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I Science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilisation: From domination to liberation


"Consider a typical country said to need 'to be developed'. It's probably of medium size, with a relatively large population; it has several natural resources that permit it a relative financial affluence and a genuine will to consolidate its political independence and to supply its economy with the means for autonomous growth. To these ends it is ready to set aside a not-inconsiderable portion of its foreign exchange earnings in order to finance the importation of modern science and technology. And after a while this country realises that the conditions of a new dependence are being forged by means of technology transfer, the acquisition of prefabricated factories, even by means of technical assistance aimed at training the country's own experts. From the difficulties involved in setting up a nation-wide engineering establishment capable both of mastering scientific and technical imports and of preserving one's freedom of choice on the world market, the country realises that in order really to make use of the imported types of knowledge it would almost have been necessary to be able to produce them oneself. To use a comparison, the importation of science and technology acts rather as a drug upon which the country becomes dependent, and not as a form of nourishment for autonomous development.

"Consider the plight of a 'Third World' student in a European or American university. He's caught in the paradox of having to learn and to think in mental categories which he feels to be unsuited for dealing with his country's problems, but which he is nevertheless unable to cast aside, since his own culture (which was not able to face the trials of modernity freely and of its own accord) has not provided him with adequate alternative ones. This student develops an internal conflict, the difficult resolution of which may paralyse his possibilities for intellectual and cultural identification, rather than measuring their steady growth. At best, he comes to know what the Sudanese sociologist, poet and political figure Mohí al-Dín Câber has termed 'cultural illusion'. His ambivalence is not productive, and there is the risk that he may slip into an attitude of cultural passivity which alone will make it bearable.

"Consider, almost everywhere in the world, what is called the 'traditional peasantry' and the regions where this peasantry predominates. The conditions in which it lives - and in the first place the economic conditions - are now actually destroying the meaningfulness of its life and labours. For example, [one researcher] found in Algeria (in 1967) that the revenue derived from 300 days of agricultural labour on a three-and-a-half hectare plot of land was equal to wages realised after 75 days of work in a nearby zinc mine and that this sum was equal as well to the savings accumulated in 40 days by Algerian workers who had emigrated to France. In these conditions the working of the land becomes a sort of absurd occupation, and it is lived as such by the peasants. It is significant, for instance, that in a census carried out at the same time as this study, 75 per cent of the Algerians questioned declared themselves to be unemployed, although only a third of the male population was really affected by unemployment. A recent report about Thai peasant families selling their children to Bangkok contractors emphasised the double absurdity of miserable urban wages passing for fortunes when compared with the monetary funds of the peasants. At the extreme of absurdity, there is often passivity, paralysis, death. - That was the impression the French province of Limoges evoked for a certain Egyptian theatre director. This was a man well acquainted with the deep misery of the Egyptian countryside, but who had not found there the fatalism and acceptance of death which he seems to have encountered in Limoges.

"Let me give two more examples from life in France, which happens to be my own country. Last summer thousands of hectares of forest in Provence burnt down. Modern technology (aeroplanes, 'canadairs', motorised columns...) was unable to check the disaster. If we can believe the writer Rezvani, who is a devotee to this forest, the tragedy was at least partially due to the lackadaisical attitude of the local authorities, who at the smallest alert, rather than relying on their own forces, called for the intervention of an external agency represented by heavy technology. And if one again encounters passivity and dullness here, it is because the Provençal forest is gradually being emptied of its 'traditional' population as the soil is snapped up by real estate agents and the owners of secondary residences or frozen in the land-speculations of European banks.... The traditional population had a know-how and techniques of fire-prevention (such as clearing off the underbrush during the winter) which was based on an intimate acquaintance with the terrain, on an almost direct fusion of the human inhabitant and the environment; such know-how allowed one to determine exactly when and where fires had to be lit for burning off the underbrush, how to keep control of such fires, etc. Heavy modern technology isn't successful in replacing this detailed knowledge formerly possessed by shepherds, hunters and woodsmen, and this is not simply a question of the means employed.

