraordinary achievements of experimental techniques and ingenuity' the birth and development of scientific thought, led to the replacement of the metaphysical approach to natural philosophy by the rational approach based on experimental evidence, on mathematical models constructed on the results of observations and on inventive intuition.
The notion of an indivisible atom gave place to the concept of elementary particles and one hoped that these particles would be - in small number - the fundamental constituents of matter. In the last decades, however, a large number of such sub-atomic particles were discovered, a number which is now in competition with the hundred atoms or so which integrate Mendelejev's periodic table. We now know six species of leptons, particles which include - and have properties in common with - the electron and its neutrino. There are the baryons, particles related to protons and neutrons; the mesons, which are. exchanged between baryons; there is the photon, the particle of light, responsible for the propagation of electromagnetic forces. We assume the existence of particles which have not yet been observed such as the graviton, which propagates gravity, the weak mesons, which propagate weak interactions. The mathematical beauty of the present attempts to unify the weak, strong, and electromagnetic forces, such as the Salam-Weinberg model, lead most of the present-day physicists to believe in the existence of the latter particles. This unification, in which are concentrated the efforts of the physicists who specialize in the domain of high-energy physics, will constitute a great new synthesis, comparable to those which were mentioned earlier in this paper.
And this is the present hope: to reduce the different forms of observed forces, the gravitational interactions, the weak interactions, the electromagnetic forces, and the strong forces (responsible for the existence of nuclei and therefore of matter) to different manifestations of certain underlying basic entities called gauge fields.
This unification is an old dream which started with the attempts of Einstein to include the electromagnetic forces in the unification of gravitation and space-time geometry. And it is the method introduced with so much force and elegance by Einstein in theoretical physics, the search for symmetry groups which leave invariant basic physical laws which is at the root of our present-day work.
Matter, on the other hand, the variety of elementary particles mentioned above, seems to be constituted - with the probable exception of the leptons - by certain objects called quarks. The quarks would be the latest elements in the fragmentation scalation of matter, ultimate particles which integrate the heavy elementary particles but which would be, for some reason not yet fully understood, not observed as free particles. Quarks would most probably be confined inside the elementary particles and this notion would perhaps give the key for us to stop in the process of reduction of matter to smaller and smaller constituents
To conclude this picture of our physical image of the world, let me say just a few words on the astrophysicist's conception of the universe.
It was after the discovery of the relativistic theory of gravitation that cosmology started to develop as a science. From 1917 observational data and theoretical studies laid the foundations of this discipline which has not stopped developing since.
As stated by a distinguished cosmologist, "the existence of the universe is clearly its most important characteristic but I am referring here to the stronger idea that it is meaningful to talk of the universe as a whole, as a single well-defined concept. This idea is one of the most important, perhaps the most important, scientific discovery of the twentieth century." That the universe is unique, and that we can apply to its study the physical laws which are locally established, are postulates generally admitted. Observations of stars and galaxies and objects revealed by the emission of invisible radio waves have led the astrophysicists to the conception that the whole universe is in a state of expansion, of continuous change with time. The notion of expansion of the universe was the result of observations of the red shifts of the galaxies, radio source counts, abundance of the elements. The extrapolation into the past of this outward movement of galaxies, the discovery of the background microwave radiation, have led to the conclusion that our world came into existence in a sudden way, out of an explosion, a "big bang." This is the so-called "standard hot big bang model" according to which, at the beginning, about 15 billion years ago, elementary particles were highly concentrated and under thermodynamic equilibrium at extremely high temperature, with the decay of particles and recombination of pairs in the first few seconds. With the motion of these particles the temperature dropped and there occurred the formation of elements, with the production of helium out of protons and neutrons. Later on heavier elements were produced out of nuclear reactions and the stars became intensely hot furnaces in which ordinary matter was forged out of protons.
And thus we are still left with the question of what happened before the initial state of nearly infinite density and temperature and pressure. Other models of the universe are also investigated by cosmologists who attack fascinating questions such as the possible permanent expansion of the universe or its return to contraction, the gravitational collapse, the existence of singularities in nature.
Such is the evolution of our ideas about the universe, from the old civilizations to present days. It is fascinating to learn that the matter of our localized world, "the carbon and nitrogen of our bodies, the oxygen we breathe, the iron in our blood were all generated inside stellar furnaces at remote epochs in the past.''10 And that in any case, as dreamed of by Anaxagoras, in the times of Pericles, the sun is like a red-hot stone and the moon is made of earth.
II. Science and underdevelopment in Latin America
The above is only a sketch of some of the basic lines of our physical image of the world. Others might tell you about the foundations of the biologist's picture of the universe, of the points of view of the chemist, the geophysicist, the mathematician, the social scientist.
