UH 201-3:Text & Critics
Nature, I think we can deduce, refers not only to animals, plants, and mountains, but rather to the universe as a whole--the entirety of the physical universe ranging from human nature to quantum nature while also including, plants, animals, and mountains as part of this greater whole. It has been the search for knowledge and truths of the wonders and mysteries of "nature," or rather the universe (in other words science) that has, over the past few years been the underlying motivation in my life. Not only do I find the search for knowledge exciting and intellectually stimulating, but I have found that this motivation gives meaning or rather a direction to my life. I don't wish to imply that science and religion give my life, nor events that occur during my life, meaning. I have always found that life is inherently meaningful without aid from science, religion, or purpose.
But why does the search for knowledge hold such importance for me in providing motivation and, hence, meaning/direction? Is it nature or nurture? Is it due to my personality type (INTP--Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceptive [Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and my innate drive for competence or is it culture and socialization? Is it possible that my motivation and direction is not based on rational grounds but rather on a biological instinct that tends to create a generalized desire for competency? My drive for competency which, whether it has been unconscious or conscious at times and stimulated by both biology and environment, seems to motivate and direct my search for knowledge. I have realized that what has attracted me to science and the search for knowledge, is not that "science tries to explain what life is in order to teach us how we are to live," (Dostoyevsky 1980, p.216). This in essence being the replacing of a God or religion I don't believe in with secular ideology. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of science and one that I disagree with. Instead my drive for competency has made science seem attractive, not because it tries to replace God and metaphysical ideology, but rather that it explains the universe without having to rely on untestable assumptions (which we can't know to be true) about how the universe should or would make sense to be. As I believe that there is no God or transcendental explanation for life or the cosmos, I aspire to understand human behavior, not in terms of metaphysical and transcendental explanations, but rather in an empirical approach based on logic, reason, and the "consiliecnce" (Wilson 1998, p.8) of the sciences and knowledge.
Yet, my innate desire for competence leads to another important motivation that affects my being, that is the quest for authenticism. To be authentic, I refer to being original, honest about my thoughts to myself and others; aware and skeptical of the motivation and assumptions of culture and society; attempting to recognize and dissect assumptions of my creation and that of culture and societies; being able to relate to others; and finally, being hyper-conscious of myself. By hyper-conscious, I refer to the state of consciousness deeper than that of awareness of one's existence, that being the awareness of one's motivations--the constant introspection, thought, and questioning of one's actions and notions, and the constant asking of why, not only about one's self but about all that one encounters in his/her lifetime. Being authentic also asks for more--it demands skepticism and science. While being open-minded is a requirement in the search for knowledge, we must still remain skeptical of many ideas that we come across, regardless of whether that idea is a product of science or the rhetoric of religion. The consequences of not being skeptical and clear in thought is as George Orwell (1946) described, "the corruption of good thought" (Orwell:1946) and authenticism to mindlessness or blind acceptance. Science is an excellent tool for skepticism as it provides an objective method for evaluating ideas based not on metaphysical explanations but rather explanations that can be grounded on real evidence. Without skepticism and science, authenticism risks damage from assumptions (e.g. racism, ethnocentrism, egocentrism, etc.). Science and skepticism provide a method in which to examine and test our assumptions (or at least to realize those which are testable) and myths so as to enable us to disregard those which are false or which, in the minds of those without a basic grasp of science, create misleading interpretations of our universe and of our selves.
Living in a society and culture that is not authentic and where assumptions are not questioned, people are not skeptical, where people are not aware of themselves, and are unable to relate to others, I find makes me both slightly angry and frustrated. This is in part due to my want of competency not only in myself but in others. However, I am not writing this to discus my emotions on the matter but instead to share my dilemma with the related problem that I think has developed in our culture since the end of the "Enlightenment" at the end of the 19th century and how I hope to make a contribution to its change.