"There is a sort of subtle relation between modern techniques and social passivity that one finds in evidence with the 'programme Massif Central', inaugurated in 1975 for the purpose of checking the decline of the French province of Auvergne, which is suffering from a huge rural exodus, a depressed agricultural sector and a failing wine-industry. The programme is about half-way finished; but according to Pierre Pascalon, the results are not very satisfactory, because this project for rural development remains in the hands of urbanites, because it has been organised from Paris, in terms of progress, industry, and the optimalisation of profits... The solution is certainly not to 'dream up some Rousseauian schema in which Auvergne would become a living example of primitive purity chained to a set of outdated values'. But it is necessary to be aware of the significance of this sort of progress that is conceived somewhere else and imported from the outside. There develops in the local population a tendency to await passively for credits, plans and ideas coming from above; and given the conditions in which the population finds itself, this attitude is logical and inevitable. What's missing is 'a local responsibility that's really lived and experienced as such by the inhabitants'.

"Fatalism of course is not always fatal. Within a favourable conjuncture of circumstances, it can happen that a local population or social group manages to integrate technical modernity into a strategy of its own creation, concretised as an activism aiming at survival or development.... But this 'interiorisation' of scientific and technical knowledge seems relatively rare, since it is contingent upon a chain of events that is itself somehow a matter of chance and thus unforeseeable.

"It's not only in the traditional sectors that science and technology are involved in provoking a type of interior exile which may at times lead to the loss of personal or social identity. This is also the case at the heart of the modern system. Take the modern factory worker who is faced with a technical rationality that has become so alien and so strange to him that he can no longer place his work, no longer make any sense of it, no longer figure out his own place within the productive machinery. Take the technician working in a large-scale research laboratory who can no longer understand how his own activity fits into the execution of the general experiment that he is helping to carry out. Take the person who's ill and who's taken into the charge of a health-care system which despite the good intentions of medical personnel and hospital staff treats him as 'an object to be cured': it's the health system that does things for him; as a patient, he 'receives' medical and pare-medical attention; he's 'treated' with hospital equipment (and medications), in often-times painful conditions of ignorance about his own body, about what's going on around him, about what's going to happen to him. Take the 'average consumer' urged by modernist consumerism to consume 'rationally' and 'scientifically': he feels as much excluded from a 'science' whose soundness he has no way of testing as he does manipulated by a world of fetishising advertisements - especially when such advertisements themselves are paraded in scientific and technical jargon. These, by the way, are only a few examples out of many in which a general population becomes a necessarily voiceless and passive interlocutor, an indispensable but (because of its own ignorance) disqualified witness to battles of experts... about the safety of nuclear energy plants and the Pill, about the analysis of the economic crisis, about sexuality, about pollution and the destruction of the environment, about the definitions of mental illness and mental health, etc..."

(from Y. Barel, Paradigmes scientifiques et autodétermination humaine)

On Monday afternoon the symposium's first working session was organised around the theme of "Science and Technology as Formative Factors of Contemporary Civilisation - From Domination to Liberation". The five position papers presented to the session and the ensuing discussion developed the theme from different points of view, but it can easily be said that each intervention sought to focus attention on the same basic questions, namely: science and technology for whom? for whose benefit? at whose service? These questions were posed in terms of options and tendencies discernible at present - in terms, that is, of science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilization; but it was generally understood that it is objective solutions put into practice now which will fundamentally determine whether science and technology play an oppressive or a liberating role in the foreseeable future. If, on the other hand, we just quoted at length from the opening pages of the position paper by Yves Barel, this is not because one intends to give exhaustive accounts of concrete cases showing the social impact of science and technology, or because one necessarily considers all of Barel's formulations to be unproblematical. The purpose was rather to stress science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilization by evoking a number of examples which highlight the extent to which their social impact touches people (perhaps ourselves) concretely in their everyday personal experience and thus forces one to pose the social functions of science as problems.