We see that modern science had its birth in the seventeenth century and became associated with the emergence of capitalism in West European countries. Little by little, empirical inventions of machines and mechanisms, the study of nature in laboratory, the search for new products, and the understanding of the laws of nature furnished the instruments for the technological and scientific transformation of the world. At the same time, in other civilizations and societies, many of them subjugated by conquest and war, similar processes did not take place.
Immersed in a different historical context, subjected to specific religious, cultural, political, and economic forces, these societies did not develop the search for scientific knowledge - or were not allowed to continue such a development - and thus lacked basic tool, for the transformation of the world and indeed for ensuring their very survival.
Once the inequality among nations was established due to their different forms of interactions with the physical world, economic and political forces were bound to act in order to increase this inequality. 11 And the development of the emerging industrialized societies apparently arose associated with the economic and political domination of other societies, the present underdeveloped nations or, if you wish to change the nomenclature, the less-developed countries.
In Latin America, as you know, the Spaniards and Portugese conquered he native peoples of this continent, and employed efforts to destroy their religious systems and their cultural achievements. The civilizations in the Andes - the Incas - in the Mexico plateau and in Yucatan - Aztecs and Mayas - had reached important levels of material and cultural development before the invasion in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Mathematics, which included the utilization of the number zero, and astronomical knowledge, which included the prediction of eclipses, were achievements of those civilizations, which also developed techniques in agriculture, architecture, and engineering, as well as an artistic culture, which were transmitted from generation to generation.
The replacement of the local cultures by those of Western Europe as brought about by Spain and Portugal did not lead, however, to a scientific development in our part of the world, as was taking place in Europe.
It is true that Spain and Portugal made superb achievements which culminated with the discovery of continents through the development of the art and sciences of navigation. Several factors, however, such as the great influence of religion and the power exercised by religious authorities in those two countries, prevented them from participating in the European creation of science in the seventeenth century.
It is not my purpose to describe the effect of this on the evolution? Or science in Latin America.12 Names and data can be found in books and specialized articles. It will be seen that, in spite of difficult conditions of work, many talented scientists did important work in many countries of our continent, mainly after the second half of the nineteenth century. What is of the greatest interest to us is to see that the state of political and economic dependence of our countries could not allow the flourishing of culture and science. The colonies of Central and South America were regarded as places rich in primary materials to be exported to the expanding capitalist countries of Europe. And these in turn exported to the Latin American colonies their industrial products. "[Latin America], it is not unjust to say, saved the British cotton industry in the first half of the nineteenth century, when it became the biggest market for the English exportations.''13
The proclamation of political independence did not change the nature of the economic system in those countries - it was rather an opening toward their domination by Great Britain. At the same time, an ideology was taking form which stated that the process of economic development was a kind of game, of free competition, where the most intelligent and most dynamic peoples are successful. Political and economic domination in fact prevented other societies, other peoples, from competing in these games.14
And inside our countries, the national ruling classes, partners of those in the dominating foreign powers, developed an ideology according to which our countries have as a vocation the exportation of raw materials necessary to the expansion of the capitalist industrialized countries.
"It was accepted," states Velho, "that we [in Brazil] would never be able to produce industrial goods so well as English and other countries and that if we attempted to do so and became projectionists we would certainly suffer retaliations against our agricultural exportations.''15
Subsequently, the transformation of the economies of Latin American countries by means of the import-substitution industrialization, started in the beginnings of the twentieth century, had as a direct consequence the importation and the imitation of products and of the means of production invented abroad, the purchase of technology developed in the advanced countries.
It is thus important to emphasize that the character of economic dependence was essentially kept untouched, although under another form, when the Latin American countries ceased being formal colonies of Spain and Portugal. The search for manufactured products equal or similar to those which were imported led immediately to a technological dependence from abroad - the scientific and technical knowledge necessary to industrialization in Latin America was incorporated in the machines and plants imported from abroad.
In parallel to this situation of the economy, the medieval Christian image of the world was imposed in education. Universities were founded late in Latin America - and the exceptions do not change the general feature of lack of scientific education and its subsequent effect on the life of our nations. Clearly, the absence of industries implied no need for technological and scientific research institutes. And it is perhaps not exaggerated to say that the universities which were founded early in Latin America, in the seventeenth century, were rather centres dedicated to the study of the medieval-inspired culture developed in Spain and Portugal.
In the last few decades, a great effort has been made towards the development of universities and scientific institutes in many countries of Latin America. Following the industrialization process, many universities and scientific laboratories were founded or further supported and developed.