During the period of enlightenment which ranged approximately from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century, there was a drive in the Western world toward progress of the human condition--not progress of technology but rather that of knowledge. During this time, scientists and philosophers such as Galileo, Bacon, Kant, Newton, Locke, Voltaire, and Hume made invaluable changes to the direction of mankind, both through their writings and through their actions. But none of the many changes they brought about could have occurred had not the society and culture of the Western world cared and been excited about these men's ideas. For nearly three hundred years, the Western world made a move toward science and reason as a way for uncovering the mysteries of the universe and of mankind. (While I do not deny that this move toward science and reason was harshly opposed, and not an issue that the majority of individuals were aware of during the time of "enlightenment," I use this period as a metaphor in which to compare our current plight.) But suddenly "this vision of secular knowledge failed" (Wilson 1998, p.14). Instead it has been replaced with mysticism and pseudoscience as a way of understanding our universe. "Secular knowledge" failed for a multitude of reasons at the beginning of the 19th century and, except for brief periods of time such as the mid 19th century with Marx, Hegel, and company and again in the late 19th and early 20th century with men like Einstein, Bohr, and Plank, it has been unable to recover.
This recovery has been hampered by a number of factors ranging from capitalism and consumerism to the culture of individuality that took force in the Western world during the 19th century as well as the fact that "secular knowledge" did not fulfill its promise in replacing religion. However, during the 20th century and, especially in the United States, it has been the birth of a general culture of apathy toward any progress other than the that which is directly correlated with technology or betters one's individual needs that has most delayed the American cultures reemergence into the "enlightenment." The naive assumptions of Popular Culture have also come into conflict with science in that PC theories are pretty, but irrational and built not on knowledge of human nature, biology, and ecology, but rather on theories of how we should be.
During the 17th and 18th century (the period of "Enlightenment") there existed candles and the search for scientific knowledge, reason, and its use for the betterment of the human condition. Today, at the end of the 20th century, we have lasers and the reestablishment of "witchcraft" or pseudoscience (ufology, astrology, crystology, etc.) as methods in which to explain the universe. This is not due to a decline in the quantity or quality of philosophers and scientists but rather that they speak to a deaf audience or in a language that the audience can't understand. It has become a trend in our society to dismiss science as too complicated to understand and hence to forfeit it to pseudoscience. It is here that a great irony lies for today science is by far more advanced than the archaic science of the "Enlightenment." Science, during the 20th century has put men on the moon, uncovered the secrets of DNA, kept millions alive through medicine, and given us computers, and a smaller world. It has become the very life blood of our industrial society. In this time of great scientific progress and understanding, the general public is largely ignorant of the very thing which, for better or worse, is responsible for the world they live in. That very society which is built upon the products of science threatens its own destruction because of the lack of scientific understanding especially of ourselves!
It is in this lacking that I find motivation, a "mission." While I want to seek the answers to the mysteries of the universe through science and reason, I also want to share the excitement and joy that I derive from understanding the universe and from finding the truth based on science. I want people to know that understanding the world in terms of science isn't any less human or wonderful than are metaphysical explanations which often make arrogant and false assumptions about humanity's importance or uniqueness. Science, while it doesn't claim an anthropic universe (in most understandings meaning a universe created for the existence of humans), revels to those who wish to experience it, a universe full of wonder and discovery. When given a basic understanding of science and its method we are no longer weighed down by understanding the universe as we wish it to be but, rather, as it truly is. Additionally, I want people to be authentic, to be more honest with themselves and others, and also not to be a mindless part of society but, rather, to be thoughtful. Most important I want people to be cognizant about the condition of humanity and themselves.
However, this lack of understanding of science is not completely the fault of society and culture. It is the job of the scientist to make sure that the public can understand science in an uncomplicated fashion so as not to scare away the masses. Thus, I hope that when I am older that I will be able to disregard my feelings of anger and frustration and move toward becoming a beacon of light for science in a world of "witchcraft that has taken hold of our culture and society. I have heard the call. I feel that I can best answer this call by searching for and obtaining a background in the social, natural, and physical sciences. I aspire to remove the ignorance of science and self in order to become an advocate for the "enlightenment" of scientific literacy.
Wilson, Edward O. 1998. Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Dostoyevsky, Fydor.  1980. The Dream of a Ridiculous
New York: Signet Classic part of Penguin Books USA Inc.
Orwell, George. 1946. Politics and the English Language.