The existence of such problems and the fact that their solution can and should be a matter of responsible human choice is at times obscured by various forms of scientism which portray modern science as a sort of disembodied saving grace, a fairy god-mother with a magic wand who can conjure up instant human happiness, while at the same time (by servilely obeying the laws of Nature in order to master them) making all human decision seem ephemeral and pointless. Such a view was attacked along two main lines.

It was first of all pointed out that science and technology are the results of historically determined social activity. Their development has not been abstract but concrete and tightly bound up with given forms of society and given social needs. The uses to which they are put and the directions in which they are developed, far from being socially gratuitous, are, on the contrary, tied to very real social and class interests. Science and technology tend primarily to serve the interests of the dominant segment of the society in which they are found; and the results - positive and negative - of their development are certainly not always distributed equally to all. Historical illustration of these points was provided by Dr Tomovic as he reviewed the development of modern technology since the Industrial Revolution and considered the implications of a heritage dominated by mass production, profit optimalisation, hierarchical forms of management and the abuse of natural resources. Dr Leite Lopes extended the historical analysis in order to situate the scientific and technological dependence of the Latin American countries within the general context of their continuing industrial and political dependence; and Dr Le Thanh Khoi related specific mechanisms of scientific and technical dependence to other aspects of the broad structure of cultural domination to which Third World countries are subjected. Henri Lefebvre spoke about the difficulties involved in adequately understanding new types of relations emerging on a global scale, but he stressed the continuing pre-eminence of the world market in shaping scientific and technological as well as political objectives at this level; drawing concretely on the example of the informational sciences, he considered some vital ways in which the development of new fields of knowledge is a scene of sharp social struggle. Dr Pandeya in turn pointed out that in the Third World both the natural and the social sciences can flourish only if scientists are bound closely to the people and serve the interests of the people rather than those of the transnational corporations and their agents. Dr Barel developed these problems theoretically; working from a view of the mutual interpenetration of science and society, he considered the relations between what he termed socio-epistemological paradigms and the problem of human freedom; and this brings us to our next point.

The second attack on scientism lay in discrediting the notion that scientific truth tends necessarily to bind human action to a single, narrowly 'correct' plan and thereby to do away with the need for human responsibility and critical judgement. In analysing the structure of knowledge, Dr Barel distinguished two fundamental and necessarily complementary types of rationality, namely, the mechanistic and the dialectical. He spoke of the dangers logically and historically inherent in one-sidedly pushing along with the first alone while expecting quick solutions to complex problems to be forthcoming; and, in contrast to the present-day dominance of the mechanistic approach, he observed that human self-determination and real solutions to human problems require that the dialectical method must take on the leading role. According to Dr Lefebvre, scientific truth opens up new possibilities for social practice by disclosing the necessary parameters within which human judgement and action can be effective; it thus enhances rather than negates the possibility for human responsibility just as it necessitates critical political struggle for differences at all levels. Drs Pandeya and Leite Lopes nuanced the obvious point that modern science and technology can be important forces in transforming conditions in the developing countries as they emphasised that only political struggles could determine whether science and technology would play a specifically liberating role for the majority of the people in the world; and Dr Leite Lopes, in particular, noted that the goal of advancing science itself gives Third World scientists an integral interest in participating in such struggles. And finally, having considered some of the negative characteristics of modern technology, Dr Tomovic spoke concretely about ways and means of breaking out of contemporary technological impasses, abandoning inefficient and wasteful lines of 'development' and generally of facing the responsibility of implementing or creating better facilities for solving individual and social problems.

