Richard Dawkins knew Carl Sagan personally

About the meaning and use of science

"When kids look up to great scientists [philosophers and other thinkers] the way they do to great musicians and actors, civilization will jump to the next level." - Brian Greene

The central core of humanism has partly existed since pre-Christian antiquity, but no later than the Renaissance, made up of reason and enlightenment. These two leading factors are acquired through the use and handling of rationality, naturalism, science, philosophy and art. In this regard, natural science and philosophy are of particular importance. Since the invention of the written language over 6000 years ago, the former has enabled the continuous rise and increasingly accelerated technical progress of our human civilization on the one hand, but also an immense global increase in knowledge and education and thus socio-cultural and ethical progress on the other. The broad field of philosophy begins where our empirically and experimentally secured knowledge about life, the cosmos and everything else reaches its temporary limits. In this way, in cooperation with natural science, it is always possible to gain further knowledge in one act of fruitful synthesis. A highly developed human society is always also a spiritually emancipated knowledge society.

So that enlightenment, reason and rationality, the foundations of modern civilization, can find overall social approval and support and so that the challenges of the future can be successfully mastered, it is part of the task of modern / evolutionary humanism, knowledge and insights of all departments and disciplines to bring as large an audience as possible. Particular attention should not be given to the question of economic or short-term technical relevance. This must be subordinated to two other significant values ​​in science at a tertiary level. Because practice should be the result of reflection, not the other way around.

First and foremost, the pleasure, intellectual enjoyment and the joy that dealing with intellectual questions brings with it for a not inconsiderable number of people. This joy can be gained in two ways. On the one hand from reading, thinking about it and thinking further, as well as passing on and explaining the scientific-philosophical questions and answers, on the other hand from the active scientific work itself. This point is important and is generally greatly underestimated on the political and didactic side. Is this purely individual and personal enjoyment of benefit to society as a whole? Yes, for two specific reasons: firstly, a globalized, pluralistic community of values ​​has to consider what goals it is pursuing. If it wants to create the conditions for people to associate positively with their underlying values ​​and foundations and to enjoy them, this point is as important as anything else. The second aspect of this is the positive effect of these experiences on our hard-won modernity Worldview. Today's people perceive the world as infinitely more wonderful and astonishing than it would have ever been possible for previous generations due to their lack of in-depth knowledge. The impression that the sciences would reduce the fantasy and diversity of the cosmos to a cold and monotonous measure is based on a fallacy and very superficial consideration of this, in truth, horizon-expanding process. It is therefore always anew to analyze, admire, appreciate and constructively criticize the fundamental progress of human history in order to anticipate the coming developments without fear and dogmatism but also without hysterically exaggerated expectations of salvation with a healthy amount of skepticism, optimism and critical rationality to encounter. One should never be concerned that, while exploring ever greater and more astonishing secrets, one will come across an answer that may disappoint one's expectations. The history of "Homo sapiens" shows impressively that it makes more sense in the long term to throw hopeful illusions or deliberate misconceptions overboard in exchange for the current truth. It is better to let wrong ideas die before people die for wrong ideas. So this is the epistemic / hedonistic argument.

The second point is how the sciences deal constructively with doubts, ignorance and uncertainty. It is of the utmost importance to leave room for doubt in general progress. This is the only way to differentiate between answers of different certainties. Some statements and explanations are obvious nonsense, others are highly uncertain, others are plausible, almost certain or even verified with the greatest possible certainty. But there are basically no guarantees. People who deal with science and history, whether active or passive, are used to skepticism and the impression of preliminary ignorance and are familiar with the sensible use of this instrument. They know the small but important differences between a precise theory, a plausible hypothesis, a preliminary postulate, a predominantly metaphysical interpretation, a simple clue, proper evidence or strong evidence. If you want to find a solution to a hitherto unsolved problem, the door to the unknown has to remain ajar. In the historical context, the freedom to doubt had to be laboriously acquired during the Enlightenment. The freedom to be able to ask questions, not to have to rely on existing statements and assurances, to have the right not to have to be certain is not a matter of course. It is a young innovation in human history and is pricelessly successful. The idea of ​​democracy and human rights, of the dualism of fair and unfair, is based on it. The realization that nobody really knew how best to govern, created the model of introducing a system in which new ideas could develop, test them and, if necessary, be thrown overboard in order to bring in new ones - a system on the basis of the experiment. Most of the time, however, it was not the right to insecurity that governed society, but the duty to dogma, to ideology, to guiding doctrine, obedience and to the eternal, incontestable truth. It can hardly be said that this brake block on civilization has now been abolished. Only a minority of the world's population can claim the chance and opportunity to keep asking new questions and to be able to find answers. Not to forget this treasure and the struggle that its acquisition once cost, not to risk losing it again and also to let those who have so far been denied hope of it participate in it in the future, remains important and part of the responsibility of the sciences of society. That is the scientific value of fallibilism.

Finally, the third pillar of science is its immense practical relevance and thus the technology aspect: the fact that, thanks to our knowledge, developments and research, we can do everything possible to improve, facilitate and beautify people's lives. Applied sciences are the means of choice to free humanity from its worries and needs. The list of significant inventions since the dawn of mankind is so long and extensive that a list here would go beyond any scope and ranges from the development of beer to papyrus to the steam engine and antibiotics to the Internet and quantum computers. The observations of many paradigm shifts since the use of fire by our ancestors suggest that technological progress to this day is by no means a linear development, but rather moves on a logarithmic scale. The increase in knowledge of global humanity can be approximately described and illustrated by the course of an exponential function. Although it is not certain to what extent this development will continue in the future or to what extent it will turn out to be an incomplete model, the trend that can be observed for many factors is at least retained. It can be assumed that the 21st century in particular will be shaped by the increased emergence of a few key technologies whose disruptive effects on society cannot yet be fully assessed and assessed. Synthetic biology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, quantum information processing and possibly the long-awaited nuclear fusion and possibly a new era of space travel in their luggage harbor the potential to fundamentally change the nature of civilization and society in the coming decades. The associated opportunities and dangers are not based on the mere knowledge of how these technologies should be used. Applied sciences give us great power to change the world, for better or for worse. Clearly, this power is priceless, even if what we can do with it can negate it. However, this fact is not a flaw of science per se, but a clearly human problem. Precisely for this reason, the duty and hope of a humanistic society is to meet this challenge, far from any dogma or prejudice, through the use of the (utilitarian) ethics developed through natural evolution. Because only knowledge can control knowledge!

In this sense:

"Science is more than a body of knowledge, it's a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe." - Carl Sagan

Note from the author:

This font is inspired by a speech by the famous genius and Nobel laureate in physics Richard Phillips "The Quantum Man" Feynman with the title: "The Value of Science", National Academy of Science (Autumn 1955), first published in: Feynman, Richard P. : What Do You Care What Other People Think ?, 1988, WW Norton.

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