However, in spite of this expansion of the university system, of science and culture, the fact is that the industries which are owned by Latin American industrialists depend basically on imported machinery and technology.
And these industrialists have never been preoccupied with the technological research necessary to the improvement of the quality of their manufactured goods. Associated to foreign enterprises, from which they buy equipment and technical assistance, the national industries in Latin America almost never called for technical services by the national technological institutes.16 In this way, Latin American universities have generally been dissociated from the studies for economic projects; scientists and technologists have not been called to help make fundamental decisions in the formulation of the economic development programmes of these countries.
In the advanced industrialized countries, on the other hand, the machines and plants which are invented depend on intensive technological research and this, in turn, is based on investigation on fundamental science carried out in their institutes and universities.
III. Science and dependent development
If in our countries, in Latin America, we scientists and research engineers hoped one day to be able to contribute to their development, this hope was seriously harmed by the government decisions which have been taken in the last twenty years to base development on the implantation of affiliates of multinational enterprises. These industrial companies, which have their own research laboratories in the centre of the capitalist system, produce goods in the countries where they establish themselves mainly for exportation as well as for consumption by a small fraction of our populations. in recommending the adoption of these policies, technocrats utilize the myth of technology transfer. The installation of plants of multinational enterprises clearly does not imply any transfer of technical and scientific knowledge; the imported machines are invented, designed and built abroad, and the plans for locally making goods cannot be changed by the local national engineers. Even if we set aside the basic question of whether these industrial products are really those which are needed for our populations, it is clear that the important thing is the capacity of technological innovation and not the fact that workers have to be instructed on which buttons to press for operating the machines. The capacity of technological invention is not transferred by multinational enterprises. Research is, therefore, carried out abroad and technology comes in locked in black boxes.
The integration of most of Latin America into the economic-cultural market of the industrial capitalist nations has thus inevitably led to an aggravation of dependence: science and culture have become luxury imported products - sometimes locally produced by and for a few.
IV. Endogenization of science in which society?
It is thus clear that if we are to discuss plans for the development of science and culture in our countries, if we Presto suggest strategies for what is now called an endogenization of the activities in these domains, we have beforehand to clearly characterize the political, economic, and social forces which have been an obstacle to independent development, to the enrichment of our cultural heritage, to the affirmation of our national identities. For how are we to suggest a strategy for developing endogenous culture and science if the underlying political and economic systems of the society in question deny this endogenization, assume that what has been invented abroad is necessarily what we must imitate and buy?
V. The aims of science
As we follow the marvellous history of the elaboration of our scientific image of the universe, we are tempted to say that science is a unique and universal system of knowledge, politically neutral and standing above ideologies. The scientific laws are of course valid whatever the laboratory of whatever country in which you make experiments to verify them. But science is not only a catalogue of data, names, and statements. Scientific research is a dynamic process which includes interaction of the scientific community with their surroundings, with political and social forces. The motivations for research, its planning and funding, are not politically neutral. For science, in forming an interpreted picture of the world, gives us instruments for changing the world.
How many industries arose from pure fundamental research - from mechanics and thermodynamics, from the branches of chemistry, from Maxwell's equations, from the theory of electrons and quantum mechanics? Is not the whole field of nuclear energy a result of, among other ingredients, the formula of equivalence between mass and energy?
Science, we have been taught - and we like to repeat it - works for mankind, for the benefit of man, for the liberation of man from work. Science and technology are indeed so powerful as to be able to send man into cosmic space. Are they, however, not impeded from improving the living conditions of the poor and exploited masses in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America?
Is science then not a part of the social and political system of the advanced industrial nations? The results of scientific and technological research, are they not primarily and chiefly applied for the promotion of their model of society, for their mankind?
There are, of course, those who do not attach importance to these questions, who elude them.
There are those who, confronted with political changes in developing countries which tend to liberate them from subjugation and dependence, get ready to tell these countries which kind of science they must develop. It is suggested that developing countries must develop only so-called intermediate technologies, leaving the fields of advanced science and technology, the so-called big science, hard science, to the industrialized nations.
This suggestion is clearly unacceptable. Of course, a given country, with its specific resources, cannot always develop an arbitrarily chosen technology. Even the nations of Western Europe had to get together and pool their physicists, technicians, and financial means in order to establish a high-energy physics laboratory - the CERN - so as to produce the advanced and expensive equipment needed for further investigation on the ultimate structure of matter.
This idea of getting together, of pooling human and material resources among nations of a given region of the world, is it not a good idea, worthy of imitating? In this way is not the capacity of developing countries going to be enhanced, multiplied by a significant factor, are then not fields of research in science and technology open to such a group of nations, each of which would not be able to develop them in isolation? Clearly, locally developed techniques, many of which have been replaced by imported and inadequate technologies, must be preserved and studied.