Despite a tendency for consensus on general questions such as the two we have just been discussing, it should nevertheless be mentioned again that opinion at the conference was not homogeneous. Based at times on objective conflicts of interests, at times on diversity of experience and at others simply on differences in approach and expression, there were a number of disputes. One of these concerned the idea of 'appropriate technology'. Elaborating on a number of themes that had been introduced by Dr Tomovic, and emphasising the implications of demographic tendencies, Dr Macura argued that the technology necessary to meet the growing needs of the population of the Third World must be appropriate, in the sense of being inexpensive, labour rather than capital-intensive, energy-saving rather than energy-wasting, and egalitarian in terms of employment opportunities and satisfaction of basic needs; the Chinese experience was cited as quite positive in this regard, although not entirely so. Dr Holland pointed out ways in which the introduction of new technologies in the industrialised countries often entails increasing the difficulties in the maintenance of employment; he stressed that large-scale technological innovation is often an aspect of heightening international competition that may lead to war, but he believed that technology could solve many human problems if developed along rational lines. Dr Pandeya, on the other hand, objected strongly to the notion of appropriate technology on the grounds that in terms of international realities 'appropriate' is often equivalent to 'obsolete for the industrialised nations' and that building a national economy upon such a principle meant accepting for one's country the status of a perpetually dependent supplier of primary products that are chained to the fluctuations of the world market; Dr Pandeya said moreover that the needs of the developing countries can only be met when such countries possess an infrastructure capable of generating the best science and technology possible at a given moment. Dr Stambuk was also of the opinion that technological self-reliance is a necessary condition for securing real national independence; he admitted that he was not yet able to understand how the development of advanced science and technology could be squared economically with limited national resources, but he felt that problems concerning the development of science and technology as well as those concerning unemployment would properly have to be seen within the more general context of changes in society as a whole. Dr Pecujlic, in turn, cited concrete cases in making the point that 'alternative' technologies which take into account both productivity and human well-being can only be born from social struggle, and not from catchy slogans. But in a second intervention Dr Macura insisted on the point that developing countries must not blindly replicate the wasteful and noxious aspects of industrialisation as evidenced in the developed world today. In the light of this discussion, it was a pity that Dr Leite Lopes had been unable to present his position paper which dealt with several of these questions and which had, in particular, suggested the strategy of collective self-reliance as an example to be followed by Third World countries in the execution and maintenance of projects that would overtax the resources of a single country. Dr Leite Lopes agreed with Dr Pandeya that 'appropriate technology' is being employed as a ruse for perpetuating the present international division of labour, and he repudiated such a strategy as unacceptable. He also pointed out, however, that if 'appropriate' is supposed to mean that technology must be economically and ecologically sensible and that it must serve the interests of the whole community as opposed to those of an élite, then it is indeed laudable - but then there is no reason why it should, in the style of the World Bank, be recommended to the countries of the South any more than to those of the North.

This brings us back to Dr Lefebvre's point about the necessity of understanding the development of science and technology within a global perspective; to use Leite Lopes' formulation, until the peoples of all nations participate as equals in its on-going development, the 'vocation of universality' specific to modern science will remain unfulfilled. Despite the variety of conditions facing different peoples around the globe, despite consequent differences in strategies and tactics, it seems clear that Drs Pecujlic and Lefebvre are correct in stressing that science and technology in general become thoroughly liberating forces only when they are the objects of social and political struggles for democracy. First and foremost among such struggles today, however, are those for the liberation of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America; and it is within the perspective of this priority that any technology, whether heavy or light - and however 'appropriate' to the maintenance of other interests - must be correctly evaluated.

Let us now turn to consider in more detail the various positions taken.

In his keynote address entitled Le nécessaire et le possible dans la formation du mondial, Dr Henri Lefebvre tried to clarify some basic ideas about the global dimensions of the world in which we live by focusing particularly on the relationship between the new informational technologies and our joint participation in the world as a whole.

