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This article is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

Newton's Sleep (4): Anti-science and Organic Daydreams Raymond Tallis

FOR MANY OF THOSE who find science distasteful, the question of whether or not it is of net benefit to mankind is irrelevant. Science is condemned precisely insofar as it is preoccupied with meeting material needs and wants and (to use Bacon's terms) its 'experiments of use' outnumber its 'experiments of light'. Worse, the successes of science have encouraged scientists - and many others in the centuries dominated by science-based technology - to believe in progress. Progress, however, is an illusion: technology has not commuted the common sentence of mortality nor has it brought a definitive understanding of the universe, even less of our place in it. So the scientists' optimism - even their commitment to improving the world - is condemned as 'shallow'. Technological advances, however impressive, do not solve the tragedy of the human condition; they merely blunt our perception of it.

The defender of science might point out that no human activity has solved the problem of our finitude and that very little contemporary art even pretends to transilluminate the mystery of living. And if science has not cancelled mortality, it is surely better to die at eighty than at eight months. He might also draw attention to the significant fact that second-order humanist intellectuals tend to be more at ease expressing unqualified contempt for the endeavour to solve material need than first-order creative artists. The latter, in an age when technical intervention can make a huge difference, and when it is therefore possible ...


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