But the principle that developing nations must not have access to certain fields of knowledge is unacceptable - it would be an attempt at freezing the present division of the world into rich and poor nations, at perpetuating the international division of labour.
Of course, appropriate technologies, in the sense that they should be financially, economically, ecologically adequate and serve the ideals of improving the living conditions of the whole community, not the interests of a privileged minority, such appropriate technologies are to be recommended not only to developing nations but also to the rich industrialized countries.
Look at the waste of energy, at the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels in the rich countries. Look at the indiscriminate exportation of sophisticated equipment by these nations to poorer countries just as a need to make profit, to pay for their investments in the corresponding fields. Look at the indiscriminate automation of industries and services there where labour hands are available in enormous surplus, look at the installation of computers everywhere with the subsequent aggravation of the unemployment problem.
It is as if science and technology, under the capitalist system, had as its aim liberating men from work - and thereby condemning them to "chômage," to being unable to find work, to having access only to the basic requirements of life.
I believe, therefore, that it is meaningless to urge the formulation of strategies for scientific and technological development in our nations if a corresponding political strategy is not analysed and formulated for changing the economic pattern of these countries.
We certainly cannot succeed in achieving endogenization of culture, science, and technology if we, scientists of the developing nations, do not discuss the basic political and economic forces which have prevented - throughout our history - the development of our potential capacity for creation.
VI. Science for liberation
Before concluding, let me make a few additional remarks. The first remark concerns the relationship between the individual work of creation by scientists and the social and political significance of science and technology. It is quite clear that the motivations for research work on the part of many scientists do not have any explicit political or economic connotation. It is apparently the wish to understand and solve problems in his specialized field, connected with the description, correlation, and, so to say, explanation of events and objects, with the discovery of laws of nature and of new images of the world, that incites many scientists to do their research work. In performing this work they develop special intuitions, a sense of beauty and elegance which only professional scientists know and which are probably not essentially different from the corresponding feelings developed by creative artists, philosophers, and writers.
It is, however, the whole set of the findings which result from the work of individual scientists that constitute science. The ensemble of scientific laws, of theoretical views and experimental techniques, constitutes a body of knowledge of the physical world which has a strong interaction with technology - a transformation of science in the art of creating substances, of inventing machines and building mechanisms, which are the tools for the transformation of the world according to the needs of men, their political and social projects and economic requirements.
To the construction of science contribute, in fact, not only the great innovators, but also the scientists who make lesser contributions but who are also important in their search for details, consequences, and applications of fundamental new theories and experimental discoveries.
There are still those - probably the great majority - who do their research work according to specific programmed and plans, with the idea of making discoveries of interest to a given practical domain, such as those in specific fields of solid state physics, of electronics, nuclear energy, space physics, and so on.
The set of the results arising from all this variety of research work constitutes the various domains of science and it would not be correct to say that this ensemble is free from social, economic, and even political significance. It would clearly be inappropriate to say so of the field of nuclear energy physics only because Einstein's fundamental work on this subject had a purely theoretical motivation.
In this respect, contemporary science nourishes all kinds of technology which are responsible for change in our social, economic, and political world: from the technology of food production to the technology of production of the most dreadful and destructive weapon systems. Scientists are thus naturally incited to think about the social, economic, and political consequences of scientific research, even if their own personal work involves only abstract ideas.
Scientists belonging to countries of the Third World, in particular, are naturally led to meditate on the role which science and technology may have in the making of their societies. They will find that the discoveries made in the research laboratories and universities of the advanced countries will be useful to the great industrial companies of the latter countries which develop and utilize these discoveries, and transform them into manufactured goods and special technologies. These companies then invest a part of their profits in the development of these laboratories and sell the result of their research work.
In a developing country, the economy of which is dominated by multinational enterprises, the research work carried out in national research institutes and universities does not generally have application in the benefit of that country since those enterprises employ their own scientific and technological knowledge.
Scientists of the developing nations can thus hardly escape the conclusion that the development of science and technology in their own countries presupposes the search for a political system, the project of which will be the welfare of the whole population.
The following questions are thus appropriate in a symposium such as the present one: which science and which culture, for which project of society in which world?
Is the aim of science and technology to liberate man or to establish a world ruled by repression of the many poor by the few rich?
To my mind, there can be no other answer: science must liberate man; and by that I do not mean only men and women of the advanced societies we must work for liberation of all men and women everywhere so that science will fulfill its vocation of universality and will become a patrimony of all mankind.
Contents - Previous - Next