By way of introduction, Dr Lefebvre pointed out that, while many of our notions about the world as such remain ill-defined, it is nevertheless clear that this world cannot itself be depicted with scientific objectivity or exactitude and certainly not according to a fixed model, that it should be understood as a process rather than as an object or thing, although even the term 'process' implies a predetermined finality that may not be at all certain. Is it maybe worth while considering the world today as "the highest stake in a life-and-death gamble? The destruction of the planet and the emergence of a global community present themselves throughout this necessary (inevitable) gamble as two equally probable and equally improbable possibilities". In such a scenario, "there would by necessity be risk, danger and adventure, and playing would put the whole - and thus all the possibilities - at stake". Not a bad image, perhaps? It of course raises other questions, such as "who's playing? and according to which rules? without rules? who's running the game and who set the stakes?"

A critical survey of the ideas of several European philosophers and ideologists who have developed the theme of the 'world' in one way or another (Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Teilhard de Chardin, Heidegger, McLuhan, Brezinski and Kostas Axelos - by whom the above-cited passage was undoubtedly inspired) shows that our vision of the world is not a blank sheet; it is covered with "weird images [and] symbolisms that are optimistic at one moment and pessimistic at the next". It is, in particular, still marred by the "methodological and conceptual vice" of Eurocentrism: "people still think of what's happening in the world as simply an extension of European Logos, of the types of production and consumption that have been born in Europe"; and this fact cannot be accounted for as a matter of bad faith alone, for, despite his path-breaking work in theorising the mechanisms of the world market, "it must be recognised now that Marx himself did not escape this sort of Eurocentrism". It is necessary today "to recognize the diversity of cultures as well as that of concepts and categories, and even the way that they are employed in discourse.... Understanding the world as a process - historical if you like, but leaving behind classical historicity as defined by a single memory - requires that one pass deliberately beyond Eurocentrism. There is no reason to stick to the idea that the homogeneous sides of world reality are more important than the differences. There is no reason to expect a simple quantitative extension of European Logos; one should rather anticipate qualitative transformations throughout a long and profound movement."

While a thorough and concrete account of the global dimensions of life today would probably necessitate a complex systematisation of the sectorial results of the various human sciences, several dominant themes can nevertheless be isolated and their implications then traced in terms of the ways in which information is controlled, processed and used.

Certainly one of the most striking aspects of the world today is the globalisation of the State. Although this globalisation has taken the form of a multiplicity of national and multinational States rather than of the unity of a single world-State, Hegelian political rationality is still with us: "these States form a system: and analogous if not homogeneous traits are recognisable in each particular State. The world system of States does not, however, prevent extreme fragmentation of the world as a whole; nor does it prevent the maintenance of a strict hierarchy running from the smallest and most humble State up to the superpowers." "Homogeneity - fragmentation - hierarchy" is thus a set of ideas worth retaining when the global totality is being characterised; as a generalisation, it is also applicable to other fields than just politics alone. The whole system is likewise fraught with contradictions, from peaceful conflicts at one end of the scale to the various forms of war on the other. "Hence a proposition that can be set forth as a theorem: globalisation itself takes shape according to the phenomena which block it, fix it, shatter it (obstacles, conflicts and multiple contradictions)."

Counterposed the globalisation of the State is the globalisation of the business firm embodied in the transnational (or multinational) corporation, of which IBM is the prototype. Understanding the exact interplay between these two aspects of globalisation is one of the most important, but also most difficult, tasks in understanding the total process. It is certain, however, as evidenced in the Nora-Minc Report, that these two forms of globalisation - the one political, the other economic - both interpenetrate and confront each other on the world market. "Exercising control over information networks, the company takes on a dimension that, properly speaking, exceeds the industrial sphere: whether it likes it or not, it participates in the global empire.... The disintegration of States at times creates a vacuum that's quickly filled by IBM's spontaneous dynamism."

