Since the late 1800's, humans have witnessed the introduction of the telephone, electric power and lighting, the automobile, the airplane, radio, television, space travel, nuclear bombs, a cure for polio, the computer, etc, etc.
That's impressive. That's some science.
The other day I read that there is now a promising device, a gun of sorts, that can use stem cells to create a spray that, over time, will completely heal horrendous burns. If that device really works, I think there should be a parade or a holiday or something, as well as a well-deserved Nobel Prize for Medicine.
I'm kind of skeptical, though. Undoubtedly, there have been advances in medicine in the past couple of decades. For example, surgeries that once involved a lot of cutting and bleeding can often be done now with small incisions and arthroscopic devices.
In terms of pharmaceuticals, we now have pills that can lower our blood cholesterol, but there are many people who claim that blood cholesterol levels really have little to do with the risk of cardiovascular death and/or disease. We have anti-depressant drugs, but a recent study indicates that these drugs are no more effective than a placebo.
Meanwhile, information technology improves so quickly that it's nearly impossible to purchase a computer that won't be outdated in a year's time. Communication technology. which is largely tied to information technology, keeps improving as well. And, you keep getting more and more for less and less cost.
Other than that, what? We've got flat screen High Definition TVs. Fine. Wonderful. What else?
In terms of space exploration, NASA is still using the same space shuttles from the eighties that were originally conceived of during the Nixon administration. At the same time, an entirely private effort has achieved space flight in only the past few years.
Great advancements have been made regarding AIDS, and cure may not be far away. But AIDS has only been in the public consciousness for about 25 years or so. While it's certainly a significant scientific accomplishment, it isn't the equivalent of putting a man on the moon, or splitting the atom. These accomplishments represented answers to ancient questions, in which all of humanity had an active and immediate interest.
While there have been tremendous improvements on existing technology, mostly from the twentieth century, it seems to me that there really isn't any entirely new innovation. Cure for cancer? Nope. Efficient, clean energy? Nope. Interstellar travel? Nope.
If we do eventually get these things, they'll likely have more to do with information technology than they will applied innovations in medicine or energy. In other words, the improvements in information technology will make these improvements and innovations possible. So, there won't be some brilliant doctor of physicist or engineer who will be able to take singular credit as being the new Edison. Rather, information technology will simply continue to improve to a point that the many people clamoring for these answers will exploit the available technology to put together the pieces they couldn't put together before the technology existed. You won't see some person holding up a test tube announcing to the world that he or she has found the cure for cancer. Rather, a series of advancements involving many people over many years will just make cancer less of a concern. If a cure is found at all, the cure will occur incrementally.
It occurs to me that what science has lost in all of this is surface appeal. Our society worships celebrity to the point that people who have done absolutely nothing have become prominent celebrities. This year, a successful movie was made about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, and Time Magazine proclaimed him to be "The Person of the Year". Meanwhile, there really isn't anything much more significant about Facebook than there is about this forum. It's just a place on the internet for people to gather and, for the most part, people just make small talk. No one really seems to open up a heavy topic for discussion. People just post links and the pictures that portray their lives as being shiny and happy.
The movie about Mark Zuckerberg, called "The Social Network" is a good film, but it's not a great film. It's a very overrated film, in my opinion. After watching it, I found myself troubled, first, by the fact that our culture now celebrates what, in reality, is just another somewhat good movie as some kind of masterpiece. I was troubled,second, by the fact that the subject of the film hadn't really done anything except create a popular meme. Facebook is popular, and that's about it. It's not user friendly. The search features, frankly, stink--if you want to reconnect with the Frank Jones you knew in college, you better know the exact locality he lives in, unless you want to scroll through ten thousand profile pictures. Facebook recently asked users if they want to update to a new format, then, regardless of the response, forced users to switch to a new format that looks exactly like the old format, except for the fact that a user now doesn't know where anything is. There really isn't anything technologically innovative about Facebook. As far as I can tell, it's just popular, and that's about it.
It seems to me that our current world is advancing in design, but not in innovation. Everything that we've already had for many years is getting better, sleeker, and faster. But there's little or nothing truly new. Meanwhile, our craving for sexy attraction continues.
So, danger is always sexy. Rather than boldly going forward with science, science has now become a convenient tool for our society to become ever more insular and paranoid. Rather than enjoying the fact that we live in the best society that has probably ever existed, we now burn our collective energy on debating about phantom menaces. You want Utopia? You're living in it. Our world is so wonderful and advanced that the only thing that stands between true enjoyment and advancement is distracting so much energy into manufactured controversies. For instance, I can't possibly believe that even bringing up the topic of "global warming" has resulted in greater benefits than the tremendous distraction caused by having to debate the topic in the first place. Forget melting glaciers and encroaching coastlines. What about the billions of man-hours of human potential that have been wasted over the years? If we could see the true cost, the debate over global warming has likely been more destructive than even the worst-case-scenarios of the doomsayers. We didn't need warnings about the destruction of global warming; we needed warnings about the destruction caused by the debate over global warming.
As far as I can tell, science is now in a historical coma. Frustrated by the hard work and difficulty of great possibility, our practitioners of science have now turned to scrutinizing minutiae, because politicians feed them like a jealous and possessive lover pays a private investigator to follow their spouse around. Everything that anyone does will cause themselves or someone else some kind of harm, so the result is that no one feels safe to even move. No one will be able to even negotiate their day to day life without a feeling of insecurity.
This sense of insecurity will create a welcoming demand for authority. As more and more people feel that, no matter how much they try, they won't be able to do what they're told is right, and the more they'll want something powerful and definitive to guide them. So, authority will take over with an iron fist.
So, while our time on Earth and history passes us by, we're told that we should all gather around the fire to celebrate people who find new and innovative ways to waste our time worrying about nothing. And that's what institutional science now does. It doesn't accomplish things anymore, but makes up any reason it can find to make us feel bad and worry about what we've accomplished.
There. I got carried away and posted something too long in The Tavern again.