Having just coauthored a book about the historical roots of our current state of affairs, it seems we can gain some insight into that state of affairs by comparing rates of change in different areas of society. The hum an brain is being understood more in recent years and that knowledge is useful in this context. Being almost 77 I have personal insights from a career in science, especially neuroscience, complex systems theory, and computer modeling. At this point in my life I have the luxury of being able to see how change has occurred in different areas. Let me explain what concerns me. We have just come through another election season and have collectively witnessed some really bizarre things during that time. Meanwhile we experienced a very hot year and myriad climate changes that are anything but comforting. Almost unnoticed is thy.e contrasting flood of new technology on the consumer market. Umberto Eco spoke about these new gadgets as modern forms of "magic" because they wield such power without any understanding of how they work being necessary. If you too are fascinated by this contrast, read on below and we can examine it further.
No one will dispute the fact that science is marching forward, at least in certain areas, at an impressive rate. Meanwhile we have congressmen saying things that would flunk them out of a mediocre grammar school. This is not a new problem, Plato wrestled with it in his time.
What is it about the human mind that allows it to utilize knowledge while ignoring and, often adamantly denying the validity of its source? Evolution, Global Warning, Human Physiology, Agriculture and so many other things we are all about are all based on science.
How is it possible to fail to see the difference between information that can lead to modern technology and the analysis of climate and medical physiology? How is it possible to use changes brought about by evolving technology without acknowledging the evolutionary concept in biology?
Eco's metaphor with magic is certainly a tempting way to try to understand it. Especially when it is so often true that the "deniers" have a number of conflicting "religious" belief structures. Let us look more closely at these belief structures for they are related and related to the particular forms of science that produce their "magic". The common thread in all these beliefs is the ability to justify what, in most of the developed world, has been a good enough life style to keep the system stable. Weave religion and science together with the underlying idea that we have "god on our side" and you have an apparently self consistent world view. But do you see the problem? The fact that some aspects of science fit into this system so well are what make this world view so different from that of the Amish, for example, who reject the technology as well.
There is a clear pattern here. It goes back to the days of Descartes, Bacon, Newton, and others. It has to do with Cartesian reductionism and the machine metaphor. It also incorporates for Christians of many sects the biblical myth of creation ,especially with the idea of the fall. The Native People's scholars have pointed out that these myths are what led Western people to lose touch with nature and to begin to rape the earth. For science there is a real problem here for it has a body of myths that make it biased toward the mechanistic reductionist view of the world.
Why is this important? It is of vital importance because we know that the myth of mechanisms has led us astray. There is a lot of new light that has been shed on these issues during the past 50 or so years and especially in the last few decades.
A key area of breakthrough is modern causal analysis and its defining of a clear dichotomy between machines and complex reality. It is a rather straight forward idea. Machines can never be closed causally. Things like organisms, ecosystems, the earth system and social systems are closed causally except for a need for certain material and energy inputs.
If everything is a mechanism as we have thought for all these years then causes are needed to explain so much that is not entailed by the system itself. By contrast, systems that are causally closed need no external causes. Hence a mechanistic science, the science behind technology, requires a deity.
Our book spells this out in much greater detail, but I hope this gives you the seeds for understanding of what modern science is all about and why we are where we are.