The world market is in effect another of the striking characteristics of today's world, and it continues to operate as a single system "since the 'socialist' countries have not succeeded in setting up a second market as a rival to the first". Nevertheless, "there is no theory of the world market", since experts "know only a single element, such as the monetary system". "The world market as such", however, is to be analysed in terms of "various movements that are either superimposed and linked or else divergent in space: the movement of finished products, movements of capital and of the labour force, the flow of techniques and of knowledge, and even of signs and symbols, the flow of information and the movement of so-called cultural works, etc...." But full analysis of this quickly changing reality is complicated by the ways in which "virtualities" themselves "are taken into account, and forecasting becomes operational" as individual sectors of the market are "explored and occupied according to suitable procedures". "Hence the proposition: the necessary, i.e. the world-wide extension of merchandise, of exchange-value (of their language and their logic) opens the way for and even requires the exploitation of the possible."

In such circumstances our visions of the world have been transformed: and, in particular, ideas about what constitutes 'progress' and 'development' are being re-evaluated. "In the conventional conception of historicity, time plays a determinant role"; but as the Earth's regions and even layers available for various activities (commercial, industrial, financial, cultural and military) are more and more brought into calculations and strategies, "a quantitative and qualitative alteration is taking place: space is taking on the primordial role". A new conception of causality is emerging concomitantly, and "time itself must be conceived along other than traditional lines.... Time is being localised and each place includes a time; but world time exists nonetheless. Temporality can no longer be understood according to the cycle of births and declines (Hegel-Marx-Nietzsche) but only in terms of the conflictual relation of world-strategies."

Now, if we wish to test the implications of such general themes within the realm of informatics, it will first of all be readily observable that "technological progress [within this field] reinforces but simultaneously diversifies the world communications network" and that "it tends to build up a single network by interconnections of separate nets and by integrating different types of services". It can likewise be observed that "the ideological function" (including the production and diffusion of knowledge) of traditional institutions such as schools and universities "is being increasingly transferred to communications systems" - centres which "are administratively and institutionally controlled either by the State or by the so-called corporations". Globalisation is thus proceeding; but it is globalisation of a quite specific and dangerous sort, the "primordial danger [being] the unlimited reinforcement of the State and its various managerial, repressive and ideological capacities".

At the ideological level there is at present the menace that the definition of the political arena itself is being increasingly dictated by authorities and 'experts' - that is to say, technicians and technocrats capable of programming information; this tendency favours the personalisation of political power at the same time as it enforces the marginalisation of all independent and non-programmed political thought and action. On the one hand, this development is justified as a necessity by the presentation of a highly suspect unitary theory of the field of communications which is based on the simplistic amalgamation of an area of basic mathematics, a set of technical applications which are related to but distinct from the pure science and, lastly, a given social practice of dealing with information. On the other hand, this complex itself is vaunted as heralding the birth of a new type of society - namely, a 'post-industrial society' from which critical thought will be eliminated, since the free flow of informational data alone allows all decisions to be made 'rationally' end automatically by computer. The 'model' society envisaged by the communications ideologists is a transparent one: "No shadows or dark corners and no little hiding-places in this perfect social practice. No secrets or shames, and no discretions. Socialized information will lead to a society that will be 'fully planned, where the centre will receive from each base-cell correct messages about its own particular level' so that culture and information will 'share the same structure and the same orientation' (Nora-Minc Report) by making each individual conscious of the general and collective restraints. This is not only an ideology, but rather a mythology of scientism and a dangerous Utopia...", dangerous especially since global auditing can be installed to facilitate an efficiency that will eliminate all disturbances.

"The communications ideologists present their cluster of techniques as an objective science: as a totalising activity capable of covering, controlling and managing social reality as a whole. They don't consider themselves to be interpreting data, but to be attaining true objectivity in the social sphere. They don't want to admit that they themselves are advancing and representing a political project. But isn't subordinating social and political facts to technical factors a political act? Technicising the political and social instead of socialising and politicising the technological is in my opinion a political act that is misleadingly objective: an ideology passing itself off as a science. This affirmation by no means resolves the difficult problem of the relationships between technical and social change, but it prohibits taking as the solution that which actually poses the problem."

A particular technique "in itself sets both demands and limits. A necessity is elaborated in it and by it. But despite the pretensions of certain technocrats, this necessity is not formed or constituted as a finished system. Far from it: it in fact opens diverse, even contradictory, possibilities. As for techniques alone producing a world organism, this is a pipe dream that doesn't stand up to analysis."

"Technologies pose without resolving the essential problem that forces a choice: a political option.... The problem is expressed as follows: systems of communication and information must be examined not in isolation but within a social and political context. Either one requires social forces to adapt themselves to the new technology, which favours a vertical and centralised structure, or one bets on the intensification of social activity without losing heart in the face of 'static' and disturbing interventions, and this favours horizontal currents. Priority is either given to mass-produced anonymous messages travelling vertically, or else to circulation among social activities.... Either one opts for total integration of the world system - or else one opts for flexibility in the network. In any case, two types of society come into relief. There is conflict, and thus simultaneously the demand for one option and a dialectical movement, for it's obvious that a society which is decentralised from the informational point of view by no means excludes centrality and vertical messages. It simply relativises them."

Something should be mentioned here about the recent history of the ideas of 'the consumer' and 'consumers' rights'. For a while the movements for the protection of the rights of the consumer engendered a few illusions about replacing 'exchange-values' with 'uses-values'. Nowadays "the concept of the consumer is becoming more and more suspect, and not without reason. What about the citizen? That's a political concept. The consumer? That's an openly depoliticised functional concept. It's serving as an ideological tool for sapping at their foundation, the theory and the practice of citizenship and of the 'rights' of man and of the citizen that are the basis of democracy."

"In order to satisfy the consumer, it suffices to make all services function 'normally'. In the name of the consumer 'normal' functioning can be required which puts the right to strike in question."

Besides the dangers inherent in the uses which the State can make of the informational systems, there are of course also those connected with commercial and cultural programming based on the results of surveys about the 'tastes' of key consumer groups (in the middle classes, of course); these results are invoked as criteria defining consumer needs in general, and "the behaviour and psychosociological mechanisms of consumers thus become means of domination".

It cannot be denied, on the other hand, that citizenship in many countries has long been little more than a political abstraction and that the citizen's rights have been withering away, as it were. Is it not possible that consumers' demands will serve as the basis for a leap beyond just business as usual, that consumers will come to demand a qualitative change. In this case, the concepts of the citizen and the consumer could again be joined together, consolidating and enriching each other.

In any case, real mastery of information "can not come from a centralising action, from a unitary structure". Such an action is based only on redundance and repetition. Paradoxically - and from the scientific point of view alone - it is surprise effects that diminish redundance. And surprise comes from below.... In order to master communications, it must be recognised that the 'base', the micro-societies, cells or pockets (territorial or otherwise), have their own activity and dynamic, a capacity for control and self-determination. The mastery of information is a problem of political democracy.

"This brings us back to the general problematic of self-management. Communications can perhaps provide another criterion besides production and the market. How can sham self-management be distinguished from the real conditions of its effectivity? What place do (or should) the base-organisms have in the production, management and consumption of information? Self-management can only enhance itself and take on a more concrete content in dealing with problems connected with communications."

"The demand of decentralisation goes far beyond the ideas of those who propose it [simply] on the basis of technological arguments. It implies a global project. Its achievement does not just require governmental decisions. It implies a genuine political action, that is, very concrete political struggles. The base will only open the way for itself by means of effective actions. The chances are great that the summits of political and State powers will only accept de-centralisation, pluralism, micro-societies and the affirmation of differences when they are constrained and forced to do so. By what? By democracy, or, in other words, by the struggle for democracy. In effect, democracy is not something static defined by stability or equilibrium; it is rather a dynamic, a movement defined by conquest and constant reconquest...."

"Political struggle for differences [thus] becomes fundamental at all levels - but not without rejecting pretensions about being different or without severe critical analysis. Not just anything or just anybody!"

Dr J. Leite Lopes opened his paper, Science and the making of contemporary civilisation, by sketching briefly the historical development until the present of mankind's physical and astronomical images of the world. Singling out the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians for special mention, Dr Leite Lopes praised "the superb achievements obtained by ancient societies... in Asia, Africa and Latin America", although we would suggest that, when speaking of "their mythical approach to the study of nature", he was rather unsocial in failing to include that of the ancient Europeans as well. Despite an understanding of the fact that "the Creeks assimilated the celestial bodies to Gods", their undeniably great importance was nevertheless overrated in statements such as, "it was... the atomistic philosophers of ancient Greece who exercised perhaps the greatest influence on the modern conception of the universe" or "Aristarchus of Samos, in the third century B.C., discovered the complete Copernican system...". The developed images of the physical world and of the universe typical of mediaeval Islam and Christianity can still be attested as represented, for example, in the works of Avicenna and Dante, although for other civilisations the task of reconstruction is not so straightforward, since so many documents "were lost or destroyed... for instance in the subjugation of the magnificent pre-Columbian civilizations...". During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the modern period in Europe saw the great scientific revolution in astronomy and physics as typified by the work of Galileo and the synthesis of Newton; and during the nineteenth century, "the notion of field" was developed in physics as the work of Faraday and Maxwell on electromagnetism "culminated with another great synthesis, which unified the domains of optics, electricity and magnetism". Then, "at the end of the nineteenth century, there were the discoveries 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".

"In his work on the special theory of relativity, Einstein... 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." "Einstein identified the gravitational field with the tensor of the space metric, physical space as described by the laws of Riemannian geometry. The machinery of this geometry led [him] to invent his equation of the gravitational field - an equation 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...." Without going into details here, it can be observed that such developments were closely bound up both with the elaboration of the concept of a 'superlaw' which can be interpreted as providing confirmation of the impersonal nature of scientific knowledge and with epistemological formulations which predicate a relative autonomy between experimentation and intellectual creativity.

Meanwhile, in the last fifty years physics has been dominated by the discovery of atomic phenomena and by the associated theoretical development of quantum mechanics, and much research has especially been devoted to "the ultimate constituents of matter, the so-called elementary particles". The great hope in this field at present is "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... started with the attempts of Einstein to include the electromagnetic forces in the unification of gravitation and space-time geometry"; and its realisation "will constitute a great new synthesis comparable to those... mentioned earlier in this paper". And the method introduced into theoretical physics by Einstein, "the search for symmetry groups" which leave basic physical laws invariant, is still "at the root of our present-day work".

In summing up his story, Dr Leite Lopes quoted at length from Nobel Laureate Paul Dirac to the effect that: "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...." In a style of expression reminiscent of the work of Thomas Kuhn, Dirac continued: "The background of steady development is largely logical, people are working out the ideas which follow from the previous set-up according to standby 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."

Commenting on this passage, Leite Lopes remarked that "the inventive physicist finds that he has to question this prejudice and replace it by an entirely new image of nature." It should, however, be added that inventive achievements such as these require much more than mental activity alone: and this is the lesson to be learned from the second half of this position paper, which considered the prospects for science and technology in Latin America today within the context of the evolution of economic and social conditions in that part of the world.

In considering this evolution, it can of course be remarked first of all that the pre-Columbian peoples - e.g. the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs, to name only the most well-known - had achieved considerable sophistication in such fields as mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, architecture and engineering; but in the first half of the sixteenth century the general cultures of these peoples were largely suppressed or destroyed and replaced by West European cultures. However, when modern science was born in Europe during the seventeenth century, the peoples of Spain and Portugal were for a number of reasons (of which a stifling religiosity was not the least important) generally excluded from participating in this 'big jump', and this fact played an important role in conditioning the low level of science and technology in the American colonies. Nevertheless, "in spite of difficult conditions... many talented scientists did important work in many countries of our continent, especially after the second half of the nineteenth century. What is of the greatest interest to us to see is 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...."


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